It is a woebegone Ramadhan in Mauritania. Scandals, power outages, flood and neglect abound. While the freshly elected president, General Mohamed Abdel Aziz, sits air conditioned and on vacation in Spain (after reveling round Qadhafi’s bonfire), while Nouakchott is without power, the national radio broadcaster does not service the country’s vast interior, Mauritania’s third city, Rosso, is submerged by flooding along with large parts of the shanties around the capital, Nouakchott. One person has died in Rosso. Residents of the capital complain of the putrid smell of rotting food, standing and dirty water filling streets without sewers. Internet access is limited. PM Moulay Ould Mohamed Laghdaf made a surprise visit to the power station at Arafat, where the troubles related to the Nouakchott outages originated, as traders reported major losses. Ahmed Ould Daddah, a prominent opposition leader, has also used the opportunity to show his solidarity with flood victims. As a result of the horrendous floods, the government announced that it plans to “embark on a plan to study providing Mauritanian cities with a sanitation network to prevent urban flooding from rain water.” A miserable Mauritanian described her city as having returned to the Stone Age.
And if it sounds as if things could not get any worse, a man was killed by a camel south-east of the capital. He was whipped to the ground, and trampled to death. He was sixty. His name was Mohamed Abdallahi Ould Mohamed Vall.
Amid this, a climate of impunity, even arrogance prevails. Not only that, but the head of the Customs Department has been implicated in a massive scam to smuggle out millions in hard cash (in Euros) through the international airport. As Roussou and the capital languish after torrential rains, Taleb Vall Ould Abdi, the head of SNIM jets back and forth, north to south, in a private plane, an expense the opposition has called for him to halt. Ould Abdi previously was the chief of SOMELEC, the state agency responsible for electricity. Following its recent failure, he was moved (some say promoted) to one of the most important pieces of national infrastructure and a point of national pride: the state iron ore corporation. Taqadoumy has a detailed report on this phenomena. Six million ouguiyas are “missing” from the national assembly, after an agent of that body cashed a check signed by the Quaestor of the lower house in that amount and disappeared. This not long after Ould Abdel Aziz confirmed his commitment to not form a unity government following the contested elections of July last. Algeria has sent a batch of aid, foodstuffs and tents. The Minister of Petroleum is threatening to resign over contracts awarded to Muhsin Ould Hajj, contrary to his will and imposed from above. The blackouts are said to be the result of the government having pressured SOMELEC into providing additional electricity to a large cement factory, a request previously denied precisely for fear of power outages. The factory is owned by Mohamed Bouamatou (see here), a major supporter of Gen. Ould Abdel Aziz.
Incompetence shows elsewhere. Locals report that amidst the widespread paranoia around suicide bombers — as it was reported last month that several tens of AQIM bombers were roaming the country — men stationed at police checkpoints have taken to checking ordinary citizens’ vehicles thoroughly but hurriedly waving on menacing looking fellows. Indeed, out of fear, police are using the opposite “profiling” technique to that used in Algeria, Egypt and elsewhere: a long beard and other stereotypical “Salafi”/Islamist gear expedites one’s trip, rather than hinders it. Members of the government have called for a new strategy aimed at “raising awareness” about the threat of terrorism, calling attention to its “foreign and exotic” nature and specialized training.
The Mauritania of Mohamed Abdel Aziz is a hot, wet and hungry one. In that it is much like the Mauritania of years past. It is different in that in previous times, when things got messy, there was no vacation for the president, no rest for his cohorts. Whereas Ould Abdel Aziz protested his deployment to the interior following the 2005 GSPC attack, he has taken a defensive position at Las Palmas in the face of a suicide bombing, massive flooding, and the creaking of the country’s critical infrastructure. While Mauritanians’ food rots at home and in the market, and while citizens float from place to place in the south. The strategic logic of this position remains unknown. What is sure is its name: criminal neglect.
While Ould Abdel Aziz ran his campaign as a “president of the poor,” for those for whom the term “demagogy” did not occur then, it has come up prominently now. It is a very sad, very African story. A man arrives in the capital in a tank, hops out, makes a big speech, shakes his fist, occupies the presidential palace, gets rich (or stays rich), leads the country to ruin and takes happy holiday abroad. Whatever comes of Gen. Ould Abdel Aziz’s first, doleful Ramadhan as president, it will be for greater powers in the moment and beyond.