Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Mauritania Coup: Anti-Terrorism and Political Instabililty in North Africa

Mauritania Coup: Anti-Terrorism and Political Instability

This North African state has been a base for the so-called US war against radical Islam

Political Analysis
by Abayomi Azikiwe, Editor
Pan-African News Wire

On August 6 a military coup took place in the North African nation of Mauritania. This country, whose affairs receive very little attention in the corportate media in the United States, has been a focal point for the Bush administration's so-called "war on terrorism" in the region.

President Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi and Prime Minister Yahya Ould Ahmed Waghf were overthrown and detained by members of the elite regiment whose task it was to protect the leadership of the government. The coup took place only hours after the president attempted to terminate his top military guards.

International response to the coup has been largely negative and met with condemnation. Members of the League of Arab States and the African Union have reportedly held discussions with the apparent coup leader, Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz.

General Aziz's rise to power came in the aftermath of a government reshuffle that resulted in the appointment of new ministers, many of whom had served with the former Mauritanian leader, Maaouya Ould Taya, who was overthrown in another coup in 2005. General Aziz also initiated the coup that overthrew Ould Taya.

The role of the United States in Mauritania

What is most significant in recent political developments in this North African state is the increasing role of the United States under the Bush administration. Mauritania is a former French colony which was seized during the advent of colonialism in Africa during the nineteenth century.

During the 1850s-60s, French military forces took control of the area now known as southern Mauritania. Later in 1898, France was able to temporarily subdue the population of Moors who had dominated the region politically and economically for centuries. Consequently, in 1904, France established Mauritania as a colonial territory.

Mauritania gained its national independence from France in 1960, alongside many other colonies on the African continent. The coup which took place on August 6 was the fifth since the country became an internationally recognized nation. For many years France maintained considerable influence in most of its former colonies in Africa and Mauritania was no exception. Today the country has a population of 3 million people including descendants of indigenous Africans, Arabs and Berbers.

However, in recent years, particularly since the Bush administration announced its war on Islamic movements throughout the world, the US has sought to establish this former French colony as an outpost for military operations in North Africa. According to the Associated Press on August 9, "[T]he U.S. sees Mauritania as a bulwark against the encroachment southward of al-Qaida-linked militants in North Africa. It had sent dozens of troops to train Mauritania's military units in its far northern deserts, but it suspended those programs in response to the coup."

It is also important to note that as far back as 1999, the country established diplomatic ties with the State of Israel, one of only three members of the Arab League which has done so. Nonetheless, despite the close ties to the US and Israel, the country faces similar problems as its neighbors in the region.

In a August 7 report published by the Inter-regional Information Network (IRIN), it states that: "Reflecting a global trend, food prices in arid Mauritania have doubled within the past year. In August 2007, thousands were displaced in Mauritania from flooding that wiped out crops and cattle. Months later, food riots broke out in southeast Mauritania."

A Mauritanian graduate student studying in neighboring Senegal, Boubacar Datt, told IRIN that some relief may occur in the wake of the coup, but people are eager for real change in the country. "What they don't see is that Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi was only a mascot and never had power. People talk about Mauritania being a democracy, but Mauritania has always been led by the military. This coup comes as no surprise. Democracy does not exist. It is only on papers. In daily life, Sidi could not realise his campaign promises," Datt said.

In recent weeks, dissident members within the ruling National Party for the Defense of Democracy, attempted to organize a public hearing designed to create a commission to investigate the nation's resonse to the declining standard of living among the people.

A US-based humanitarian monitoring group, FEWSNET, cited that Mauritania still imports 70% of its food supply. This problem of internal food production has been exacerbated by the flooding that took place last year which displaced thousands and eliminated crops and livestock. The United Nations World Food Program (WFP) predicted that as a result of the rising global prices of food and fuel, the country could experience high level of hunger and malnutrition.

Discontent fueled by failed pro-US policies

In recent months there have been several attacks directed against western targets and the Israeli embassy. Since December 2007, tourism has decreased significantly in the aftermath of a string of attacks including the murder of four French nationals. Critics of the government inside Mauritania have become more vocal over the character and direction of both domestic and foreign policy.

Taking into consideration the increasingly precarious security situation in Mauritania, the Lisbon-Dakar race car rally, that was scheduled to be held in the country in January, was cancelled. Despite the claim by the United States government that it is suspending aid to Mauritania, it is highly unlikely that this will place a damper on its efforts to influence events in the country and throughout North Africa.

Mauritania, like many other African nations, is considered poor and underdeveloped. Nonetheless, there is constant speculation and exploration for natural resources. The country's economy historically has been based on agricultural production and fishing in an increasingly arid landscape.

However, since 2006, there have been plans underway to exploit the vast offshore oil and natural gas reserves. In addition, the Chinguetti and Tiof fields are expected to produce millions of barrels of oil in the near future. Consequently, this is an important area for the strategic designs of the ruling class in the United States.

Considering the overall aims of the imperialist nations, this country will feature more prominently in the machinations of successive western bourgeois governments with United States taking the lead. Although the oil and natural gas corporations are plotting to make Mauritania a significant base for their long term objectives of securing global domination, the people in this country and throughout region will continue to seek avenues of resistance to the mounting interference in their internal affairs.
Abayomi Azikiwe is the editor of the Pan-African News Wire.

1 comment:

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