Hidden in Plain Sight: Haratine in Nouakchott’s “Niche-Settlements”

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Absract: Is it possible to speak of degrees of invisibility? If it is, the haratin of Nouakchott, sprawling coastal capital of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, certainly count among the most invisible of tens of thousands of poor inhabitants scattered in its multiple shanty-towns (kebbe). Haratin are mostly former slaves or their descendants; they constitute many of the city’s migrants from rural areas as well as a first and second generation born and bred in urbanity. This paper focuses on a sub-group of these haratin -- men, women, children who chose to live outside the more conspicuous kebbe and ‘popular’ districts, and take up spaces between villas in prosperous neighbourhoods . There is no formal name for these tiny communities which by nature of their insertion into the fabric of wealthy communities, are truly invisible to the passing eye and taken for granted by their neighbours. Here, I refer to them as ‘niche-settlements’ – ‘niches’ that have become home to the ‘most invisible of the invisible’ of Nouakchott’s poor