#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’s Bouazizi Died Today

23 01 2011

Yacoub Ould Dahoud, A Mauritanian Folk Hero

 

Yacoub Ould dahoud, the Mauritanian businessman who burned himself on January 17, 2011 in front of the presidential palace in Nouakchott, Mauritania died today.  The 41-year old wast motivated by a desire to depose Mauritania’s President, General Aziz and to democratize his country.

His body was supposed to be flown back today from Morocco where his family took him to receive better medical care. It is not clear yet whether the delay is politically motivated – Aziz’s strongest regional ally – as reports indicate that the Moroccan authorities are insisting on conducting an autopsy to determine the causes of his death.

Many Mauritanians this blogger spoke to tonight are convinced that the delay is an act of active collusion designed to help General Aziz win time to manage a public relations fiasco that could potentially lead Mauritanians to take to the streets. This is in the wake of initial protest in the capital city of Nouakchott and other cities against the skyrocketing prices of essential goods.

His death is fueling anger in Mauritania despite an age-old societal aversion towards suicide. Mauritania’s Taqadoumy news website collected reactions of Mauritanians made on Facebook and other source. They reflect a growing outrage fueled by a perceived smear campaign kicked off  by General Aziz’s earlier declarations describing Dahoud’s action as “desperate because of [General Aziz’s] war on corruption as [Dahoud] hails from a wealthy family.”

Dahoud was not a poor man, nor was he unemployed like his Tunisian counterpart. His Facebook profile accessed today by this blogger shows Dahoud followed very closely the events unfolding in Tunisia culminating with Ben Ali’s ousting by his people. He came from a prominent family and many Mauritanians I spoke with agree that he was driven by the same motivation as Tunisia’s Bouazizi: making a statement about tyranny and the lack of freedom in their socieities. Not so much a question of Dollars and cents.

Influenced & Inspired By Bouazizi

Yacoub posted on his Facebook wall a link to a manifesto (also posted it on Google Docs) in Arabic and French in the wee hours of January 17, 2011 explaining his demands. Proceeded with slogans posted earlier in French calling for General Aziz’s ouster (Aziz Dégage.) His list of demands included a call to end of Mauritania’s military meddling in politics, and for the regime of (coup master) Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz to be deposed. Dahoud also denounced tribalism as well as slavery on his Facebook wall. His manifesto also included jabs at France’s meddling in Mauritanian affairs under Nicholas Sarkozy who many Mauritanians blame for the success of General Aziz’s power grab in 2008 by providing the necessary political cover internationally allowing him to conduct fraudulent elections in 2009 to legitimize his coup d’etat.

Contrary to initial reports from Reuters claiming Dahoud committed this act to protest tribal grievances, his was a genuine political act of pre-planned and meditated dissent, in fact his suicide note states clearly that he sought peaceful constitutional reform and a functioning democracy.

Dahoud's Manifesto

His manifesto opens with:

Extremism and terrorist groups are a result of 50 years of poverty and the loss of hope that rulers’ oppression will end.

Then he further clarifies:

Enough corruption, enough oppression. Mauritania belongs to the people, not to the Generals and their entourage.

To get the corrupt army band from power, enough with corruption, enough oppression. We suffered fifty years of corruption and oppression. Do we and the future generations not deserve one month of steadfastness to dash out of oppression, intellectual, material and physical oppression [?]

Dahoud then listst his demands:

– The release of human rights activists in prison [Biram Ould Dah] who are fighting against slavery

– Eliminating all taxes and tariffs on rice, wheat, cooking oil, sugar, milk and monitoring their obscene price hikes

– Replacing taxes and tariffs on basic goods through more taxation on cigarettes, luxury cars and tariffs on European ships that are pillaging our maritime wealth, as well as taxing telecom companies or Mauritania’s income from gold mining stolen by the Army commanders’ band.

– A constitutional amendment to be submitted to parliament in an emergency session containing the following points:

a- No current or ex member of the military shall be eligible to be elected President of the Republic

b- An independent electoral committee that will organize and supervise elections without intervention from the Interior Ministry- the source of all ills undermining freedoms in our country.

c- Imposing that the choice of the prime minister be the prerogative of the parliamentary block holding the majority in parliament

d- The nomination ministers of: justice, interior, finance, education shall be contingent upon parliament’s approval

e- The nomination of judges and the attorney general shall be contingent upon parliament’s approval

f- The nomination of the members of the constitutional council [the highest court of the land] shall be contingent upon parliament’s approval

g- Calling via a presidential decree for legislative and presidential decree within six months from the decree’s issuance

h- calling parliament in an emergency session to ratify: the constitutional amendments, an amnesty law for the General [Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz], members of the High Council [military junta ruling body] and the ministers in his government before and after the 2009 elections

If you do not accept this offer, then you should face the people’s wrath and be forced out as Ben Ali was.

I take this occasion to beg the people of France to force its rulers to accept the Mauritanian people’s right to self-determination.

Our lives are a small price to pay for Mauritania so that our sons can live in a country with social justice, liberty and democracy.

Yacoub Dahoud

A simple citizen demanding legitimate rights.

Hasn’t the time come for the Mauritanian people to chose freely and seriously who will preside over its destiny, and manage its resources that can easily service its needs instead of alms of hostile foreign governments?

 








%d bloggers like this: