The Observers

Malians attacked for opposing caste system and 'descent-based slavery'

A group of people who consider themselves part of the "noble" caste attacked a party held by "slaves" in southwestern Mali on September 28, 2021.
A group of people who consider themselves part of the "noble" caste attacked a party held by "slaves" in southwestern Mali on September 28, 2021. © Observers

A group of people celebrating Mali's independence day were brutally attacked on September 28 in the western region of Kayes. These people were part of an association that fights for the abolition of "descent-based slavery", a vestige of Mali's former system of slavery. A group of people in the upper-class of "nobles" broke up the party, capturing and brutally beating a dozen people, killing one in the process. 

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Although forced labour and servitude were abolished in Mali in 1905, traditional social castes based on slavery still persist, particularly in the western region of Kayes. Although the "noble" class does not own the "slaves", they are still discriminated against.

So-called "slaves" are the descendants of former slaves in Mali, and they often live segregated from others. They aren't allowed to marry outside their caste, can't hold leadership positions and are expected to cook and slaughter animals for the nobles during festivals.

There are plenty of associations dedicated to ending the practice, but those who dare to oppose descent-based slavery are regularly the victim of violent attacks, humiliation and abuse. 

This is what happened in Souroubiré, Mali on September 28, when an anti-slavery association was holding an independence day festival. Despite securing permission from local authorities to hold the party, the group was attacked by a group of nobles, who arrived bearing weapons. 

In this episode of The Observers, you can hear the account of a witness to the attack, who was fortunately able to escape. We also spoke to Mahamadi Kanouté, a representative from the Association Against Domination and Slavery, who told us that attacks like this are nothing new. Tension has existed between the slaves and nobles for years, even more since 2019 when people began creating anti-slavery associations.

According to Kanouté, his association is seeking legal action against the attackers, in hopes that – unlike in previous attacks of this nature – the perpetrators will be held responsible.

>> You can also watch our report on descent-based slavery in Mali from 2019 below: