Mauritania Conflict History
Head of government: Prime Minister Moulaye Ould Mohamed Laghdaf, August 2008- (appointed by coup leaders)
Colonised by France 1905, independent 1960. Military strongman Ould Taya ruled Mauritania from 1984 to August 2005, allowing multi-party elections 1992, 1997 and 2003 amid allegations of fraud and manipulation. Communal tension between Haalpularen and Moorish people (Arab, Berber and Haratin) led to 1989 bloodshed and Haalpularen exodus to Senegal. Action for Change party, supporting descendants of slaves (Haratin), banned 2002. Ould Taya criticised by Islamic groups for drift towards West during 1990s, ending support for Iraq, recognising Israel 1999 and joining US Pan-Sahel security initiative.
Despite breaking diplomatic relations with Morocco (Mauritania blames Rabat for 1981 coup attempt), Mauritania maintains neutral position in Western Sahara dispute. Previously annexed southern third of Western Sahara 1976, relinquished after 3 years of Polisario Front raids. Relations with Morocco vastly improved after state visit of President Ould Taya 2000, state visit of King Mohammed of Morocco 2001, opening of frontiers 2002.
President Ould Taya narrowly survived military coup attempt June 2003. In December 2003, after presidential elections, Ould Taya blamed ex-military ruler Mohammed Ould Haidallah (1979-1984), himself deposed by Ould Taya 1984, for organising coup attempt. Ould Haidallah's exclusion from political life for 5 years upheld April 2004 and attempt to form pro-Islamic opposition party (Parti de la Convergence Démocratique, PCD) refused.
Responding to the growing unpopularity and declining legitimacy of President Ould Taya’s regime, 17-member Council for Justice and Democracy led by Colonel Ely Ould Mohamed Vall, director of national security since 1987, seized power in August 2005 bloodless military coup. U.S., UN and AU initially condemned coup, though subsequent criticism muted. Vall stated multi-party elections would be held following 2-year transition period with no junta members to stand. Over 2005-2006, Vall announced general amnesty for political crimes, raised pay for civil servants to fight corruption and set up independent electoral commission. International aid returned and June 2006 referendum (establishing structure for March 2007 presidential election) backed by 97 per cent with 76 per cent turnout; constitutional amendments passed including presidential term limits.
Legislative and municipal elections, first since August 2005 coup, held successfully November 2006. Former finance minister Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi won country’s first free and fair presidential elections March 2007 with 53 per cent. Both rounds, endorsed by international observers, passed without major incident. Mauritania readmitted to African Union (AU) April 2007 ending suspension triggered by coup.
Military seized power once more in August 2008 bloodless coup, led by sacked presidential guard chief General Abdelaziz. Followed political crisis – Abdelaziz was accused, sacked for fomenting – and MP walk-out, over 100 of 146-strong parliament reportedly supported. Military junta promised swift “free” elections but former President Abdallahi remains under house arrest. Strong international, regional condemnation: AU re-suspended membership, several countries suspended aid, threatened sanctions.
updated September 2008