The Shooting of President Mohamed Ould Abd al-Aziz Revisited, in a Mauritanian Courtroom

In October 2012, Mauritania’s President Mohamed Ould Abd al-Aziz was shot and wounded at a checkpoint by a soldier. He was flown to France for medical treatment and recovery, and returned home some six weeks later. Mauritanian authorities stated that Ould Abd al-Aziz had been accidentally shot by a soldier who did not realize the president’s identity. Coming as it did just four years after the coup that brought Ould Abd al-Aziz to power, and moreover coming in the waning phase of a protracted conflict between Mauritania and al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the incident raised more than a few eyebrows at home and abroad.

Recently, the dispute has resurfaced over what exactly happened at that checkpoint. This month, a trial began for Mohamed Ould Ghadda, a former senator and opposition member originally arrested in August 2017, just after last summer’s constitutional referendum (which he had opposed). Some more background on his arrest and charges can be found here. Ould Ghadda’s arrest also occurred in the context of the presidency’s charges against businessmen Mohamed Ould Bouamatou (see some background on that here).

The first session (Arabic) of Ould Ghadda’s trial was 9 August in Nouakchott, the capital. One central topic of the initial proceedings has been Ould Ghadda’s role in disputing the official story concerning the shooting of Ould Abd al-Aziz. In 2017, Ould Ghadda disseminated a video where a soldier named Mbarik (my transliteration), reportedly the companion of the soldier who fired on Ould Abd al-Aziz, cast doubt on numerous parts of the official story.

I have had some trouble reconstructing exactly what Mbarik said, so I want to a bit cautious here in how I describe things. Some of the video is available here, prefaced by Ould Ghadda’s remarks (wherein he called for Ould Abd al-Aziz to resign, due to what Ould Ghadda said was obfuscation surrounding the incident of the shooting). Ould Ghadda’s Facebook post commenting on the video has been reproduced in various places, including here (Arabic). From what I can tell (and here I may be wrong due to either sourcing problems or lack of Hassaniyya competency – commenters, please correct/add as necessary), neither the video nor the commentary advanced a full, alternative account of how and why Ould Abd al-Aziz was shot; rather, they raised doubts about parts of the official account. Among other comments, Ould Ghadda noted that the two soldiers were trainees who were not permitted to fire unless their training camp was directly under attack.

In any case, back in the present, Mbarik has recanted (Arabic) what he said in the video and has testified that Ould Ghadda pressured him to record the video and promised to pay him for it. The court has also heard testimony (Arabic) from the soldier who, according to the official account, accidentally shot Ould Abd al-Aziz; that soldier, whose surname I would transliterate as Ould Ahaymad, testified that the official story from 2012 is the truth. For his part, in court Ould Ghadda maintained that Mbarik had been forced to recant under pressure. The Mauritanian press seems more interested in the various recantations and counter-testimonies in the present than it does in the substance of the doubts raised about the official account. Significantly, however, the press has also noted that this is the first time the shooting has been discussed in any Mauritanian court.

In a sense, it doesn’t matter what happened in October 2012 – whether it was an accident or an assassination attempt, Ould Abd al-Aziz survived and remained in power. But in another sense, the questions surrounding the incident continue to reverberate periodically in Mauritanian politics, symbolizing – for the president’s critics and opponents – their doubts about transparency and secrecy in his administration.

 

 

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