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Elections in Mauritania: A Brief Flashback!

The first democratic elections I witnessed in the country offer an interesting perspective on understanding the challenges and disillusionments of the electoral process.

Aside from the former colonizer, in modern Mauritanian political history, it has always been a small committee of military officials willing to put power on the line in a well-known democratic ritual called elections.

We should be grateful for small favors. It is important to acknowledge that the electoral process may have its shortcomings, and respect for the results is not guaranteed. However, at least something is happening, and we participate, even if it is just for appearances.

My first experience of this kind was in 1991 when the country had just gone through its most severe crisis in its young history.

Memories do not fade so easily. Even at the age of ten, I could already understand that the new constitution and the haste with which the elections were organized represented nothing more than sleight of hand, intended for a traumatized and generally peaceful nation.

It doesn't matter that the head of the military regime, responsible by definition for the ignoble episode of 1989, happened to be the initiator of this democratic change that would allow him to preside over the country for another 14 years.

In Africa, as in Mauritania, contradictions are the spice of life. With ever-increasing scores, Colonel President Maaouya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya, with his party PRDS, monopolized the political scene.

The Mauritanian opposition, which is virtually the same today with a few additions, could do nothing but pick up the crumbs while waiting for some form of political support from abroad, if nothing else.

When troubles begin. Despite what the ballot boxes might suggest, the Mauritanians could not be satisfied; at best, they were resigned to injustice. The power, therefore, had nothing to fear from the masses. However, it had made a formidable enemy because during the constitutional change and the introduction of multipartism, a player had been banned from the equation and deliberately ostracized.

This player, who is getting closer and closer to obtaining a leading role in the casting of our country's head, refers to those designated as Islamists.

The silent stumbles. In 2003, the riders of change triggered a chain of events that shook the Mauritanian army institution and resulted in an attempted correction of the situation through yet another coup d'état and the formation of a new military committee.

One must appreciate the romantic character of this sequence. Indeed, it was an attempted coup d'état orchestrated by young officers, one of whom had either left the army or been expelled from it. Therefore, this was not about the small military oligarchy that extorts the future and hopes of the Mauritanians.

As a citizen, to be perfectly frank, I thought they had fulfilled their duty towards us. Because I believe that if we want to preserve our society to some extent, it is the honest military officers' responsibility to stop those who are no longer honest.

The riders of change wanted to rectify an injustice, and although they did not succeed, they set in motion the movement that would oust Colonel President Maaouya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya.

The chief is gone, long live the chief! The military oligarchy sought to maintain power and decided to sacrifice its leader to achieve this goal. They did not offer him to the vengeful people, as that option would have been suicidal.

So, they let the leader go and stripped him of his power. The military oligarchy addressed the Mauritanians, presenting itself as a committee for justice and democracy, just after depriving them of justice.

A transition of charlatans. The Mauritanians decided not to see what would inevitably occur by joyfully accepting this new promise. Against all expectations, experience, caution, and vigilance, they offered precious time to this military oligarchy. Nearly three years to regain their reputation on the international stage. They eventually organized elections, allowing a deluge of political parties and candidacies.

The committee's president, the late Colonel Ely Ould Mohamed Vall, even joked on camera, saying that if we were not satisfied with the choice, we always had the option to cast a blank vote.

Praised elections. According to many serious observers, the 2007 elections were cited as an example of transparency and a well-conducted process. Naturally, this qualification only holds within the African context in which we find ourselves. Compared to the rest of the world, I believe it would be a highly debatable description.

To me, those elections were nothing but a bluff. If someone had examined the financial flows during that campaign, not just the voter lists, polling stations, and materials, they would have understood many things, in my opinion.

Because a lot of money circulates during election campaigns, and like many countries in the world, money makes all the difference. Moreover, if the majority of eligible voters are poor and unemployed, this factor becomes more compromising for democracy than mere fraud.

Democracy, you say? Since the committee for justice and democracy had already taken over justice, they only needed to take back democracy from us. That's what General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz decided to do, barely a year after the democratically elected new president, Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, assumed office.

The latter had the misfortune of thinking that he could dismiss military officers, even though his own presidential security depended entirely on them.

Conclusion. With finesse and intelligence, General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz managed to compromise the opposition, which gave him the necessary political legitimacy to remain in the post he had just forcefully taken.

As expected, he won the two subsequent presidential elections. The Mauritanians are hopeful about the upcoming elections, and I do not want to extinguish that spark. However, I must write to you that nothing allows me to say that these elections will be miraculously spared from the influence and control of the military oligarchy.

Simply because we have not offered them any exit strategy.

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