Black Looks - Including an African LGBTIQ+ Archive


Al Akhdam out-castes


The NYT publishes a story that highlights the low status of Black people in the Middle East and one of the least discussed histories of Africa and the Arab speaking world, Arab-led slavery. This particularly report is about the Black Yemenis locally referred to as “Al Akhdam” [the root khadama to serve] a derogatory name which means servant. Black Yemenis are thought to have been soldiers originally from modern day Ethiopia and Eritrea during 600AD and settled after a failed invasion and have been slaves and servants ever since.

Set apart by their African features, they form a kind of hereditary caste at the very bottom of Yemen’s social ladder.

Degrading myths pursue them: they eat their own dead, and their women are all prostitutes. Worst of all, they are reviled as outsiders in their own country, descendants of an Ethiopian army that is said to have crossed the Red Sea to oppress Yemen before the arrival of Islam.

The Black Yemenis face discrimination on the basis of their African descent and are subject to massive human rights abuses, forced to live in segregated areas and only able to work in certain jobs.

I intend to return to the subject of Arab-led slavery particularly as it still exists today in Mauritania and the Sudan. Secondly Arab-led slavery and it’s present day legacy, is one of those discussions which is uncomfortable for some Africans and Arabs and one that has largely resulted in an unwritten conspiracy of silence. The discussion in Africa on whether to name the violence in Darfur as genocide has to some extent it’s origins in the historical relations between Arabs and Africans and how these are viewed by each group. A number of articles in Pambazuka News last year exemplified these relations – Professor Mahood Mamdani’s “The politics of naming: genocide, civil war, insurgency”, the response by Professor Kwesi Prah “The politics of apologetics: genocide denial, Darfur version” and “Dafur again“….. by Eva Dadrian and also on Black Looks, Andile Mngxitama’s article (also in response to Mamdani) “There is no genocide in Darfur“. One comment accused Mamdani and the responses to his piece as a “distraction from the real issue” as if African and Arab relations and the naming of the violence are not part of the “real issue” in Darfur and Sudan.

Yemen Observer



  1. When I read this I went back into my archives to pull up these two pieces of writing that are written by Leo Igwe. Thanks for this post.

  2. Comment by post author


    DD @ Thanks for this link which I will check out. More on this issue to come

  3. Ana

    The fear to offend Arabs is like hiding the sun with one finger, it has been human costly to Africans. Let us be honest, the Arabs, as the Europeas have contributed to the detriment, underdevelopement, economic dependency and backwardness of Africans.
    Africans need to stop seeing the Arabs as bothers, and as they really are- ENEMIES of Africa.


  4. Comment by post author


    I raised this issue because it is one that needs to be discussed and laid bare on the history of Africa. Arab nations involved in slavery in Africa must be called to account and I denounce the slavery and oppression of Africans in Arab countries. However as someone who stands in solidarity with oppressed people wherever and whoever they are including the Palestinians.

  5. Ana

    I don’t understand the African silence regarding the Arabs and their inhumanity against African brothers and sisters. This obliviousness gives the Arabs too much license and liberty in their approach with African people. On the outside it looks more like Africans having more loyalty to the Arabs and less love and concern for their brothers and sisters.

    It is hard for me to see the Palestinian question as equal to the centuries of oppression and degradation against the African people.Also, the Palestinians are not the only victims in the Arab/Israeli conflict.I don’t think I am being inhumane by believing that their situation is not equal to the sorrows of the Africans ; and by reaffirming that Arabs along with Europeans are to be blamed for the suffering of African people.Just remember, they share an entire continent with people they don’t really identify with. Are Arabs really capable of showing some concern for Africans?I doubt it. In that respect, they are a little worst than the Europeans.


  6. Comment by post author


    Ana @ You seemed to have missed the crucial point that I raised the issue about silence around Arab-led slavery in the first place and intend to raise it again and again. The story of the Black people in Yemen is a worst case example of Arab racism towards Africans and how they treated which is one reason why I published it in the first place.

    Nonetheless oppressions are not competitions and graded according to oppressions of others.

    I do not see Palestine as equal or unequal to the “oppression and degradation against African people”. I see if for what it is. I gave it as an example of an oppressed people who have lived under Israeli occupation and for the past 40 years and who at this very moment have been abandoned by everyone including other Arab nations.

    BTW who are the “other victims” of the Arab/Israeli conflict?

  7. Ana

    This is my last post.The other victims are the innocent Israeli citizens and members of the international community who have suffered from the ungodly suicide bombers attacks.I am not here to argue on these posts. I am interested in solving the problems of African people. I do believe that it is about time black people take off the blinders off their eyes and start seeing things as they really are.Solidarity with the oppressed who are enemies for “solidarity sake” is futile.

    May God bless you.
    Cordiales saludos.

  8. Comment by post author


    Firstly I did not mention anything about Arab / Israeli conflict.

    I spoke of solidarity with Palestine not just for solidarity sake but because I happen to believe in the right of the Palestinian people to return to their homes and property; that Israel should withdraw from land occupied in 1967; withdrawal from all illegal settlements and a Palestinian state.

    Yes I agree, Africans need to remove the blinders off their eyes.

    Speaking of Israel, on close examination you will find that Black Jews such as Ethiopians, face discrimination and racism in Israel in education, employment, housing, healthcare and so on.


  9. jane doe

    An ex professor (who later became a friend) would always complain bitterly about European racism/ colonialism/ imperialism towards Arabs (which he was). When I would point out the history of African-Arab relations involved quite a bit of explotation and racism on the part of Arabs he would always be in denial about it. And he had a PH’D in international relations and a masters in political science! It made me learn that some people who were very well versed in the ignorance of white priveledged college students had their own blind spots that were hundreds of miles long.
    I also had a boyfriend who mentioned that a lot of African American anti-racist activists where he went to colege seemed to consider him to one of them (he was Arab). He was surprised that they would be so openly bitter at whites because of their history with blacks but they didn’t seem to know even slightly that the history of Arabs and Africans was not one of brotherhood and mutual respect.

  10. truth

    Africans are NOT in denial about Arab Imperialism! The ones that are in denial are Arabized. We know the truth;we have known it since 640 AD when the Arabs invaded Africa through Egypt. What do people think North Africa is? North Africa use to be BLACK! Arabs now own 1/3rd of African land. There are plenty of people speaking out about this, Nigerian scholar Chinweizu has published many papers on the issue of the Arabization of Africa and on Arab Imperialism in Africa. If you want to know more read his papers, some can be found at:

    Just do a search you will find lots on this topic; not to mention the stories of former Sudanese slaves, and Kola Boof.

  11. truth

    I will not stand beside Palestine! Palestinians have been responsible for the enslavement of black women and children. Did you not know that there where Black Palastinians? Many of the Black people in Palestine face racism, the black women can’t find husbands cause they are deemed inferior! Heck most of them have been sterilized (a common practice in chattel slavery)! These same Palestinians that scream oppression oppress Africans call us Abeed(slave). There are African slaves all over South west Asia (Middle East); from Arabia, to Jordan, to Palestine, Iraq, Omen, Qatar and many more. Lets not forget the slaves in Mauritania, Chad, Sudan, Niger, and many more countries. Arab Imperialism is exterminating Africans!

  12. leslie

    I agree African Americans are unaware of the atrocities inflicted upon black Africans at the hands of Arabs. Arabs have and still is destroying African humanity, and view them as “abeed” which means slaves. The black women are sterilized and used for sexual purposes by the Palestine men. Blacks are at the bottom of the social ladder in terms of economics. It’s too bad that the African blacks are too brainwashed due to religion to speak out against the injustices upon them. They are powerless and lack education to do something about it.

  13. I agree, African Americans are unaware of the atrocities that Arabs have and still inflict upon Africans. As of Palestinians, I’ve heard from numerous sources of them sterilizing African women and using them as sex slaves. Not only that, it is extremely difficult for Black Palestinian women to find a husband, due to their dark-skin and rejection from White Palestinian men. I am empathetic of the Palestinian people suffering from Israel, but, however, I’m sure there are two sides to the story, and so far, I’ve only heard of Israel’s evil doing.