Masters & Slaves

Two investigative journeys deep into the heart of the Sahara to explore rumours that slavery was still not consigned to the history books. In both Mauritania and Niger, masters still keep slaves. Two separate reports aired on ABC News Nightline and Al Jazeera People & Power. With the assistance of Anti-Slavery International.

If I didn’t bring the correct number of camels back, they would hit me. If they were not well fed, they would hit me… sometimes with a stick, sometimes with a belt

Meet Matala, one of Mauritania’s slaves – human rights groups estimate that slaves make up 25% of the population. In the 21st Century, slavery is still not consigned to the history books, but across West Africa, the oldest form of chattel slavery still exists. We begin in Mauritania where despite being officially abolished in 1979, slavery remains shrouded under a conspiracy of silence driven by entrenched traditions and supported by a government protecting their cultural status quo.

Slavery in both Mauritania and Niger, where this report was filmed is a legacy of history, the chains of a cultural and social tradition that are rooted in an inflexible caste system. In Niger, where up to 7% of the population are thought to be enslaved, we meet Niger’s answer to Martin Luther King: Igulesias Weila, the founder of the Timidria, an organisation that fights to free the slaves. Facing imprisonment and other problems, Weila has had his success including getting a law criminalising slavery to be passed and in early 2007, successfully prosecuted the first Master under the law. But slavery remains the graveyard of human rights, where humans treat other humans as nothing more than possessions. To many slaves, oil seems a long way from the chains of cultural tradition and poverty: “I ask you the question”, Matala asks pointedly, “What can you do for me so that I can get my family back?

Gallery: Images from Niger

Anti-Slavery International World’s Leading anti-slavery campaigning organisation
Timidria The Human Rights Organisation in Niger fighting to free the slaves

Production details
Title: Masters & Slaves
Role: Correspondent, Camera/ Director, Producer
Transmission: ABC (2005) & Al Jazeera English, People & Power (2007)
Location: Niger, Mauritania & Senegal
Format: ABC: 2 x 7′ news segments, studio guest discussion; Al Jazeera: 1 X 21mins
Awards: Nominated for Livingstone Awards & Emmy