On the 26th of June 2023, 13 people from 9 different countries had the opportunity to meet online and on-site with members of the executive team, governance and beneficiaries of the Temedt association, which has been fighting descent-based slavery in Mali since 2006. This is part of the Voice for an Inclusive World project of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, implemented by a consortium between Oxfam Novib and Hivos. The hosts were delighted to see the interest aroused by their action.
Refugees in their own countries, people who have experienced slavery told their stories and thanked Temedt for its help: “We are now in Bamako with Temedt’s support. We are free. Nobody talks to us like slaves here. Our children go to school. We have access to health services. “Temedt understands our situation and how to get out of it. We want to work for ourselves and enjoy the protection of the law. We want the authorities to protect us when we return to our village.”
In 2006, a master visited the uncle of his runaway slave. The slave had of course avoided going to his house, but that did not stop the uncle from being shot in the knee by the master in search of his slave. He died as a result. His death was declared natural. This sparked a revolt and the creation of the first organisation to fight against slavery in Mali: Temedt, whose name means “brotherhood” in the Tuareg Tamasheq language.
Since then, Temedt has been tirelessly and tactfully raising awareness among both masters and slaves for the rights of all human beings.
“Some of them immediately understand that their practices undermine human dignity and social cohesion. They gave up slavery immediately. Some have compensated and supported their former slaves.” For others, this practice is normal, slavery is part of their habits and customs, a religious practice, a way of establishing their dominant position in society, the only possibility of survival… “We deconstruct the mentality conveyed by religious figures to get communities to listen to us. We also share stories of change.. We talk about the law in neighbouring countries: Niger, Mauritania… Why not here? What’s good for the people of Niger can be good for Mali.
“Slavery is a reality. Slavery exists in every community. But it’s insidious, it’s not easy to understand that one is a slave and the other a master”, replied Abdoulaye Mako, honorary president of Temedt, to a visitor who confessed to having wandered around Mali in 1998, blind to the issue of slavery.
“Slavery was taboo from independence to 2020, with no mention of slavery during trials. Temedt is fighting for the law to criminalise slavery. The association worked for five years on a draft bill that was due to be passed in 2015 but was shelved.”
“After twenty years of struggle, we are recording significant progress: the taboo of slavery has been broken!”
“Our pleas have borne fruit because, since February 2023, cases of slavery have been brought to court as such. Those who thought slaves y were untouchable have received heavy sentences. A few months ago, this seemed impossible. “Maître Modibo Sylla, a lawyer, intervenes in all trials linked to slavery, and he now obtains the liberation of the victims’ children.”
“We have also signed a partnership agreement with the High Council of Collectivities made up of Mali’s aristocracy and, three weeks ago, with the High Islamic Council. This has been one of our goals since the association was founded…”
“It’s been a long struggle,” says Soumaguel Ouyahi, Temedt’s general secretary. “For the first ten years, we couldn’t talk about slavery. We were called names. We were restricted in our movements. We did what the state should do. We are giving ourselves body and soul, and it is thanks to our insistence that things are changing.” “A person who fights against slavery doesn’t sleep,” adds Abdoulaye.
Attitudes are changing, and community and religious leaders are getting involved. Some people are becoming real agents of change. For example, a village chief in the Kita region welcomes into his home people who have fled slavery. At a meeting, he disassociated himself from the other village chiefs who refused to accept them. “He sent us to the governor to ask for cultivation land for the displaced people.”
The diaspora of people who fled slavery and cannot return to their villages understand Temedt’s struggle and get involved. “For example, in 2011, many people from the Kayes region joined us. They followed us and saw what could be done.”
Wiwin Winarni, Facilitator of The Constellation in Indonesia, asked the women present how they found the strength to leave their village and reach the capital. One of them said: “I found the strength to flee my village with my children in mind. Those who come after me will never be considered slaves.” “We could accept many things from our master, but our children had no education, no sports activities, no hobbies. We women want to give our children a better life.”
“I have hope that the issue of slavery will end. It starts with the woman [in descent-based slavery, the children of a slave become slaves no matter who their father is] and ends with the woman. Today they are rebelling, and the men are obliged to follow them,” adds Abdoulaye.
“It’s not a victory. We still have a long way to go.”
“Quite a few community leaders get involved and contact us, for example, when kidnappings occur, but they are faced with a lack of access to justice. In the north, people talk to the authorities about slavery, but the security situation prevents action”, explains a member of the Temedt team.
Meble Birengo, Facilitator of La Constellation in Kenya, asked what could be improved. Temedt called on communities to join them in “mass advocacy”.
An after-experience reflection closed the event.
“We’re delighted with the visit and the interest in what we are doing. It encourages us to continue this process. I congratulate our coaches [Sangaré Alfousseyni and Seydou Diarra, Groupe Pivot, Facilitators of La Constellation in Mali]. We enjoyed their coaching and hope it continues,” Soumaguel concluded.
“I appreciate the group here. We still have a long way to go. But we thought nobody cared about what our masters imposed on us. We see that’s not true. We have your support. You are helping us to be more self-confident,” said a female participant, a rightholder of Temedt.
Visitors expressed their appreciation and encouragement.
“I’m blown away by Temedt’s work. I hope that another session will be organised in the future, and that it will prove that further progress has been made.” — A female participant from a village in the Kayes region.
“Slavery takes many explicit and implicit forms. When the voices of communities of women, men and children unite, the world can change step by step.”— Jan Somers, The Constellation in Belgium.
“I’d like to pay tribute to your courage. You give us a lesson in courage.” — Jean-Louis Lamboray, The Constellation in Belgium. .
Everyone thanks the Temedt hosts, as well as the tour facilitators, Sangaré Alfousseyni and Seydou Diarra, and the translators, Modibo Sidibé and Seydou Diarra.