SUMMARY: This post follows other posts that have looked generally at Algeria’s perception of the Mali crisis and its role in its resolution. It examines the role of the Algerian press and the availability of public sources for analysts trying to make sense of a vexing problem. Pleased by Peter Tinti’s writing on the subject of late (see ‘Understanding Algeria’s Northern Mali Policy,’ Think Africa Press, 05 October 2012; which is great because it is concise which this blog never is), which tracks closely with this blogger’s own view expressed in the past, this blogger has decided to continue to dump thoughts and analysis on the subject in hopes of advancing a better analytic understanding and approach to the situation insofar is this is possible until time allows for more detailed and aggressive treatment elsewhere.
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.
Previously, this blogger complained about popular maps of North Africa as it related to AQIM, particularly in English-speaking media. Below are some rough, experimental maps that attempt to show some of the priorities discussed last week’s post on some of the politics between the various actors in the Maghreb-Sahel region. Nothing here is perfectly depicted or with total accuracy, but they are a start toward … something. [UPDATE: Another map, after the jump.]
1. In the first map represents the priorities discussed in the posts referenced above. Algeria, Libya and Morocco are colored blue as key actors while other relevant local actors are colored tan. Senegal is not included, though it might be advisable to include that country (as well as Gambia). The black arrows indicate “geopolitical thrusts” and are highlighted to indicate priorities according to understandings of political, economic, social and military efforts as expressed in the posted mentioned above (under “intra-regional squabbling”). The yellow arrows indicate indirect influence or the independent influence of secondary actors. Because this map is concerned with intra-regional priorities and interests, it does not include the behavior or priorities of western actors directly. The large number of vectors make it … potentially quite confusing.
The map at right is attached to an AFP article titled “Freeing Sahel Hostages by Force is too Risky — Experts“. It depicts the travel warnings issued to citizens by France (and other foreign powers) in the wake of recent AQIM activities, especially in Niger and Mali. It makes obvious some points that have been made here less overtly: Continue reading
AQIM claims to have defeated the Mauritanian Army in last weekend’s series of clashes in Mali. The Mauritanians, of course, deny any such defeat. AQIM claims to have killed close to 20 Mauritanian soldiers while the Mauritanian Ministry of Defense has announced only 6 of its own fatalities while killing 12 AQIM militants (AQIM acknowledges this) and taking 6 as prisoners. More contentious, perhaps, are AQIM’s claims to have spooked the Mauritanians so badly that they caused those they did not kill to flee, leaving their vehicles and equipment behind. AQIM’s version of “the Battle of Hassi Sidi,” complete with a summary has been posted online (there is no link here for the same reason as in the previous post on AQIM KIA; the information comes from the same forum). Highlights are below. Following this are some thoughts on a report that Mokhtar Belmokhtar was found dead in Mali. Continue reading
Here is the text of the update added to the previous post regarding the Franco-Mauritanian raid near the Malian-Mauritanian border. It was added as point 5 in the original summary and is reproduced here to make it more readable. The only difference between the text here and in the previous post is its organization. Below the numbered information are maps showing the vicinity of the two raids mentioned — Araouane (the Franco-Mauritanian one) and the area around Tessilit and the Tighaghar Mountains (the Franco-Algerian one). Continue reading
The French-Mauritanian raid on an AQIM camp in northern Mali on 22 July has produced interesting reactions and highlighted problems in the region. UPDATE: See point 5 below. Continue reading