A ‘road map’ for Mauritania

Amid fears of violence opposition figures call for upcoming elections to be postponed.

The army seized control of the government in August, but is preparing for elections in June [EPA]

The recent resignation of Mauritania’s new military leader has given some analysts hope that this could be a vital first step to restoring democratic rule in the country.

General Ould Abdel Aziz’s announcement one month ahead of the upcoming presidential polls is also designed to show the ruling junta’s resolve to stand aside as a civilian government takes shape.

However, observers of Mauritania’s unpredictable political scene say that what the country needs most is a negotiated settlement of its year old political crisis between the military government and opposition groups.

In August 2008, Abdel Aziz lead a military coup against Sidi Ould Sheikh Abdallahi, the first democratically-elected president, after 48 ministers from the ruling party resigned. Abdallahi remained under house arrest until December.

Seeking stability

Many Mauritanians say that the June 6 elections, which have been organised by the military without consultation with opposition parties, will only rush a country that has been nose-diving to the bottom instead of bringing it back to normality.

Observers believe the days ahead of the elections will be a ferocious showdown between the opposition and the current military government.

The military insists on holding the elections on time, a move that could legitimise last year’s coup and their grip on power.

But the opposition has mobilised its cadres to near-daily protests on the streets of Nouakchott, the capital, amid fears that there could be an outbreak of violence.

On April 24, three cars owned by high-profile government officials were set on fire and security forces blamed an unknown opposition group for masterminding the attacks.

Opposition forces say it is ill-advised to hold elections until political adversaries can chart a course of reconciliation which allows the country to heal the political rifts created by last year’s coup.

This view is largely shared by the international community.

Polarised positions

General Abdel Aziz says he will run as a candidate in upcoming elections [EPA]

However, the much needed solution for digging the country out of its political mess lies somewhere between these two polarised positions.

If allowed to shape the political debate, both defenders and detractors of the military advocate irreconcilable approaches which can only drive them further apart instead of setting the terms for a road map to chart a new course and steer the country clear of political paralysis.

A road map has to embrace the status quo and recognise the new military leaders. Calls for “return to the constitutional order” by the international community and the parties supporting the deposed president have been overtaken by facts on the ground.

The new military leadership succeeded in rallying popular support and is making headways in its attempt to get international recognition. France has already expressed understanding of the new realities on the ground and press leaks spoke of a French initiative to effect a breakthrough in the political standoff.

The same goes for Algeria, Morocco and Senegal, neighbours who have either received the junta leader or initiated mediation efforts to try to defuse the crisis. Abdel Aziz, along with a ministerial delegation, has been welcomed twice to Doha to take part in Arab summits in the Qatari capital.

Majority support

With the overwhelming majority of Mauritanians behind them and major regional and international players poised to deal with them, the military will not feel enough heat to cave in to voices calling for it to leave power and allow for the return of the deposed president.

In the event the African Union and the EU fail to take notice of these developments and decide to go ahead with sanctions, the only party which will bear the full brunt of this measure is the people who completely rely on foreign aid for their survival.

What the international community should not do is repeat the mistakes of the past when it refused to recognise the 2005 coup which removed the government of Ould Taya and established a promising political process that culminated in Abdallahi’s election.

This will only widen the gulf between political rivals in Mauritania and prevent the international community from having leverage over the current military leaders.

Had the international community decided to engage the military it would have been able to influence their policies to include political adversaries and prepare for a genuine democratic transition.

Call off boycott

Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi returned to the capital Nouakchott in March [EPA]

What the international community should do instead is work with the general to prevent his transformation into a full-fledged dictator.

This can be done by calling on opposition parties to revoke their decision to boycott the next ballot and join the political process to shape the future of the country. International monitors should also oversee the election and report on any violations that may jeopardise its outcome.

But the real challenges are those which have to do with post-election questions of good governance, political and institutional reforms, development projects and fighting poverty.

The world should provide the country’s fledgling democracy with support that extends beyond the electoral process and the legitimate concerns of having an elected government in power.

The failure of the international community to provide much-needed economic help and oversight during Abdullahi’s brief one-year tenure served as a catalyst which hastened his demise.

Though major international players, especially the US and France, were quick to laud the 2007 polls as a model for the rest of the Arab world, they did little if anything to reinforce democratic rule under the new elected government.

This accounts for the failure of the president, albeit fairly and democratically-elected, to effect a genuine break with bad governance and do away with the corrupt political class which is responsible for stalling progress.

The result was a series of violent events which rocked the new government and culminated in the army taking matters into its own hand and overthrowing the president.

A similar scenario can be prevented from happening again if the international community engages the military leadership and tries to shape the future of the country instead of taking a hands-off position.

The latter choice will only serve to turn the general into a dictator and leave the door wide open for more coups and more political instability.

Source: Al Jazeera

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