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Mauritania: February 25th Movement says “No to Guardianship” of France

Mauritania is undergoing a period of great political uncertainty following the evacuation for medical reasons of President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz after he was shot on October 13, 2012. While Mauritania was preparing for his return, many citizens were left wondering what political role France would play in the current situation. [Ed's note: President Aziz has just returned to Mauritania in a bid to save his administration]

The ambiguous role of France during the 2008 coup

President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi was overthrown by a 2008 military coup which saw General Aziz come to power. Vincent Hugueux of L'Express magazine explained that, at the time, France had taken a fairly ambiguous stance towards this coup:

Très vite, la ligne du fait accompli, qu'incarne le secrétaire général de l'Elysée, Claude Guéant, muselle les “légalistes”, partisans de fermes sanctions et du retrait d'Aziz, à défaut d'un retour au statu quo ante que nul ne souhaite vraiment. Pour preuve, la galéjade de Nicolas Sarkozy, qui, le 27 mars, ose prétendre que le pronunciamiento n'aurait suscité aucun désaveu au pays [..] Dès lors, le clan Guéant ne lâchera plus son poulain galonné. Certes, il dissuade celui-ci d'opter pour le passage en force, préconisé par le Libyen Muammar Kadhafi: un simulacre de scrutin, bricolé à la hâte dès le 6 juin.

Very quickly, in line with the fait accompli that the French Secretary General of the president favored, the ‘legalists’ were muzzled, because they were supporters of tough sanctions and wished to see Aziz step back, if failing short of  the  return to the status quo, which nobody really wanted anyway. For proof, refer to Nicolas Sarkozy's tall story when, on March 27 [2008], he dared to to say that the pronouncement (of Aziz's full power) would not have resulted in any objections in the country. [...] From that moment on,  the Guéant team would not let go of its fine protégé. Certainly, they dissuaded him from opting for forced removal, as recommended by Colonel Gaddafi: a pretence of thoroughness, hastily cobbled together after June 6 (ed's note: date of the planned presidential elections that did not take place then in the end)

Mauritanian journalist and blogger Dr Elycheikh Bah Ahhmedtolba explained that, to this day, France plays a predominant role in the political life of Mauritania:

The question of French-dependency exists since the advent of colonization and reached its peak during the so-presumed “independence”, since then there has been a generation living on its rewards. [..] It is our duty as the young generation to, at least, discuss and share ideas about the doubtful positioning of the “Old Political Guardians” within the French negotiation with the military junta about the possibilities of keeping the disappeared Aziz on the top of the state or to push forward another accomplice for the looming war in Northern Mali

 

The February 25th Movement and the “No to Guardianship” campaign

Young Mauritanians created the February 25th movement to protest against successive military regimes. Ahmed Jedou explained [fr] why this movement clashed with what it calls the “Guardianship of France”:

Nous, Mouvement du 25 février, considérant la régularité de l’ingérence française dans les affaires intérieures mauritaniennes et ses conséquences, particulièrement dans le contexte que vit le pays aujourd’hui, annonçons le lancement d’une campagne de sensibilisation contre la tutelle étrangère. A travers cette campagne, nous voulons faire parvenir aux autorités et à l’opinion publique françaises, les messages suivants : – La détermination de la jeunesse mauritanienne à combattre la dictature de fils du pays et, a fortiori, la tutelle étrangère [..] l’Histoire retiendra ceux qui se seront rangés du côté des aspirations légitimes des peuples et ceux qui se seront ligués contre eux en soutenant les régimes dictatoriaux

We the February 25th movement, considering the frequency of French interference in the internal affairs of Mauritania and its consequences, particularly within the context that the country is living today, announce the launch of an awareness campaign about the perils of foreign guardianship. Through this campaign,  we want to get the following messages across to the authorities and to French public opinion:the Mauritanian youth is determined to fight against dictatorship and foreign guardianship. [...] History will remember those who stood up for the side of the people's legitimate aspirations and those who went against them by supporting dictatorial regimes.
Poster for February 25th Movement

Poster for February 25th Movement “No to Guardianship” (“Yes to Partnership”) via Ahmed Jedou used with permission

News website Alakhbar added [fr]:

Le mouvement dit aspirer «malgré le passé colonial, à des relations de confiances avec la France basées sur un partenariat qui sauvegarde les intérêts des deux peuples. Il se dit satisfait de l’annonce de François Hollande à Dakar de la fin de l’ère France-Afrique qui a fait souffert la Mauritanie et contribué à la réussite du coup d’Etat de 2008 du général Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz.

The movement states that “despite the colonial past” it aspires to trustworthy relations with France founded on a partnership which protects the interests of both countries. The movement is satisfied with the announcement made by Francois Hollande in Dakar [Senegal] about the end of the Franco-African era which brought suffering to Mauritania and contributed to the success of the 2008 military coup led by General Aziz.

On twitter the hashtag #NonAlaTutelle [No to Guardianship] was chosen by the campaign to make itself known. Many people reacted on twitter to a recent discussion between French president Francois Hollande and President Aziz on November 20:

@Sidimedlemin: l'audience aujourd'hui entre Hollande et Aziz montre que nous somme toujours sous la tutelle #NonALaTutelle #France #Mauritanie @Elysee

@Sidimedlemin: the discussion between Holland and Aziz today shows that we are still under guardianship #NonALaTutelle #France #Mauritanie @Elysee

A demonstration against French Guardianship, November 21, 2012, Nouakchott, Mauritania, was filmed by YouTube user jnsrfd [ar]:

The return of President Aziz to Mauritania on November 24 was also, it seems, cheered by a large crowd. YouTube user CricemClaude uploaded a video [ar] of the president's arrival at Nouakchott Airport, Mauritania:

According to the Associated French Press on news website romandie.com [fr]:

Des dizaines de milliers de personnes l'ont ovationné le long des trois kilomètres séparant l'aéroport du palais présidentiel.

Tens of thousands of people gave him a standing ovation all along the three kilometres separating the airport from the presidential palace.
Ahmed Jedou and Thalia Rhame also contributed to this article

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