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Mauritania: ‘A simple citizen demanding his rights’ 0

On 17 January 2011, a 41-year-old Mauritanian businessman, Yacoub Ould Dahoud, burned himself in front of the presidential palace in Nouakchott. He later died in Morocco where he was sent for medical treatment.

Dahoud was not a poor man, nor was he unemployed like his Tunisian counterpart. His Facebook profile accessed today by this blogger shows Dahoud followed very closely the events unfolding in Tunisia culminating with Ben Ali’s ousting by his people.

He came from a prominent family and many Mauritanians I spoke with agree that he was driven by the same motivation as Tunisia’s Bouazizi: making a statement about tyranny and the lack of freedom in their societies. … Contrary to initial reports from Reuters claiming Dahoud committed this act to protest tribal grievances, his was a genuine political act of pre-planned and meditated dissent, in fact his suicide note states clearly that he sought peaceful constitutional reform and a functioning democracy.’

Dahoud’s death was overshadowed by events in Tunisia and Egypt at the time. This is unfortunate because his manifesto and demands lie at the heart of the uprisings, large and small, across the whole continent. To highlight the significance of Dahoud’s action and to give it the prominence it deserves I publish those sections which speak to the continent as a whole:

‘Extremism and terrorist groups are a result of 50 years of poverty and the loss of hope that rulers’ oppression will end.

‘Enough corruption, enough oppression. Mauritania belongs to the people, not to the Generals and their entourage.

‘To get the corrupt army band from power, enough with corruption, enough oppression. We suffered fifty years of corruption and oppression. Do we and the future generations not deserve one month of steadfastness to dash out of oppression, intellectual, material and physical oppression.


– The release of human rights activists in prison [Biram Ould Dah] who are fighting against slavery

– Eliminating all taxes and tariffs on rice, wheat, cooking oil, sugar, milk and monitoring their obscene price hikes

-Replacing taxes and tariffs on basic goods through more taxation on cigarettes, luxury cars and tariffs on European ships that are pillaging our maritime wealth, as well as taxing telecom companies or Mauritania’s income from gold mining stolen by the Army commanders’ band.’

To emphasise that he is not just ‘speaking’, Dahoud goes on to warn the government that if the demands are not addressed then Mauritania will face the wrath of the people, and to ensure he and the people are taken seriously he begins the process by self-immolation. Also noteworthy is his ‘reference to the grubby little colonial power – France with its imperialist fantasies’ to end its support of the regime. Here we should ask why Mauritanians are less worthy of freedom than neighbouring Libyans? He ends by stating who he is, and this is particularly important. He is ‘a simple citizen demanding legitimate rights’.

‘If you do not accept this offer, then you should face the people’s wrath and be forced out as Ben Ali was.

‘I take this occasion to beg the people of France to force its rulers to accept the Mauritanian people’s right to self-determination.
‘Our lives are a small price to pay for Mauritania so that our sons can live in a country with social justice, liberty and democracy.’

In a recent interview on Africa Today, Congolese historian and co-founder of Ota Benga Alliance for Peace,  Jacques Depelchin puts Dahoud’s actions in a historical and specific African context when he speaks of the ‘conscience of humanity’ which can no longer accept the unacceptable.

The history of Africa is central to starting the process of correction and healing and who are better situated to talk about reclaiming the commons than the ‘specific and the generic Africans’ – those whose voices have never counted. Now we are saying we count – our history counts, a history which is at the centre of humanity in its broadest sense.

Organisers of the Mauritanian protests later published a further set of demands on Facebook titled ‘Seven cardinal points for building a modern state’. Numbers 1 and 3 have wider implications for the continent.

The first point deals with the militarisation of African governance and political power: ‘The evacuation of the military [back] to its noble mission and its removal [withdrawal] from politics’. Mauritania remains under military control, but there are endless examples of pseudo-democracies, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Swaziland, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, to name a few, which are highly militarised states where the armed forces are used against their own people. Kal of the Moor Next Door [TMND] – (I do hope he really is what he says he is and not a white American from Ohio – such is the mistrust of anonymous bloggers after recent revelations) comments that in the case of Mauritania militarisation is more overt than say Egypt or Tunisia.

‘the military has been more conspicuously and overtly involved in Mauritania’s politics than the better concealed military-industrial complex of Egypt’s military or Tunisia’s more professional one.’

However, there is nothing concealed about the militarisation in the above-mentioned countries. The third point – ‘The strengthening of national unity and the establishment of a national agency to fight against slavery and its legacy’ – is significant in that it mentions ‘unity’ and ending ‘slavery’ in the same sentence, which is a reminder of both the difference between what Depelchin describes as technical language (politicians) and political language (people) and between ‘a unity fostered by governments and politicians versus unity fostered by people’ – a unity which is exclusive versus one which is inclusive and derived from the commons and based on a conscience of humanity.

On 24 May – the ‘day of rejection’ – Mauritanians held demonstrations in Nouakchott, which included the ‘mock funeral of Mauritanian democracy’. TMND quotes the Arabist [Issandr el-Amrani] as once writing ‘Nobody cares about Mauritania’. I think we should all take a closer look at this country and care more about what is happening at the commons.

If we agree with Depelchin that the history of Africa is central to starting a process of correction and healing – that it is the conscience of humanity – then we must take our history more seriously because how else do we know how we arrived in these moments?

‘history as history of humanity is being wiped out deliberately. Because from the point of view of those in power why do you need history? History means you will have to keep thinking [and ask] how did the history get started? [How will we know that the system being forced on us is one which “has taken roots in genocide and can [therefore] only be genocidal?”]’

Who will document the history we are witnessing at this moment in Africa and the Middle East? This is a huge task and one which requires serious consideration and organisation and must be located in Africa and the Middle East and needs to start from now.

Issandr el Amran, (The Arabist) comments on a ‘groundbreaking’ initiative by Egypt’s National Archive (ENA) and historian Khaled Fahmy to create a ‘digital, accessible archive’. The ENA is calling for volunteers to collect oral testimonies.

‘To understand how groundbreaking this could be you have to realize to what an extent all official archives in Arab countries are treated like secrets of state, accessible only to specialists (if and when they pass an endless security clearance process). And that official documents about the most important decisions and events of the 20th century have simply never been made available.

‘A shift towards greater openness — a move away from a police state’s paranoid, bureaucratic and hierarchical attitude to information — could be an important part of the intellectual legacy of the revolution. But as Fahmy notes, in these uncertain times, it is hard to persuade people that their security will be enhanced by being more transparent and less guarded about official documents. (When the Chronicle’s photographer went to take portraits of Fahmy at the National Archives last week, with the permission of the archives’ director, security guards there hovered nervously and one of them caused a scene when he thought the photographer had taken a shot of the building’s entrance.)’

How else will we know that (and learn from) the freedom fighters from yesterday have become the dictators of today.

In the past week two bloggers have been exposed as fakes. Gay Girl in Damascus (GGiD) and Lez Get Real turn out to be straight white males, one from Scotland the other from the US. GGiD, who developed hundreds of followers like many whose egos become over bloated, went too far. Last week ‘her cousin’ wrote that she had been detained by the Syrian police, setting off a mass flurry of tweets, blog posts and online campaigns.

However, very soon suspicions were aroused when no one could be found who knew who she was, no relatives – nothing but complete silence. On Monday, NPR journalist Andy Carvin exposed the deception in a series of tweets. The response to the outing of MacMaster has been scathing, particularly by gay Syrian bloggers and activists. Sami Hamwi, whose activism and life may have been severely compromised, wrote…..

‘To Mr. MacMaster, I say shame on you!!! There are bloggers in Syria who are trying as hard as they can to report news and stories from the country. We have to deal with too many difficulties than you can imagine. What you have done has harmed many, put us all in danger, and made us worry about our LGBT activism. Add to that, that it might have caused doubts about the authenticity of our blogs, stories, and us. Your apology is not accepted, since I have myself started to investigate Amina’s arrest. I could have put myself in a grave danger inquiring about a fictitious figure. Really… Shame on you!!!

To the readers and the western media I say, there are authentic people in the Middle East who are blogging and reporting stories about the situation in their countries. You should pay attention to these people.’

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By Sokari Ekine- Pambazuka news

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Direttore Responsabile Giuseppe Frangi