Slavery in Chad

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The practice of slavery in Chad, as in the Sahel states in general, is an entrenched phenomenon with a long history, going back to the Arab slave trade in the Sahelian kingdoms, and it continues today. As elsewhere in West Africa, the situation reflects an ethnic, racial and religious rift between black, Christian farmers and lighter-skinned, Muslim herdsmen, occasionally flaring up in eruptions of violence or civil unrest.

In the early 1890s, French military expeditions sent to Chad encountered the forces of Rabih az-Zubayr, who had been conducting slave raids (razzias) in southern Chad throughout the 1890s and had sacked the settlements of Bornu, Baguirmi, and Ouaddai. After years of indecisive engagements, French forces finally defeated Rabih az-Zubayr at the battle of Kousséri in 1900. The colonial authorities of French Chad officially suppressed slavery, but their de facto control over the region was limited. In the huge Borkou-Ennedi-Tibesti Region, the handful of French military administrators soon reached a tacit agreement with the inhabitants of the desert; as long as caravan trails remained relatively secure and minimal levels of law and order were met, the military administration (headquartered in Faya Largeau) usually left the people alone. In central Chad, French rule was only slightly more substantive. Slave raids continued in the 1920s, and it was reported in 1923 that a group of Senegalese Muslims on their way to Mecca had been seized and sold into slavery. Unwilling to expend the resources required for effective administration, the French government responded with sporadic coercion and a growing reliance on indirect rule through the sultanates.

Today, in the Republic of Chad, slavery persists, but it does not have the same ubiquity as in the western Sahel, e.g. in Mauritania where up to 20% of total population are estimated as living in slavery. Instead, contemporary slavery in Chad is mostly limited to child labour, and not to hereditary servitude.

Child slaves, sold by their impoverished parents, are mostly held by Arab-Berber herdsmen. These often impose a new identity on them,

"The Arab herdsman change their name, forbid them to speak in their native dialect, ban them from conversing with people from their own ethnic group and make them adopt Islam as their religion."[1]

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