Mauritania - Politics
In August 2005 the 'Military Council for Justice and Democracy' seized power in a largely bloodless coup d’etat. The Military Council appointed a transitional government and undertook to return the country to democracy by March 2007. Prior to the coup, President Maaouya Ould Sid'Ahmed TAYA governed from 1984, first as head of a military junta, and from 1992-2005 as head of an elected civilian government.
A new constitution was approved by 97% of voters in a referendum in June 2006. Legislative elections were held in November and December 2006. Turnout was around 70%. No party won outright. The 11-member ‘Coalition of Forces for Democratic Change’, made up of parties which opposed former President Taya, took 41 of the 95 seats contested. Independents also did well, winning 39 seats. Women won 17 seats and make up 18% of the National Assembly. International observers considered the legislative elections free and transparent. Presidential elections took place in March 2007.
The first round on 11 March 2007 did not produce a decisive winner. A second round run-off between the first round’s two leading candidates was held on 25 March 2007. Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheik Abdellahi narrowly defeated his veteran opposition rival, Ahmed Ould Daddah, 52% to 48%. Turnout was 67.5%. The EU Presidency, US and AU issued statements commending the conduct of the elections. President Abdellahi’s first government, formed mostly of technocrats, resigned in May 2008. The new government, announced on 11 May, was regarded as more broad-based and political and includes former ministers.
The new Government inherited a number of formidable challenges: It is aware of the need to accelerate economic growth to raise the standard of living of Mauritanians, in the context of limited oil revenue prospects over the next few years and a difficult international economic environment. Mauritania has also recently become the target of terrorist activities. In December 2007, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQM) claimed responsibility for the killing of four Mauritanian soldiers as well as a family of French tourists. In February 2008, AQM attacked the Israeli Embassy in Nouakchott.
In August 2008, Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi was overthrown by a military coup led by generals Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz and Mohamed Ould Ghazouani. After several months of political crisis, the government and opposition, partly regrouped in a National Front for the Defense of Democracy, signed an agreement in June 2009 providing for the organization of pluralistic presidential elections.
Politics in Mauritania have always been heavily influenced by the military and by "strong men" or personalities. A leader's ability to exercise political power depends upon control over resources; financial means; perceived strength; and tribal, ethnic, and family considerations. Conflict among White Moor, Black Moor, and Black African Mauritanian groups, centering on unequal access to power, language, government, education, and land tenure, continues to be a major challenge to national unity.
Slavery, and the repatriation and compensation of victims from the 1989-90 purges of Afro-Mauritanians known as the "passif humanitaire," are still socio-political issues awaiting resolution, but Mauritania took several important steps toward reconciliation in 2009. On March 25, 2009, the HSC signed a framework agreement to compensate 244 widows of Afro-Mauritanian military personnel killed during the 1989-91 expulsions of Afro-Mauritanians and held a memorial for the victims on the same day. The agreement and memorial represented the authorities' first public acknowledgement of the government's role in the ethnic killings and expulsions of 1989-91. During 2009 President Aziz' government also conducted a census of former teachers among returnees in order to reinstate them in their former positions with the Ministry of Education.
Despite the conclusion of a peace agreement in Mali in June 2015, by the end of 2017 large-scale returns of refugees were not yet expected due to the security situation in northern Mali. In June 2016, Mauritania, Mali and UNHCR concluded a Tripartite Agreement for the voluntary repatriation of Malian refugees. When conditions allow for return, this agreement will provide a framework to facilitate voluntary return. In the meantime, it reaffirms the commitment of Mauritania and Mali to protect refugees.
The Mauritanian government has constantly been criticised for its ambivalent attitude towards slavery in the country. In August 2017, the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organisations (AFL-CIO) issued a statement urging the US government to remove Mauritania from the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). In its petition, the AFL-CIO said: "The government of Mauritania routinely fails to conduct investigations into cases of slavery, rarely pursues prosecutions for those responsible for the practice and fails to ensure access to remedy or otherwise support victims. This represents a total failure to take any meaningful steps to establish freedom from forced labor".
Police and gendarmes were poorly paid, trained, and equipped. Corruption and impunity were serious problems. Police and gendarmes reportedly regularly sought bribes at nightly roadblocks in Nouakchott and at checkpoints between cities. There were numerous reports police at such roadblocks arbitrarily detained individuals, often without probable cause, for several hours or overnight.
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