The Mauritanian presidential election 2019

The Mauritanian presidential election of 22 June 2019 was won by ruling party candidate and former Defence Minister General Mohamed Ould Ghazouani, an ally of outgoing President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz. On 1 July 2019 the Constitutional Court ruled that Ghazouani had won by 52% of the votes cast. He was elected for a five-year term of governance in this West African nation threatened by Islamic extremism. The candidates in the Mauritanian presidential election and their scores in the election are as follows:

1. Mohamed Ould Ghazouani, 483,312 votes (52.01%)
2. Biram Ould Dah Ould Abeid, anti-slavery activist, 172,656 votes (18.58%)
3. Sidi Mohamed Ould Boubacar, former prime minister, 166,058 votes (17.87%)
4. Kane Hamidou Baba, journalist, 80,916 votes (8.71%)
5. Mohamed Ould Mouloud, historian, 22,695 votes (2.44%)
6. Mohamed Lemine El Mourteji El Wafi, 3,676 votes (0.40%)

According to Mauritanian news media, 100 international monitors had observed the elections and the African Union Election Observer, which comprises 35 observers, as well as foreign embassies in Mauritania reported that the election had been run in a fair and satisfactory manner.

Mauritania: background

Mauritania became independent from France on 28 November 1960 under the official name of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. Moktar Ould Daddah, the first Mauritanian to graduate from a French university, became the country’s first president. He ruled from 1961 until he fell out of favour with the military and was overthrown in a military coup led by Mustafa Ould Salek on 10 July 1978. Since then Mauritania has seen four more coups d’état, the last one carried out on 6 August 2008 by Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz who was at that time the head of the presidential guard. He overthrew the elected president Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi (19 April 2007 to 6 August 2008). Ould Abdel Aziz said he did so to prevent a return to repressive military rule.

Mauritanian presidents from independence to the present
1. Moktar Ould Daddah, 28 November 1960 to 10 July 1978
2. Mustafa Ould Salek (first coup d’état overthrowing Ould Daddah) 10 July 1978 to 3 June 1979
3. Mohamed Mahmoud Ould Louly (coup d’état) 3 June to 4 January 1980
4. Mohamed Khouna Ould Haidalla (coup d’état) 4 January 1980 to 12 December 1984
5. Maaouya Ould Sidi Ahmed Taya (coup d’état) 12 December 1984 to 3 August 2005
6. Ely Ould Mohamed Vall (coup d’état) 3 August 2005 to 19 April 2007
7. Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, democratically elected president 19 April 2007 to 6 August 2008
8. Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz (coup d’état) 6 August 2008 to 15 April 2009
9. Ba Mamadou Mbré, caretaker president, 15 April to 5 August 2009.
10. Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, elected president 5 August 2009 to 22 June 2019
11. General Mohamed Ould Ghazouani, elected president 22 April 2019—

Who is the newly elected President, General Mohamed Ould Ghazouani?
Ghazouani was born in Boumdeid, Assaba region, on 31 December 1956. His father was a leader of the Sufi Maraboutique tribe of Ideiboussat and he was educated at local Sufi school. He married and has five children.
   Ghazouani joined the Mauritanian army in 1970s and like President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz he was educated at the Moroccan Royal Military Academy in Meknés and received a Diploma in Military Administration and Sciences. On his return home, he became an ally of Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz and was his partner in the overthrow of the elected President Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi in 2008. He was also a member of the military council that overthrew former President Maaouya Ould Sidi Ahmed Taya in 2005.
From 2008 to 2018, Ghazouani was head of National Security and chief of staff of Mauritania’s armed forces. In October 2018, President Ould Abdel Aziz named him Minister of Defence.
   On 1 March 2019, General Ghazouani announced his candidacy for the presidency and on 15 March he resigned as defence minister to prepare for the election.
   During his presidential campaign he pledged to unify the country and build strong institutions, and strengthen the fight against corruption and terrorism. He also promised to carry out economic reforms, invest in education, health and housing, create more jobs for the people and empower women. However, he said nothing about eliminating domestic slavery, which affects 90,000 people in the country, and on how he aimed to establish a consensus among different ethnic and political groups and the army in Mauritania as well as curbing corruption. Many rich businessmen and companies in Mauritania supported his election campaign financially and they expect to receive preferential treatment from public officials, which allows them to grow their business. Businessmen and companies that do not give financial support expect to receive less preferential treatment. In fact, other candidates in the Mauritanian presidential election have complained to the Mauritanian Electoral Commission. The truth is that, throughout Africa, public officials and police forces are not well paid, therefore a certain amount of bribery and corruption, as long as it is controlled, is seen as good for the local economy and often regarded as part of the service.
   The swearing-in ceremony for the newly elected president is planned for 1 August 2019 and many African presidents and representatives from other countries are expected to attend.

Mauritania under Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz
Former president Ould Abdel Aziz served two five-year terms, the most the constitution allows. He ruled with an iron fist and is likely to continue to play a major role in Mauritania. During the election campaign, he said that he intended to pursue development projects and other activities inside and outside the presidency and might even stand for the presidency again in future.
   During his 10-year term, Ould Abdel Aziz had to deal with various terrorist attacks in the country led by Al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb. The biggest attack was on a military garrison at Lemgheity on 5 June 2005. According to the Ministry of Defence press release, this attack resulted in the death of 15 members of the security forces and injury of 17 more, with two missing. Nine terrorists were killed.
Terrorist activity continues to threaten the country, as well as the six Sahel countries of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Nigeria. The number of attacks faced by these countries was 163 by January 2015, a figure that had risen to 781 in May 2018.
The main groups who carry out terrorist activities belong to Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeer (JNIM). JNIM was formed in March 2017 following the merger of Al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, Ansar-al-Dine and al-Murabitun.
   In addition to the impact of terrorism, Mauritania has faced severe economic problems since 2015, following the drop in the global market price for iron ore and gold, which is the country’s key mineral export. Thanks to economic support from the Gulf, Abdel Aziz managed to deal with the situation.

Relationships with Mauritania’s neighbours
Ould Abdel Aziz has maintained excellent relations with his neighbours – the Sahel countries, Algeria and the Gulf monarchies (except for Qatar). When Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates cut ties with Qatar and imposed a land, sea and air embargo, Mauritania too cut all ties with Qatar and received financial support from Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Ould Abdel Aziz also gave full support to Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman after the killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018. However, relations with Morocco have deteriorated significantly since Ould Abdel Aziz became president of Mauritania. For example, King Mohamed VI has visited and developed excellent business relationships with many African countries, but not Mauritania. When the election result confirmed General Mohamed Ould Ghazouani as President, Mohamed VI congratulated him warmly and the new president has invited the king to the swearing-in-ceremony on 1 August. Mohamed VI does not attend swearing-in-ceremonies but he will certainly send his brother, Prince Moulay Rachid, or the Prime Minister.

One should congratulate Mohamed Ould Aziz for respecting the Mauritanian constitution and setting a precedent for other African leaders by standing down at the appointed time. However, it remains to be seen if the new president will be his own man or be dominated by Ould Abdel Aziz and the military brass. Ghazouani campaigned on the themes of his predecessor: continuity, solidarity and security. Political parties believe that this election will not end the military’s iron grip and autocratic rule in Mauritania.
   It is hoped that civil society and political parties will unite against the greatest threat to Mauritania’s democracy and end military rule in Mauritanian politics.

Algeria Awaking

The recent Algerian awaking which began in early February 2019 has surprised the establishment and North African political analysts. Bouteflika’s regime has since early February been confronted by the biggest protests, in various cities, since he became President on 27 April 1999. Algerians have rarely been allowed to show dissent since the bloody civil war in the 1990s that, according to various records, left 200,000 dead and 15,000 forcibly disappeared. Families are still searching for loved ones.
  The protests began in 2018 and were originally against Bouteflika seeking a fifth term of office, but they became a nation-wide movement when the president published an open letter to the Algerian people on 10 February 2019, asking for support to complete his mission and reform. He said that ‘although my health is not as good as before, I am only responding to people’s call to stand and that is why I am standing for re-election to complete reforms needed’. He continued: ‘If you give me the honour of your precious trust on 18 April 2019, I will invite within this year all forces of people to hold a national symposium, which will focus on reaching consensus on reforms’. One wonders why he had not done so in previous years! His message was simply – un message fort de continuité – ‘Let us carry on’.
  The protesters rejected his call for support, particularly as his Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia accused the protesters of wanting to turn Algeria into another Syria, and called on the army to intervene to end the rebellious actions of activists.

It all began when Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who had been ill and wheelchair-bound since suffering a stroke in 2013 and had required regular hospitalisation in France and Switzerland since 2015, announced on 10 February 2019 from his Geneva hospital bed that he would seek another five-year term and that he had appointed his former Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal as his campaign manager. Algerian political parties and civil society received this announcement as an insult and a continuation of Bouteflika’s unpopular regime.
  Bouteflika returned home on 10 March 2019 and discovered that tens of thousands of Algerian had been protesting in every city since the beginning of February. The next day, he received the army chief of staff and deputy defence minister, General Ahmed Gaid Salah, who had up to now been a close confidant of Bouteflika. According to Algerian Media,the General briefed him on the situation in the country. On the same day, Bouteflika and his inner circle sought to appease the protesters. He sacked the old government and appointed a new one. He also announced that the presidential elections scheduled for 18 April 2019 would be postponed and a national commission would be set up to discuss reforms and set a date for the election. He said he did not intend to stand for re-election but would remain in office until a new President was elected. This statement infuriated Algerians nationwide and the protests continued, attracting increasing numbers of people.
  The protests became bigger and better organised by civil society, lawyers, students and others, including journalists in the public media and Algerians working in European cities. Protestors demanded that the army intervene to find a peaceful solution to end Bouteflika’s regime, saying that they would continue their peaceful protest until their demands were met.
  It must be remembered that Bouteflika was Minister of Foreign Affairs and the closest adviser of the late President Houari Boumédiène from 1963 until he died on 12 December 1978. At the time he saw himself as Boumédiène’s successor, but Bouteflika fall out of favour with the military brass and went into self-imposed exile in Switzerland and the Gulf Kingdoms until 1987.

On 26 March, the army Chief of Staff and deputy defence minister, General Ahmed Gaid Salah made a televised speech to his Troops at Ouargla, asking the Constitutional Court to use article 102 of the Algerian Constitution of 2016 remove the President due to his health and incapacity to govern country. The text of Article 102 is as follows:

“Whenever the President of the Republic, because of serious and enduring illness, finds himself in a total incapacity to exercise his functions, the Constitutional Council shall meet as of right and, after having verified by all appropriate means that the incapacity indeed exists, shall propose to the Parliament by unanimity to declare a state of incapacity.
The Parliament shall declare the state of incapacity of the President of the Republic in a joint session of both chambers by a two-thirds (2/3) majority of its members, and shall appoint the President of the Council of the Nation for a maximum period of forty-five (45) days as interim Head of State, who shall exercise his powers in accordance with the provisions of Article 104 of the Constitution.
If the incapacity continues beyond the period of forty-five (45) days, it shall proceed to a declaration of vacancy caused by legally mandated resignation according to the procedure stipulated in the paragraphs below and the provisions of the following paragraphs of this Article.
In case of resignation or death of the President of the Republic, the Constitutional Council shall meet as of right and declare the definitive vacancy of the Presidency of the Republic.
It shall communicate immediately the act of the declaration of definitive vacancy to the Parliament which meets as of right.
The President of the Council of the Nation shall assume the duties of Head of State for a maximum period of ninety (90) days, during which presidential elections shall be organized.
The Head of State so designated cannot be a candidate for the Presidency of the Republic.
In case of coincidence of the resignation or the death of the President of the Republic with a vacancy in the Presidency of the Council of the Nation, for whatever cause, the Constitutional Council shall meet as of right and declare by unanimity a definitive vacancy of the Presidency of the Republic and the incapacity of the President of the Council of the Nation.
In that case, the President of the Constitutional Council shall assume the duties of the Head of State on the conditions specified in the preceding paragraphs of the present Article and Article 104 of the Constitution. He cannot be a candidate for the Presidency of the Republic”

The protesters and opposition parties rejected Gaid Salah’s proposals and called the application of Article 102 an ‘outdated’ solution, particularly as the president of the Council of the Nation (the upper house), Abdelkader Bensalah is one of the symbols of the old regime. They saw this move as an attempt to preserve Bouteflika’s regime and its associates rather than genuinely meet protesters’ demands.
The protesters and lawyers pointed out that article 28 of the Algerian Constitution of 2016, which reads as follows:

“The consolidation and development of the Nation’s defensive potential shall be regulated by the National People’s Army.
The National People’s Army shall assume the permanent task of preserving national independence and defending national sovereignty.
It shall also assume the task of protecting the unity of the country and the integrity of its land, as well as defending its land, airspace and the various zones of its maritime domain”

does not allow General Ahmed Gaid Salah to remove the President. Other Constitutional experts supported his move on the ground of national security.
  The army Chief believed that Bouteflika, his brother Said and cronies had become a threat to national security and he had to take action quickly, particularly as he had been informed by his secret services that the President’s brother and adviser, Said Bouteflika, had been contacting former Military Chiefs and Presidents, seeking support and advice on appointing a caretaker government. It was also reported in the Algerian media and in the French magazine Jeune Afrique that he prepared a dismissal letter to be signed by the President and delivered to General Ahmed Gaid Salah, who would be replaced by either General Mohamed Mediène or General Athmane Tartag.
  The protesters were unified under the slogan, ‘Système dégage!’ or ‘System Get Lost!’ and in their opinion invoking Article 102 was simply a ploy to continue the old regime. They believed that those associated with the Bouteflika regime had no legitimacy either in the present or in the future.
  Civil society, opposition political parties as well as the protesters refused an invitation to participate in a dialogue with the caretaker President, Abdelkader Bensalah and his ministers, who had been appointed by Bouteflika before he was dismissed by the Army to organise the election in July 2019. Despite many calls from the caretaker government and the army to take part in dialogue, the people were not convinced that such talks would lead to any meaningful change.
  Due to no dialogue between caretaker government and opposition political parties and civil society to take part in July 2019 election, the Constitutional Council was forced for the first time in Algerian history to extend the President’s term and postpone the election.
  Meanwhile, the army Chief of Staff, General Ahmed Gaid Salah, who is now de facto ruler of Algeria, turned on his former colleagues. General Mohamed Mediène (dit Toufik) and General Athmane Tartag (also known as Bachir) (both former intelligence chiefs), and Saïd Bouteflika, the brother and adviser of the former President, were arrested on 4 May 2019. They were accused by a military prosecutor of trying to undermine the transition and the honour of the armed forces, and for organising a coup d’état. His aim was to dismantle completely Bouteflika’s legacy and also to investigate his former cabinet ministers and associates for embezzlement of the nation’s wealth. Indeed, several associates of Bouteflika’s former Prime Ministers and other ministers were summoned to appear in the courts in March 2019.
  On 9 May, Louisa Hanoune, a Member of Parliament and the head of Algeria’s Workers’ Party, was also detained by military police and was also accused military prosecutor of attending the meeting with Said Bouteflika, General Mohamed Mediène and General Athmane Tartag in which they discussed what advice to give to the ailing president.
  Louisa Hanoune has similar trotskyist ideology as Said Bouteflika and, unlike other political parties leaders, she is highly critical of the Algerian army’s involvement in politics. She was imprisoned by the government several times prior to the legalisation of political parties in 1988. In 2004, she became the first woman to run for President of Algeria. To date, she is the only political party leader who has been detained. At the time of writing (24 June), no date has been set up for trial.

Since independence in 1962, the army has been the ultimate arbiter of political life and the only decisive actor. But since February 2019 Algerian streets have became another actor in Algerian politics but no one knows how long. Even if this is a small victory for the Algerian people, I do not think that the entire regime and its system will disappear, particularly as the ruling party (FLN) apparatchiks and business tycoons control political and military leadership.
  We are now in the 6th month of continued protests and there is no end in sight. Protests continue every Friday – even during the fasting Month of Ramadan – in every city and the chaos continues. Protesters demand a complete dismantling of the old regime; the army Chief and the caretaker government are calling for a dialogue with protesters’ representative and political party leaders but the caretaker government has not offered any proposal for dialogue. There is also mistrust between protesters leadership, the army and the caretaker government. The danger is that the genuine protesters might be infiltrated by saboteurs of Bouteflika’s régime and terrorists which will give the army excuses to stage a Coups D’Etat.

The roots Bouteflika’s régime and the army who has always been de facto ruler in Algeria, are so deep in Algerian politics and way of life. It will be impossible to remove it completely. Indeed, Algerian politics has always been: “change the régime without changing the régime”.

The opposition political parties, civil society and protesters refuse to dialogue with the caretaker government and demanded a new body to run the country and organise election. The army Chief of Staff, General Ahmed Gaid Salah, made it clear in his speeches that text of the article 102 the Algerian Constitution of 2016 most strictly apply now.
  The unresolved question for the coming months is, how far the military is likely to let the protesters go in their demand for an overhaul of the ‘system’. General Salah himself, though now proclaiming himself on the side of the crowd, was very much part of the old regime.

Algerian political and business tribes own their fight

President Bouteflika (81-years old) who has been ill and in a wheelchair since his hospitalization in France on 26 November 2005, has run his country from his hospital bed. He has not been seen in public since 19 March 2017 and the main news which comes out from his office are communiqués of dismissing or appointing Ministers. The latest was the sacking on 15 August of his Prime Minister, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, who was only appointed on 25 May 2017, and his replacement with Ahmed Ouayhia, leader of the National Rally for Democracy Party, the second largest party in Algeria, who has been Prime Minister three times (1995-1998, 2003-2006 and 2008-2012). Ouayhia is a close confidant of the President and his brother Said who is hoping to become President, in case his 81-year old brother, Abdelaziz, does not stand for a fifth term in the 2019 election. In fact, a recent French Senate members analysis report at the end of July, said that the ailing 81-year old president is preparing himself for a fifth term despite being a “living dead ”.

The dismissal of Abdelmadjid Tebboune took every analyst of Algerian politics by surprise, as did the announcement of the appointment of Ouyahia. But it is hard to predict the daily tribal politics not only in Algeria but also in the whole Arab world.

The reasons for sacking Abdelmadjid Tebboune are many. Deep disagreements between the President’s inner circle including the President’s brother Said, who sees himself as Vice-President, and Tebboune’s declaration of war on corruption in the Algerian system.

The Prime Minister’s programme was to reduce imports, particularly milk, vegetables, fruit, flour, meat, pharmaceutical goods, and cars, which heavily affect the national economy, in light of the drop in oil and gas income in recent years, which accounts for 94 percent of the country’s export revenues. Mr Tebboune wanted to reduce the burden on the country and encourage investments in the abandoned Algerian industries. This move was not welcomed by Algerian business tycoons and the Algerian army who hold the monopolies of the imported goods.

Another cause was Mr Tebboune’s public criticism and attack on Mr Ali Haddad, a powerful businessman, President of the Algerian Business Forum and a close friend of the President’s family.

These clans, who invest most of their money outside Algeria and prevent any investment reforms, took their complaint to the President and on 8 August he sent a warning letter to his Prime Minister ordering him to stop his attack on the Algerian business community.

Abdelmadjid Tebboune should have resigned when he received this letter, but perhaps he still believed that the clan would let him carry on, particularly as he was organising the forthcoming visit to Algeria by French President Emmanuel Macron. However, due to Bouteflika’s health problems, no date has been agreed.

Will Ahmed Ouayhia now allow the Algerian economy and corruption to carry on? For sure foreign investors will not invest in Algeria under present restrictions. At present, Algerian business tycoons are not investing much in Algerian industries. They get much better return for their investments in Europe and elsewhere.

The other issue which will take up much of Ahmed Ouayhia’s time is preparation for the 2019 presidential election. The FLN (National Liberation Front) secretary general, Mr Djamel Ould Abbes, said in a recent television interview that Said Bouteflika, who has been well-trained by his brother to run the country, is an ideal candidate should he choose to stand. On this issue, in Algeria, like in Egypt, the Army have the final say.

Recent Referendum in Mauritania


The Mauritanian president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, seized power in a Coup d’état on 6th August 2008 and was elected President on 18 July 2009 for a term of 5 years. He was elected again on 21 June 2014 for a second five-years term. He organised a contentious referendum on 4 August 2017 to abolish the Mauritanian Senate which he considers to be interfering with his authority and replace it with regional Council which he can easily control, as well as merging the Islamic High Council and national Ombudsman into a High Council of the Fawa. During the election campaign, Ould Abdel Aziz did not explain what kind of legislative power regional Council will have and if this body will get material resources to manage local affairs and implement policies.

Abolishing the Senate, which in fact supported most of his policies, is a very dangerous act. This policy will backfire on him.

The referendum he called was also about the revival of Mauritanian nationalism. President Ould Abdel Aziz proposes to change the national flag by adding a red band at the top and bottom to symbolize “the sacrifices that the people of Mauritania will commemorate, the price of their blood in defending their country” as well as modifying the national anthem.

A proposal in the referendum to allow him to run for a third term— which he can not do under the present Constitution — was dropped after violent protests but he promised to hold additional referenda in the future to carry out his reforms.

Mauritania has never had a peaceful transfer of power since independence from France on 28 July 1960.

Ould Abdel Aziz says the abolition of the Senate which he described as “useless and too costly” will improve governance and democracy in Mauritania.

The opposition concern is that the vote is a ploy to increase Ould Abdel Aziz’ power and abolish the present Constitution so that he can stand again for Presidential election in 2019 and follow other African leaders of more than a dozen African countries including Algeria, Uganda, Cameron, Equatorial Guinea, Egypt and more recently Rwanda and Congo Republic.

The election campaign was violent, protest leaders were reportedly beaten up and many of them were arrested. The authorities did not respond to the opposition requests for authorization for the protests and dispersed all gatherings by excessive force throughout the campaign. Also, the opposition was not given time in the National Media calling for a boycott.

Even after the referendum result, any opposition or criticism is met with an iron fist. Indeed, on 12 August 2017, President Ould Abdel Aziz ordered the arrest of the outspoken Senator Mohamed Ould Gadda without any explanation, and his parliamentarian colleagues have called for his immediate release.

Ould Gadda’s Lawyer, Ahmed Salem Ould Bouhoubeini, requested the authorities release his kidnapped client. He has also written to International human rights organisations seeking their help.

Ould Abdel Aziz’ proposal of institutional reforms would simply strengthen even more his presidential power.

Like all African regimes, the Mauritanian political system led by Ould Abdel Aziz and other presidents before him hinges on tribal interest groups in the defence of the regime and the army.

Mauritania’s relations with most of its neighbours namely Senegal, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad have improved a little recently due to continued terrorism activities in the region, but there is no investments or assistance to Mauritania. Only Algeria gives Ould Abdel Aziz financial support in return for a strong support to the Polisario movement, but no investment in Mauritania. However, Algeria is also in financial difficulties due to the drop in oil and gas income and have recently imposed taxes on imported good.

Because of high-level government corruption and terrorism activities in the region, there is very little foreign investment coming into the country at present.

His relations with Morocco have deteriorated significantly during the last few years, this is due to his support to the Polisario movement and because he blamed Morocco for an assassination attempt on his life on 13 October 2012.