About two months ago, Mauritanians voted in retired General Mohamed Ould Cheikh Ghazouani following a presidential election in which the opposition deployed heavily against a man of military tradition.By Abdallah Bah
Contrary to expectations, the last presidential election in Mauritania did not lead to the usual confrontation that has always characterised the country’s political landscape in recent decades and has sometimes been marred by bloodletting, trials, imprisonment and even attempted coups.
One may ponder over the reasons behind this rare case of a calm and peaceful climate that marked the first weeks of the new Mauritanian president’s first few weeks in power in an atmosphere devoid of tension.
First of all, it is necessary to highlight the conditions that paved the way for Ould Sheikh Ghazouani’s accession to power.
The man is part of a group of officers who were brought together by military studies and training at the military academy in Meknes, Morocco, before being propelled to the spotlight in August 2005, during the coup against former President Maouiya Ould Sid’Ahmed Taya, who had been in power for over twenty years.
These include Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz and Mohamed Ould Cheikh Ghazouani.
But it was their eldest, the late Colonel Ely Ould Mohamed Vall, who was then brought to power.
He was one of Mauritania’s most prominent officers at the time, familiar with sensitive political issues, thanks to his long experience as Director General of National Security for over 20 years.
The two cadets would wait three years before returning to the forefront of the scene after having fomented a new coup against the civilian president elected at the end of an unprecedented electoral process, but also in the Arab world: Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, the first head of state of an Arab League member country to be elected in a democratic and transparent manner.
This time, it is Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz himself who will be in the front line, as he himself repeated several times and will lead the country for ten years.
A period mainly marked by an uninterrupted confrontation with his opponents, a time considered one of the tensest in the country’s history.
Without dwelling on the reasons that led Ould Abdel Aziz to vacate power last June and renounce any perceived attempt to amend the constitution in order to run for a third term despite the many appeals to that effect by his supporters, circumstances this time propelled Mohamed Ould Cheikh Ghazouani to the fore.
Not as the author or accomplice of a coup, but as a “saviour,” the political class, including some sections of the opposition having perceived in him the man of consensus.
To Ould Abdel Aziz, who had just left power it was impossible to find a better successor than his comrade-in-arms and probably avoid revisiting political, economic and alleged human rights violations associated with his predecessor.
With the exception of candidate Sidi Mohamed Ould Boubacar, who was able to bring together different segments of various political sensitivities around him, the majority of the other opposition candidates mainly benefited from the rejection of power by people on the fringes likely to divide the already highly divided political class.
The calm atmosphere that followed the last presidential election is explained by the refined style, maturity and professional experience of the new man in charge of Mauritania whose career path and personality were strongly marked by two “legacies”: the army and the life of the army.
Mohamed Ould Cheikh Ghazouani has held various positions within the military institution, some of them complex and very sensitive.
The most significant of these responsibilities is certainly his long tenure as Chief of the General Staff of the army during a difficult period in which Mauritania was exposed to the dangers of terrorism spread throughout the Sahel region.
He worked to rebuild the Mauritanian army by implementing a modernisation strategy with an emphasis on equipment and intelligence.
He has succeeded in driving armed groups away from the country’s borders, a success applauded by all sides of the country’s political divide, and the international community.
The other facet of the man is influenced by his traditional religious education received within his family, known in the Boumdeïd region (Centre) for having spread, for centuries, the values of patience in the face of difficulties, the disdain for materialism, love for modesty and work, respect for others, a sense of listening and understanding.
It is probably this style recognised by his relatives, which allowed him to communicate with the entire political class, even the most hostile and virulent over the results of the last presidential election at the end of June, even questioning his election.
Throughout the past few weeks, President Mohamed Ould Cheikh Ghazouani has been meeting opposition leaders, appearing to have received the green light for peaceful change and the reconstruction of the country, which in the words of his opponents has been seriously damaged by his comrade-in-arms.
We are entitled to ask ourselves what Ghazouani deployed to obtain such concessions and start a new beginning in a country that is said to have more than a million politicians rather than a million poets as we used to say in the Arab world.
The secret, as those who knew him closely reveal, is certainly his method and his famous phrase “the time for confrontation is over, now it’s time for consultation with everyone on issues regarding the country.”
A style absolutely opposed to the method of his companion who refused to involve anyone in decision-making, choosing to confront everyone, including his very close allies, considering that power is a personal matter.
Such behaviour for which he paid a high price provoked division and confrontation between the different strands of the opposition.
Some will say that Ghazouani has benefited from the climate of hope he had revved up but that he will find a set of worrying problems to deal with.
Among these was the forfeiture of the administration, and its monopolisation by a handful of businessmen determining the ebb and tide of economic situation in Mauritania.