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Community / Land projects / Illegible/invisibilised protracted rural displacements: slavery and forced internal migration in Mali

Illegible/invisibilised protracted rural displacements: slavery and forced internal migration in Mali


02/20 - 12/22


This project is part of


Descent-based slavery and its legacies continue to prevail in most communities of the west and south of Mali today. Because of the lack of protecting legal framework, populations victims of slavery-related violence often have little choice but to escape to more 'hospitable' areas, having been systematically barred from land access in their home village by the local elite. Those populations with ascribed slave status are the poorest and the most vulnerable populations in the Sahel. In many cases though, those displaced, mostly agricultural populations continue to live in precarious conditions because of continuing marginalization and stigmatization in new host communities, with risks of new forms of servitude strongly overlapping with the legacies of historical slavery. Slavery-related displacements in West Africa have been largely overlooked in the development and humanitarian practice and reporting. This is certainly a major omission in view of the Sustainable Development Goals Our project looks at the most invisibilised historical and contemporary slavery-related internal displacements, those taking place within the rural areas in the Kayes region and which concern in their vast majority women and children because men of those communities are migrants elsewhere in cities and abroad. In such crisis situation as the one prevailing today in Mali, working with populations who are considered of 'slave descent' is thus an urgent equitable development issue. Our research programme aims not only to analyse and map the long history of slavery-related protracted displacements in the Kayes region, but more importantly we propose concrete measures to redress this unacknowledged long-term crisis situation by sensitising the local and national government in Mali at every level to anticipate and efficiently manage those 'fugitive' displacements of people with ascribed slave status. Our project team brings together a unique combination of expertise and methods in African history, comparative literature, law, social anthropology and political sciences, which are less common in development approaches. It aims at constructing a synergistic approach with transformative and catalyst effect by exploring both affordable and upscalable solutions for sustainable livelihoods and proposing directly actionable recommendations for the surveyed communities (and beyond). The transformative aspect of this research relies on bridging the gaps between practitioners and scholars in and with the surveyed communities through a website, policy papers, documentary films, teaching material, trainings, research dissemination and advocacy at appropriate policy-making levels, facilitated by two Malian partner NGOs, Donkosira and TEMEDT.


The Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) supports cutting-edge research to address challenges faced by developing countries. The fund addresses the UN sustainable development goals. It aims to maximise the impact of research and innovation to improve lives and opportunity in the developing world.