Mauritania’s Strategic Significance

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 Some clues which might explain why Mauritania under Aziz is a strategically important “security partner”:
  • Free media training by foreign “experts”; more powers for press authority; unprecedented churn in state media at all levels; funding problems for independent media.
  • New legislation to gag whistleblowers and bloggers approved by Aziz, to be ratified by a government severely weakened by the opposition election boycott.
  • Aziz, sanctioned by the African Union after leading the last coup, is now in charge of the African Union
  • A 10,000-strong UN “peacekeeping” force plus additional police is now planned for deployment in CAR – taking control of 6,000 African Union troops, and with 2,000 French troops “allowed” to support.
  • Calls from the political fringe in Libya, hastily and enthusiastically echoed by France, for border security, using troops from neighboring countries AND non-neighbor Mauritania.
  • Patrol vessels and helicopters from Spain‘s gendarmerie to be deployed in Mauritania for border security against smuggling and illegal immigration, after claiming the first Spanish military arrivals a few months ago were there for a “training exercise”
  • The USA, after years of maintaining a “hands-off” policy, is now engaged in joint patrols with Mauritania border security.
  • Reportedly rejected by Algeria, France is said to want to establish a military surveillance and monitoring base in Atar, Mauritania
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Thousands turnout for #Mauritania 1 Nov 2012 protest march and rally

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Thousands turnout for #Mauritania 1 Nov 2012 protest march and rally

Photo from شباب التكتل | La Jeunesse de RFD | RDF Youth Group Facebook page shows thousands gathered to hear speeches from the COD political opposition coalition leaders in this first major public protest since president Aziz left the country for France the days after after reports he was accidentally injured on the evening of 13 October 2012.
Many civil activists have posted status updates on social networks to confirm that they would join the march to demand an end to military rule, even though they have no political affiliation.
Four groups of civil society activists today issued a joint statement condemning the atmosphere of intrigue which has created an intolerable situation in Mauritania since Aziz’ departure, and calling for a united effort to transition from the pseudo-military dictatorship to a true civilian government and independent institutions.

Bouncing Bullets: The Accidental Shooting of a President

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What was reported as an accidental shooting of president Mohammed ould Abdel Aziz in Mauritania on the evening of Saturday, 14 October has taken many twists and turns, with new versions emerging so often that everyone is thoroughly confused. It is important to note, most of these versions are not theories, but news stories being related to the media by various players in and around the ruling regime. All this storytelling takes place against the backdrop of Aziz and some of his entourage having flown to France, on Sunday, where he was admitted to the Percy Clamart* military hospital in the suburbs of  Paris, a fair distance from the centre. Aziz is reported to be recovering well from his ordeal although there is no firm news about his return.

Percy Clamart military hospital. New presidential headquarters of Mauritania

Most stories begin with Aziz returning southwards to the capital, Nouakchott, from his rural ranch near Akjoujt, in the westerly Inchiri region of the country. In all but one account Aziz was driving the vehicle, an unmarked Toyota Avensis Landcruiser V8, with 80% tinted windows and, under all but extremely unusual circumstances, this would be a specially adapted armoured car.

Mauritania was supposedly under a security alert due to a warning from an unidentified foreign power (best guess: France) about new terrorist threats. There was increased security – but not a nationwide state of emergency – and Aziz had cancelled his plans to attend the ‘Francophonie’ summit in Democratic Republic of the Congo because of the alert. This fact makes it highly unlikely that he would be driving, alone or in convoy, in a regular car. It should also indicate that his personal security team would be strongly opposed to any plans to go driving alone at night, even in familiar territory.

What everyone agrees on is that the president arrived in his car at the Nouakchott military hospital that Saturday evening alone, dressed in casual clothes and without an escort. The cousin who is mentioned in several accounts as having been a passenger in the vehicle at the time of the shooting was not present and has not made any official statement. I have been told by more than one contact in Mauritania that this cousin was not with Aziz, and has been accounted for at the time, but in the south of the country. This is important because otherwise, he has to be considered as a suspect for the shooting.

On the subject of who did the shooting, there are again several versions, most claiming that military personnel opened fire on the president’s car in error, after it failed to stop either at a checkpoint or near a military base between 35 and 45 kilometres from Nouakchott. The lone unmarked vehicle had not been recognised as belonging to the president and was assumed to be “hostile”. This raises serious questions about the standard operating procedures of Mauritanian security forces, and at the same time is strongly reminiscent of the Diabaly massacre in Mali a month earlier. Versions of who opened fire range from either a lone shooter or three men in a Mercedes 190 targeting the president deliberately, to two soldiers at the military base.

The news of Aziz having been shot began with typical uninformed drama: the first message which reached me claimed he had been shot in the head and was dead. The story evolved so that he was still alive but seriously injured, having been shot in various places on his body: neck, shoulder, arm, hand, stomach, and I think I also saw a leg mentioned at one point.  A large crowd had gathered outside the military hospital and rumours were rife. At this juncture, an official statement was released claiming Aziz was only slightly injured and would be making a public statement to reassure everyone. He did appear on national television on Sunday morning to say he was well, an emergency operation had been a success, and he would be going to Paris for further treatment. See my comment on this post for some highlights of questions arising from the spin.

It all seems too complicated to explain in words, and since there are no theories to speak of yet, I have made an illustration to present my own theory on how a bullet from 1-3 shooters could injure Aziz in several places:

How a man driving an armoured Toyota Landcruiser V8 can be shot in the shoulder/chest, and through the back, with the bullet exiting the stomach, and injuring the arm/hand before entering the bowel.

There is another story doing the rounds at the moment, and it does not involve any late-night solo driving in the desert or military bases, “distant” cousins or diagrams (thankfully!). This one says that Aziz was at a private house in Nouakchott in the company of a lady who is not his wife and was injured in a crime of passion. The rest of the details are too sordid for a quiet little blog like mine. At least in this alternative explanation they don’t have to produce a bullet-riddled vehicle or even any bullets, which are two examples of the many normal and expected things that have not happened.

*Clamart is where, on 22 August 1962 the French President Charles de Gaulle was the target of an assassination attempt organised by the French paramilitary group of OAS. Percy Clamart hospital is where Yasser Arafat died in 2004.

Photo Essay: Mauritania mass rally 12 March 2012

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Just amazing to see so many women at a protest


I added some new photos to the gallery, too. A very nice one of @mejdmr holding a sign saying “Irhal” – “Leave!”

Video and photographs from the rally shows the incredible numbers who took part.

  • you can hear them chanting “al-sha’b yurid isqat al-nizam” (the people want the downfall of the regime).

Clip of some chanting here: youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_1g_y_i4EiY
This longer video shows the crowds gathering and marching, and features some of the speeches that were made.


I’ve collected some photos posted online today from the huge rally in Nouakchott, the biggest one in the history of Mauritania according to local contacts. Estimates vary for actual numbers, from anywhere between 20,000 and 80,000. Regardless, it was a massive show of strength and a clear signal to Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, who could not fail to hear tens of thousands of people all chanting that they want the downfall of the regime. The coalition of political opposition parties (there are at least a dozen) made the call, and many activist and civil society groups joined them. Some – such as the powerful IRA leadership – only joined at the “last minute”.

Once the crowds had assembled, various members of the opposition gave a series of short speeches, mainly focused on the fact that both the president and the parliament are illegal and illegitimate, as explained in an earlier post.

For many activists today was like the realization of a dream, a great throng of chanting people surrounding the grey palace, as the presidential residence is known. Even Al Jazeera acknowledged the scale was something special. Recently “privatised” Mauritanian State TV behaved like every channel in every country that has experienced an uprising in the past 15 months, and tried to play down the entire affair.

Rumours were rife over the past few days about the regime making plans to disrupt the rally. There was some evidence of disruption, including distribution of flyers, slowing traffic, and arranging deliveries of food rations to help the poorest neighbourhoods (who are suffering the effects of increased food prices and water shortages the most) at the same time as the march was due to start. In spite of all these efforts, the march went ahead, and there was very little police presence. This is quite remarkable considering that just yesterday police were firing tear gas and sound grenades and attacking students at the Islamic Institute where a boycott of exams was in progress. Among the 10 female students that were beaten by police on Sunday was a girl who is 8 month’s pregnant. Latest reports are that she is unwell but stable. The news of police attacking girls was probably a deciding factor for a significant number of students who joined the protest. For the past few months, they have made a point of isolating themselves from other events. But today saw people from every imaginable group and sector of Mauritania’s kaleidoscopic society.

A government rally is planned for tomorrow in the country’s second largest city, and centre of the fishing trade, Nouadhibou. It will be interesting to see what happens after today’s massive turn-out. Will the government be able to bus in and bribe enough people to match today’s tour de force in the capital, or will they be feeling overwhelmed and back down to try and save the embarrassment of a poor turnout?

Also tomorrow, a convoy of activists arrive in Nouakchott from Nouadhibou, having covered the 470 kilometre trek on foot since their departure on March 1st. They are heading for the presidential palace, in order to present their list of grievances  concerning social and economic hardship and injustice. A big crowd is expected to go out to meet them and join them on the last leg of their journey.

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Lo Gormo: “Mandate for Mauritania gov & parliament expired and clearly illegal”

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Mauritania's Constitutional Crisis and Illegitimate Government

Conference, 3 March 2012: Mauritania's Constitutional Crisis and Illegitimate Government

A seminar organised by the “February 25th Movement” took place on Saturday evening, March 3, 2012, at the Atlantic Hotel, Nouakchott. The event was held under the banner “Illegal revision of the constitution and crisis of state institutions.”

The gathering was attended by many well-known activists, academics and political figures, including some from the opposition coalition “COD”, Trade Union organisers, and representatives from the anti-discrimination activist movement “Touche pas à ma nationalité”, among others. There were also several members of the media present.

After welcoming remarks and an introduction to the February 25th Movement from Mohamed Abdou, the session began with a presentation from an expert in constitutional law, Professor Lo Gourmo, who described the situation of the country since President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz gained power from a legal and constitutional standpoint.

Prof Gourmo explained that, beginning with postponement of election for one third of the senate in April 2011, through to the indefinite deferment of the municipal and legislative elections in November 2011, every office has been subjected to a form of political attrition with regard to its authority; an almost unprecedented situation. These offices are elected under rule of law, some of which are defined in the constitution, others in various statutes, but in any event they are clearly defined, and there should be no opportunity for misunderstanding or abuse.

The only member of the administration who remains unscathed by this plague of extinction through the expiry of their mandates is the president himself, the professor noted.

The professor also explained that the chilling effect of this phenomenon was exacerbated by the incumbent government organizing a dialogue between the majority and part of the opposition, which was in fact nothing more than a confidence trick employed to legitimize the postponement of municipal and legislative elections.

The law is clear: in the November of the fifth year following an election, the parliamentary mandate expires. What this government has done, is manufacture a crisis in which that critical date has passed, and then tried to make amendments to the constitution to impose validity retrospectively. But no act of the government can be legally valid, because it has already lost its legitimacy.

Professor Gormo concluded, “The government and parliament are outside their mandate and clearly illegal.”

In addition, on the sidelines of the conference, the February 25 Movement distributed a statement in which they denounced the illegal process of revising the constitution and noted that “the regime has persisted, since the coup of August 6, 2008, in violating the constitution and acted with complete disregard for legality, which has led to the current attempt to begin an illegal procedure for amending certain provisions of the constitution under false pretences.” Additionally, the statement warns of the “danger of such a procedure, whose real purpose is simply to strengthen the dictatorial regime.” It further states that “the country is in an unconstitutional limbo under a parliament whose term has expired, and a government whose legitimacy no longer exists.”