Mauritania [interview]:
 Why I Overthrew My Head of State - Mauritanian Military Leader

The Post (Buea)

March 13, 2006
Posted to the web March 16, 2006

David Akana

On August 3, 2005, a Colonel of the Mauritanian army and close collaborator of former Mauritanian President, Ely Ould Mohamed Vall, carried out a bloodless coup d'etat - the most recent in Africa's history. Before this day, General Maaouya Ould Sidi Ahmed Taya had been ruling the vast West African country for close to 22 years. The coup was immediately followed by international condemnation.

In keeping with its constitution, the African Union suspended Mauritania from the fold and called for the re-establishment of the constitutional regime. Paradoxically, the reaction of the close to three million Mauritanians to the coup was rather very positive.

The Post's David Akana interviews Mauritanian President Ely Ould Mohamed Vall
The Post's David Akana interviews Mauritanian President Ely Ould Mohamed Vall [The Post (Buea)]

In Nouakchott, the inhabitants narrated how under Maaouya Ould Taya, freedom of speech, opinion, press and the right to form political parties was absent.

Immediately after taking over power, the coup leaders created Supreme Military Council, pledging to run the country only for 24 months before organising democratic elections.

The Post's David Akana met the Mauritanian Interim Leader - Colonel Ely Ould Mohamed Val in the Presidential palace in the capital Nouakchott recently. The latter fielded questions on why he staged the coup, his government's plans, the beginning of petroleum exploitation in his country and the relations between Mauritania and the African Union.

Why did you stage this coup d'etat, whereas you were a close collaborator of President Maaouya Ould Taya?

The future of Mauritanians was bleak; they had no immediate, medium or long-term future. This is why we took the risk at the time to organise this coup.

Didn't you have any apprehensions that it would fail?

It was a big risk; but we were confident of what we were doing. We knew that we had the support of the Mauritanian people.

Reactions to the coup have so far been rather positive in Mauritania; did you expect this kind of reaction from the people?

Yes, I knew the spirit of Mauritanians at the time we organised the coup d'etat. I took a great risk at the time. I knew that Mauritanians were hungry and this is what justified my reasons for organising the coup. The coup met the demands of Mauritanians and I am not surprised by the reaction.

You first gave yourselves 24 months to organise democratic elections, later reducing it to 19 months. Do you think this time is enough to implement your transitional plans?

Yes. At the beginning, we planned our work for 24 months. But because of the pace at which we are achieving the plans and given the collaboration of Mauritanians to adapt to the change, as well as their total support to us, we have worked faster than we initially planned. So it is not necessary to stay longer than planned. Our objective is to finish this transition process as soon as possible, in the best possible condition. That is why we reduced our timetable by five months. The deadline we've given ourselves is okay and Mauritanians adhere totally and unconditionally to our plans.

The coup caused your expulsion from the African Union, How do you see your relations with the African Union today?

It is a normal and ordinary relationship. Mauritania is a founding member of the Organisation of African Unity, OAU. Even after the coup, we have normal and stable relations with the African Union. I think that the African Union made a mistake to expel our country after the incidents of August 3, 2005, yet it does not bother us. We have good bilateral relations with other African countries.

These bilateral relations are better today than before the coup. The African Union quickly dismissed us from the organisation without properly analysing the situation in Mauritania.

A week after the coup, the AU sent a delegation to Mauritania and they came here and noticed that the response of the people to the coup was rather positive. And so the African Union has rather accepted to accompany us in our transitional process. Today, we have a modal of working with the African Union and after the democratic elections slated soon we shall regain our seat at the Union.

Petroleum production has just started in Mauritania and the people are very expectant of the fallouts of this resource. First, how are you intending to manage your oil in such a way that it will benefit your people?

We have a clear and precise idea of how to run our petrol. We don't want to make Mauritania a petroleum-dependent-country. Petrol will be used to develop other sectors of the economy. I will not accept that Mauritania depends totally on petrol.

Are you sure that petrol exploitation will not eclipse other sectors of the economy?

No. Petrol will be used to develop other sectors such as iron, fisheries and infrastructure. We cannot be contented on petrol alone. We would not use a single dollar of petrol to pay salaries of state civil servants - it is for development only.

A dispute between the Mauritanian government and an Australian company - Woodside has erupted even before the beginning of petrol exploration in your country. What problem do you have with Woodside?

President Vall? The problem with Woodside is very clear. We have an accord that was contracted between the Mauritanian government and the Australian company. This law was reviewed and adopted in parliament. This is what we call "Contract de Base" with Woodside. This contract, which was contracted by Mauritania, is the one we have to respect and we are engaged to respecting it. We would continue to respect our own side of the engagement.

The problem with Woodside is that the initial contract was modified by four new contracts. Unfortunately, the four contracts that are the subject of our dispute were made in total and absolute illegality. It didn't follow any Mauritanian legal process, whereas the initial contract was adopted strictly in keeping with our country's legal process. So Woodside cannot ignore it.

All subsequent rectifications on the initial contract are illegal and our country cannot accept it. These laws are against the wishes of the Mauritanian people. It is in clear disregard of the Mauritanian judicial process. This is unacceptable to me. If this were intolerable during colonisation, then it would not be tolerated now when all societies are free. Mauritania says and repeats that it will respect only the initial contract.

We are ready to fight this injustice in all courts in the world. Given the facts, I am sure that no international court would not rule in our favour. Even if we fail, we would appeal until our rights are recognised. We cannot only be mere guardians of our oil resources; we cannot accept to be exploited like this.

Oil producing countries have been known for corruption. Is there any thing your government is doing to check corruption in the sector?

Good governance is our major concern. When we came to power, we thought of reforming the judiciary, so as to achieve transparency. So we have been working to reform the judiciary. We believe that the management of our state should respond to basic norms and standards with every arm of the state playing its role without any interference from whomsoever.

When we came to power, we also endorsed all international conventions related to good governance and transparency. Mauritanians must benefit from their resources. We have thus created a commission to ensure transparency in the oil sector; if we realise that Mauritanians are not benefiting from their oil, we would devise other methods. We don't want to have the situation we have seen in other countries.


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