On the Dismissal of Naha Mint Mouknass

Mauritanian Foreign Affairs Minister Naha Mint Mouknass(R) poses with Libya's Secretary of the General people's committee for Foreign Affairs Moussa Koussa in Tunis during the opening of the meeting gathering five Foreign Affairs ministers of the Arab Magreb Union (UMA) and five from the European Union.Naha Mint Mouknass was dismissed from the post of Foreign Minister last week. This is significant with respect to Mauritania’s relations with Libya, one of its principal Arab patrons as well its overall foreign policy.

Background: Foreign Minister since August 2009, Mouknass was the first woman to hold the post in Mauritania. Mouknass came to the office with excellent political credentials: the daughter of a celebrated Foreign Minister whose business savvy made their small El-Guera’a tribe an important political force in the country’s north. She was an advisor to the country’s pre-2005 strongman Maaouiya Ould Tayya and headed up the small political party Union pour la Démocratie et le Progrès (UDP) and sitting on the parliamentary Foreign Relations Commission. She also had and retains extremely close ties to Libya.

During the 2005-2007 transition Mouknass spent a year in Tripoli where she cultivated extensive ties to Mu’amar al-Qadhafi’s inner circle. She became particularly close with Nouri al Mismari (later a representative to Paris), a chief Qadhafi advisor who became her key link to Qadhafi. Following the 2008 coup, then-general Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz sought Libyan support to balance off western sanctions and gain critical financial support. After Ould Abdel Aziz cut Mauritania’s ties with Israel, Qadhafi became Mauritania’s main backer in North Africa (along with Morocco, whose motivations were separate) and Mouknass’s appointment following the 2009 election reflected these close ties. Mouknass, like others involved in the Libyan portfolio, gained political clout and wealth from her proximity to Qadhafi and Libyan investment in Mauritania’s politics and economy. Her dismissal is thus significant. The day after the UNSC-backed bombing campaign began in Libya, the Mauritanian government seized land sold to Libya to build the al-Fatah Hotel. Thus might lead one to deduce that her removal may signal a move away from Qadhafi on the part of president Ould Abdel Aziz but this is most likely not the case (recall Ould Abdel Aziz’s call to Qadhafi at the beginning of the crisis and the measured tone of the Foreign Ministry statement on the crisis last month).

Sacked: During the Paris Conference on the Libyan no-fly-zone, Mauritania hosted (at Nouakchott) the Meeting of the AU High-Level ad hoc Committee on Libya, made up of Mauritania, Mali, Congo, South Africa and Uganda as well as AU Commission chief Jean Ping. The Paris summit included representatives from the UN, Arab League, US and a host of NATO countries contributing to the no-fly-zone — and France had invited the AU. The Nouakchott meeting may thus been seen as an important snub by the African Union against the mainly US-European backed effort against Qadhafi — which does indeed feature symbolically important Arab support from the Gulf countries and the Libyan resistance (it should be noted that the unanimous Arab League resolution endorsing the no-fly-zone passed with only 11 countries (according to early reports, which would mean there was oddly no official quorum) present and the infamous abstentions from Algeria and Syria; the absences are perhaps more important than the vote itself; readers are invited to clarify/confirm the list of attendees at the meeting).

The Nouakchott communique called for an “immediate cessation” of violence in Libya and called on the government in Tripoli to allow humanitarian aid to reach those in need and to consider necessary political reforms. It stood in direct distention from the consensus represented in Paris, noting in dissatisfaction that the Commission requested permission fly to Libya to “deal with” the situation and was “denied permission” to enter the country. In terms of Mauritania it showed that Ould Abdel Aziz was confident enough in Qadhafi to shun France, still Nouakchott’s major patron with significant leverage, in a time of crisis. Thus it was critical for all things to go well and for all segments of the policy process to be in sync.

Enter the Foreign Minister. Mint Mouknass withheld the policy statements she wrote for the president from the rest of his entourage and presented it to him directly on the day of the meeting, breaking protocol and causing friction within the inner circle which attendees detected. This is the reason given to queries regarding her dismissal. Rumors and press reports say she will continue to serve as an advisor on Libya, Iran and Palestinian issues though this is not independently verified. It is additionally postulated, and very probably accurate, that she was dismissed as a result of Nouri al-Mismari‘s defection from the Libyan regime which came at the same time as other Libyan diplomats were resigning their posts in protest of atrocities committed against the resistance (al-Mismari was a counselor at the Libyan Embassy in France and chief of protocol until the crisis; his son resigned as a representative to Ottawa on 23 February). Al-Mismari’s defection cut out Mouknass’s key link to Qadhafi, reducing her value politically, and her dismissal likely reflects messaging from Ould Abdel Aziz to Qadhafi with respect to his stance on the defections. This does not represent Mouknass being ejected from the regime but rather a situational adjustment. It does, however, represent the potential impact of the defections that have rocked Libya’s diplomatic corps.

Otherwise: Mauritania’s post-2008 foreign policy has relied heavily on three important factors: 1) Mauritania’s centrality to the AQIM problem in the Sahel and western governments’ perceptional bias for stabilizing forces “tough on terrorism,” which makes military men like Ould Abdel Aziz strategically useful against international terrorism and violent extremism. This has helped to securitize western policy toward Mauritania and led to hesitance to cut off military and economic aid and the linking of internal political consolidation to security issues generally (this is more persuasive to foreigners than Mauritanians in general); 2) The leveraging of favor from wealthy Third World powers such as Libya, Venezuela, Iran and Qatar against western efforts to force political action and/or reform by slashing aid or political ties, thus allowing the junta and then government of Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz to consolidate himself internally and wait out western (primarily US and French) efforts to pressure him politically ahead of the 2009 elections and the Dakar process and; 3) International business networks with interests in Mauritania linked to and overlapping with powerful western, mainly French, political actors. The downside of this has been that it does not endear him to France and positioning himself so close to Qadhafi and against the French position in the current crisis — at a time when France has been attempting to be a conspicuous leader. This may reduce Paris’s willingness to engage or reach out to Ould Abdel Aziz in the event of a crisis in Mauritania, which could arise from recent protests that have only escalated in the last two weeks (Ould Abdel Aziz’s relationship with Qadhafi is also increasingly unpopular domestically). Thus the Mauritanians for the time being are more vulnerable at this stage in the Libyan crisis (and their own) as a result of their relationship with Qadhafi than they were at the beginning and the level of political risk associated the current protest movement has slightly increased.


11 thoughts on “On the Dismissal of Naha Mint Mouknass

  1. Ah, at last Kal!

    while reading your post, this seems to me something interesting about sister Naha. I know you don’t agree with some conspiracy theorists, but lots of conspiracy theorists will be lookin at the fate of these AQIM foxes in the framework of the manipulation we spoke a lot about it here and elsewhere. I still believe that Jeremy Keenan got it right. No doubbt about it.


  2. A sporadic reader of this blog, I have been, with good reason, confirmed in my assessment that like most Maghrebi talk, this one is unfortunately no exception in its loaded analysis and reliance on sympathetic/unsympathetic ‘analysis’, fed by the likes of wishy-washy “Tidinit”.

    “Excellent political credentials”, Ms. Mouknass? Hardly. Ask anyone in Nouakchott about the nature of those so-called credentials.

    Beyond, your summary of foreign affairs in the period 2005-2011 is reductionist, at best.

    Kal: Mauritanian society is not that complex, and reliance on Taqadoumy and Saharas Media is, frankly, no way into journalism. Even when considered amateurish. It’s as if you were telling us about Algeria through Liberte and El Watan…

    Keep up the work anyway

    • Briggs: Thanks for your fair criticism.

      Re: Mouknass’s credentials as I said I’m talking politically, not substantively or to their quality (as she’s well introduced and has connection that were deemed valuable to Aziz). I’m well aware of how her appointment was viewed and that she is not held in a high regard but this was somewhat beyond the point I was trying to make and the amount of space I wanted to use in a post that ended up being longer than I wanted anyway.

      As for the summary being reductionist, that’s fair. Pressed for time and space it has to be compressed and I understand if some do not find it totally satisfactory. Nothing here claims to be definitive but in the context of the subject matter I think its fair narrow things down.

      I understand Mauritanian society is highly complex and I recognize the limitations of sources which is why I do my best to try and get a view of what various outlets are saying, not just Taqadoumy and Sahara Media but others as well, Tahlil and AMI, ANI, Al-Akhbar and others as well as speaking to people who know more than I do. Is my analysis perfect or always on the mark? No, probably not even most of the time but I try to give a relevant and clear picture as I can with what resources are available. And I wish more readers would offer the kind of useful criticism you do.

      As far Tinidit is concerned I respect the views of all my readers but I don’t agree with all of them and I think he would agree that he speaks only for himself just as I speak only for myself.

  3. I speak only for myself as Kal has said. Wishy-washy/shame? Briggs not at ease with opinions that are not his, tough luck. Nothing is perfect.

  4. Propagana? We are made to bielive Deby Itno in this story. Forget it.

    Retour au Mali d’éléments d’Aqmi en provenance de Libye.

    Selon des sources autorisées, l’ensemble des éléments d’Al Qaida qui s’étaient introduit en territoire libyen se sont retirés et sont retournés dans leurs refuges au Nord-Mali, de même les chefs touaregs qui avaient apporté leur soutien à Kadhafi sont rentrés lorsque l’étau exercé par la coalition internationale à commencé à se resserrer inexorablement sur le régime du Colonel Kadhafi, alors que des informations confirmées font état de la mort d’environ 200 combattants touaregs aux côtés des forces loyales à Kadhafi.

    Dans une interview à Jeune Afrique parue lundi 28 mars, le Président Idriss Déby a d’ailleurs affirmé que des combattants d’Al Qaida ont profité de l’insurrection libyenne pour mettre la main sur des missiles air-sol, qu’ils auraient pris dans des entrepôts de l’armée libyenne, profitant de la confusion consécutive à la retraite des forces loyalistes.

    Le Président tchadien affirme que les combattants d’Aqmi ont transporté ces armements et ces missiles dans leurs repaires du Ténéré, dans le nord-Niger.

    L’ex-diplomate et opposant Moussa El Kouni affirme, pour sa part dans une interview à l’AFP que la région de Sebha (700 km au sud de Tripoli) est le centre nerveux où sont regroupés les mercenaires africains avant qu’ils soient versés dans les kataeb (divisions) de Kadhafi à Tripoli et dans les villes du Nord.

    El Kouni, qui a servi à partir de 2005 comme consul de Lybie au Mali, jusqu’à sa défection le 1er mars dernier, date à laquelle il a rejoint secrètement Paris, et a annoncé son adhésion à l’insurrection libyenne, affirme que les avions qui œuvrent au transport de mercenaires en provenance d’environ 10 pays d’Afrique décollent en bon ordre de l’aéroport d’Obrou (200 km à l’ouest de Sebha), en direction de Tripoli.

    El Kouni soupçonne l’Algérie de permettre le passage des mercenaires africains à travers les confins algéro-libyens, et assure que des pilotes syriens et algériens travaillent au service des forces de Kadhafi. El Kouni assure que 3.500 mercenaires africains seraient dispersés actuellement à travers la capitale Tripoli afin d’y ”faire régner la terreur”, le moment venu.

    Les insurgés libyens dénoncent régulièrement l’utilisation par Kadhafi de mercenaires étrangers, notamment d’Afrique, dans sa lutte pour garder le pouvoir, mais les informations restent floues quant au nombre de ces mercenaires. Selon le New York Times, qui cite des sources proches du régime libyen, le nombre de ces mercenaires africains serait de l’ordre de 3.000 à 4.000 combattants, provenant en majorité du Mali, du Niger, et du Darfour.

    Un porte-parole du Comité libyen pour les droits de l’Homme a indiqué le 2 mars que le régime libyen disposait d’environ 25.000 combattants qu’il n’avait pas encore affectés, mais que 3.000 parmi eux étaient dispersés à Tripoli, et 3.000 autres autour de la capitale.

    L’un des leaders de la rébellion tchadienne exilé au Qatar, le Général Mohamed Nouri, a assuré de l’existence de mercenaires tchadiens en Libye. Une source parmi les renseignements d’Etat du Mali a indiqué que “800 combattants touaregs, du Mali, du Niger, d’Algérie, du Burkina Faso avaient été enrôlés en Libye pour le compte du régime de Kadhafi”. Selon l’AFP, un diplomate libyen aurait ouvert un petit bureau dans un hôtel de la capitale malienne Bamako pour recruter des mercenaires maliens destinés à combattre l’insurrection libyenne.

    L’organisation Human Rights Watch appelle toutefois à la plus grande prudence, indiquant que sur 164 personnes détenues à Al Beida,dans l’Est au moins 160 ont été relâchées, et selon Peter Bouckaert, responsable de l’organisation, “nous avons enquêté depuis le début de l’insurrection, et nous sommes prudents car rien n’a été véritablement prouvé jusqu’à présent sur l’ampleur du phénomène”.

    Le responsable de Human Rights Watch précise “tant qu’il n’y pas de documents, de preuves, il faut rester prudent, des africains ont été traités durement, une sorte de psychose peut s’installer et des Noirs d’Afrique ont subi des violences de la part de libyens, à cause de ces rumeurs”.

    Toute reprise d’article ou extrait d’article devra inclure une référence à http://www.cridem.org

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