Friday, August 8, 2008

Pray for Mauritania

One thing I hope to do with this blog is introduce us all (myself included) to the news from Africa.

Mauritania is a former French colony on the west coast of Africa, between Senegal and Mali. It gained independence in 1960 and has since then had bouts of very long, single party rule, interspersed with military coups (in 1978, 1984, 2005).

According to Wikipedia, the first fully democratic election since 1960 (when the French-backed President Moktada Ould Daddah began his 18-year one-party leadership), occurred in March of 2007. "This was the first time that the president had been selected in a multi-candidate election in the country's post-independence history."

All this being a lead-up to the news in Wednesday's NY Times that "A group of senior military officers in Mauritania arrested the country’s president and prime minister on Wednesday in a bloodless coup against the first freely elected government there in more than 20 years."

Hard to say what the motives were. The Times says the National Assembly had been critical of the government's handling of rising food prices and dealing with oil revenue. In the speedily updated Wikipedia article, "A Mauritanian lawmaker, Mohammed Al Mukhtar, announced that 'many of the country's people were supporting the takeover attempt' and the government was 'an authoritarian regime' and that the president had 'marginalized the majority in parliament.'"

As of today, according to the BBC, the ousted president's whereabouts are unclear, the U.S. has suspended $20 million in non-humanitarian aid (i.e. money for miliary purposes and peacekeeper training), and diplomats from the Arab Union and African Union have arrived in Mauritania to discuss the situation with coup leaders.

Again according to the BBC, things are calm on the ground for most people going about their daily business. The reported noted that "some people at the airport were joking about the situation - possibly as it is not regarded as that out of the ordinary given the country's history of coups."

But I can't help but believe an ongoing pattern of military coups is not good for a place. Please keep Mauritania in your prayers.

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