Mauritania, the Other Apartheid?

Mauritania, the Other Apartheid?

Mauritania, the Other Apartheid?

Mauritania, the Other Apartheid?

Excerpt

Since its artificial creation by colonial France in 1960, Mauritania has been a playground for violent ethnic strife, the shameful practices of classical slavery, civilian/military authoritarian rule compounded by serious ecological degradation resulting from prolonged droughts and catastrophic desertification processes.

These four elements seem to have been mutually reinforcing to make Mauritania one of the least politically stable, most underdeveloped and heavily indebted countries among the least developed nations of the Third World. The arbitrary creation of Mauritania by the forcing together of two ethnically distinct and historically antagonistic communities makes any attempt to build a sense of nationhood and national identity a daunting task. This has been exacerbated by an obsessive determination on the part of the Arabs not to share political power with their black co-citizens. It was in the name of national “unity” that Mauritania's first president, Mokhtar Ould Daddah abandoned free political pluralism in favour of one-party rule in 1961 (Gerteiny, 1967). This centralisation of power caused widespread discontent at the periphery, and corruption and nepotism in the centre. Political power was removed from the south to the Arab north, thus confirming black fears of Arab domination. Racial tensions between the ruling Arab north and disfranchised south mounted and exploded into periodic violence in 1966, 1968, 1979. The Sahelian droughts of the 1970–80s and Mauritania's involvement in the West Sahara War in 1976–79 turned Arab nomads into ecological/war refugees and created an extensive slum belt around the main towns and along the Senegal Valley (Diallo, 1992).

Mauritania's one-party civilian regime was deposed in a coup d'etat by the Army Chief of Staff, Lt. Colonel Moustapha Ould Baleck, in July 1978. The new junta called itself “Comite Militaire du Salut National” (Military Committee for National Salvation), CMSN. It promised to pull the country out of the war, restore national unity and repair the damaged economy. The first promise was fulfilled in 1979 when Mauritania gave up its part of the Sahara territory and signed a peace accord with Polisario, the liberation front in Western Sahara. However, neither national unity was restored nor the economy repaired. On the contrary, further strain was added when thousands of black slaves as well as free black African soldiers who had been recruited in the army to fight in the desert war were purged from the army following the peace treaty with Polisario. These internal factors combined with external ones, namely the growing influence from extremist Arab regimes like Iraq, Syria and Libya, pushing . . .

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