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Mauritania Modern History

Mauritania became independent from colonial power France on November 28, 1960. The history of the young nation is dominated by military coups, dictatorial rule, border conflicts with neighboring countries and an increasingly violent struggle against radical Islamist terrorist groups. Mauritania was a one-party state until 1991, when multi-party systems were introduced. But despite free elections being held, democracy has never gained hold.

Mauritania's first president became Mokhtar Ould Daddah, whose Mauritanian people held all seats in the National Assembly (see Older History). In 1964, Mauritania also formally became a one-party state.

  • ABBREVIATIONFINDER: List of most commonly used acronyms containing Mauritania. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.

When Spain abandoned the territory of Western Sahara northwest of Mauritania in 1975, Mauritania occupied the southern part, known as Tiris al-Gharbia. Morocco took the northern part. The Western Sahara Liberation Movement Polisario, which fights for a free Western Sahara, fought hard for the Mauritanian army and in 1976 attacked the capital Nouakchott.

The military setbacks coincided with severe drought, economic problems and increased contradictions between blacks and Moors (see Population and Languages) as Moorish nomads became settled and needed agricultural land. In July 1978 President Daddah was overthrown in a military coup and succeeded a year later by Lieutenant Colonel Mohammed Khouna Ould Haidallah. The same year Mauritania made peace with Polisario. Tiris al-Gharbia was then occupied by Moroccan troops instead.

Contemporary History of MauritaniaThe economic situation worsened and in 1984 the military implemented a new coup. Colonel Mouawia Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya was appointed new president. In exchange for favorable loans, he carried out economic reforms in cooperation with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which, among other things, led to the privatization of business.

During the 1980s, the contradictions between blacks and Moors increased. Many blacks were forced away from their land by immigrant Moorish ex-nomads. In 1989, hundreds of people were killed in clashes between blacks and Moors in Mauritania and Senegal. Tens of thousands of black Mauritanian and Senegalese guest workers were forced to flee the country away from Moors and Mauritanian government soldiers. Senegal also massively expelled Mauritanian Moors who lived in the country as merchants.

Organizations fighting for the cause of black Mauritania began to grow in strength and some groups also launched an armed struggle from bases in Senegal. The Mauritanian regime responded with mass arrests, and demonstrations were met with violence. The outside world condemned the regime's abuse.

In connection with the war in Iraq in 1991, Mauritania was isolated from traditional allies in the Arab world, such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, which had previously provided almost all foreign financial support to the country. Taya was forced to turn to the United States and the international loan agencies the World Bank IMF. This, in turn, resulted in the pressure that led President Taya to agree to a democratization. In 1991, a new constitution was adopted that allowed other political parties, but the Republican Democratic and Socialist Party (PRDS) became the dominant political force because the opposition was divided. The same year an agreement was concluded in Guinea-Bissau that ended the conflict with Senegal.

In January 1992, Taya won the country's first presidential election in which several parties could stand for candidates. Both foreign observers and the opposition accused the regime of electoral fraud. Large parts of the opposition boycotted the parliamentary elections in 1992 and 1996 and also the 1997 presidential elections when Taya was re-elected.

In 2000, another conflict arose with Senegal, this time on the use of water in the Senegal River. Mauritania threatened to expel 100,000 Senegalese from the country, but after mediation by Morocco, Gambia and Mali, the conflict could be resolved.

Most of the opposition parties participated in the 2001 parliamentary elections. President Taya's PRDS gained its own majority by a wide margin.

In the 2003 presidential election, Taya was re-elected by a large majority. The opposition and several media accused the government of electoral fraud.

Several coup attempts were made against Taya and at one point fighting was fought in Nouakchott. Senior military and politicians were arrested.

Finally, in August 2005, a coup was implemented that set the point for Taya's 20-year power holdings. Soldiers under the leadership of the former commander of the security forces, Colonel Ely Ould Mohammed Vall, took over power without the blood spill when Taya was abroad. The coup makers explained that within two years the country would become a democracy. They formed a governing military council with Vall as leader.

The coup was initially condemned by the UN, the EU, the US and the African Union (AU), which suspended Mauritania from African cooperation. At the same time, reports came from Mauritania that people were celebrating on the streets of the capital and that the opposition welcomed the coup. The AU soon released its demand for President Taya to regain power and instead demanded that general elections be held shortly. Taya fled. PRDS changed its name to the Renewed Republican Democratic Party (PRDR) and Vall became party leader.

In the autumn of 2005, an amnesty for political prisoners was issued. Exceptions were made for some 20 interns who were suspected of having contacts with the militant Islamist group al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (Aqim; see Political system and Current politics).

In a 2006 referendum, 97 percent of voters said yes to a number of constitutional changes. Among other things, no one was allowed to be president for more than ten consecutive years.

Ahead of the parliamentary elections that autumn, the leading opposition parties formed an election alliance that took almost half of the mandate. As many independent candidates were elected, but most of them had ties to the old ruling party PRDR and after the election they formed a new alliance, al-Mithaq, which included PRDR.

al-Mithaq gave support to the ruling military council and its candidate Sidi Mohammed Ould al-Cheikh Abdellahi in the March 2007 presidential election. Abdellahi won the second round of elections over Ahmed Ould Daddah, opposition leader and half-brother to the country's first president.

After just over a year at the post, Abdellahi was deposed in a bloodless coup in August 2008. One triggering reason was that after high-level contradictions, Abdellahi dismissed four generals. One of them, General Mohammed Ould Abdelaziz, now took power.

The dismissed generals were reinstated and the president, prime minister, and interior minister arrested. The military formed a government that, with Abdelaziz at the head, would lead the country. A few days later, the Prime Minister and the Interior Minister were released. President Abdellahi was released in December.

The outside world condemned the coup. The AU excluded Mauritania and imposed sanctions on the Cabinet, including travel bans. The United States also introduced an entry ban for members of the Cabinet. The EU, France and the World Bank frozen much of their aid. Nationally, the coup was supported by several of the country's political parties.

 
 

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