Why has @WFP chopped #Nigeria #Sudan and #Eritrea…

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Why has @WFP chopped #Nigeria #Sudan and #Eritrea off the #Sahel? #LastYearsTargets

Wikipedia:
“The Sahel covers most parts of the territory of (from west to east) Senegal, southern Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, southern Algeria, Niger, northern Nigeria, Chad, northern Cameroon, Sudan (including Darfur and the southern part of Sudan), and Eritrea.”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sahel

WFP:
“Hunger is on the rise across the Sahel region of West Africa, a massive swathe of territory that stretches across eight countries from Chad in the east to Senegal in the west.”

http://www.wfp.org/stories/sahel-crisis-by-country

#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.

State Dept gives $5 million for Mauritania drought assistance

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Usaid logo

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Office of Food for Peace agreed to provide an initial 5

million dollars in response to this year’s drought in Mauritania. USAID funded the NGO World Vision $2 million to assist

the Kankossa area in the Assaba region.

The U.S. Embassy’s Charge d’Affaires, Robert Lane, attended the launching ceremony of World Vision’s Kankossa

Emergency Assistance Program (KEAP) on March 19. Additionally, the World Food Program received an initial $3 million

to contribute to their emergency response in Mauritania.

US Department of State

reliefweb 21 Mar 2012

Mauritania: A Country Without A Government

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When Aziz orchestrated the August 2008 coup that enabled him to take the presidency, big backers like the African Union and the US were furious and froze all non-humanitarian funding and applied sanctions, while the French government condemned the act. Later, without sending their own observers (and presumably with much encouragement from France, which did a political pirouette, and AFRICOM) they relented, accepted the presidential election as “free and fair” and restored a lot of the funding. The EU was mollified, NATO commended their cooperation, and the African Union, with help from from Mauritania’s long-time Libyan ally Colonel Gaddafi, welcomed Mauritania back into the fold.

With the passage of time, the situation in Mauritania has changed, and there are now several reasons why this situation needs to be urgently reviewed.

  • If the election in 2009 was “free and fair”, why did Aziz’ administration need a completely new voter registration census (which apparently failed*) just two years later?
  • What happened to the fancy biometric identification system devised in September 2010, and supposed to be complete by 20 June 2011, and which promised to make registration a simple, efficient process?
  • How was the US$102k of the US$258k UNDP 2010-13 grant - destined to support the electoral cycle – actually used?
  • Why was additional funding needed at all, given that the ousted Abdallahi government already received significant sums for national registration, election systems etc in 2006 for the 2007 election?
  • Why hasn’t the Senate election, meant to renew one-third of the members and cancelled in April 2011, happened yet?
  • What was the result of the “electoral review” that was announced on 31 May 2011, and which was to last from 1 June to 31 August 2011?
  • Why was the registration process halted even though doing that would prevent elections in November?
  • Why were the November parliamentary and municipal elections postponed indefinitely, again without a decent explanation?

Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz in his home city Akjou...The result of all the above is that there is no government in Mauritania. There are politicians who were voted into office in the last elections, and they are doubtless still drawing salaries, but their mandate expired in November 2011. This is the plain truth, and supported by law, as stated in the constitution and legal statutes. Now, the illegitimate government is using the power it has retained by false pretences to change the constitution, using one of the only two methods prescribed:  a special conference of both houses of parliament.

The other option is a national referendum. Neither option is valid at this time, and therefore no changes to the constitution can be considered valid. The problem here is, the houses are supposed to debate and then vote, and they need to be representative of the electorate. This is impossible once the mandate has expired. The fraudulent government is seeking to bestow legitimacy on itself retrospectively by altering the constitution after their mandate expired. In fact, there was no debate. As usual, the parliamentary session was called, then immediately postponed. When it reconvened a now-familiar pattern developed: some drama erupted so that the opposition MPs withdrew in a boycott, and the changes were pushed through with only a vote and no debate.

The government was arguably more active after what can only be described as a soft coup than it was during its legal term. In November 2011, it approved an electoral commission in a statement which said the Mauritanian national dialogue held on October 19th recommended organising municipal and parliamentary elections before March 2012, based on a ruling from the Mauritanian constitutional council. That deadline has passed and the elections have not taken place.

I am reminded that, after the international community reacted strongly to the 2008 coup, Aziz went on a charm offensive, claiming that his actions were a response to “anti-constitutional” oppression by the previous government.

Given the unconstitutional acts of his government and the brutal repression waged by his regime against peaceful unarmed protesters, that last part really takes the cake, and it brings me to my last question for this article:

  • Why is international funding not being frozen with a clear demand to complete registration and hold elections, with international observers present, by a set date?

It is important to note that while the IMF and World Bank are a law unto themselves, the source of funds from the United Nations, European Union, European Commission, United States government, etc being handed to this military junta are the taxes paid by ordinary people like you and me. If the people in power in our respective countries won’t do the right thing of their own volition then we will have to make our voices heard to force them to take immediate and affirmative action. And I don’t mean some wishy-washy rhetoric about “we hope” or “it would be advisable” or “we urge”. No. I mean they need to say “This is our people’s money and we only derive our authority from them. We are freezing all funds immediately, and you have to:

  • immediately return all the money we sent you since November 2011;
  • resume the census within 7 days;
  • remove your ambassadors, envoys and government representatives within 10 days;
  • let our observers in to monitor both the census and the elections by the end of April;
  • complete the census by the end of June;
  • and hold elections in August.”

If necessary, they should freeze any foreign bank accounts held by Mauritanian officials in countries that are members of all organizations that have supplied funding until and unless it is returned.

What they can’t do is continue to treat this former government as if it was a democratically elected body fulfilling the mandate of the people.

What might delay mean? Certainly it will mean that Mauritania will become increasingly insecure, and that opportunities for corruption, cronyism and exploitation will increase.  Civil society, already in a constant state of agitation and distress over a whole host of issues and grievances, will become increasingly frustrated by the lack of opportunity to exercise their democratic rights through an election. The opposition will become increasingly marginalised and their sense of frustration will likely make them hostile. New coalitions could form, and a period of escalating political instability, protests, and attempts to gain or seize power could arise.

It could bring the increased militarization of the country –  at times through unexpected means, signs of which are already evident. For example, the recent privatisation of the state TV and radio company was followed by a declaration that the broadcaster would no longer be protected by military security and would instead use a private company. However, this was preceded by a government ruling that all private security companies must exclusively employ ex-servicemen, and that this must be implemented retrospectively. In other words, the private security sector must be 100% staffed by former military members and all non-military personnel will lose their jobs. This is the equivalent of creating  a private army, funded by the commercial security service sector.

As an indicator of cronyism, there is the story in local press about the governor of Aleg province, location of a very well-attended opposition rally, being sacked, allegedly for failing to successfully implement the feed rations for farmers that were announced only last week.

In February 2012, news of the government eavesdropping on private phone conversations was reported by a member of the opposition, and immediately supported by activists and observers, who added that France had sold surveillance technology to Mauritania in 2010.

We are already witnessing events which will prolong and increase the need for humanitarian aid in Mauritania, due both to a lack of effort on essential development projects such as drilling wells for water supply, and the arrival of tens of thousands of refugees from Mali. I assume that Aziz hopes to make up any remaining shortfall in non-humanitarian cash flow by increasing the need for charity, even if this has to be engineered by importing a crisis from the country next door. It may seem harsh to speak in this way about the situation in Mali, but I am not saying the refugees should not be sheltered or provisioned. What I am saying is certain events have made me deeply suspicious about the true nature of the conflict in Mali and the driving forces behind it. I support activists and concerned citizens in the Malian diaspora, who are keen to see a ceasefire, peace talks and families returned to their homes as quickly as possible. Whether I am right about Aziz deliberately manipulating and capitalizing on the situation in Mali  or not, the fact that Mauritania has no legal government and no agenda to rectify this situation is a genuine cause for concern.

Update: 11 March 2012At 3pm on Monday 12 March 2012, the people of #Mauritania will vote with their feet in a march organised by a coalition of political opposition parties and activist groups. Aziz is rumoured to have engineered a plan to disrupt traffic to prevent people from assembling, and there is talk of free food distribution in the suburbs, between 5 and 15 kilometres from the mosque where the march to the presidential palace begins.

There is still some uncertainty about whether the big anti-slavery and anti-racism activist groups will join the march. They are hesitant about the coalition’s call for Aziz to step down, seeing it as a futile demand that will not bring about the level of change (complete removal of the military regime) that is required. Naturally, they also want to see their demands to end racism / slavery and punish offenders added to the list.

I noticed the lack of attention to the needs of largely French-speaking black African activist groups when the march was first announced, with all the initial statements and flyers being produced in Arabic only, and the lack of a clear call for national unity. I wondered how that might impact on its success. After 3pm tomorrow, we’ll know.

I have to say, since the riot police are so fond of using tear gas and sound grenades for crowd control, I often wonder why no one ever organised a rally on the beach, where the sound would have fewer upright surfaces to amplify it and where there are ready supplies of sand and water, two very effective methods for dealing with tear gas grenades (by smothering with sand or immersing in water).

Update: 13 March 2012 They ‘voted’ in their tens of thousands – a resounding “NO!” – see my photo essay post about the historic opposition protest rally here.

*The census was hugely unpopular with the black African community that represents almost half of Mauritania’s population. They claimed they were being discriminated against during the registration process, and a “Hands Off My Nationality” protest movement appeared in April 2011. Their large protests in the capital and other towns were brutally repressed by police, and there were dozens of arrests, injuries and at least two protesters were killed. Rather mysteriously, the movement began to decline at the same time as the government announced indefinite postponement of the elections. To me, it really seems as though the government was playing a rather more subtle game that anyone might have suspected. By inciting racial tension and dividing the previously unified protest movement, Aziz was able to manipulate the situation so that elections were postponed, thus enabling a soft coup for the incumbent majority to retain power.

News and Updates 1 March 2012

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Last Hope

March of Last Hope Nouadhibou to Nouakchott

March of Last Hope - 400 km from Nouadhibou to Nouakchott

The 400km “March of Last Hope” by activists from Nouadhibou to Nouakchott, Mauritania has started on schedule, joined by trade unionists, teachers, businessmen and other citizens. As happened last year in Nouakchott with the February 25 Movement, fake flyers using the group’s logo were being circulated in Nouadhibou by regime supporters trying to undermine the activists. After 42km the march has stopped for the night. Tomorrow they resume the long walk to Nouakchott. I am concerned for their safety, in case the regime sends thugs to attack while they sleep, but knowing that some 25 Fev movement activists are with them gives me confidence, because I know they will mount guards in shifts throughout the night.

Last Days

Kidnapped gendarme Ely Ould Mokhtar

Kidnapped gendarme Ely Ould Mokhtar

UPDATE 03:00 2 March: Report (no link yet) that a news site has reported the government has decided to make the prisoner swap to save gendarme Ely Ould Mokhtar.


This is perhaps the last day of young gendarme Ely Ould Mokhtar, kidnapped from his post by AQIM in December 2011. The AQIM issued a message giving the authorities an ultimatum to release two AQIM prisoners shortly after the incident. The official response was chilling; they said a gendarme knows that death is a work hazard, and they would not be taking any action.  On 11 February 2012, they restated their demands and gave the government 20 days to respond or they would execute Ely. Activists, human rights organizations, politicians, officials, family and friends have all protested to the Mauritanian government demanding action, but without success. The only faint glimmer of hope comes via an opposition figure who may have been able to get a message to AQIM through an intermediary, and is rumoured to be hopeful that the execution will at least be postponed, perhaps the gendarme’s life may even be spared.

52nd State

A Yemen MP has questions for the PM about a group of prisoners seen in a car belonging to the Ministry of Intelligence being taken into the US Embassy building in Sana’a for questioning by US intel agents. (Qatar is the 51st state).

Chickenfeed

Chicken Suit

Mauritania is trying to make sense of the governments efforts to combat the effects of drought and price increases, but the stated plans are impossible to reconcile with experience on the ground. The new shops that were to be opened are fewer than expected, and provide perhaps half of the promised provisions. The allocations of feed for livestock are being treated as a joke: for example, 200 grams of feed per day for a cow, less than the amount allocated for a sheep and, as one wag put it, not even enough for a chicken!

 


Whisper-soft Coup

The government of Mauritania lost its legitimacy in November 2011, when the mandate of the last election expired, yet continues to rule the country and has postponed the elections indefinitely. The failed national registration scheme was supposed to underpin the election process. As the prospect of elections has faded, the campaign that raged from April 2011 with accusations of racism in the national registration process has fallen into silence.  It is widely accepted that the government tries to create division using racist propaganda, and so I am left with serious doubts about some of the motivating forces that were helping to propel the “Don’t Touch My Nationality” campaign. No doubt there was (is?) a solid core of genuine activists involved, but infiltration and subversion are common issues for all activist groups in Mauritania. It’s quite frustrating that a year after the first protests of 25 February 2011, there is still a lack of unison. The wounds inflicted by traitors who were too easily coaxed to side with the government,  infiltrators who acted as regime agents, and the splinter groups spawned in response to the inevitable erosion of trust, have yet to heal. Several groups still act independently of one another, and in such a small country this has a massive dampening effect on all forms of protest.

The current main preoccupations of this super-soft coup administration are a dance of calling for dialogue between the opposition and the majority members of parliament while cramming as many legislative and constitutional changes as  possible into the political vacuum. While these activities provide a distraction, behind the scenes the junta is busy in almost back-to-back meetings on regional security, dozens of US troops have been in Atar for over a month, and the FBI has opened an office in Nouakchott. . Tonight there is a TV programme planned to discuss the latest constitutional changes. Just as with the dialog and the conference called this week, many members of the opposition have chosen to boycott the TV debate. The problem with boycotting every debate is that the opposition are denying themselves the opportunity to confront the administration on any of the important issues, and denying citizens the chance to witness it. Fortunately, some of the die-hards attended and made good use of the platform to make strong statements about the current situation and to demand an end to military rule.

The fact that the government has not got a valid mandate is inescapable. Yet international governments and organisations continue to deal with Aziz and his colleagues, because it serves their interests to do so. They are corrupt to the core, yet Transparency International gives them the thumbs up. They are reckless in their lack of care for the environment in mining, fishing, agriculture, water supply, education, infrastructure, and electricity, yet are never called to account. Food and fuel price inflation is growing faster than ever, yet the IMF has only praise for their performance. The entire country is in hock to the international community for billions, yet all the government does to service this debt is make minimal interest payments. Peaceful protests are met with violent repression, activists arrested and tortured, yet president of Tunisia and former human rights advocate Moncef Marzouki treats Aziz as though he was the product of a successful revolution instead of the reason for one. This past month Mauritania’s insatiable dictatorship has gone all out to secure sufficient refugees from Mali on their territory to bring more sources of funding and food to increase the opportunities for plunder.

 


More weapons and Kofi Anan heading to Syria, as UK evacuates embassy
Apart from the stain of corruption on his history, it bothers me to see Kofi Anan chatting happily with Iran FM Salehi in Geneva in this video describing his mission to Syria as joint Arab League and UN envoy. Most intriguing is the report that 120 French troops have been captured by regime forces in the Zabadani region (near the border with Lebanon), and which has not received any official response as yet. I saw another similar report on 28 Feb which claimed either 12 or 19 French soldiers had been captured in Syria. If either report was true the Syrian regime would be beaming the pictures all round the world 24 hours a day.

 


US gov pays $5million bail for 16 NGO suspects as the final 7 leave Egypt

Seven Americans on trial over charges their pro-democracy groups fomented unrest flew out of Egypt Thursday after the U.S. posted nearly $5 million in bail for them and nine others who managed to leave before a travel ban was imposed following a crackdown on pro-democracy and human rights groups by the Egyptian government.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland expressed relief that the Americans were free, but she pointedly noted that no decision has been made about the $1.3 billion in military aid and $250 million in economic assistance slated for Egypt this year. Nuland pointed out that the 16 Americans facing charges are not expected to return to Egypt, but their trial has not been called off. After the first session Sunday, it was adjourned until April, and that ruling still stands.