Keeping Promises: Post-Coup Mauritania

By Fayyaz, Zeina | Harvard International Review, Winter 2009 | Go to article overview

Keeping Promises: Post-Coup Mauritania


Fayyaz, Zeina, Harvard International Review


On August 6, 2008, Mauritanian troops staged a coup d'etat to remove from power and imprison President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, their country's first democratically-elected leader. The coup came shortly after Abdallahi's call for the dismissal of top military generals on corruption charges. General Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz, the head of the presidential guard, spearheaded the movement. Though the August coup was not Mauritania's first, the overthrow of a freely-elected leader was very troubling to members of the African Union (AU), the European Commission, and the United States, all of whom issued swift condemnations of the military's actions. While the junta has since released Abdallahi, it refuses to restore constitutional rule. This coup has dashed the hopes of both world leaders and the Mauritanian people that the nation will ever be a stable democracy.

The coup occurred primarily due to long-increasing tensions between Abdallahi and Mauritania's parliament. Tensions began when Abdallahi replaced technocratic Prime Minister Zeine Ould Zeidane with Yahya Ould Ahmed El-Waghev, the leader of a new pro-presidential party. Under this new leadership, military brass feared losing their economic and political influence. Though a July 2008 no-confidence vote officially disassembled Ould Waghev's government, President Abdallahi kept him on to form another government. However, while military leaders decried the President's blatant disregard for constitutional process, they did not act on their concerns until Abdallahi's fateful attempt to sack Ould Abdelaziz and other anti-presidential figures.

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The international community's initial reactions to the coup in Mauritania were swift and severe. In addition to strong rhetoric denouncing the event, many nations threatened to cut off foreign aid. For example, both France and the European Union have frozen non-humanitarian aid to the country. EU commissioner Louis Michel has also hinted that recent events might compromise the sort of aid package that Mauritania could expect to receive from the EU for the 2008-2013 period. The United States, meanwhile, has promised to withhold US$20 million in non-humanitarian aid to Mauritania, including military aid, until President Abdallahi is reinstated. By September 1, 2008 the World Bank also suspended 120 million euros in aid to Mauritania. These actions critically affect the future of a nation that, with a GDP of just US$1,600 per capita, depends on foreign food and monetary aid to sustain its people and provide economic stability.

Furthermore, in the days following the coup, the AU held an emergency summit meeting, deciding to suspend Mauritania's membership in the organization. …

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