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The Legacy of Tidiane N'Diaye An African Scholar and Historian

May 09, 2024
By Bassam Michael Madany

On 22 May 2018, I published an article about the Slave Trade in East Africa. It was a review of “Le génocide voilé: Enquête historique.”i (The Veiled Genocide: An Historical Inquiry) The book was published in 2008 by Editions Gallimard in Paris, France. The author, Tidiane N’Diaye, is a Senegalese anthropologist and economist, living in Dakar, the capital of Senegal, West Africa.

The book was introduced with this summary:

« Les Arabes ont razzié l'Afrique subsaharienne pendant treize siècles sans interruption. La plupart des millions d'hommes qu'ils ont déportés ont disparu du fait des traitements inhumains. Cette douloureuse page de l'histoire des peuples noirs n'est apparemment pas définitivement tournée. La traite négrière a commencé lorsque l'émir et général arabe Abdallah ben Saïd a imposé aux Soudanais un bakht (accord), conclu en 652, les obligeant à livrer annuellement des centaines d'esclaves. La majorité de ces hommes était prélevée sur les populations du Darfour. Et ce fut le point de départ d'une énorme ponction humaine qui devait s'arrêter officiellement au début du XXe siècle. »

The following is a translation of the summary:

“The Arabs have raided sub-Saharan Africa for thirteen centuries without interruption. Most of the men they deported have disappeared, due to their inhuman treatment. This painful page of the history of Black people does not seem to have been completely ended. The beginning of this treatment of the Blacks began when the Arab Emir and General Abdallah ben Saïd, imposed upon the Sudanese a “Bakht” (an agreement) in 652, forcing them to furnish hundreds of slaves annually. Most of them were men who were taken from the people of Darfur. That became the point of departure for an enormous human operation that continued officially until early in the 20th century.”

Philippe Triay, a French writer, sent questions about this subject to Mr. Tidiane N’Diaye, who graciously answered them. They were posted on 30 April 2015, under the title « L’autre esclavage : un aperçu de la traite arabo-musulmane » “The Other Slavery: An Overview of the Arab-Muslim Slave-Trade.”

The following are excerpts from Tidiane N’Diaye’s response:

“To date, the most analyzed and documented forms of slavery and the slave trade have been the Trans-Atlantic ones. Several essays, novels, and movies have dealt with the subject, allowing the public to learn about this tragic history.

“However, Europe did not have a monopoly on the slave trade. There were others, like the East African and trans-Saharan trades organized by the Arabs. Those were violent and devastating for Africans and their descendants, as were the Trans-Atlantic ones, which were supported by Islam and Christianity for a long time.

“My main concern is with the East African and Trans-Saharan trades. The reason for calling my book “The Veiled Genocide” is due to the massive castration of African captives during the Arab-Muslim slave trade.

“While slavery has been known throughout history among all nations, and on all continents, what is less known is that the African slave trade was inaugurated by the Arab-Muslims; it lasted around thirteen centuries without interruption. It was accompanied by a generalized castration of incalculable numbers of Black captives. Its impact was greater than the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. The saddest thing about this historic tragedy is that most of the deported people were deprived of having any descendants, due to the policy adopted by the Arabs.

“The Trans-Atlantic slave trade lasted for four hundred years. Despite its monstrosity and the humiliations that befell the captives, a slave had an inherent monetary value. His master wanted him to be productive in the long term. Thus, the goal was not the extermination of a people. “Furthermore, the Arab-Muslim trade went on for thirteen centuries. Most of the men they had deported have disappeared from history. From the moment Africa had become the main source for the provision of slaves, in the collective Arab consciousness, a Black person also became a symbol, or a synonym, of slavery.

“In the Arab world, the notion of the basic inferiority of Black people took deep root, which explains the acceptance of the ill-treatment of Black captives, and the means used to deny them any descendants. The result is that in our day, they have almost disappeared in Turkey, Yemen, and Iraq; and very few survivors can be found in North Africa and Saudi Arabia.

“To learn about the heavy toll of that slave trade, I compared the archives of these countries with the testimonies of explorers like Cameron, Stanley, Dr. Livingstone, and Msgr. Lavigerie. I read, as well, the horrific descriptions of the Arab slave-traders at the castration centers. I concluded that between 70% to 80% of the slaves perished. Combining the Trans-Saharan and East African trades, we arrive at a total of 17 million who were castrated. Some of them died or were brought alive to the Arab world and beyond.

“The Arab-Muslim slave trade was a veritable genocide of Black people. By way of comparison, around 70 million African descendants of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade now live in the Americas; mainly in the United States, Brazil, and the Caribbean islands, while only a tiny minority of Africans have survived in the Arab-Muslim lands.

“While there are no degrees in the classification of horrors, or a monopoly of cruelties perpetrated on human beings, the Arab-Muslim slave trade was far more devastating for Black Africa than the Trans-Atlantic trade.

“It is unfortunate that the Arab-Muslim slave trade is little known or studied. It is puzzling that many would like the subject to be covered up under a veil of forgetfulness, for religious or ideological solidarity. It’s as if a virtual pact had been concluded between the victims’ descendants and their tormentors, leading to this denial. This silence, or the underestimation of the extent of the Arab slave trade, results in unique attention being focused on the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.

“Furthermore, Arab-Muslim intellectuals attempt to erase the very memory of this infamy, as if it had never happened! They fail to consider critically their own history and to debate such issues with their compatriots. African Americans who convert to Islam, seem to be oblivious to the Arab-Muslim slave trade, as if any mention of this subject is an attempt to minimize the evils of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade!

“Thus, a veil of silence has for a long time covered up a dark page of our common history, as we also observe this strange amnesia on the part of Black elites. They are wrong to ignore the memory of this genocide. Equally, it’s unscientific when they concentrate their attention on the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. By writing my book, I lift the veil over this dark page of our history. My book is a memorial to this martyrdom of Black people; their descendants must no longer remain hypocritically selective, focusing exclusively on Western crimes.’’

Le génocide voilé Enquête historique - Poche - Tidiane N'Diaye - Achat Livre | fnac

It was back in 2008, that Tidiane N’Diaye’s book was published in Paris, France. In a sense, the veil has been lifted only in the Francophone world. As I reflect on this matter, I wonder whether the reticence to publish an English translation was to avoid promoting a negative view of Arab-Muslim history. Had the author been a Westerner, such a theory might have been plausible. In fact, Tidiane N’Diaye, several African writers agree with his account of the horrors of East African Slavery, like Salah Trabelsi, Muhammad Ennaji, and Ibrahim Thiabe. They presented well-researched lectures in impeccable French; a testimony to the sophistication achieved by Francophone Africans, since the end of French colonialism, in the early 1950s.

Having listened to the presentations several times, I was impressed by the passion and sincerity of the African scholars. Their goal was to give a truthful narrative of one of the most shocking events in African history. Their professional standing coupled with the zeal to unveil a historic tragedy, could be felt in the delivery of their papers.

For me personally, publishing this information is a sacred duty. Having grown up in the Levant as an Eastern Christian, whose ancestors lived as Dhimmis under Islamic colonialism for centuries, I welcome the publication of this book and hope many people will read it. The humiliations and deprivations inflicted on my forefathers pale into insignificance when compared with the sufferings of Black Africans! The least I can do for the memory of East African and Trans-Saharan captives is to share this information, gleaned from French-language presentations of trustworthy, honorable, and brave African scholars!



There is an interview on YouTube with Tidiane N’Diaye (dated 17 January 2015) where the author refers to the main points of his book. The audio is in French and lasts 9 minutes. 

i: Éditions Gallimard is one of the leading French publishers of books. The Guardian has described it as having "the best backlist in the world". In 2003, it and its subsidiaries published 1,418 titles. 

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