Mauritania Water Uprising?

17 04 2012
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"Rest assured, it's either water or confrontation"
photo credit: Al-Akhbar.info

“Give us water or we will take you down” was the unceremonious welcoming General Aziz got today in Magta Lahjar (Brakna Province.) What was supposed to be another on-demand carnival tour of the Brakna province by Aziz’s loyalists, ended up with the strongman reduced to delivering a short speech on top of a car amidst “we want water” chants.

Magta Lahjar, like other towns in the country, saw a rash of protests over the government’s failure to provide drinking water, or basic services. For instance, Aziz was greeted with a wave of protests in Aleg (Brakna’s capital) culminating in arrests and beatings of the youth, many of them members of the UFP and Tawassul opposition parties.

Magta Lahjar’s protesters did not fair any better today; over 30 remain under lock. some were preemptively arrested earlier in the day after anti-regime slogans appeared on walls in the town.

The scene as reported in local media was one of an ambush quickly escalating into a classic street fight: protesters infiltrated the security ring pretending to be loyalists, then broke out in chants while fighting off the police’s attempts to flush them out.

Earlier this week, the authorities violently suppressed a February 25 youth protest in the capital Nouakchott, and a university student demonstration. Today, pro-regime thugs attacked opposition events in the northern cities of Atar (Adrar), and loyalists tried to sabotage an opposition event in the mining town of Zoueirate (Tiris Zemmour.) These attempts to interfere in opposition activities by regime loyalists are yet another warning sign that the crisis is rapidly escalating.

Overall, these events may not stand out in comparison to scenes from Mohamed Mahmoud street in Cairo, or even Sanabis in Bahrain. However, in a nation of 3.8 Million, they are unprecedented. This  trend is an entirely new phenomenon far surpassing the Kadihine (Maoists) golden age of street protests in the 70’s.

Far from being ephemeral, General Aziz is increasingly facing a comprehensive protest movement led by an emboldened opposition, and a population driven by the instinct of survival to demand urgent solutions to their most basic needs. Just to further complicate things for Mauritania’s ruler, the opposition is mobilizing for mass demonstrations on the second of May. Aziz will need more than water to put out these fires as he potentially faces either a generalized popular uprising, a coup d’etat, or both.

In Mauritania today, the equation is no longer democracy versus dictatorship, but rather water versus droughts.





#Mauritania Opposition 43-page Rebuttal to General Aziz

18 03 2012

Mauritania’s opposition: National Unity Government, Now!

 

 

Mauritania’s Democratic Opposition Coordination Committee, a coalition of parties allied against General Aziz’s rule, issued on Thursday a 43-page document detailing the current regime’s failures across the spectrum. This document should be read, and viewed, on the basis that represents the views of the biggest factions of the country’s opposition. it provides fresh insights into the thinking of Mauritania’s super politicos on a host of issues, and the hierarchy of problems the country faces from their perspectives.

The authors summed up their views of Mauritania’s dire straits in the on the document’s first page: Political deadlock, institutional crisis, collapse of the Mauritanian State, impoverished citizens, rampant corruption, systematic pillaging of the country’s natural resources, military adventures, and diplomatic incoherence.

The information contained in the document is not new per se, what is new is that the opposition is demanding a national unity government and elections to remedy the unconstitutional parliament that lapsed back in November 2011. Additionally, the last chapter of the document (page 36) has a detailed discussion of the the fact that Mauritania’s institutions today are outside of constitutional legality. A fact, that very few outside observers have either picked on, commented, or even acknowledged.

That constitutional void has consequences beyond the internal political power struggle. For example, It would be worth pointing out to foreign investors that their recent agreements with Aziz are null and void– particularly mining companies that signed any deals with the current government after May 2011.

This is good news to Mauritanians because the current regime had previously signed egregious, and blatantly exploitative deals with foreign companies like Kinross Gold Corporation. That agreement leaves Mauritania with only %4 of the total proceeds of proven reserve of 7.46 Million Ounces of the Tasiast mine. This kind of deals is what is ultimately running the country to the ground by creating a Congo-like formula: Rich Country, Poor People.

It also would be very hard to argue that such deals are corruption-free. Conversely, the problem is that no one is scrutinizing any of these companies’ dealings in Mauritania.

In the final analysis, the facts about Mauritania’s reality speak for themselves: %69 of women, and %51 of youth between 18-24 are unemployed. This is a recipe for a disaster in the making if there are not political solutions to the current crisis.





#Mauritania: General Aziz’s image problem

14 03 2012
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Taqadoumy.com cartoon

Mauritania’s strongman was today in Nouadhibou to put on his own long-planned show of force. The crowd was estimated to range between 15000-20000 people.

This was no spontaneous affair. for months, government ministers and the UPR ruling party officials have been shuttling back and forth to Nouadhibou to prepare the rally. Originally, the visit was decided after local party bosses threatened to leave the ruling party a few months back in the fall of last year. The stakes became even higher after the opposition’s successful protests yesterday in Nouakchott.

On the form, the visibly tense General surrounded himself with his government ministers at the rally to present an image of a hands-on manager. Calling on each of them, or pointing at them throughout the one-hour speech, Aziz was intent on matching promises with faces. Without missing a beat, rattled off a series of promises of electricity, water, roads and civil state reforms. Visibly, the man was on a mission to show that he is a man of action and principles. This was a replay of his 2009 campaign theme of the “President of The Poor.” Only, this time, he is not facing any elections but a growing wave of protests after disillusionment with his policies, as well as, the lack of any tangible improvements to the country’s living conditions. 

On the substance, the General attacked vehemently his critics and opponents describing them as: “liars, thieves” and went further to simply state that they were “marginal, and inexistent opposition.” A strange thing for the strongman to say in the same breath as he claimed to be a democrat allowing opposition figures “to go on TV to lie and insult him.” In essence, this was a Qadhafiesque performance but on a shorter time schedule. 

Borrowing a page from Hugo Chavez’s playbook, Aziz’s message was a mix of populist grandiose promises of prosperity, and aggressive self-styling as a “man of the people.” However, lacking Chavez’s and Qadhafi’s oratory style, it still remains to be seen whether the man will win over his national audience with this performance. In his eagerness to mitigate the seriousness of the current crisis, the General went as far as denying that the country was on the verge of a famine claiming it to be “an opposition lie.”

Another singular moment was when the General attempted to stoke up nationalist and patriotic sentiments. Aziz alleged that Mauritania’s soldier, recently released by AlQaeda, was not free due to any negotiations. His explanation was that he, on principle, does not negotiate with terrorists but..that the soldiers was traded against a terrorist that was in Mauritanian custody. He further added that once handed over to the terrorists, the air force was prompt to bomb them. The raid was reported as having occurred over Malian territory, and to have missed its targets, hitting instead a truck loaded with goods.

The aggressive rhetoric is likely an attempt to repair the strongman’s tarnished image after a slew of corruption scandals since his 2008 coup. By far, the most serious among those was the scandal involving his own son Badr that sent shockwaves across Mauritanian society. 

The young man was released from police custody back in January after he shot a girl with a pistol lodging a bullet in her spine. The presidential family moved swiftly to save the son. it put immense pressure on the victim’s family and the Attorney General to avoid any legal pursuit of General’s son. Finally, the family’s victim received a substantial sum of money from the Aziz family in order to keep them quiet.

Arguably, today’s most awkward moment came just before the speech begun. A man was heard live on Mauritanian TV shouting: “Aziz we want jobs, Aziz we want jobs.” The sound was interrupted in the live broadcast, and the camera quickly shifted to people carrying signs praising the General. After all, one man in Mauritania can claim today that he gave the authoritarian ruler a piece of the people’s mind.





#Mauritania: Backdrop of An Anger Day Not on Your Media

13 03 2012

pic.twitter.com/kTpYRlPy

Photo Credit: @Billysidi


Today, the capital city Nouakchott has the largest opposition protest in the country’s recent history. Despite government attempts to limit participation in the protest by distributing free food in poor neighborhoods,  40000-60000 Mauritanians took to the streets to demand General Aziz’s departure from power. 

But before getting into the nitty-gritty of Mauritania’s political crisis, one has to understand why the situation is serious, and how the protest wave is not merely about political grievances, but rather about demanding speedy measures in order to preserve the very survival of a vast number of communities across the nation.

Average Mauritanians are railing from the relentless rise in basic consumer goods’ prices. Both the coastal urban centers (2/3 of the population) and the semi-nomadic communities in the interior  southern and eastern provinces. The latter are at the mercy of a drought threatening their very livelihood. Grain reserves are dropping to dangerous levels raising the specter of a famine in farming communities that in normal circumstances would sell, or trade, their excess reserves as means to get cash to provide for their other needs. Cattle-herding communities are equally vulnerable as they too are running out of grazing spaces for their livestock because of last year’s exceptionally bad rain season which normally start between August and October.

To further complicate matters, the ongoing Tuareg armed rebellion in Mali’s Azawad region, has effectively sealed off the traditional bad rain season alternative for Mauritania’s large camel herding communities in south-eastern Hodh region. In fact, 31000 Malians refugees crossed the border to seek refuge (1500 arrivals per day) thus adding to an already precarious food shortage crisis. The drought, and the refugee influx are the primary concern for Mauritanians, as opposed to foreign analysts (as evidenced by world media coverage) who seem to be more focused on the terrorist threat from Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM.) To put it bluntly, it is seen in Mauritania as a “foreigners’ concern.”

Nouakchott’s mass protest were called for by the opposition parties after the regime’s so-called parliamentary brigades passed a constitutional reform with a series of amendments deemed illegal. Contrary to misleading reports on some foreign media,  the “reform” extends the parliament’s mandate after government’s failure to organize elections to renew it in October 2011 as mandated by the constitution

What is new today, as opposed to five years ago during the post-Taya transition, is that the demands of regime change are coming from the bottom of the social ladder, and not from the elites, as was the case before. This does not mean that the opposition parties are not active. it is rather about hardening attitudes, and a sense of impending catastrophe as General Aziz is seen by an increasingly vocal population as an obstacle to alleviating poverty and corruption.

The mood of defiance and self-confidence amongst protesters was best captured by one February 25 protest movement blogger. he pointed out that thousands of politically unaffiliated protesters turned out in the street despite the regime “deploying its secret weapon: Super Yayboy,” which is a type fish handed out today by the ruling party in poor neighborhoods to keep citizens away from the anti-government demonstration. This vignette aptly describes a regime that implicitly recognizes the extent of misery in the country, and yet is unwilling to take responsibility for its failures.  

The “Super YayBoy” strategy is likely to continue tomorrow Tuesday in Nouadhibou, where more fish is available, as General Aziz’s own party puts on a previously planned show of force for their boss. However, the problem for the General, and his party, is that the opposition too is hitting the streets there in a counter-demonstration to further drive the point home: it’s time to step down! 





#Mauritania #April25 Ahmed Jiddou Released

27 04 2011
Ahmed_jiddou

Ahmed Jiddou, 27, and his 7 fellow protest leaders were released late last night after the youth staged a sit-in by the police station where they were held. Hundreds of youth protesters gathered in the Plaza by the police station and kept a very noisy presence in order to pressure the authorities to release the detainees.
Another detainee Cheikh Ould Jiddou, 40, (no relation to Ahmed) said that the police did not torture them but questioned them extensively about the protest leadership and its inner workings.
The photo above was posted by Ahmed Jiddou himself on his facebook profile to thank those who worried about his safety. “I would like you to worry about Mauritania, free it from the military’s clutches”, adding his call for fellow Mauritanians to “stop the country’s auctioning.” in an oblique reference to the Blokate Square’s sale by the government to General Aziz loyalists in a less than transparent deal.





#Mauritania #April25 Opposition MP’s Join Youth at Police Station Protest

26 04 2011

This video was shot today during the ongoing sit-in by the February 25 youth in front of the 4th district police station in Nouakchott where most of their detainees are thought to be held.
The protesters are joined by several opposition MP’s and leaders from the anti-slavery movement.
To an outsider this video is another banal protest, in fact, these very scenes show a new reinvigorated political discourse shaping the youth protest movement. The protesters have internalized the two main clean-break ingredients that allowed the Arab Spring to happen elsewhere:
– A post-ideological culture of civl rights
-A commitment to nonviolence
It’s worth also noting that the youth are camping up as we speak by the police station after they took over the plaza in front of the detention center. According to this blogger’s sources, the police is deliberately avoiding any direct contact with the protesters for fear of provoking a new round of mass protests as yesterday’s.
The government is rattled.




#Mauritania #April25 Detained Youth Leader in his own words

26 04 2011

AhmedJiddou.mp4 Watch on Posterous

Ahmed Jiddou, blogger, and February 25 movement activist speaking about his motives to come out to protest.He remains detained in an undisclosed location since his arrest yesterday during the April 25 Day of Rage.
He is a peaceful, nonviolent Mauritanian citizen who was exercising his constitutional right to express his dissent.
Video courtesy of @lissnup








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