Fallen Heroes: Habib Ould Mahfoudh

4 01 2013

My generation of Mauritanians owes a great deal to the late Habib Ould Mahfoudh (1960-2001) His often censored French-language “Mauritanides” column in Le Calame were a rallying point for all of the country’s intellectuals. His writings were a study in irreverence, anti-conformism and a thorn in the military regimes’ side. Many of us classical liberal Mauritanians found solace and inspirations in his weekly columns. His beautifully written unflinching criticism of rulers, customs, tribes encouraged us to question the status quo.

His legacy ultimately is that he is one of the few truly beloved figures in the country. Affection for him crosses the ethnic divides. Moors love him for taking on their corrupt leaders, and tribal chiefs. Afro-Mauritanians remember him fondly as one of the few Arab intellectuals to denounce their oppression as it happened.

It is only befitting to embed above Maalouma Bint ElMeidah’s musical tribute to him. She is one of many he inspired to dissent. Her own journey ultimately led her to run and win a senator’s seat. You can find the entire collection of his Mauritanides columns here. It is a must read for anyone aspiring to better understand our part of the world.

His ringing denunciation of the logic and  opportunism of Mauritanian politicians who are always happy to support the ruler. The same people, the same names over thirty years remain unchanged. The only thing that changes is their party’s name: under Haidalla, it was the infamous Hayakil. Under Taya it was the PRDS, today under Aziz it is the UPR. Many of us tagged walls with his famous line: “to biscuit or not to biscuit, that is the pot’s bottom” mocking those who justify knowingly supporting dictators in order to feed their families.

To biscuit or not to biscuit, zat is le fond de la marmite. Une défense courante, la défense de ceux qui sont au pouvoir, quand on dénonce les abus, les incompétences, les insuffisances, les aberrations, est de dire: “Tous les autres pays sont passés par-là”. Oui. Raison de plus d’en tirer les leçons qui s’imposent. Quand votre guide tombe dans une crevasse, se foule le pied, se relève et continue en claudiquant, vous sentez-vous obligé d’en faire autant ou tout simplement d’éviter la crevasse? 
Il est désormais inutile de vouloir discourir à moins de sauver l’essentiel: nous-mêmes.

Dad Blogs About Azawad

29 12 2012

My father (1st from left) meeting Egypt’s Nasser during first Mauritanian official state visit to Cairo in July 1963

It is not every day that one can call their own dad a fellow blogger! My father, a retired diplomat and historian has been blogging more than I have of late. He produced a 12-part series on his Arabic-language blog “Ewrag Mussafir” (Travelers Notes) about the Azawad province in Mali. The series covers in short format the history, politics, sociology and ethnography of that troubled region.

It is a very useful contribution for Arabic-language readers explaining the background of the current upheaval in that region. Very few has been written of late in accessible language explaining a rather complicated and profoundly unfortunate fate of the peoples of Azawad.

Given the current context,  these writings also offer insights into how Mauritanians think of Azawad and their perspective on its affairs. My father’s views were informed by his diplomatic and journalistic career spanning over 4 decades, as well as, translating into Arabic of some of early 20th century French colonial sociologist Paul Marty‘s books about today’s Mauritania and Mali. Marty’s work was instrumental for France’s colonization of that area and informed its policies aiming to dominate that space.

the impending war in Azawad remains a highly unpopular prospect among Mauritanians who fear that the conflict would spill over into their own territory. Alas, I do not have much time to translate these posts. Hopefully, someone else would.

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