Mauritania: the unfinished business of unity

Parade during Mauritania's independence, November 1960 Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images - Keystone-France

Text by: Charlotte Idrac Follow |

Laurent Correau Follow

10 mins

This November 28, 2020, Mauritania is celebrating 60 years of its independence.

The anniversary of an ambitious project, so much there was to build in 1960 to bring the young state into existence.

Sixty years later, a long road has been traveled but certain projects remain unfinished, such as that of unity and social cohesion.

A file that emerged during the last presidential campaign and for which some voices call on the head of state, Mohamed Ould Ghazouani, to take new actions.


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It is the last French-speaking African country to gain independence in 1960. In Mauritania, the construction of the young state was particularly complex.

When we ask him about his memories of independence, the former diplomat and former minister Taki Ould Sidi does not go by four ways ... He was 18 that day.

He remembers the sports outfit he had been given for the parade.

Of the “big day” that this November 28 represented.

But above all the challenges that immediately followed. 



” he said

, “I used to say that among all the countries which gained independence at the same time, the only country which was totally destitute is here.


Nouakchott was practically non-existent

," says the diplomat, "

there was no construction, there was nothing.

To accommodate the guests, it was really resourceful.

The first Council of Ministers took place in a tent!


In his memoirs 



the father of independence Moktar Ould Daddah 

also remembers the precariousness of the early days.



,” he explains, “

was proclaimed in a makeshift hangar, specially fitted out and which barely contained all our foreign guests and the main national officials.

The electrical installation, rather artisanal, was one of our obsessions.

A failure of the only generator which lit the hangar would have considerably hampered the progress of the ceremony of proclamation of independence.


Moroccan hostility to Mauritanian independence

That evening, fortunately, the generator set held firm: " 

By proclaiming the independence of my country,

continues Moktar Ould Daddah,

with the very lively and deep emotion that everyone could guess, I declared:" The dream of every man, of every woman in this country has come true… In this nascent capital, I invite you to recognize the symbol of the will of a people who have faith in their future. ”

 Maintaining the electric current during this independence ceremony is all the more important as a break in the lighting could create panic among the guests.

Moroccan radio, in the days leading up to independence, spoke of the risks of an attack hanging over this ceremony.

Moroccan hostility to Mauritanian independence is known.

At the time, the authorities in Rabat defended the idea of ​​a Greater Morocco which would include, in addition to Western Sahara, Mauritania, part of the territory of the very young Mali and a piece of the Algerian Sahara.

The United Nations has been seized of the issue of Mauritanian independence.

The USSR took up the case and used it as a pressure lever.

It was not until October 27, 1961 that the General Assembly of the United Nations accepted Mauritania into the community of nations.

Morocco itself did not recognize Mauritania until 1969.

Signature of Mauritanian independence between Moktar Ould Daddah, the father of Mauritanian independence, and the French Prime Minister, Michel Debré (right).

© Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images

Recognize Mauritanian sovereignty, also form a nation.

Ould Daddah launched in 1957 a slogan from Atar: "Let's make the Mauritanian homeland together".

Independence is a new stage in this project.


For most Mauritanians, especially traditional notables

,” says diplomat Ahmedou Ould Abdallah, “

November 28 was a time when they were able to say they were Mauritanians.

They knew what they were, but as a Nation I feel like it was new.

According to researcher Jean-Louis Balans, “ 

the unity of Mauritanians, national construction,

have been Moktar Ould Daddah's absolute priorities since the start of his political career.

The fluctuations of its power, like the ambiguity of its regime, reflect the tactics successively adopted in the pursuit of this objective: to give reality to the State and to the Mauritanian Nation.


A nation that questions its identity

Sixty years later, some faces of the country have changed.


Things have come a long way,

 ” said Diarra Sylla, 39, a digital entrepreneur.

Trained in Morocco and Senegal, she returned to the country five years ago to found the first Mauritanian fablab, the Sahel Fablab, and the Innov'Rim structure, which organizes digital training workshops.

Enthusiastic, the young woman has a thousand projects in mind.


My priority is to participate in the development of this country

,” she explains.

Anything that happens elsewhere can be done here.

There are a lot of positive initiatives from young people.

I regret the bad image of the country.

Diarra Sylla also expresses all his hope for the country: “ 

Mauritania needs all the communities to move forward.

There are many opportunities, it must be said to the diaspora which has become discouraged.

We must leave the past, the hate speeches, which prevent us from moving forward.

It changes a lot for women.

The new generation is very ambitious and very aggressive


We have a big country, I tell myself that anything is possible


Nouakchott, the Mauritanian capital.

Laminesall96 / Wikimedia Commons

There are still many sites.

Political, economic, social projects ... Nouakchott, for example, must constantly reinvent itself.

In the years preceding independence, the city was built in a hurry, on the sand, in a relatively inhospitable site near the sea. In 1960 it was only a small village of just a few hundreds, maybe a few thousand souls.

The capital now has 1.2 million inhabitants.

Infrastructure is struggling to keep up.

There is only 3% of the population who are connected to the sanitation network,"

indicates Saleck Moulaye Ahmed Chérif, director of studies, projects and cooperation in the Nouakchott region


In addition, there is the problem of waste management, a problem of urban poverty…


Languages ​​under discussion

The electoral campaign for the presidential election of June 2019 showed to what extent the questions of unity and national cohesion also continued to preoccupy public opinion and the political class.

The debate on the languages ​​used in the country is still not settled: what respective places for Arabic, the official language?

French, the language of the former colonizer?

And the national languages, Poular, Soninké and Wolof?

For Idoumou Ould Mohamed Lemine, professor at the University of Nouakchott, it is time to put an end to the "language war", which began in 1966 with the passage of the law on the Arabization of education: " 

L he arabization should have been gradual so as not to upset certain balances, certain situations… Mauritania is a multiethnic, multicultural, multilingual country also… and therefore this linguistic arrangement has crystallized the divisions around the identity of the country, is an Arab country, is it an African country…


The educational system, explains the researcher, is torn by these linguistic questions which, according to him, have even blocked any debate on the evolution of the Mauritanian school. " 

I believe

, he says,

that it is time for Mauritanians try to overcome the tensions around this question of language and that they agree to adopt an Arabic-French bilingualism at the basic school, that is to say until college, followed by a multilingualism at from high school ... In this multilingualism, the national languages, Poular, Soninké, Wolof will have their place.

I hope that our authorities, who are preparing a new reform of the Mauritanian school, will take the time to resolve this issue.


Repression of Negro-Mauritanians

This November 28, other identity questions of Mauritania will also rise to the surface of the waters of memory.

Through another anniversary: ​​that of the massacre of 28 black soldiers, hanged on the base of Inal, in the region of Nouadhibou, on November 28, 1990. The drama took place in a period of bloody repression against the Negro-Mauritanians, between 1989 and 1991 which we call the “humanitarian liabilities”.

►Also read: Mauritania: the death of Negro-African soldiers in 1990 goes unpunished

Houlèye Sall is installed on mats in the courtyard of her house where she welcomes members of the Widows Collective.

The president of the collective is now 80 years old.

Her son, Abdoulaye, was killed in November 1990. “ 

My life was wasted

,” she said. 

The state has never said anything, never done anything.

I feel a bit old, but for 30 years I have been walking on November 28 in protest.

 An amnesty law was passed in 1993 for the perpetrators of crimes committed between 1989 and 1992. Inadmissible for Maïmouna Alpha Sy: her husband, a customs officer, was killed in Nouadhibou on the eve of Independence Day.


Independence Day should be marked by joy, laughter and we are the opposite: it’s crying, it’s mourning.

We killed them, why?

The people in charge are there.

We want these people to be brought to justice.

We're never going to give up.

If it is not us it will be our children, if it is not our children it will be our grandchildren!


Mamadou Lamtoro Camara, in fact, was barely 2 years old when his father was killed in Inal.

The thirty-something talks about a duty to remember: “ 

I didn't have the chance to see it.

I see, sometimes, people who are my age, they don't even know what happened in Mauritania, that's serious!

All the children of the country must know, so that we can build Mauritania in a good dynamic and live together.

 As every year, the collective of widows has planned its own walk this Saturday, to demand justice once again.

Before the march, a day of prayers was organized this Friday.

1. OULD DADDAH Moktar,

Mauritania against wind and tides

, Paris, Karthala 2003


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