Society 24 North Africa Times Sunday 30/3-5/4/2008
New Tricks in Morocco
Cat-and-Mouse Drugs War
oroccan customs ofﬁcers are locked that smugglers wouldn’t waste their money on
in a game of cat-and-mouse with drug that kind of vehicle, but recently they have been
smugglers at Tangiers, a short ferry hop leasing them.”
from Europe’s proﬁtable shores. This year, ofﬁcers even arrested a Spaniard
Smugglers coming through the northern port travelling with his wife, his mother and their two
know they can’t simply conceal their contraband little girls in a camping car.
under the ﬂoor or in the doors of their vehicle He tried to bluff his way through by ﬂash-
-- even behind the instrument panel or inside the ing an out-of-date Spanish police identity card,
petrol tank would be naive. clearly hoping that ofﬁcials would not look twice
Instead they are ﬁnding more and more ingen- at a family of holidaymakers.
ious places to hide their drugs or ways to fool the He was wrong and ofﬁcers found him in pos-
ofﬁcials. session of 1.3 tonnes of hashish.
The country’s record haul for hashish seizures For France’s consul general Alain Bricard,
in 2007 suggests the law enforcers are at least smugglers who use their own children to try to
keeping pace with a growing band of smugglers. fool the police are beneath contempt. Last sum-
In hundreds of operations last year, ofﬁcers mer, he had to look after two twin girls and also
seized a total of 35 tonnes of hashish worth an a young boy after their respective parents were
estimated 140 million euros (215 million dollars) arrested on smuggling charges. For a week, these
on the European market. That was more than 25 children were without a familiar face until rela-
percent up on 2006. tives could get over from France to fetch them.
Morocco’s customers ofﬁcers also arrested “I have the sad distinction of having under
437 people, half of them foreigners. Spanish my consular (jurisdiction) the largest number
nationals topped the list at 78, followed by 61 of French prisoners in the world,” he said. At
French nationals and 22 Portuguese.But Ab- Tangiers customs ofﬁcial looking through a vehicle for hidden drugs present a total of 98 French nationals including
delhalek Marzouki, the director of customs for Ofﬁcers have also discovered drugs inside the cannabis resin for export. In a vast car park, of- six women are serving time in Moroccan prisons,
northern Morocco, admits that despite his team’s tyres of vehicles and even car batteries stuffed ﬁcials send about half the Lorries past two scan- he said.
apparent successes the smugglers learn quickly with cannabis resin. ners that check for hidden cargo.When it comes Tangiers prosecutor Echaﬁ Abdelkrim said a
from their mistakes.Their capacity to innovate Another smuggler tried to disguise his haul as to the cars however, it’s about instinct and ex- large part of his time was spent with drugs cas-
has been a source of constant surprise, he said. a cargo of olives, painting his drugs green and perience, said Marzouki. The main tools of their es.
“They monitor how we operate in order to come adding fake stalks. trade are “a screwdriver, a pair of sharp eyes and “Foreign smugglers know they are playing
up with new methods.” Every year, customs ofﬁcers at Tangiers have an extraordinary sixth sense.” with ﬁre and that the trap can close on them
Marzouki tells the recent story of one ofﬁcer to deal with a steady ﬂow of foreign-registered Any ofﬁcer worth his salt knows there is because these are international networks which
who, alerted by a tiny trace of welding near a ve- vehicles: 380,000 cars and 80,000 lorries. To get no such thing as a typical smuggler, he added. are using them to feed the foreign markets,” he
hicle’s clutch, followed his instincts to discover there, many will have passed through the north- “They are young people and the less young; cou- said.For those that get caught the cat-and-mouse
a whole string of cannabis bricks, strung together ern Rif mountains, where according to govern- ples or pretty girls,” he explained.“Before they game can turn nasty as they face up to 10 years
like sausages. ment ﬁgures producers grow 1,200 tonnes of didn’t search luxury cars because they thought behind bars.
Slavery in Mauritania
One Man’s Personal Mission
Mauritania, although it was ofﬁcially abolished of religious obligation and reluctance by some “The girls can join a new household at the age
in the 1980s. There are roughly half a million law enforcement agents to apply the law, espe- of 5,” Messaoud said. “They become the bride’s
slaves among the country’s population of 3.3 cially in rural areas. Slaves are unaware that they servant and conﬁdante. They rise at dawn to make
million, and at least 80 percent do not have ac- are entitled to equal rights and don’t know how tea and leave after everyone has had breakfast to
cess to a formal education, Messaoud said. Many to seek justice, so their bondage continues, Mes- work in the ﬁelds. They collect ﬁrewood and re-
remain illiterate. saoud said. turn to prepare the evening meal, then clean up
Messaoud was in Washington this month to “A slave guiding a blind beggar in the streets after everyone has gone to sleep.”
speak at the Woodrow Wilson International Cen- of Nouakchott does it as an act of piety. He will Messaoud’s two aunts died in the homes they
tre for Scholars and to lobby legislators on the not run away, believing his subjugation will se- served. His mother and uncle managed lands and
issue, with assistance from the Open Society In- cure him a place in paradise,” he said. In fact, saw their owners only when they came to collect
stitute, which promotes civil society and demo- Islam prohibits a Muslim from enslaving other their share of crops, he said.
cratic institutions, and London-based Anti-Slav- Muslims Women work the ﬁelds with their babies
ery International. In March 2007, Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdellahi strapped to their backs. Many girls and women
Messaoud, who founded the anti-slavery was elected president of Mauritania after nego- ﬂee sexual abuse by their male masters, who by
group SOS Slaves in 1995, has waged many bat- tiating with a bloc of freed slaves and pledging tradition can “claim” their virginity.
tles on behalf of slaves since that day more than to enforce new legislation criminalizing slavery. Women who escape to the city often cannot
50 years ago when he faced his ﬁrst obstacle to Parliament endorsed the bill, which became law ﬁnd work, and some resort to prostitution. Oth-
breaking the shackles. in August 2007. ers return to their masters and ask for forgiveness
The French principal inspecting the clutch Messaoud welcomed the president’s “coura- “with heads bowed,” Messaoud said.
of eager students outside the school asked why geous act” but urged the world to encourage him Slaves freed by their proprietors still suffer
young Messaoud was sobbing. The principal to go further. discrimination long after their days of bondage.
shamed the slave master’s cousin into registering “The new law, which is good, is just one tool Though most slaves are black, owners are black
Messaoud, who became the ﬁrst in his family to for overturning an age-old social order,” said Ro- or white, Messaoud said, emphasizing that slav-
Founder of SOS Slaves, Boubacar Messaoud
go to school. He went on to college and became mana Cacchioli, Africa program coordinator for ery persists because of tradition and a socialized
an architect with the help of scholarships and an Anti-Slavery International. “We need afﬁrmative mind-set, not race.
oubacar Messaoud remembered strolling uncle who ran a butchering business on the side action to help lift this sector of society out of the No regulations prohibit slaves from going to
from the ﬂatlands of Mauritania toward after his farming chores were ﬁnished. dust. They must have access to land, to micro- school, voting or running for ofﬁce, but few do,
the southern town of Rosso, a watermelon Messaoud, 63, remembered the thrill and credit, so we must invest in reversing their exclu- pinned down by work and the economic and po-
poised on his head. Beyond a riverbank, he could promise of possibility on his ﬁrst day of school. sion. We must give them the conﬁdence to speak litical domination of the class that owns them.
see a row of children in a yard. Messaoud, then 7, “I relished the change from laboring in the ﬁelds, up against their human rights violation.” Messaoud, who has been jailed three times for
stopped to ﬁnd out what was going on, with the sowing seeds and tearing off acacia branches to The Open Society Justice Initiative, a program his activism, said slavery also persists in Niger,
pure curiosity of a child. build barriers fencing in the land,” he said. Until working for legal reforms in the region, said in a Senegal, Mali and other sub-Saharan African
He found out that the children were being then, rare childhood joys had included ﬂopping memo that the new law failed to spell out how countries.
signed up for school. Messaoud, the son of slaves around in the water to ﬁsh by hand. Unlike Mau- to stop sexual exploitation of female slaves had He has always owned up to his roots with
who toiled in the ﬁelds of landowners, recalled ritania’s capital, Nouakchott, which is ringed by not provided a mechanism to help slaves ﬁle civil people he has met, “to gauge what side of the
that he was still unaware of the privations sepa- ribbons of desert and sand dunes, Rosso has a actions and lacked a timetable for implementing fence they were on.”
rating him from others. river running through it, cornﬁelds and rice pad- additional measures included in it. Messaoud “I learned from an early age never to hide it,”
Among a knot of parents, Messaoud noticed dies. emphasized that programs should be funded to he said of his background. “Mauritanian ambas-
the cousin of his family’s owner and asked him But Messaoud also remembered being bullied teach freed slaves the skills they need to work in sadors in Mali and Moscow, where I studied,
to help him enroll, too. “I can’t,” the man replied. and dismissed by classmates as inferior. “When public institutions, such as the police force. would threaten me, accusing me of tarnishing my
“What will your master say?” you go out in mixed society, life is hard,” he Under the still-prevalent tradition, children country’s image.”
Messaoud put down his watermelon and said. inherit the status of their mothers and are passed But, he added, “I am convinced that a soci-
cried. Slavery has been perpetuated in Mauritania on by masters as part of dowries or shared with ety that does not look at itself in the face is con-
The ancient tradition of slavery endures in by the persistence of tradition, distorted notions other family members. demned.”