Mauritania’s Legislative Elections: A New Date, and a New Delay

On August 3, Mauritania’s Communications Minister Mohamed Yahya Ould Hormah announced that the country would hold legislative and municipal elections on October 12 of this year. The government has repeatedly delayed elections, originally scheduled for 2011, due to disagreements with the opposition. Unless I am mistaken, the last time Mauritania held parliamentary elections was in November/December 2006 for legislative and municipal seats, and January/February 2007 for senate seats. If this is correct then Mauritania has not held legislative elections since the military coup of August 2008 that brought current President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz (who won election as a civilian in July 2009) to power.

This month’s attempt to schedule an election also met with a delay. Parties within the Coordination of Democratic Opposition (COD) coalition swiftly announced their plans to boycott the October elections. Among those threatening a boycott were the left-leaning Union of the Forces of Progress (UFP) and the Islamist National Rally for Reform and Development (Tewassoul). Tewassoul and others cite concerns about transparency and fairness. Their stated concerns resemble those raised by other COD parties in August 2011. For those interested in further details, Tewassoul’s website features an August 12 COD statement (Arabic) entitled “Why is [the COD] Boycotting the Elections for Which the Regime Calls?”

In response to the boycott threat, the government on August 22 postponed the elections until November 23. A second round may follow on December 7.

The government’s responsiveness to the opposition’s boycott threats is noteworthy. What do you think? Does it bespeak fear, or political savvy, or both?

Quick Items: Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz on Mali, Goodluck Jonathan Visits Yobe and Borno [Updated]

Two noteworthy stories:

Mauritania and Mali

In a speech on Monday, Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz expressed greater openness than in the recent past to the idea of Mauritanian deployments in Mali. Mauritanian forces chased fighters from Al Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb into northern Mali at several points in 2010 and 2011, but during 2012 Abdel Aziz stated repeatedly that Mauritania would not intervene in Mali.

On Monday Abdel Aziz also emphasized his country’s role in “encircling [hardline Islamist fighters] in the north of Mali in order to enable Malian units to intervene and finish them off in their dens.” ANI (Arabic) has more on the speech.

Nigeria

On February 28, governors from an alliance of Nigerian opposition parties held a day-long conference in the northeastern city of Maiduguri, epicenter of the violent Boko Haram sect. The Nigerian newspaper Daily Trust commented, “the fact that the governors took the bull by the horns and held their meeting in Maiduguri, despite security reports that there may be attacks and blasts by suspected insurgents speak volume of their determination to give the [ruling] Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) a run for its money.”

Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan is set to visit the northeastern states of Yobe and Borno (where Maiduguri is the capital) today. One source says this visit “will be his first to the troubled states since his assumption of office.” Residents in Borno and Yobe interviewed by Leadership expressed a range of views about the visit, with some optimistic that Jonathan may use the moment to announce compensation programs or other initiatives, and others fearful that the visit will bring an even tighter security lockdown.

The Sultan of Sokoto, meanwhile, called on Jonathan this week to offer an amnesty to Boko Haram fighters. The Sultan said, “If there is amnesty declared we believe so many of those young men who have been tired of running and hiding will come out and embrace that amnesty.”

UPDATE: Reuters:

“I cannot talk about amnesty with Boko Haram now until they come out and show themselves,” Jonathan told reporters in Yobe state capital Damaturu, a town regularly hit by the sect’s guerrilla-style bomb and gun attacks.

See also Chike’s remarks in the comments section below.

Africa News Roundup: Abdel Aziz Back to France, Jubaland Plans, Muslim Protests in Ethiopia, Trials of Mutineers in Burkina Faso, and More

The United Nations Security Council is considering a plan by the Economic Community of West African States and the African Union to deploy troops in Mali. The French government has urged the UNSC to pass the resolution approving the force by December 20.

Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, who was shot on October 13, returned to Mauritania one week ago after an extended convalescence in France. Yesterday he announced that he will return to France briefly for further medical treatment, raising questions about the state of his health. At the same press conference, Abdel Aziz also stated his opposition to an external military intervention in Mali.

AFP: “Renewed Flooding Threatens Niger Capital.”

Garowe on “Jubaland”:

According to Jubaland authorities, there have been five committees set up to establish the Jubaland state in southern Somalia.

The committees include a Security Committee, Election Committee, Selection Committee, Logistics and Financial Committee, and an Awareness Committee, according to Jubaland sources. Each committee consists of 11 members.

The committees will be fundamental in creating the Jubaland state that has been backed by IGAD regional bloc.

IRIN:

After almost a decade of rebel rule, northern Côte d’Ivoire is coming to terms with a new authority as the government of President Alassane Ouattara, who assumed power some 18 months ago, establishes its presence in a region which effectively split from the rest of the country.

Aman Sethi’s op-ed on the Muslim protests in Ethiopia.

Reuters:

Seven gendarmes were jailed on Thursday for taking part in last year’s military mutinies in Burkina Faso, in the first trial linked to the outburst of deadly riots, protests and looting in the normally peaceful West African nation.

A new video from Abubakar Shekau of Nigeria’s Boko Haram.

What else is happening?

Africa News Roundup: Mali Kidnapping, Abdel Aziz’s Expected Return to Mauritania, Boko Haram, Eskinder Nega, and More

First, most readers have likely heard that the Movement for Tawhid and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA/MUJAO) claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of a French citizen in Diema, Kayes, southwestern Mali (map – other versions have the kidnapping taking place in Nioro). The Kayes region is not part of the territory held by the Islamist coalition. The kidnapping, it seems to me, will ratchet up security concerns in southern Mali and increase the perceived threat to Western interests posed by the Islamists.

Mauritania’s President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, who was shot on October 13 and spent the last weeks recovering in France, was reportedly expected to return to Mauritania today. Yesterday he gave an interview (French) to RFI and Le Monde on Mauritania and Mali.

AFP: “Suspected French jihadist Arrested in Mauritania.”

Reuters: “Sudan’s information minister had one clear message after security agents moved in to arrest their former spy chief – that a plot had been uncovered, the culprits caught and the situation in the country was now ‘totally stable.’ Khartoum did appear quiet a day later on Friday – but on the desert city’s dusty streets the detention amplified a debate about the future of the country’s leader, and posed new questions about who might one day unseat him.”

Two items on Boko Haram:

  • Al Jazeera: Nigerian “security services have released a list of Boko Haram’s ‘Most Wanted’ men. The list is published with corresponding bounties on offer for the capture of the men, and appeals to members of the public who wish to come forward with information leading to the arrest of the wanted men, to do so…First on the ‘Most Wanted’ list is Abubukar Shekau, the self-styled leader of the group…The other 18 men on the Boko Haram’s ‘Most Wanted’ list, who have bounties ranging from $155,000 dollars down to a more meagre $60,000 dollars upon their heads, names and faces are hardly known to the public or the media. This may make their capture much more difficult.”
  • This Day: “Boko Haram kingpin arrested in Adamawa, Bomb Factory Closed.”

VOA: “Ethiopia’s Federal Supreme Court has postponed hearing an appeal of the conviction of prominent Ethiopian journalist Eskinder Nega and opposition leader Andualem Arage.  But the court gave its first indication Thursday that charges brought by prosecutors under the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation may not be that strong by demanding that prosecutors justify the June convictions.”

IRIN on reintegrating returned refugees in Senegal.

Africa News Roundup: Nigeria’s Oil Export Problems, Somalia’s New Cabinet, Karim Wade Questioned in Senegal, and More

BBC (video): “Nigerian Military Chief Sets Out Mali Plan.”

Jeune Afrique (French): “The MNLA Launches an Offensive against MUJWA in Gao.”

Reuters:

Nigerian crude oil export delays have lengthened, traders said on Friday, a sign that a raft of recent output problems caused by oil theft and flooding are increasingly holding back supplies from Africa’s biggest producer.

BBC:

Nigeria’s military has killed a top commander of militant Islamist group Boko Haram in the north-eastern city of Maiduguri, an army spokesman has said. Ibn Saleh Ibrahim was killed in an exchange of fire with six of his lieutenants.

On Tuesday, Somalia’s Federal Parliament approved the new cabinet.

VOA: “In Somalia, Political Battle Over Newly Liberated Regions.”

The Economist: “The question of what to do with the charcoal, perhaps worth $40m, could affect the fate of Somalia’s new government.”

Senegalese police summoned Karim Wade, a former cabinet minister and son of former President Abdoulaye Wade, for questioning on Thursday, and have forbade him to leave the country.

BBC (video): “Is Biofuel a Solution for Burkina Faso?”

Mauritania’s President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, wounded in a shooting on October 13, continues to convalesce in France.

What else is going on?

Mauritania: Complaints from the Opposition of President Abdel Aziz’s Absence

Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, who was shot by soldiers on October 13, continues to recuperate in a Paris hospital, where according to his son he is doing well. As the President’s absence lingers on, though, the opposition is beginning to make complaints and call for the establishment of a transitional framework.

The Coordination of the Democratic Opposition (CDO), an umbrella group for opposition parties, began to ask for an investigation soon after the shooting. Opposition leaders have continued to press for information. Messaoud Boulkheir, president of the National Assembly and leader of the People’s Progressive Alliance, spoke with Abdel Aziz by telephone (French) on October 31. Boulkheir expressed frustration that he had not been able to speak with the President earlier.

In addition to requesting information, the opposition has started to formulate demands. Reuters writes that demonstrators in Nouakchott yesterday called not only for more information, but for an end to the military’s role in politics (Abdel Aziz, formerly a general in the armed forces, originally came to power in a military coup in 2008). Reuters adds that Boulkheir’s report of a conversation with Abdel Aziz came as an attempt “to calm the country’s citizens.” ANI, meanwhile, reports (Arabic) that the COD “doubts the official story of the President’s accident and calls for the establishment of a new transitional stage.” ANI quotes opposition leader Saleh Ould Hannena as calling for this transition, Islamist leader Jamil Mansour as calling for the army to distance itself from politics, and opposition leader Ahmed Ould Daddah as calling for dialogue. More, in French, here (h/t Boc@r and Peter Tinti).

How long can Abdel Aziz stay out of the country without precipitating major alarm or unrest? Kal writes that for the moment,

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mohamed Ghazouani is the man in charge and among opposition types and some closer to the government there is a feeling that Ould Abdel Aziz is a dangerous position, and that remaining abroad too long could invite coup plots, political unrest or attacks from AQIM. Key variables at this point include the political ambitions of Gen. Ghazouani and the loyalty of the armed forces and intelligence service to the president – especially the commando units and BASEP (the republican guards), which Ould Abdel Aziz founded and led until ‘leaving’ army in 2009.

 

The 2006 Mauritanian constitution (English text here, French text here), which I believe to be the one in operation (I am not sure), has this to say about the incapacity of the president (Part II):

Article 40: In case of vacancy or incapacity declared permanent by the Constitutional Council, the President of the Senate as
acting President of the Republic for the current business. Prime Minister and members of Government, considered resigning, ensure the current business.
The Acting President may not terminate their appointments. He can take the people by referendum, nor dissolve the National Assembly.
The election of new President of the Republic shall, except in cases of force majeure declared by the Constitutional Council within three (3) months from the declaration of the vacancy or permanent incapacity.
During the interim period, no constitutional amendment can not intervene either by referendum or by parliamentary vote.
Article 41: The Constitutional Council, to find a vacancy or permanent incapacity, is seized by either:
· The President of the Republic;
· President of the National Assembly;
· Prime Minister

How this works in practice is not clear to me and may, I suspect, not be clear to others, which could occasion some serious debate if Abdel Aziz’s stay outside the country goes on for long.

Looking around the region, there are no comparative cases that I can think of that are relevant to Mauritania’s situation. When Guinea’s military leader Captain Moussa Dadis Camara was shot in the head on December 3, 2009, it was not until January 16, 2010 that he formally renounced power – though, in retrospect, it seems clear that his power was gone well before that. Dadis’ case, though, seems very dissimilar to Abdel Aziz’s, given that Abdel Aziz enjoyed much greater legitimacy before his wounding and that his wound appears less serious. Another possible comparison might be Nigeria’s President Umaru Yar’Adua, who convalesced in Saudi Arabia from November 23, 2009 to February 24, 2010. Vice President Goodluck Jonathan was appointed Acting President on February 9, 2010, and became President on Yar’Adua’s death on May 5 2010. But Yar’Adua’s case does not seem very relevant to Abdel Aziz’s either; Yar’Adua was a very sick man, but he was not a victim of violence. The relevant point from Nigeria’s experience may be, again, the passionate legal disputes that Yar’Adua’s absence evoked.

All this may be moot – Abdel Aziz may be back in Mauritania, and back in full command, quite soon. But the longer he is gone, the louder the complaints from the opposition will become, and the greater the uncertainty in the streets.

Secretary Clinton, Algeria, and Mali

As Mali’s interlocking crises continue and regional and international powers work to plan a military intervention for 2013, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Algeria yesterday. The State Department has the text of Sec. Clinton’s remarks following her meeting with President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. An excerpt:

We had an in-depth discussion of the region, particularly the situation in Mali. I very much appreciated the President’s analysis, based on his long experience, as to the many complicated factors that have to be addressed to deal with the internal insecurity in Mali and the terrorist and drug trafficking threat that is posed to the region and beyond. And we have agreed to continue with in-depth expert discussions, to work together bilaterally and with the region – along with the United Nations, and the African Union, and ECOWAS – to determine the most effective approaches that we should be taking.

Reuters quotes an anonymous US official:

“The secretary underscored … that it is very clear that a political process and our counter-terrorism efforts in Mali need to work in parallel,” the official said.

“We have an awful lot at stake here, and an awful lot of common interests, and there’s a strong recognition that Algeria has to be a central part of the solution,” the senior U.S. official told reporters traveling with Clinton.

VOA and AP have more.

Algerian-Malian relations are increasingly a subject of discussion in the international media and in US policy circles. The Moor Next Door recently rounded up new reports on the topic by Dr. Anouar Boukhars at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the journalist Peter Tinti, Alexis Arieff of the Congressional Research Service, and others.

Finally, it is worth mentioning Mauritania in the context of Sec. Clinton’s visit to Algeria. Prior to the shooting of Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz on October 13, Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights María Otero had been scheduled to visit Mauritania from October 15-17. The visit has been postponed. While Otero’s stated agenda for discussion emphasized Mauritanian domestic issues, the trip – which the State Department called “the most senior-level U.S. State Department visit to Mauritania in five years” – would, I imagine, have touched on Mauritania’s relations with Mali as well. Additionally, General Carter Ham of US AFRICOM visited Mauritania, Morocco, and Algeria in September, a tour that focused on the Malian crises. Senior US officials, in other words, are regularly reaching out to northwest African governments in connection with Mali, especially (but not only) Algeria, a key US partner on security issues in the region.