Operation Serval: The View From Mauritania

15 01 2013

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Mali War: “Arab states might send troops.” “No thanks, we don’t need help.” by Algerian cartoonist Dilem

Four days into the French operation in Mali, Mauritania’s government has been conspicuously silent. This not at a surprise as the regime is fully aware of the public opinion’s opposition to any Mauritanian involvement in Aazawad.

Interestingly, the only on the record reaction to the operation from a political group till now has been from the Feb25 youth movement on Saturday. their statement seems representative of the Mauritanian public opinion views on the matter: they reiterated their fundamental objection to any Mauritanian involvement in the ongoing combat in Mali. it indirectly accused France of pushing Mauritania into the Malian war via General Aziz. If anything is to be retained here is that the legacy of Sarkozy’s backing of General Aziz is a serious image problem for France in Mauritania.

We completely and fundamentally reject involving our military in that war. we stress the importance of having a continuous … Of our armed forces’ mission during these unique circumstances.

We also would like to remind the ruling regime that our armed forces’ mission is limited to our national territory with the aim to defend our borders and provide security to its citizens all over the country– particularly those near the [conflict’s] hotspots.

We warn against the consequences of pushing our sons into a conflict outside of our borders fulfilling the wishes of a foreign country that has no regards for their lives, or their families’ fate. We would like to remind the regime of the dire consequences of such a decision.

I spoke to several high ranking opposition members and well-connected players off the record. Their pessimism is sobering: the war in Mali is not going to resolve the terrorist issue, in fact, it might backfire. They do not believe that France, nor the ECOWAS nations can resolve the problem through force alone.

I was told that Mali is a political quagmire: “even if the French beat off jihadis, that does not address the fundamental problem of Azawad: the inability of the Malian state over 50 years to provide services to the citizens is what made the place a fertile ground for extremism. The terrorists have cash, the state does not.” When I pushed my interlocutors on the fact that many fighters in AQIM and MUJAO are Mauritanians and that this should be an alarm bell. I was told that “there will be always nihilists around here. If this war drags on, it could be a destination to thousands of Mauritanian youth who lost all hope in their own State. Give them hope in a life in Mauritania. otherwise, they will try to go to heaven via Azawad. Or they might try to recreate their own Jihad here on Mauritanian soil. Either way, our country loses.”

On the record, Saharamedia published tonight a quick roundup of individual politicians’ views on the war. Interestingly the only one among those with a real political weight is Ahmed Ould Sidi Baba, the current chairman of the non-participatory opposition block COD. Echoing a strongly held belief that General Aziz had covertly backed the MNLA against Mali’s former President Amadou Toumani Touré, he is quoted as saying that: “things would have not gotten to where they are had it not for the involvement of General Aziz through raid into Malian territories, and his support to certain forces in Bamako, there would not have been a coup d’état against the civilian government.”

The local branch of the Muslim Brotherhood has not yet issued an official statement on the matter. Their politburo is reported to be in session tonight to formulate a position. They are the one Mauritanian formation that has the most to lose politically from any faux-pas. They are suspected by many to be sympathetic to some of the Islamist elements in Mali, in addition to their ingrained anti-western worldview.

Columnist Abbas Ould Abraham (@abbassbraham) feels that the Mauritanian involvement in the war will be in function of the intensity of France’s engagement in the operations. He further infers that the Islamist groups in Mali already anticipate a Mauritanian attack. they built strong positions in the Ouagadou woods near the border– a spot that saw a major clash in 2010 between AQIM and Mauritanian troops.

Overall, Mauritanians are not thrilled by this war. However, they are not actively opposing it. As long as their military is not involved in combat operations, and their territory is not invaded they will observe from the sidelines. Even if their territory is invaded, the public opinion will not tolerate any extended incursions inside Malian territories.

Update:

A Mauritanian soldier serving in the Lemghaity base (500 km Northeast of Zoueirate) shot himself. The soldier, according to the report , was protesting the cancellation of his leave to visit his family over 1500 km in the south in Nouakchott. This is not a good indicator of the morale of Mauritanian soldiers in light of the ongoing war next door..





Mauritania’s Béni oui-oui

4 01 2013

 

Béni oui-oui

Béni oui-oui about to go to war..

 

Béni oui-oui is a North-African expression from the Frnech colonial period, it is based on the Arabic Beni (plural of Ibn meaning son of) and of the French oui. The term describes servile and automatic agreement of a group of people with any decisions by an authority.

During the recent vote in the Mauritanian parliament on the 2013 budget, MP’s from the UPR, Aziz’s majority “party” raised hell and demanded that the vote be repeated. They discovered that they had voted massively against their own government. Outraged that they backed an amendment introduced by the opposition to increase the Islamic Studies Institute (ISERI) which was exactly what the Finance Minister asked them not to do. Unfortunately for Minister Thiam Diombar, most Aziz’s majority party members did not understand his speech because it was in French. Apparently, the parliament does not have interpreters nor equipment to do the job. Once they got their way and the vote was repeated, they voted massively against the amendment. Noor info reports:

Retour à l’Assemblée Nationale, où les débats se poursuivaient avec des séquences dignes du “Guiness des Insolites”. C’est le cas de ce vote général par OUI des députés de la majorité et ceux de l’opposition en faveur de “l’augmentation du budget de l’ISERI” contre laquelle pourtant le ministre des Finances, Thiam Diombar s’était opposé. Se rendant compte de leur bêtise, les députés de la majorité demanderont à ce que le vote soit repris de nouveau.

Explication, certains députés de la majorité qui avaient voté “OUI” n’avaient pas compris l’intervention du ministre qui s’exprimait en français. L’absence de toute traduction des débats avait contribué à ce quiproquo. Revoté, l’augmentation du budget de l’ISERI a été rejetée cette fois par l’écrasante majorité des députés du pouvoir.

Democracy you say? Poor Mauritania and poor us for having a herd of Béni oui-oui commanding our destinies.





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: 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! 








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