Just a Note on Mauritania

These are some general thoughts on the political situation in Mauritania as they stand now. The country is divided in significant ways and the economic situation leaves much to be desired for the average person, a situation many can attest to. The  Some of this is economic — owing to drought, mismanagement, unemployment, food insecurity and the like — some of it is the result of distinctly domestic or external factors. The violence related to the census protests (remember the ‘Don’t Touch My Nationality’ campaign) in September and October was notable in that the government’s response was to cancel the census, which also meant the legislative elections — which had already been pushed back to October from earlier dates — had to be postponed for the spring (also creating the potential for a constitutional crisis). The scheduling of the municipal and legislative elections will be a major point to watch in the next few months. Some of these problems were worked out during the dialogue between parts of the opposition (led mainly by the APP and a few smaller parties, El Wiam, Hammam, and Sawab; the RFD, UFP and the rest of the COD, boycotted the dialogue; the process left the opposition bitterly divided) and the UPR, especially the provision of an independent electoral commission. As interesting is the fact that there have been so many generalised and organised expressions of economic and political dissatisfaction in the last three to four months. Strikes, threats of strikes, sit-ins, youth and opposition demonstrations have gone on with some regularity. There was a rally for the ruling UPR at Nouadhibou not long ago where very few people showed up aside from functionaries and there are signs of cracks in the party (one commentator called it ‘a giant with feet of clay‘). The fall of Qadhafi deprived President Ould Abdel Aziz of an important source of largesse and external rent which helped him buy allies and build his political base; a number of big mining and energy deals came through this year which probably helped balance this off but this was probably (though not surely) the best performing part of the economy. There is an impression many of the mining deals that went through in the autumn and early winter were part of an effort to raise money, rent-seeking; and in the general sense there are reports of widespread nepotism from members of the president’s family, getting a stake in this company or that one, putting pressure on banks for their own benefit. Even at SNIM there have been reports about top level scrabbles where professional engineers have complained about family ties getting the way of work; earlier in the year there was a scandal over interns who never showed up to work but were give large stipends regardless. Agriculture and other critical areas were hard hit by bad weather; the Red Cross/Crescent recently said about a million Mauritanians will go hungry in 2012 unless something is done to avert it — that one million number is out of just under four million people. So things are hard in Mauritania and that is not new. How this will impact how things in Mauritania play out in 2012 is worth pondering. This blog has focused on the AQIM and security element but there are problems the country faces that are in some ways more serious and potentially more (or as) destabilising than terrorism or banditry; this should not be forgotten. The country continues to suffer from ‘rent-driven underdevelopment’, which Mamoun A. Ismaili discusses in a recent essay in the IPRIS Maghreb Bulletin (Autumn/Winter 2011). Ismaili’s essay is a good primer on Mauritania’s political economy and its background, and puts the current government into historical perspective. It also sums up some of the recent episodes described in this post.

  1. Ismaili, Mamoun A. ‘Power Devolution in Mauritania: The Chasse Gardée of a Rent-Seeking Elite,’ Portuguese Institute of International Relations and Security, Maghreb Bulletin, No. 12 (Autumn/Winter, 2011), pp. 3-7.

23 thoughts on “Just a Note on Mauritania

  1. I fully agree. While the military seems to have gotten a grip on AQIM and thus has contributed to an increased stability in this regard, instability may be caused by other factors. Certainly Aziz is still tall in the saddle, but the last year has shown on multiple occasions that he is not willing / capable to appropriately respond to demands coming from a large part of the population. Many Mauritanians have been marginalised for a long time, but not only may conditions get even harsher (you mentioned the likely food crisis), the population is utterly disillusioned and fed up with the style of rule Aziz has showcased recently. As noted elsewhere before, protests have reached a scale and determination which is uncommon in Mauritania. This should worry the ruling elite…

    Finally just a question in the following sentence:

    “The violence (..) was notable in that the government’s response was to cancel the census, which also meant the legislative elections — which had already been pushed back to October from earlier dates — had to be postponed for the spring …”

    The census hasn’t been canceled, or have I missed something?

      • Yes, Hannes is right. The protests are still going.
        TPMN has even widened its demands to include the whole litany of grievances that the Afro-Mauritanian community has been rasing for decades (An immediate stop to the exproritation of African lands, bringing to justice perpetrators of mass crimes against Southern populations, the inclusion of African languages in the educational systems etc…)
        Speaking of TPMN, their next rally is Saturday Jan. 28 to demand that the African laguages be also taught in school.
        But this article makes a good point: the biggest source of instability in Mauritania is not going to be Al-Qaida but the inability of President Aziz to solve internal problems, which include the pressing need to once for all adress the question of national unity.
        The president in his entourage label anyone that raisses these issues as thugs and extremists. But in reality the frustration is shared by the entire Southern populations which acount for at least a third of the country.

      • I just returned from Nouakchott and it seems that the government is easing the requirements for the enrolment (no more silly questions and somehow possible to enrol in one day – I did not go, but I was told). This to make the enrolment a success, instead of a full failure. Let’s see what more improvement will result from NTPMN rally of January and other pressure from the opposition.
        Fully agree with Hannes Bahrenburg and Saidou Wane.

  2. Reblogged this on @lissnup and commented:
    At the end of December, the Mauritania Red Cross representative in Geneva warned of 1.2 million people at risk of starvation by this month, January 2012, and launched an emergency appeal for 2 million Swiss Francs .The appeal amount is approximate, as reports of the amount vary, but not by too much and in any case one wonders how much can be achieved with such a small sum.

  3. The latest from Jeremy Keenan (3 January 2012). In my reading of this piece, I have focused on Ag Iyali and the possibility that the latest kidnappings are from Tuaregs, not AQMI. Some people can’t stand Keenan, but he forces you to think out of the box put in front of your nose by the official strotytelling about this AQMI mess. Anyway, highly relevant here. All this of course is about educated guess and Keenan knows his stuff.


  4. The census is still very much continuing. I spoke to two people this week in Rosso who had gone to their local census offices to wait for up to 12 hours to be registered in the census. Apparently, government officials no longer go to people’s homes to fill in census information. Now, people go to regional centers as early as 4 or 5 in the morning to wait in slow-moving lines to be registered. There are many complaints about these conditions, especially since the elderly find it especially hard to find transport and help in getting to their regional census centers. Some people come from many kilometers away to be registered, only to be turned away at the end of the day. If these elderly do not register, then their children cannot register. Because failing to register in the census means losing one’s voting rights, there are stories of falsification of death records of parents still living. I think that, generally, there is a growing consensus that this census needs to be undertaken for a variety of reasons but that the entire process of registering is just too tedious and time-consuming for it to be done efficiently and accurately.

  5. This and the uprising rebelllion in Northern Mali complicate things.

    17.01.12 Libya Focus Clashes between rival factions leave two dead

    A weekend of clashes between rival factions, in the town of Gharyan about 80km south of Tripoli, has left at least two people dead and more than 40 injured. The authorities say they are now in a process of putting together a force to disarm the supposed Colonel Mu’ammar Qadhafi loyalists.
    Speaking to the BBC, local officials in the town said they feel powerless in controlling their own revolutionary groups. According to a number of other sources, in the hills surrounding the town, revolutionary forces are again battling in full force, their anti-aircraft guns mounted on the backs of pickup trucks heading west toward the town of Assabia.
    It is thought that the fighting began on Friday 13th January and continued throuought the weekend. The following day, Libya’s Defence Minister Osama al-Juweili travelled to Gharyan to try to encourage a ceasefire but to no avail.
    On Sunday 15th January, a group of tribal elders arrived in Gharyan in an attempt to mediate in the conflict and negotiate a prisoner exchange. The confrontations, however, continue.
    Despite government’s calls to disarm, various factions remain at large and seem to have no intention of joining the national army – an initiative proposed by Tripoli.
    Some fear that there is a danger of a civil war, if the militias do not give up their weapons. The situation remains tense and the country’s future is still unclear.
    Sources: Reuters, Bloomberg, BBC News

  6. Complicated article too. Like reading for an exam for a brain surgeon. After reading this, you understand better at present the Touareg issue in the areas.

    Difficult now to separate AQMI and the Touareg rebels. How now Mauritania, Algeria, Mali and Niger will fight against AQIM with some connection with some Touareg groups.

    For the rest, Jeremy Keenan assumes what he is writing and he is knowledgeable of the sahara-sahel region and who is playing what. Some people do not agree with him, but it has been difficult for them to say the contrary, besides saying he has no proof of what he is saying. How you can get a proof from a very secretive world?

  7. Since there is not yet anything concerning the tuareg rebellion, this is worth reading. The press and governments are silent. Only Jeremy Keenan has the courage to tell us what COULD be going on. This situation is worse than the propaganda leadinf to the Iraq invasion. The only good thing is that “they” got ride of Saddam. The other good thing is that Kadafi is history.


  8. I think Mauritanians are sick and tired of this AQIM game. The Minister for Foreign Affairs of Mauritania is telling the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Mali that he is lying in connecting the Tuarges to AQIM.
    Hamadi Ould Hamadi : “Les Touareg ne sont pas en liaison avec Aqmi”


    «Il faut éviter de faire l’amalgame» en ce qui concerne l’existence d’éventuelles liaisons entre les rebelles Touareg et Aqmi, a précisé le ministre mauritanien des Affaires étrangères et de la coopération.

    Hamadi Ould Baba Ould Hamadi, assistant à Addis Abéba à l’ouverture des travaux de la 20eme session du conseil exécutif de l’Union africaine, s’est expliqué ce matin sur RFI : « D’abord les Touareg sont une communauté ethnique, ce qui n’est pas le cas des terroristes. Les Touareg au Mali sont chez eux, ce qui n’est pas le cas des terroristes. Les Touareg ont des revendications identitaires, ce qui n’est pas le cas des terroristes. Les Touareg n’ont jamais attaqué un pays étranger, ce qui n’est pas le cas, n’ont plus, des terroristes. Donc, à mon avis, il faut éviter de faire l’amalgame.»

    Et s’agissant des terroristes d’Aqmi, «ils ont des difficultés de recrutement. Ils ont des difficultés de mobilité. En tout cas, dans la zone frontalière avec la Mauritanie, ils ont maintenant des difficultés de mobilité», a insisté le ministre. Mais, est-ce que le nombre des combattants d’Aqmi atteindrait des milliers ? «Je crois que c’est exagéré», a répondu le ministre tout en précisant : «De toute façon, leur capacité de nuisance ne se mesure pas à leur nombre ; elle se mesure à leur mode opératoire et les facilités qu’ils ont.» Malheureusement , «ils sont financés par les européens. C’est méchant de dire ça mais c’est la vérité», poursuit le ministre.

    Toutefois, Hamadi Ould Baba Ould Hamadi a estimé que combattre Aqmi «n’est pas vraiment une question de moyen, mais il faut une volonté réelle…Tout le monde le sait, en 2002 c’était quelques dizaines de personnes, si on les avait combattues à ce stade-là avec la même détermination, ils ne seraient pas arrivés là où ils sont. Maintenant, les Etats sont souverains : chacun conduit sa politique comme cela lui semble son intérêt.» En tout cas, pour ce qui de la Mauritanie «nous avons investi massivement dans la modernisation, dans l’innovation de notre équipement de notre dispositif de défense et de sécurité. Depuis 2009, il n’y pas eu d’enlèvement en Mauritanie. Il n’y a plus, ni camps opérationnel ni camps d’entrainement ni même une cellule active. Nous pensons qu’il n’y a plus même un terroriste actif en liberté en Mauritanie» a-t-il estimé.

    Source : AL Akhbar le 29/01/2012

  9. Kal,

    Nothing new on the uprising in Mali? Read in Magharebia that Algeria has ceased to support the Malian army and Mauritania either does not want to be involved in the mess in Mali or does not support any side. So Malian government abandonned by its 2 neighbors, while a third one, Sénégal that is not part of the Tamanrasset coalition is helping Mali. Why Sénégal, if this story is true, wants to get involved militarily in an internal problem between Malians?


    MNLA: «Des chars sénégalais appuient l’armée malienne»

    ALAKHBAR (Nouakchott)- «Le Sénégal apporte un appui logistique à l’armée malienne pour lui permettre de mater le soulèvement des Azwad qui réclament leur indépendance», a déclaré le MNLA.

    Le Mouvement national pour la libération d’Azwad affirme que «des chars sénégalais ont franchi la frontières avec le Mali en destination des zones de combat dans le nord du Mali.»

    Et selon le MNLA, «l’armée malienne compte s’appuyer sur celle du Sénégal pour récupérer les zones qu’elle a perdues lors des accrochages avec le MNLA. Et ce dernier d’ajouter que «beaucoup de soldats maliens refusent de participer aux combats.»

  10. Hope you are fine Kal. I don’t believe in coincidences: the rebellion in Mali starts and the MND is taken over.

    Priffe: you are the only one who knows and you know what I mean. Tell us.

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