Nouakchott seems to be awash with rumors of a deal with France regarding a possible prisoner exchange. According to knowledgeable sources in and outside of Mauritania, rumors that Joyandet’s visit to Nouakchott would be used to press the Mauritanians to to meet AQIM’s demands over a Frenchman kidnapped in Niger are credible. These sources say that a prisoner swap was at the top of the agenda at Alan Joyandet’s meeting with president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz and that the two reached some kind of an understanding on this early. It is said that this came with assurances of French solid support (including financial aid) for Ould Abdel Aziz pending his compliance with this request. Ould Abdel Aziz would release (presumably) Salafist prisoners and AQIM would release the French citizen currently held. Additionally, other sources say that Ould Abdel Aziz planned to leverage his relations with Mohamed Hassan Ould Dedew to manage Islamist opinion regarding last week’s verdicts. He was initially embarrassed by Ould Dedew’s comments but after the Aleg 3 may be more comfortable.
The French also registered their opposition to the death penalty, which may help the government in maneuvering away from Sidi Ould Sidina, Mohamed Ould Chabarnou and Maarouf Ould Hiba’s death sentences; executions are highly impolitic in Mauritania, as they risk upsetting tribal relations. Given that at least one of the killers comes from a large tribe, and that all three have launched appeals, it is seems possible for their sentences to be commuted in the future. But, as many in the media have noted, the episode is the first of its kind in Mauritania and many things are in play.
Ould Abdel Aziz’s visit to Khartoum for the inauguration of Omar al-Bashir was a demonstration of support and gratitude (for al-Bashir’s advice and backing earlier). He is now preparing for a visit Paris (as well as Nice, for independence celebrations). Also abroad this week was General Mohamed Ould Ghazouani (the second most powerful figure in the regime) has been in discussions with French and Chinese officials. His mission to Beijing includes military and economic issues (with emphasis on the economic side; think fish). The outcome of both Paris visits will be especially relevant, as will be the results of the Brussels donors meeting. The economic situation (especially in agriculture) will make this summer a rough one and the government knows that it will need as much help as it can get. Workers’ strikes are threatened, staged or obstructed almost weekly (more on that later) and the opposition has capitalized on several of them thus far. More are likely to come as the summer progresses.
UPDATE: Ould Abdel Aziz’s original plan was to travel directly from Khartoum to Paris; he re-routed his travel arrangements so that he could head to Paris from Nouakchott. According to local sources this was a quick and abrupt return and its purpose is still obscure.