Mauritania: the Wolof ethnic group, including characteristics and location; treatment by society and authorities; availability of state protection (2016-November 2018) [MRT106195.E]

Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ottawa

1. Overview

Sources report that the population of Mauritania is divided into three major groups:

  • the Beydanes [Beidan, Bîdhân, Beidane] [or Arab-Berbers, Moors, White Moors (Leclerc 24 Dec. 2015)];
  • the Haratines [or Black Moors (Leclerc 24 Dec. 2015)];
  • the Black Mauritanians [Afro-Mauritanians (Human Rights Watch 12 Feb. 2018, 2), Negro-Africans, Mauritanian Africans (Leclerc 24 Dec. 2015)] (Human Rights Watch 12 Feb. 2018, 2, Leclerc 24 Dec. 2015).

Sources list the Wolofs among the Black Mauritanians, Black Africans or the Sub-Saharans (MRG Apr. 2018; Political Handbook of the World 2017, 968; Leclerc 24 Dec. 2015). Jacques Leclerc, who is a collaborator at the Chaire pour le développement de la recherche sur la culture d'expression française en Amérique du Nord (CEFAN) and author of L'Aménagement linguistique dans le monde [1], states that the Wolofs represent 0.4 percent of Mauritania's population (Leclerc 24 Dec. 2015).

According to Leclerc, the Beydanes and Haratines, who make up 70 percent of the population, speak Arabic, while the Black Mauritanians, composed of various ethnic groups, speak African languages; in particular, the Wolofs speak the Wolof language (Leclerc 24 Dec. 2015). According to sources, the Wolof language is one of the three national languages recognized in Mauritania's constitution, along with the Pulaar and the Soninke languages; Arabic is the official language of the country (Mauritania 17 Nov. 2017, para. 200; Political Handbook of the World 2017, 968; Leclerc 24 Dec. 2015). Minority Rights Group International (MRG) reports that the Wolof language is spoken by 0.3 percent of the population (MRG Apr. 2018). Sources mention that some Mauritanians demand that Mauritania recognize the Pulaar, Soninke and Wolof languages as official languages, with the same status as the Arabic language (Le Calame 14 June 2018; Panapress 21 Feb. 2017).

Sources mention that thousands of Afro-Mauritanians or non-Arab sub-Saharans, including the Wolofs, were expelled from Mauritania by the government during a conflict with Senegal between 1989 and 1991 (US 20 Apr. 2018, 9; Human Rights Watch 12 Feb. 2018, 5, 12). According to MRG, they were sent to neighbouring Mali and Senegal and "thousands have returned in subsequent years, with the Mauritanian government taking a number of steps in 2008 to support the process" (MRG Apr. 2018).

According to the Political Handbook of the World, the Black Africans, including the Wolofs, mostly live "in the rich alluvial farming lands of the Senegal River valley" (Political Handbook of the World 2017, 968). The 2018 Bertelsmann Stiftung Transformation Index (BTI) report for Mauritania [2] similarly states that the non-Arabic speaking ethnic groups, including the Wolofs, historically lived along the border with Senegal and Mali, but also "in many more regions" (BTI 2018, 6). A 2010 UN report states that the black African population, including the Wolofs, inhabit the South and the East of the country (UN 16 Aug. 2010, para. 5). Leclerc points out that even though the Blacks are more numerous in the South and the Arabs in the North, [translation] "[i]n fact, there are no regions inhabited solely by Blacks in the South" (Leclerc 24 Dec. 2015).

2. Treatment by Society and the Authorities

The UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights states that the Afro-Mauritanians are "excluded" from political, economic and social life, "which has the consequence of condemning them to poverty" (UN 8 Mar. 2017, 1). Sources indicate that sub-Saharan ethnic groups, including the Wolof, are underrepresented in leadership government, military and industry positions (US 20 Apr. 2018, 21; UN 30 May 2018, para. 11), including the police, the private sector and the media (UN 30 May 2018, para. 11). MRG, noting that Mauritania's economy, administration, legislature and the judiciary are "dominated" by the Beydanes, similarly states that black Mauritanians are "excluded from middle and higher level positions in the military, police and security forces" and are underrepresented in "the running of religious institutions" (MRG Apr. 2018). The UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance indicated in 2009 that the consolidation of Arabic as the main language in education, the judiciary and the media is an obstacle for Black Mauritanians in accessing essential services in these domains (UN 16 Mar. 2009, para. 50). The US Department of State's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2017 further explains that sub-Saharan ethnic groups, including the Wolofs, accounted for less than 10 percent of leadership positions, while making up approximately 25 percent of Mauritania's population (US 20 Apr. 2018, 14). The UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights also states the following:

There is a systematic absence from almost all positions of real power and a continuing exclusion from many aspects of economic and social life of Haratines (Black Moors) and Afro-Mauritanians. These groups make up over two thirds of the population of Mauritania, but various policies serve to render their needs and rights invisible. (UN 8 Mar. 2017, para. 25)

Sources mention that sub-Saharan or Afro-Mauritanians, including the Wolofs, have difficulty obtaining national identity documents (US 20 Apr. 2018, 20; UN 8 Mar. 2017, para. 45; MRG Apr. 2018), "without which very little can be done in Mauritania" (UN 8 Mar. 2017, para. 45) or which "leav[es] them effectively without citizenship" (MRG Apr. 2018).

According to the US Country Reports 2017, "racial and cultural tension and discrimination also arose from the geographic, linguistic and cultural divides between Moors (Beydane and Haratine) […] and the sub-Saharan non-Arab minorities" (US 20 Apr. 2018, 20). The US Country Reports 2017 states that according to human rights activists and press reports, "local authorities … allow Beydane to appropriate land occupied by Haratines and sub-Saharans, to occupy property unlawfully taken from sub-Saharans by former governments, and to obstruct access to water and pasturage" (US 20 Apr. 2018, 21). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

3. State Protection

Information on state protection available to the Wolof ethnic group could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.

Notes

[1] L'Aménagement linguistique dans le monde is a website hosted by the Chaire pour le développement de la recherche sur la culture d'expression française en Amérique du Nord (CEFAN) at Laval University; it presents the particular language situations and policies of different states and territories around the world (Leclerc n.d.)

[2] The BTI "results from an international analytical collaboration of almost 300 experts in top academic institutions around the world and local reporters in most countries" who "share the goal to detect strengths and weaknesses by comparison and to find good examples for successful political steering" (BTI n.d.).

References

Bertelsmann Stiftung Transformation Index (BTI). 2018. "Mauritania Country Report." BTI 2018. [Accessed 30 Oct. 2018]

Bertelsmann Stiftung Transformation Index (BTI). N.d. "About Us." [Accessed 30 Oct. 2018]

Le Calame. 14 June 2018. "Questions à Bala Touré Secrétaire général du parti RAG (parti radical pour une action globale) : 'En dix ans, personne de ceux qui nous critiquent aujourd'hui n'a remarqué que SAWAB n'était pas fréquentable'." [Accessed 30 Oct. 2018]

Human Rights Watch. 12 February 2018. Ethnicity, Discrimination, and Other Red Lines: Repression of Human Right Defenders in Mauritania. [Accessed 23 Oct. 2018]

Leclerc, Jacques. 24 December 2015. "Mauritanie." L'aménagement linguistique dans le monde. [Accessed 23 Oct. 2018]

Leclerc, Jacques. N.d. L'aménagement linguistique dans le monde. [Accessed 2 Nov. 2018]

Mauritania. 17 November 2017. Combined Third to Fifth Periodic Reports Submitted by Mauritania Under Article 44 of the Convention, Due in 2013. (CRC/C/MRT/3-5) [Accessed 30 Oct. 2018].

Minority Rights Groups International (MRG). April 2018. "Mauritania." World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples. [Accessed 23 Oct. 2018]

Pan African News Agency (Panapress). 21 February 2017. "Des associations plaident pour l'officilialisation des langues nationales en Mauritanie." (Factiva) [Accessed 24 Oct. 2018]

Political Handbook of the World 2016-2017. 2017. "Mauritania." Edited by Thomas Lansford. Washington, DC: CQ Press. [Accessed 30 Oct. 2018]

United Nations (UN). 30 May 2018. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Concluding Observations on the Combined Eighth to Fourteenth Periodic Reports of Mauritania. (CERD/C/MRT/CO/8-14) [Accessed 30 Oct. 2018]

United Nations (UN). 8 March 2017. Human Rights Council. Report of the Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights on His Mission to Mauritania. (A/HRC/35/26/add.1) [Accessed 30 Oct. 2018]

United Nations (UN). 16 August 2010. Human Rights Council. Report of the Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, Including Its Causes and Consequences. (A/HRC/15/20/Add.2) [Accessed 30 Oct. 2018]

United Nations (UN). 16 March 2009. Human Rights Council. Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance - Follow-Up to and Implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action. Report by Mr. Doudou Diène, Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance. (A/HRC/11/36/Add. 2) [Accessed 31 Oct. 2018]

United States (US). 20 April 2018. Department of State. "Mauritania." Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2017. [Accessed 24 Oct. 2018]

Additional Sources Consulted

Internet sites, including: ecoi.net; Ethnologue; France – Office français de protection des réfugiés et apatrides; Freedom House; International Crisis Group; Mauritania – Primature; UN – Refworld.