Some Symbolism Behind New Street Names in Nouakchott

In Mauritania’s capital Nouakchott, the municipal authorities in Tevragh Zeina, a large and relatively upscale neighborhood, have decided to rename several major streets. Charles de Gaulle Avenue becomes Al-‘Allama al-Hajj ‘Umar Tall Avenue, John Kennedy Avenue becomes Al-‘Allama Buddah Ould al-Busayri Avenue, and Gamal ‘Abd al-Nasir Avenue becomes National Unity Avenue.

At least to me, the symbolism reads as the replacement of foreign, decolonization-era figures with regional/local Islamic leaders. ‘Umar Tall (d. 1864) was a leader within the Tijaniyya Sufi order, and the architect of a pre-colonial jihad state extending deep into present-day central and northern Mali. He is the subject of a great deal of Western scholarship, including by David Robinson. Tall, significantly, was ethnically Toucouleur, rather than Arab, and it is possible to see this street renaming as a gesture toward the idea/hope  of Islam as a basis for racial unity in Mauritania.

Buddah Ould al-Busayri (1920-2009) is actually the topic of my next book project (so perhaps I’m on the right track, research-wise!). He was imam of Nouakchott and mufti of Mauritanian throughout much of the postcolonial period, and acted as a kind of “papal” figure (somewhat similar to Stéphane Lacroix’s depiction of ‘Abd al-‘Aziz Ibn Baz in Saudi Arabia) during a period of rising Islamic/Islamist activism in the 1970s and after.

Are these renaming a form of decolonization? I’m not sure. But it’s interesting that figures such as de Gaulle, JFK, and ‘Abd al-Nasir have lost some of their resonance, perhaps above all for younger generations born long after the independence era.

 

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Update on Mauritania’s Legislative and Municipal Election Results

On 15 September, Mauritania held the second round of its simultaneous legislative, municipal, and regional elections, following the first round on 1 September. Jeune Afrique has a good breakdown of the key outcomes here; most importantly, the second round saw the ruling Union for the Republic (UPR) increase its number of parliamentary deputies from 67 in the first round to 89 overall, out of 157 total seats in the assembly. UPR also extended its domination of Nouakchott’s communes, going from 5/9 before the elections to 6/9 afterwards. At both the legislative and the municipal level, the Islamist party Tewassoul was in second place, sometimes in coalition with the HATEM party. According to official estimates, turnout fell from 75% in the first round to 55% in the second round.

Some of the municipal results can be found here. Picking almost at random (someone should write a paper on these data, they’re fascinating), a few patterns stand out:

  • Sometimes Tewassoul and UPR really ran neck and neck. For example, in the commune of Aouleiygat in the region of Trarza, Tewassoul won by fewer than two hundred votes – and the ultimate outcome was 9 seats for Tewassoul, 8 for UPR. Jeune Afrique notes this pattern as well.
  • Again, I’m struck by Tewassoul’s ability to compete far beyond Nouakchott – here is a commune in Al-Hodh al-Gharbi, Devaa, where they edged out UPR 10 seats to 9. There are many places where Tewassoul obtained no seats, and UPR has wider representation overall, but Tewassoul is not just a Nouakchott-based party by any means.
  • The UPR-Tewassoul rivalry is not at all the whole story of the elections – even together, their vote share in the first round was under 50%. In the municipal elections, UPR was beaten out in many communes by other parties. One example is Moudjeria in Tagant, where the Democratic Renewal Party won 7 seats to UPR’s four.

Sahelian Governments’ Readouts of the 2 July Nouakchott Meeting on the G5 Sahel

On 2 July, amid the African Union summit in Mauritania’s capital Nouakchott, the presidents of France and five Sahelian countries (Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad) met to discuss Sahelian security generally and the G5 Sahel Joint Force specifically. One outcome of the meeting was the sack of the Joint Force’s commander, Malian General Didier Dacko.

For French speakers, though, I thought it would be useful to round up all the official readouts of the meeting I could find. The Chadian presidency and the Nigerien presidency released official statements, while Mali’s president did a wide-ranging interview with France24 on the margins of the summit and (so far as I could tell) Burkina Faso’s president did not release a readout, just two comments on Twitter. As for Mauritania, the official Agence Mauritanienne d’Information released a readout here. Finally, the French president’s remarks to the press can be found here.

To me the most interesting readout was the Nigerien version, which had a few highlights (other than the main theme of the meeting, which seems to have been “let’s get this thing going a lot more”):

  • The G5 countries will now move to rebuild the damaged force headquarters in Sévaré, Mali;
  • They will continue to pursue a United Nations Chapter Seven mandate for the force (more backstory here), which might help resolve some of its financial problems; and
  • The regional governments will meet again in Nouakchott on 6 December.