Khatou mint El Boukhari, the wife of Mauritania’s former president, has been blamed by many for her husband’s downfall. She introduced the concept of a Hillary Clinton-style First Lady to a country in which the wives of powerful men tend to keep out of the limelight. She aroused distrust and ire from much of the ruling class and is believed to have been a driving force behind many of his government’s excesses and missteps.
Widely seen as self-important and arrogant, she had insulted members of the military and the Senate. The Khatou Boukhari Association (KBA), a charitable group established by the former First Lady, was the largest humanitarian group in the country. Members of the Senate accused Khatou of using its funds for bribes and to finance other forms of corruption. Newspapers caught on, releasing the accusations to the public. She filed a libel suit against one paper in 2007 over the charges, but the case dropped. On official visits abroad she called her accusers in the Senate “liars” and fraudsters. Earlier on in her husband’s Presidency she had made public statements in which she announced that now that she was President time to “crush” the opposition. Last winter her foundation used its funds to throw an enormous and extortionate party in the capital, featuring a live performance by Cheb Khaled. This as one of the world’s poorest country was on the verge of famine amid rising food and fuel prices. For whatever good work it did, KBA was as much a bastion of Third World corruption as could be. Members of parliament threatened an official investigation into its finances; something that would have ended the Abdallahi’s presidency with less honor than the Generals’ solution to the Sidi problem.
Mauritanians joke that their country’s population is really closer to 10 million people. A 7 million strong jinn population lives side-by-side with 3 million or so human beings. These jinn, they say, are responsible for the country’s ills, which are so monumental that mortals alone could not have prosecuted them. This said, superstitions and belief in magic are common in Mauritania, a testament to its position at the intersection between Moorish and black African culture. Khatou’s resolute and sincere belief in the powers of the black arts are well known. Months ago, members of the Presidential Guard found two female members of Khatou’s entourage digging a hole on the grounds of the Presidential Palace. On further investigation they discovered that the women were burying a donkey’s head, which had pins and needles stuck into it, with talismans drawn drafted on its cheeks. After the coup, another member of her entourage was arrested carrying a rooster with all its feathers plucked out. On one side of its body, the name of General Ghazouani was written; General Abdel Aziz’s was carved on the other. The rooster remains under police custody until further notice. The women served as the First Lady’s intermediaries between her Malian and Senegalese “Black Magic Entrepreneurs,” whose payment came at the state’s expense. She is known to have used “offensive” and “defensive” witchcraft against (mostly female) rivals in Nouakchott’s high society, to whom she attributes whatever her woe of the moment may be.
As she inserted herself into the public eye, her husband’s credability and popularity dipped. She blabbered and swindled at her husband’s expense. Her misconduct is surely amplified by the fact that she is a woman in a society where women with magnanimous (and indeed, obnoxious) personalities have yet to find appreciation in the public sphere. And there is a hint of sexism to be found in the tone of those blaming her for her husband’s demise. But her corruption and aggressiveness has a place in the story of the coup, alongside her husband’s inability to produce any meaningful semblance of leadership