#Mauritania: Sidetracks, diversions and unmade roads

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NOT a gift from Aziz

Representatives of the thousands of unemployed graduates in Mauritania stormed the grounds of the presidential palace on Sunday, refusing to leave. Furthermore, they said Aziz would not be allowed to exit the building until their demands were met. Bold words, but Aziz was still able to hold meetings and give a press interview. Thanks to the opposition, he was also able to focus on their recent demands for his exit in his interview [Ar], and completely ignore the jobless graduates making history on his front lawn, as well as all the other groups who are airing their grievances. Nothing new to them in being ignored, however.

Aziz again refused to set a date for elections, saying they will happen “as soon as conditions are right” – what those conditions would be is not being made clear. He did not allude to the failed national census registration programme, nor to the Election Oversight Committee. He did not refer to his recent call for yet another time-wasting pointless dialogue. We didn’t hear any more about his plans to send personal gifts of bicycles to mollify the increasingly desperate and angry youth. If the promised bikes do materialise, people in many towns and villages still need roads on which to cycle. Such is the situation in Mederdra, where they are planning a 50km protest march on April 6, demanding a proper road. Thankfully, he didn’t mention AQIM, for which I am grateful.

No, Aziz spoke of how the Coalition of Opposition (COD) parties – these are the marginalised political parties that boycott dialogue and political processes – have been attacking him and demanding that he step down.

It could have been far more momentous, if he’d responded to any of the demands being made on a daily basis throughout the country, regarding issues of employment, poverty, education, drought & famine relief, infrastructure and development. But thanks to the opposition reducing the demands to “Get Out”, Aziz was able to ignore all of these legitimate demands and make it seem as though the biggest problem in Mauritania today is people making personal attacks against him.

This is a setback to the protest movement in my opinion, because it subverts their goals and wastes valuable time. It is also a perfect illustration of why I am against any protest movement abandoning their initial demands and focusing on blaming or attacking an individual. While I am complaining about the opposition, I also wish to highlight that they, just like the majority party and the more compliant opposition MPs, are continuing to draw their salaries in spite of having no legal right to them. They would say it’s because they were asked by the people to do a job and they intend to see it through. Fine, but taking money that doesn’t belong to you, whether you think you earned it or not, is still theft. Surely it would be more honourable – and a bigger challenge to the regime – to refuse these payments? And by the way, I hear Aziz pays himself almost as much as Sarkozy.

Also in the news today, a damning report [Ar] has been issued by the World Bank on the inadequacies of Mauritania’s fight against AIDS, citing poor management, lack of planning and staff, insufficient awareness / health programmes and – of course – missing funds.

Alnaha Bint Djaddi Oueld Meknes

Meanwhile, Aziz has appointed himself a new advisor, and former Foreign Minister Alnaha Bint Djaddi Oueld Meknes is Mauritania’s new Ambassador to Spain [Ar].

The fact that there is no legal mandate for the government of Mauritania means this appointment and all other diplomatic posts represent what is effectively a coup government, so in a literal sense they are void and meaningless, just like the administration. That the president’s mandate is still valid makes no difference to my argument, as it is not the President alone that a diplomat represents, but the entire people of a country and their interests. We already know that Mauritania is not an electoral democracy,/a>, if the President alone is replacing the authority of the entire elected government, that makes Mauritania a dictatorship. Personal attacks or not, THIS is is the biggest issue in Mauritania today.

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