SOAS University of London

SOAS scholar tackles taboo of internal slavery in West Africa with documentary on slavery in Mali

4 June 2018

Dr Marie Rodet, Senior Lecturer in the History of Africa at SOAS University of London, has been helping to lift the taboo of internal slavery in West Africa with a documentary on the history of slavery in Kayes, Mali that has been screened to villages and schools in the region.

Dr Rodet made a documentary film based on her research on the history of slavery in the region: The Diambourou: Slavery and Emancipation in Kayes – Mali (2014). The documentary has been screened in villages and local schools of the Kayes region, followed by public debates, in order to tell a new generation the story of those who resisted slavery by escaping their masters and founding new independent and free communities in the district of Kayes in the first half of the twentieth century.

Marie rodet

Students in Kayes, Mali, watching the documentary

Dr Rodet said: “With the Atlantic slave trade remembered prominently in sites along the West African coasts regions, sites in the West African interior such as Kayes (in Western Mali) a crucial crossroad for slave trafficking until the late 19th century, can be forgotten. Memories of internal slavery tend to disappear in Kayes, while the last generation of elders who can tell the story of their grandparents is passing away.”

Dr Rodet hosted 5 screenings at the Lycée Dougoukolo Konaré, and one at the secondary school Liberté A, both located in Kayes, Mali with more than 400 pupils attending the screenings. Local partners, Association Donkosira, will continue to screen the documentary in schools over the coming months. Students from the schools who took part in the documentary screenings said:

  • "This film changes our vision of the enslaved populations, as it shows the injustice done to them, that slavery is not good and that it has to be stopped"
  • "This film allows me to know more about the history of my country, it also gives me ideas and courage to fight just like [the slaves] fought for their freedom."
  • "After having seen this film, I can no longer use the term "Diambourou" in a derogatory way. No, they are our grand-fathers, grand-mothers who were driven out of their villages and sold into slavery. [They fought for equality and freedom] From today on, I will use this term as a pride and no longer as an insult".

Dr Rodet also co-organised the first conference of this kind in Mali, an international conference on “Slavery and the Law in West Africa” opened by the Mali Minister of Education with the French Ambassador in Mali. The conference in October 2017 brought together scholars, practitioners and activists to discuss slavery and the legal recognition of slavery as a crime and received widespread media attention in the region. It also culminated with the Bamako declaration which calls for the recognition of slavery as a crime and the need for appropriate laws.

The documentary The Diambourou: Slavery and Emancipation in Kayes – Mali can be viewed here.