Mauritania

Mauritania, is located in northwestern Africa and gained its independence from France on 28 November 1960. On 20 August 1961 Mokhtar Ould Daddah was elected President of this sparsely populated country with its various nomadic and religious tribes. He renamed the country the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, although it did not strictly follow the laws and rules of an Islamic state as did, for example, Saudi Arabia.
The new President’s first task was to unify the various competing Arab, black African and slave tribesmen and to fight off Moroccan claims over Mauritania. He also had to create a nation from scratch, building the capital city and creating an infrastructure. Morocco did not recognise Mauritania’s independence until 1969. Mokhtar Ould Daddah ruled Mauritania from 1960 until his overthrow on 10 July 1978 by a military coup d’etat.
Mauritania can best be described as a land where the Sahara ends and where life, however elemental, begins; its geographical location is of paramount importance; the sand, aridity and wind determine the conditions of life. The amount of water determines the level of subsistence found across the vast stretches of the land.
60 per cent of Mauritania is in the Saharan zone, and half of that is the desert – immense, monotonous stretches of sand and emptiness, interrupted by vast tracts of dunes, rocky plateaux, hills, wadis and oases, with forest and grassland along the course of the Senegal River. The country looks out upon the Atlantic; to the north are Morocco and Algeria; to the west and south-west, Mali; to the south, Senegal. The country with an area of 1,030,700 sq.km, is approximately the size of France and Spain together, and it is and traditionally has been, an important part of the Islamic world, culturally tied to the Berber and Arab peoples of North Africa.

ECONOMY

Before independence, the economy was traditionally based on livestock raising and subsistence farming and the new leaders had to create a modern economy which did not conflict with the traditional subsistence economy.
Mauritania has two main sources which account for 90 per cent of total exports and foreign earning. The first is the extensive deposits of Iron ore and the second is Mauritania’s coastal waters, which are among the richest fishing areas in the world; but overexploitation by Russian, Japanese, Spanish and other foreigners threatens this important source of national revenue, which is a more important source of export earnings than iron ore. In the 1990s, drought and economic mismanagement resulted in a large foreign debt. Early in 2000, Mauritania applied for debt relief under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) and in December 2001 received support from donor and lending countries at a triennial consultative group review. IMF has been involved in economic reforms and fiscal discipline measures and has helped to produce the new, approved investment Code which has given opportunities for foreign investment since January 2002.
Luckily, oil and gas have been discovered in Chinguetti and Tiof region and off the coast of the country. Mauritania will be an oil and gas exporting country in 2006.

POPULATION

The population is 2,754,400 and is mainly made up of nomadic Arabs and Berbers of negro origin, known as the Maures (Moors), who have inhabited Mauritania since the beginning of history, together with black minorities (Fulbe, toucouleur, Soninke, Wolof, Bambara).

LANGUAGE

Arabic is the national language, but French is widely used in communication and commerce. In the streets and markets, Maures or Moors speak the Hassaniyya Arabic dialect; the other minority groups speak various tongues, including Soninke, Pulaar and Wolof of the Niger-Congo family of West African languages.
About 20 per cent of the population is literate in either Arabic or French. English is rarely spoken. Modern education follows the French model and is good. Higher education can be acquired in the capital Nouakchott, but mostly outside the country, especially in France.

POLITICAL PARTIES

The Constitutional amendment of 1965 outlawed all opposition parties and made the Parti du Peuple Mauritanien, the official State Party. In 1991, a new constitution put to a national referendum was approved. On 12 July 1991, the new constitution was ratified and political parties were legalised. By mid-2002 there were about 20 official registered parties. Mauritanian political parties are tribally-based. The ruling party is the “Parti Républicain Démocratique et social” led by the elected President Ould Taya.

CONSTITUTION

The constitution lays down three branches of government: executive, legislative and judicial, with the dominant power vested in the President of the Republic.

MAURITANIA MILITARY COUP D’ETATS

The first coup d’etat took place on 10 July 1978 against the first President Mokhtar Ould Daddah who had ruled the country since independence on 28 November 1958. This coup d’etat was lead by Colonel Mustapha Ould Salek, who was forced out on 3 June 1979. He was replaced by Colonel Mohamed Ould Louly. On 4 January 1980 another coup, led by Colonel Mohamed Khouna Ould Haidalla, replaced Ould Louly. On 12 December 1984 Maaouya Ould Taya and Ely Ould Mohamed Vall overthrew Colonel Mohamed Khouna Ould Haidalla. On 3 August 2005 the Military and Security Forces led by Colonel Ely Ould Mohamed Vall overthrew Presiden Maaouya Ould Sid’Ahmed Taya. On 6 August 2008, the army lead by General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz seized power in a bloodless coup and replaced the elected president Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi.

AUGUST 2005 MILITARY COUP

On 3 August 2005, the Military and Security forces lead by Colonel Ely Ould Mohamed Vall, Director of the National Security overthrew President Maaouya Ould Taya who had ruled the country with an iron fist since coming to power in December 1984 while he was attending King Fahd’s funeral in Saudi Arabia.
Colonel Ely Ould Mohamed Vall was born in 1951 in Nouakchott, joined the army in the early 1960s and went to France for his military training in 1966 and 1973 and then to Moroccan Military Academy in Meknés. On his return, he was quickly promoted and in 1980 he became Commander of Trarza region (southern region) than of Nouakchott area. At this time, he became a close friend of Ould Taya who was then the Head of the National Army and together they organised the Military Coup on 12 December 1984 which overthrew Colonel Khouna Ould Haidallah while attending a Franco-African meeting at Burundi. From this date, Colonel Vall became the closest confident of Ould Taya until he overthrew him.
In 1988 Colonel Vall became the Director General of the National Security a post which he is still holding. He was accused by many Mauritanians at home and abroad of torturing the opponents of the regime.
The Military Council for Justice and Democracy promised that it would exercise power for up to two years to allow time to put in place “open and transparent” democratic Institutions. Meanwhile, the Military have suspended the Parliament and will rule by Military Decrees until the “open and transparent” democratic institutions are in place in 2007.
The Military Council organised a conference on 25-26 October 2005 in which some 500 participants from all civil society took part and discussed the Military Council proposals. The Agenda was:

  1. July 2006, a Referendum to approve the new Constitution;
  2. October 2006, Local elections to take place;
  3. January or April 2007, Senatorial election followed by presidential elections in May and June 2007.

The conference was attended by observers from the United Nations, African Union, Francophone Association and other NGO organisations. In his opening speech, the leader of the Military Council, Ould Val, appealed to all participants to reach a general agreement so that a peaceful transfer of power from army to the elected leadership could take place in 2007. The conference participants have also been asked to discuss the National election commissioners rule and what kind of power it should have. However, there is still a lot of preparation to be done, namely, the budget for the election, electoral list to be prepared, and the role of Foreign observers. While many Mauritanians found this conference useful, particularly as it has brought together all important political parties and other leaders of Mauritanian civil society to discuss the Nations future, many political prisoners jailed by the previous regime are still in jail.
The Military Council are under great pressure from international community who do not recognise Military Coup d’Etat to hand over power to an elected leadership. The big question which every one in Mauritania and elsewhere is asking: “Will the military give up power in 2007?”. Indeed, at a meeting on 18 October 2005 the Military Council leader repeated that their mission will end in two years once the democratic system is in place. In fact it seems likely that the Army will remain in overall control for many years to come.

2005 MILITARY COUNCIL 17 MEMBERS

Leader

Colonel Ely Ould Mohamed Vall, was born in 1951 in Nouakchott and joined the army in early 1970s and studied in French Military schools and then in Moroccan Military Academy in Meknés. He is fluent in French and loves French culture. He was the Head of the Mauritanian Army 6th region which help organise the coup of 12 December 1984 that brought Ould Taya to power and has been director of national security since 1987. His colleagues in the army say that he is respected by different ethnic groups. He is married to a Moroccan and has eight children.

Members

Colonel Abderrahmane Ould Boubacar
Colonel Mohamed Abdel Aziz (the cousin of the Leader)
Colonel Mohamed Ould Cheikh Mohamed Ahmed
Colonel Ahmed Ould Bekrine
Colonel Sogho Alassane
Colonel Ghoulam Ould Mohamed
Colonel Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh El Alem
Colonel Negri Felix
Colonel Mohamed Ould Meguett Ould Mohamed Znagui
Colonel Kane Hamedine
Colonel Mohamed Ould Abdi
Colonel Ahmed Ould Ameine
Colonel Taleb Moustapha Ould Cheikh
Colonel Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mohamed Lemine
Captain de Vaisseau Isselkou Ould Cheikh El Wely

Members of the new Government approved by Military Council on 10 August 2005

Prime Minister: Sidi Mohamed Ould Boubacar (He was Prime Minister of Ould Taya’ regime from 1992-1996)
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation: Ahmed Ould Sid’Ahmed
Minister of Economic Affairs and Development: Mohamed Ould Abed
Minister of Finance: Abdellahi Ould Souleymane Ould Cheikh Sidiya
Minister of Fisheries and Maritime Affairs: Sidi Mohamed Ould Sidina
Minister of Commerce, Handicrafts and Tourism: Ba Abdserrahmane
Minister of the Interior (Home Office) and Communications: Mohamed Ahmed Ould Mohamed Lemine
Minister of Justice: Mahfouth Ould Bettah
Minister of Petroleum and Energy: Mohamed Ali Ould Sidi Mohamed
Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports: Mehla Mint Ahmed
Minister of Health and Solidarity: Saadna Ould Behaide
Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research: Naji Ould Mohamed Mahmoud
Minister of Public Civil Service and Employment: Mohamed Ould Ahmed Ould Jek
Minister of Transportation and Capital Works: Ba Ibrahima Demba
Minister of Mines and Industry: Mohamed Ould Ismael Ould Abeidna
Minister of Regional Development and Ecology: Gandega Silly
Minister of Information (Communications): Cheikh Ould Ebbe
Minister in Charge of Illiteracy and Islamic Guidance: Yahya Ould Sid’ El Moustaph.

All the above Ministers have served under the previous régime.

MAURITANIA’S NEW LEADERSHIP

Colonel Ely Ould Mohamed Vall, former Head of Mauritanian intelligence office who successfully ousted Maaouya Ould Sidi Ahmed Taya on 3 August 2005 returned power to the newly elected President Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdellahi on 19 April 2007. This is the first time in Mauritanian political history that power has changed hand without the power of the gun.
Colonel Ould Vall held a series of elections that began on 15 November and 3 December 2006 with a parliamentary vote, followed by a presidential election. The following candidates were approved by the Minister of the Interior on 2 February 2007 to run for the office of the President. Some are well known and served as ministers under the previous regimes. Name spellings here are as printed in the approved list by the Minister of Interior.

  1. Zein Ould Zeidane
  2. Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdellahi
  3. Moulaye el Hacen Ould Jeyid
  4. Mohamed Ould Maouloud
  5. Dahane Ould Ahmed Mahmoud
  6. Ahmed Ould Daddah (half-brother of the first President of Mauritania after independence)
  7. Mohamed Ould Baba Ahmed Ould Salihi
  8. Mohamed Khouna Ould Haidalla (the Leader of the Coup d’Etat of 4 January 1980 and President until he was ousted by Ould Taya and Ould Vall on 4 December 1984. He was also candidate at presidential election of 7 November 2003.)
  9. Isselmou Ould El Moustapha
  10. Mohamed Ould Cheikhna
  11. Messoud Ould Boulkheir
  12. Saleh Ould Mohamedou Ould Hanana
  13. Mohamed Ould Mohamed El Moctar Ould Tomi
  14. Ba Mamadou Alassane
  15. Ragel dit Rachid Moustapha
  16. Mohamed Ould Ghoulam Ould Sidati
  17. Sidi Ould Isselmou Ould Mohamed Ahid
  18. Ethmane Ould Cheikh Ahmed Ebi El Maali
  19. Ibrahima Moctar Sarr
  20. Chbih Ould Cheikh Melainine

The first round of the presidential elections was held on the 11 March 2007 and three candidates — Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdellahi, Ahmed Ould Daddah and Zein Ould Zeidane — who won most of the votes were approved by the Electoral Commission to run in the final round on 25 March 2007. Zein Ould Zeidan withdrew and offered his full support to Abdellahi.
All other candidates who did well began negotiation with the two finalists for the best deal for themselves and their region in return for votes. The reward depends on how powerful the tribal leader is. Sidi Abdellahi, 69 years old and Ould Daddah, 65 years old are both good technocrats and served as ministers in the previous government.
In the case of Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdellahi, he spent several months in prison during Ould Taya’s regime and was for 14 years in exile. He returned to his homeland in 2003. He was the first Mauritanian President to be elected democratically since Independence in 1960. As an old hand of Mauritanian politics, he benefited from unofficial support of the army, the Parti Républicain Démocratique et Social who ruled the country since Independence and opposition groups when he began his campaign, and because of this the present writer, in an interview with the BBC which was broadcast in the morning of 11 March, was able to list the three and predict that Sidi Abdellahi would be the winner.
In his first Coup d’Etat speech, Colonel Old Vall told his country and the world that he was not seeking power, and that all he and his military colleagues wanted was to remove the dictatorship and turn Mauritania into a democratic and free country again. He also promised that the Military would give up power to an elected body within two years, and neither he nor military colleagues which seized power, or anyone belonging to his newly appointed government would be allowed to stand for election. Very few Mauritanian experts believed him. Indeed, the Military Coup was widely criticised by many countries including the United Nations.
A Military Council for Freedom and Democracy was set-up after the Coup d’Etat and Colonel Ely Ould Mohamed Vall became its Chairman. The Military Council set up a Road Map. A few weeks after the Coup d’Etat, the Military Council pardoned all political prisoners and encouraged exiled politicians to return home and take part in political system of the country. At the same time, the Military Council began to draft constitutional law that entails re-adoption of the of the 1991 constitution after amendments to some of its provisions were put to a national referendum. This was approved by 66.94 per cent on 25 June 2006. The main goal of the amendments was to guarantee circulation of power through amending the following articles:

  1. Article 26 (clause 1): Reducing the president’s term in office from 6 to 5 years;
  2. Article 26 (clause 3): setting the maximum age limit for presidential candidates at 75 years;
  3. Article 28: The president’s term in office cannot be renewed more than once;
  4. Article 99: placing the president’s term (its duration and renew ability) on the list of constitutional provisions that could not be amended.

    Originally, the presidential term was based on the French style, which allows the president to seek re-election as many times as he likes.

Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdellahi took the oath of office on 19 April 2007 and on 20 April, he appointed Zeine Ould Zeidane, 41 years old, as Prime Minister who came third in the first round of presidential election and withdrew in favour of Abdellahi and a few days later he appointed the following Ministers for the President’s approval:

Minister of Foreign and Cooperation Affairs: Ould Mohamed Lemine Mohamed Saleck.
Minister for the Economy and Finance: Abderrahmane Ould Hama Vezaz.
Minister of Commerce and Industry: Sid Ahmed Ould Raiss.
Minister of Justice: Limam Ould Teguedi.
Minister of Defence: Mohamed Mahmoud Ould Mohamed Lemine.
Minister of the Interior: Yall Zakaria Alassane.
Minister for National Education: Nebghouha Mint Mohamed Vall.
Minister for Islamic and Research Affairs: Ahmed Vall Ould Saleh
Minister for Labour and Professonal Training: Cheikh El Kebir Ould Chbih.
Minister for Health: Dr Mohamed Lemine Ould Raghan.
Minister of Petroleum and Mines: Mohamed El Moctar Ould Mohamed El Hacen.
Minister of Fisheries: Assane Soumare.
Minister of Arts, Crafts and Tourism: Madine Madiaw.
Minister for Agriculture: Issagha Correra.
Minister for Procurement, Urban Affairs and Housing: Mohamed Ould Bilal.
Minister for Transport: Ahmed Ould Mohameden Ould Tolba
Minister for Culture and Communication: Mohamed Vall Ould Cheikh
Minister for Modernisation and of the Civil Service: Abdel Aziz Ould Dahi
Minister for Decentralization and Territorial Management: Yahya Ould Kebd
Minister for Water and Energy: Oumar Ould Yali

According to the CV published by the Mauritanian News Agency, the above Ministers are well qualified and good technocrats. But are they capable of keeping the Army at bay? Only God knows best.
What can one make of this Mauritanian Military junta in returning power to an elected civilian government? One thing is certain: the coup organizers of 3 August 2005 have not gone far. However, Ould Vall and his Military Council have certainly achieved something which will worry other African and Arab leadership who believe that the country they run is their private property. In the history of the Arab and African coup, there had only been one case in which the military stepped down voluntarily in favour of a civilian government. That was the General Siwar al-Dahab government which was led by Prime Minister Al-Jazuli Dafalla who stepped down on 6 May 1986 and Sadiq Mahdi’s government took over on the same date in Sudan. However, the Army returned to take back power and have kept it since. The only way the Sudanese will be able to change their leadership is by another Coup d’Etat.
The real tragedy in the Arab and African world is that the leadership will do everything to stay in power until they die. For example, General Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, who overthrew Habib Bourguiba on 7 November 1987, changed the Constitution so that the president’s term in office should be two terms of seven years and cannot be renewed. He promised that he would not seek a third term. His constitutional amendments were approved by a referendum. When his second term in office was near, he changed the Constitution again, so that the president could stand for re-election continuously.
Other examples, are Presidents Mubarak and Qaddafi: more than 30 years in power. But the President who is holding the African leadership record as President is El Hadj Omar Bongo Ondimba of Gabon: at the age of 31, in 1967, he became the world’s youngest President and he and his family still run Gabon today.

BLOODLESS MILITARY COUP D’ETAT IN MAURITANIA ON 6 AUGUST 2008

At about 7 a.m. on 6 August, the Mauritanian National Radio read a presidential decree from the President’s Office which was signed by the president. In this decree, the president, Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, dismissed three top generals of the Mauritanian armed forces: General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, the head of the Presidential Guards, General Mohamed Ould Ghazouani, Chief of Staff, and General Félix Negri, the head of the Gendarmerie.
At about 11 a.m. the three sacked generals marched on the Presidential Palace without a single shot fired, knocked on the president’s door, and took him to a detention house. The three army officers were all members of the Military Council which staged the coup on 3 August 2005.
This is the tenth military coup; the first was on 10 July 1978, when the first president, Moktar Ould Daddah, who ruled Mauritania after its independence from France on 28 November 1960 was overthrown by Colonel Moustapha Ould Salek.
The Generals who staged the coup on 6 August 2008 had taken part in every military coup in the past, and Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi was a Minister under Ould Daddah when the first military coup took place on 10 July 1978 and had been a member of almost every government dismissed by the army. He had spent many years in prison and exile before he was elected president on 25 March 2007 and he took the oath of office on 19 April 2007. What is puzzling is why Abdallahi provoked the army, particularly with his experience of previous military coups and it was the generals he dismissed who got him elected, as the entire Mauritanian army and their families voted for him.

International reaction

International reaction and opposition to the Mauritanian military coup of 6 August was similar to the military coup of 25 August 2005 and the Mauritanian military leadership’s responses and assurances were the same as those given by the 25 August 2005 military coup leader, Ould Vall. Namely, they simply wanted to put a democratic system in place which had been derailed by Abdallahi. The army also said that Abdallahi created disunity among other Mauritanian ethnic groups and that his government was not dealing with corruption and terrorism, and he was busier with consolidating his power, and that a new election would be organized to elect a new president.
In fact, from May 2008, Mauritanian experts, including the present writer, were receiving information that the army was issuing warnings to the government through other political parties. The present writer learned through his contact in Mauritania on 4 August 2008 that arguments between the president, the army and other politicians was paralysing the political system, and the army leadership was losing patience and the army was preparing to move in any time now.
What international communities do not understand in Mauritanian politics and tradition is that whatever happened in Mauritanian politics, the army will always remain in overall control.

The army’s programme

The army’s first step was to set up a Military Council to run the country and a decree was issued dismissing President Abdallahi. The second step was to enlist the support of political parties, trade unions and organs of civil society that opposed the iron fist of Abdallahi. During the first few days the army supporters organized marches and meetings in many towns in the country, and these meetings were shown on Mauritanian television and widely reported in all other media in the country. There were also protests against the coup, but the number of protesters was too small to cause problems to the military leadership.

The Military Council members are as follows:

General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz (2005 Military Council coup d’etat member)
General Mohamed Ould Cheikh Mohamed Ahmed (2005 Military Council coup d’etat member)
General Félix Negré (2005 Military Council coup d’etat member)
Colonel Ahmed Ould Bekrine (2005 Military Council coup d’etat member)
Colonel Mohamed Ould Cheikh Ould El Hadi
Colonel Ghoulam Ould Mahmoud (2005 Military Council coup d’etat member)
Colonel Mohamed Ould Meguet
Colonel Mohamed Ould Mohamed Znagui
Colonel Dia Adama Oumar
Colonel Hanena Ould Sidi
Colonel Ahmedou Bemba Ould Baye

The third step was to nominate a civilian cabinet to run the country under the Military council’s supervision until the election of the new president. This was done on 31 August and the following is the full list of that cabinet

Prime Minister: Moulay Ould Mohamed Laghdhaf
Minister for Foreign and Cooperation Affairs: Mohamed Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou
Minister for the Economy and Development: Sidi Ould Tah
Minister for Defence: Mohamed Mahmoud Ould Mohamed Lemine
Minister for the Interior: Mohamed Ould Maaouya
Minister for Justice: Amadou Tidjane Bal
Minister for Finance: Sid’ Ahmed Ould Raiss
Minister for Petroleum and Energy: Die Ould Zeine
Minister for Fisheries and Maritime Economy: Hassena Ould Ely
Minister for Commerce, Tourism and Crafts: Bamba Ould Dermane
Minister for National Education: Ahmed Ould Bah
Minister for Islamic Affairs and Research: Othmane Ould Cheikh Ahmed Aboul Maali,
Minister for Health: Mohamed Abdellahi Ould Siyam
Minister for Housing, Urban Affairs and Territorial Management: Sy Adama
Minister for Rural Development: Messaouda Mint Baham
Minister for Social Affairs and Family: Selama Mint Cheikhna Ould Lemrabott
Minister for Transports: Camara Moussa Seydi Boubou
Minister for Industry and Mines: Mohamed Abdellahi Ould Oudaa
Minister for Culture, Youth and Sports: Sidi Ould Samba
Minister for Communication and Relations with Parliament: Mohamed Ould Mohamed Abderrahmane Ould Moine
Minister for Energy and Assessment: Mohamed Lemine Ould Aboye
Minister of State to the Prime Minister responsible for Environment and Rural Development: Mohamed Ould Ahmed Salem
Secretary of State, responsible for government administration: Sidi Ould Mayouf
Secretary of State, responsible for Maghrebi affairs: Mohamed Abderrahmane Ould Mohamed Ahmed

According to the CVs published by the Mauritanian News Agency on 31 August 2008, the above ministers, including two women, are well qualified, well educated and are excellent technocrats, but the final word belongs to the military leadership.
With the support of some political parties and a large group of civil society and the nomination of a civil cabinet, it is hard to see how the international community can force the Mauritanian generals to give up power, especially as many Mauritanian – parliamentarians oppose the returned of Abdallahi.

On 22 December 2008, the bloodless military coup in Guinea brought luck to the Mauritanian military leadership. Again, the coup met with international condemnation but as in Mauritania, many Guineans who had been misruled for many years backed the army’s move.
What Africans want in great quantity is bread and butter, jobs and health care, and in the opinion of the present writer are not yet ready for American and Western-style democracy, as most African and Arab leaders are turning their regimes into what might be described as presidential monarchies.

NOTES ON 2009 ELECTION CANDIDATES

The Mauritanian military junta originally fixed the date for the presidential election for 6 June 2009. General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz gave up his military position and stood for the presidential election. However, due to pressure exerted by the United Nations, the European Union, the African Union and the Organization of the Islamic Conference, who refused to recognize a military coup’s legitimacy, the junta agreed with international mediators and other Mauritanian political parties that refused to take part in the planned election to postpone the election date to 18 July.
General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, who has good organisational abilities and the army’s support, is the favourite to win. Suspending diplomatic relations with Israel (officially established in 1999) in January 2009 and expelling the Israeli ambassador and shutting down the Israeli embassy on 5 March 2009 while he was the military council leader have increased his popularity.
There are 10 candidates and if there is no outright winner on 18 July, a second round will take place on 1 August. The candidates’ names are as follows:

  1. GENERAL MOHAMED OULD ABDEL AZIZ; 52, is a military man with 30 years’ service in the Mauritanian armed forces. He was educated at the Royal Moroccan Military Academy in Meknès. A very discreet man, he became known to the Mauritanians when he put down the attempted coup d’Etat of 8-9 June 2003 against President Maayouya Ould Taya. Two years later, he and his cousin Ely Ould Mohamed Vall took power in a bloodless coup against Taya. He became the leader of Presidential National Guard and when Sidi Abdellahi dismissed him and two other top army generals. He and his army colleagues dismissed the elected president on 6 August 2008, took power, and promised a free election to elect another president and became the military Council leader.
    He presented himself as a man of the poor, fighting corruption and terrorism. His first measure was to reduce food prices and he promised better distribution of oil revenue to all Mauritanians. But the biggest issue he must resolve is the return of 13,000 remaining black Mauritanian refugees from Senegal. This problem began in 1989 when Ould Taya began his cleansing process in the Mauritanian army. Many black Mauritanian soldiers were executed and in April 1989 more than 24,000 were expelled to Senegal. The explanation given at the time by Ould Taya was that there was an ethnic conflict between Mauritania and Senegal.
    The return of these refugees began in 2007 and before the July 2009 election, 250 families of the soldiers executed by Ould Taya have returned and were given compensation in return for renouncing any legal action against the army. About 11,000 refugees have also returned and were given settlement help. General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz visited these Mauritanians during his election campaign and promised a speedy attention to their problems.
    Ould Abdel Aziz won the election of 18 July outright with 52.58 per cent of the votes cast.
  2. COLONEL ELY OULD MOHAMED VALL, the leader of the 2005-2005 military regime and the cousin of General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz. He surprised many political analysts when he joined the race on the 6 June. But he had made it clear when he returned power to the elected President Abdallahi on 19 April 2007, he would retire from politics. Also, no one in Mauritania and in the army expected him to challenge his cousin. He scored 3.81 per cent.
  3. AHMED OULD DADDAH, the leader of the Rally of Democratic Forces (RFD), who came second in the 2007 presidential election, and is the half-brother of the first president of Mauritania after independence. He supported the overthrow of Abdallahi. In 2009 presidential election, he came in third with 13.66 per cent of the votes.
  4. KANE HAMIDOU BABA; Vice-President in the National Assembly, a dissident member of the Union of Democratic Forces of Ahmed Ould Daddah. Originally from the Senegal River Valley. His doctorate thesis was on Communication at Paris II University Pantheon 1983. His political career began in 1991-92 when he was involved in the establishment of the opposition party, Union of Democratic Forces to challenge the autocratic regime of Maaouya Ould Taya. At the beginning of October 2000, political repression increased when the Union of Democratic Forces urged the government to break off diplomatic ties with Israel. The government alleged that the Party incited violence and dissolved it at the end of October. This Party re-named itself the Rally of Democratic Forces and Ahmed Ould Daddah was elected its President and Kane became Vice-President.
    Supporting the 6 August 2008 Military Junta, he refused to follow Ould Daddah when he changed his mind and denounced the coup while allying with the anti-putsch front.
    When Ould Daddah refused to take part in the 6 June election, Kane announced his candidacy, which forced the party to expel him. He received 1.49 per cent of votes cast.
  5. SALEH OULD MOHAMEDOU OULD HANENNA; the commander of the National Guard led a failed attempted coup against President Maayouya Ould Taya on 8-9 June 2003 and was on the run until 12 October 2004. On 3 February 2005 he was given life imprisonment.
    On the 6 August 2005, Colonel Ely Ould Mohamed Vall seized power in a bloodless coup and on 5 September 2005 released Ould Hanenna with other political prisoners in an amnesty. He was allowed to participate in the democratic transition.
    He founded his own political party: The Mauritanian Union for Change (HATEM). He was elected to Parliament and candidate in March 2007 presidential election. He got 7.5 per cent of the votes cast and subsequently backed Ahmed Ould Daddah in the second round.
    When General Ould Mohamed Abdel Aziz staged his bloodless Military coup d’Etat on 6 August 2008, he gave his full support to Military coup leaders and when Abdel Aziz announced that he was standing for the presidential election on 6 June he again supported him. However, when the Dakar agreement was signed to postpone the presidential election until 18 July 2009, he withdraw his support to General Abdel Azizi and stood for the presidential election. He is an admirer of Arab Nationalist leaders, such as Gamal Abdel Nasser, Michel Aflaq and Saddam Hussein.
  6. MESSAOUD OULD BOULKHEIR; President of the People’s Progressive Alliance, and former President of the National Assembly. His parents were Haratine slaves. He was the first black slave to become a political leader in Mauritania. He joined the Mauritanian civil service in 1960 and worked in various towns. In 1981 he was appointed Governor of Gorgol and Guidimakha (regions). In 1984, Ould Boulkheir entered the Mauritanian government as minister for rural development, therefore becoming the first Haratine to achieve this position.
    He is a well-respected experienced politician and an important voice for Haratines and negro-Africans minorities. They call him “Our Obama”.
    This is the third time that Ould Boulkheir has stood for presidential election. On the 18 July 2009 election he scored 16.29 per cent.
  7. HAMADY OULD MEIMOU; ex-member of Parliament and former Ambassador to Kuwait. He scored 1.28 per cent of the votes cast.
  8. MOHAMED JEMIL OULD MANSOUR: completed his studies at Université Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah in Fez and in the 1990s he emmigrated to Yeman and taught at al-Iman College. In 2003 many Islamists were arrested and thrown into jail. He escaped detention and travelled to Belgium where he was given political aisylum. In 2004, he returned to Mauritania he was immediately taken to jail. He was released with other political prisoners when Colonel Ely Ould Mohamed Vall overthrew Ould Taya on 3 August 2005. In 2007 election, he was elected Member of Parliament for Nouakchott district.
    Presidential candidate of Tawasol (National Rally for Reform and Development) Islamist party which was legalised in 2007. He claims to promote a tolerant, moderate and democratic Islam. He was against military coup of 6 August 2008. He scored 4.76 per cent.
  9. SGHAIRE OULD M’BARECK; was one of four candidates standing for 6th June presidential election. He had no staff and did very little campaigning and did not even use the time allocated to each candidates on National Radio and television. When the election was postponed to 18 July he withdraw on 7 July and offered his support to General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, but his name remained on the list of candidates.
    In April 1992, he was appointed Minister of National Education. In 1993 he became Minister of Rural Development and the Environment, and in late 1995 he became Minister of Health and Social Affairs. From 1997 to 1998 he was again Minister of National Education, then from 1998 to 1999 Minister of Trade, the Craft Industry and Tourism. He was appointed Minister of Equipment and Transport in late 1999, again in 2000 Minister of National Education. In November 2001 he became Minister of Justice. On 6 July 2003, he became Prime Minister.
    When Colonel Ely Ould Mohamed Vall seized power on 3 August 2005 he and his government resigned on 7 August 2005.
  10. IBRAHIMA MOKTAR SARR, originally from the Senegal River valley and a famous figure in Mauritania’s black nationalism is President of the Alliance for justice and democracy. An anti-racist campaigner and author of the Manifesto of the oppressed black Mauritanians, he was sentenced to four years in jail when his Manifesto was published.
    Presidential candidate in March 2007 he claimed to be the candidate of the oppressed. He founded the “Movement for National Reconciliation”. He campaigned for equal rights for Pulaar, Soninke and Wolof people alongside Moors, and the return of all Mauritanian refugees from Senegal. He received 8 per cent of votes cast. He stood again in 2009 Presidential election and he scored 4.59 per cent.

Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, 52, took the oath of office on 5 August 2009 and became the fourth elected president of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. His term in office is for five years and according to the Constitution can be renewed for a further five year term only.
He appointed Moulay Ould Mohamed Laghdhaf as Prime Minister and on 11 August, appointed 27 Ministers for the President’s formal approval. Members of this new cabinet are all from political parties who supported Abdel Aziz’s election on 18 July. Amongst these 27 Ministers, six are women. One of them is Naha Mint Hamid Ould Mouknass, daughter of the late Hamdi Ould Mouknass who served as Foreign Minister during Mokhtar Ould Daddah’s presidency in late 1970s and becomes Foreign Minister. This is the first time that an Arab woman has achieved this position.

The following is the full list of Abdel Aziz cabinet.

Prime Minister: Moulay Ould Mohamed Laghdhaf,
Minister of Foreign and Cooperation Affairs: Naha Mint Hamdi Ould Mouknass,
Minister of Justice: Baha Ould Hmeida,
Minister of National Defence: Hamadi Ould Hamadi,
Minister of Interior and Decentralisation: Mohamed Ould Boilil,
Minister of Economic Affairs and Development: Sidi Ould Tah,
Minister of Finance: Kane Ousmane,
Minister of Primary Education: Ahmedou Ould Idey Ould Mohamed Radhi,
Minister of Higher and Secondary Education: Ahmed Ould Baya,
Minister of Islamic Affairs and Religious Education: Ahmed Ould Neini,
Minister of Public Sector: Coumba Ba,
Minister of Labour and Professional Training: Mohamed Ould Khouna,
Minister of Health: Dr Cheikh El Moctar Ould Horma Ould Babana,
Minister of Energy and Petroleum: Ahmed Ould Moulaye Ahmed,
Minister of Fishing and Maritime Economy: Ghdafna Ould Eyih,
Minister of Trade, Handicraft and Tourism: Bamba Ould Dermane,
Minister of Housing, Urban affairs and territorial management: Ismail Ould Bedde Ould Cheikh Sidiya,
Minister of Rural Development: Brahim Ould M’Bareck Ould Mohamed El Moctar,
Minister of Transport and Equipment: Camara Moussa Seydi Boubou,
Minister of Water Resources: Mohamed Lemine Ould Aboye,
Minister of Industry and Mines: Mohamed Abdallahi Ould Oudaa,
Minister of Youth and Sports: Cissé Mint Cheikh Ould Boyde,
Minister of Communication and Relations with Parliament: Mohamed Abdallahi Ould Boukhary,
Minister of Social Affairs, Children and Family: Moulaty Mint El Moctar,
Minister Delegate to the Prime Minister in charge of the Environment and Sustainable development: Dr Idrissa Diarra,
Minister Delegate to the Prime Minister in charge of the Modernisation of Administration and Technology: Wane Abdoulaye Drissa,
Minister Delegate to the Prime Minister in charge of Maghreb Affairs: Ikebrou Ould Mohamed,
Government Secretary-General: Ba Ousmane.

RELIGION

Islam of the Malekite school is the state religion. The authorities do not interfere with the estimated 4,500 Catholic adherents, mainly non-nationals in the country.

ENTRY REQUIREMENTS

A valid passport and a visa are required, as is evidence of a yellow fever vaccination. For further information on entry requirements, travellers may contact the Embassy of the Republic of Mauritania in their country of residence.


SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY

Some titles listed here are regrettably out of print. But copies which are available for sale are listed in The Maghreb Bookshop website: www.maghrebbookshop.com

We would also be pleased to advise our customers on the possibility of acquiring out of print copies.

  • Amblard, S, Tichitt-Walata, (R.I.Mauritanie). Civilisation et industries lithique, 1984.
  • Arnaud, J., La Mauritanie. Aperçu historique, géography et socio-économique, 1972.
  • Beauvais, M.V-De, et al., Groupes Serviles au Sahara. Approche comparative à partir du cas des arabophones de Mauritanie, 2000.
  • Beslay, F., Les reguibats. De la paix français au Front Polisario, 1984.
  • Bonte, Pierre, L’émirat de l’Adrar mauritanien. Harîm, compétition et protection dans une société tribale saharienne, 2008.
  • Bonte, P et al., Al-Ansab. La quête des origins. Anthropologie historique de la société tribal arabe, 1991.
  • Bradley, P and Raynaur, C., The Quidimaka Region of Mauritania, 1977.
  • Chassey, F. De, Mauritanie 1900-1975. De l’order colonial à l’order nèo-colonial entre Maghreb et Afrique Noir, 1978.
  • Collectif, Introduction à la Mauritanie, 1979.
  • Curran, B. D and Schrock, J., Area Handbook for Mauritania, 1972.
  • Désiré-Vuillemin, G., Histoire de la Mauritanie des origins à l’Indépendance, 1997.
  • Duboc, G, Mauritanie, 1935.
  • Gerteiny, A, Mauritania, 1967.
  • Gillier, B., La pénétration en Mauritanie, 1926.
  • Maghreb Review, Special Numbers on Mauritania, Vol. 9, Nos. 5-6, 1984.
  • Mauritanyi, El H, L’indépendence … néo-coloniale, 1974.
  • Monod, T, L’Ile d’Arguin (Mauritanie) Essai historique, 1983.
  • Norris, H.T., Sinqiti Folk Literature, 1968.
  • Norris, H. T., The Pilgrimage of Ahmad. An account of a 19th Century Pilgrimage from Mauritania to Mecca, 1977.
  • Ould Bah, El M., La litérature juridique et l’évolution du malikisme en Mauritanie, 1981.
  • Ould Daddah, M., La Mauritanie contre vents et marees, 2003.
  • Ould Khalifa, Abdallah, La région du Tagant en Mauritanie. L’oasis de Tijigja entre 1660 et 1960, 1998.
  • Pitte, J-R., Nouakchott. Capitale de la Mauritanie, 1977.
  • Polet, J., Tegdaoust IV. Fouille d’un quartier de Tegdaoust Mauritanie Orientale, 1985.
  • Puigaudeau, O. Du., Bare foot through Mauritania, 1937.
  • Robinson, D., Paths of Accommodation. Muslim Societies and French Colonial Authorities in Senegal and Mauritania, 1880-1920, 2000.
  • Ruf, U.P., Ending Slavery. Hierarchy, Dependency and Gender in Central Mauritania, 1999.
  • Sitwell, S, Mauritania, warrior, man and woman, 1940.
  • Stewart, C.C with Stewart, E.K., Islam and Social Order in Mauritania. A case study from the Nineteenth Century, 1973.
  • Tauzin, A., Contes arabes de Mauritanie, 1993.
  • Webb, J., et al., Mauritania, 1992.
  • Westebbe, R. M., The Economy of Mauritania, 1971.