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Grandfather of anti-racist activist was governor of Kayes, a centre of slavery

Adama Traore, also referred to as the French Floyd, is of Malian descent. The activist’s grandfather was governor of Kayes not so long ago. The town is the centre of slavery in Mali, where it is still a common practice among the elite to own slaves.

The Traore family became known in France in 2016, when Adama Traore died during a routine police check. His father, Mara-Sire Traore was born in Mali in 1943 and was a member of the Soninke ethnic group. Assa Traore's book "Lettre a Adama" (Letter to Adama), published in 2017, states that her father left his homeland by car, crossed Mauritania, then took a boat to Spain and from there to Paris.

Newyorker.com adds that Mara-Sire Traore, Assa and Adama's father, immigrated to France from Mali in 1960, the year of Malian independence. He became a French citizen in 1968, and, the next year, married a white Frenchwoman, with whom they had two sons. They later divorced.

After that, Mara-Sire lived in polygamy (he married one white Catholic and two black, Muslim and Malian women) and had fifteen more children. 

Mara-Sire died in 1999 at the age of 46. After his death, Assa took over the leadership of the clan, and she is still considered the head of the family. In an interview with the magazine jeuneafrique.com in October 2016, the young woman said her grandfather was governor of Kayes. The town of Kayes is the seat of the region of the same name in the southwestern tip of Mali, on the banks of the Senegal River. Assa's statement about her grandfather in the interview is important because certain communities in this area still hold slaves to this day. One such community of slaveowners is the Soninke ethnic group, to which the Traore family belongs.

Slavery in Mali is a pheomenon well-known in France, and even demonstrations against it are organised by African communities there, without much result. On 3 November 2018, more than a thousand people marched on Trocadero Square in Paris to protest against the slave-owning of the Soninke tribe and the silence of the Malian government in this matter.

In October 2019, an even larger rally was organised. Several associations with a membership of Soninke migrants living in France staged a demonstration outside the embassy of Mali in Paris to protest against the still existing practice of nobles keeping slaves in Mali, Senegal, Gambia and Mauritania.

Earlier, in September 2019, a team from France 24 Observers made a reportage in Mali where they witnessed that a man was publicly humiliated and beaten for daring to oppose slavery and refusing to be called and treated like a slave.

In the article, they cite Marie Rodet, a historian who has studied the practice of slavery in Kayes for years. The historian says the abuses can take many forms: people in the lowest class bear the title "slave" or "descendant of slave", with the "slave" status inherited via their mothers. Slaves are forbidden to do many things, for instance, they are not allowed to marry someone from another caste and they cannot become village chiefs, not even if they have a degree. In some Soninke villages, there are special "slave quarters" for servants who work for free in the masters' fields. If someone dares to disobey and says they do not consider themselves slaves, they will be driven out of the village. And even if they stay, their belongings will be taken, and they will not be allowed to go shopping or get drinking water.

Although slavery was banned in Mali in 1905, during the colonial period, there are still no laws enacted criminalising the practice, whereas in neighbouring Mauritania, a 2015 law made slavery a "crime against humanity" with a possible sentence of 20 years in prison.

In Mali, slavery still exists and thrives in certain regions, and especially within the Soninke ethnic group, the family of Assa Traore, the fighter against racism, belongs to. Moreover, there is evidence that the activist's grandfather was not so long ago a governor in the Kayes region, the centre of slavery, where the elite still force people to work for them as slaves.

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