Mauritania: Why the United States and France validated Abdel Aziz’s election

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According to Paris, the locally criticised election that sought to legitimise Mohammed Ould Abdel Aziz’s presidency took place under internationally acceptable conditions. In other words, France pledges its support to the putschist General. Washington also looks forward to working with the newly elected president. But according to analysts, the legitimisation of the questionable Mauritanian elections is symbolic of the growing security concerns of the two governments.

Spectacular! France and the United States have both welcomed the election of General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz as the democratically elected president of Mauritania. Yet, barely a year ago, Washington and Paris were seething with democratic anger when they demanded a return to democratic order after Mohammed Ould Abdel Aziz deposed Oud Sidi Cheikh Abdallahi, the first democratically elected president of the former French colony, in a coup d’etat.

So was it simply a question of holding an election to validate the putchist general power grab? This is what Washington and Paris have led all and sundry to believe. “We look forward to working with President-elect Aziz and his government on the multiple challenges facing the country,” stated the U.S. embassy in Nouakchott. France, on the other hand, took a much bolder step. Secretary of State for Cooperation, Alain Joyandet, was hurried-off to Mauritania to represent France at Mohammed Ould Abdel Aziz’s inauguration ceremony. “General Mohammed Ould Abdel Aziz resigned from the army, he became a candidate like the others. Every person who wanted to stand for election was able to do so. (…) Under these circumstances, there is no reason for France not to agree with this process or continue its partnership with Mauritania,” Alain Joyandet declared.

The weight of terrorist threats

But some observers believe that regardless of the enormous efforts made by General Mohammed Ould Abdel Aziz to gain acceptance within the international community, Paris and Washington appear to have other reasons to support him. According to the observers, security concerns have, in fact, prevailed over the democratic ideal. The two capitals have been very concerned about the penetration of Islamist networks into West Africa. In December 2007, a group with links to al-Qaeda murdered four French citizens in Mauritania. In June, the North African branch of the terrorist network claimed responsibility for the murder of an American in broad daylight in Nouakchott.

Showing the French government’s particular concern over the issue of terrorism, Alain Joyandet made a stop Tuesday in Bamako, Mali, where he met and talked with President Amadou Toumani Touré on the issue before travelling to Mauritania. Mali, which has seen a rise in terrorist groups, mainly in the north, is already receiving French and U.S. military support to address the problem. A regional conference on security, expected to bring together North and West African countries, will take place in Bamako, the country’s capital, after the Muslim celebration of Ramadan.

Condeming the spate of putschist groups seeking to legitimise their unconstitutional acts, Survie, an international association reminded Paris that “existing international doctrine regarding coups does not condone the participation of putschists in any election.” Boulkeir and Messaoud Ould Ahmed Ould Daddah, the two main opposition candidates in Mauritania, denounced massive electoral fraud. The European Union has, since, demanded an independent investigation into the allegations of fraud and manipulation. But faced with growing terrorist threats, the upholding of the principle of democracy may just have been shoved into the back seat.

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