From the Editor’s Keyboard

On the military coup in Mauritania

8 August 2008 at 20:58 | 588 views

By Scott A Morgan, Guest Writer.

After a period of silence, the United States is adding its voice to the collective international choir that has condemned the coup that took place in Mauritania this week.

The Arab League and the African Union have called for the the release of both the President and the Prime Minister. Currently the whereabouts of the President are unknown and the Prime Minister is believed to be held in an army barracks at this time.

First of all what is the pertient information regarding the events that led up to the coup?

After attempting to replace four senior generals including the head of the Presidential Guard itself, President Abdallahi was detained by renegade soldiers loyal to General Abdel Aziz. The country has had problems with both corruption and an islamist insurgency as well. And it just so happens to be the second coup that the country has had in the last three years. The last junta promised democratic elections and delivered.

Now that some of the background is covered, what is the state of relations between the United States and Mauritania?

Generally, the US has had good relations with the North African country. The US has been strongly supportive of the election process that had taken place after the 2005 coup. The US has increased military cooperation with the country as it is believed that Al-Qaida has conducted operations there and uses the country as a base for operations.

So how tempered has the response been from Washington after the coup?

First of all, the US embassy in the country urged all Americans to "exercise extreme caution" for the rest of the day. The State Department condemned the coup in the "strongest possible terms" but the US has now taken the action that could force some action to be taken. We have decided to curtail the assistance that we provide to the impoverished African nation.

What is the dollar amount of the funds that the US will be withholding? A quick check shows that an estimated $22 million will be suspended. The majority of those funds ($15 million) are for military cooperation with American forces. Four Million dollars are earmarked for peacekeeping training programs and the rest for development assistance. The US will not be cutting back any aid that deals with food or medical items.

Who benefits from this? The coup replaces an unpopular President who was attempting to negotiate with Islamic extremists. In a country where personality is a political asset that could be seen as weakness. Could democracy itself benefit? Most political parties and the general population of the country are supportive of the coup. But the military has had a hand in every government the country has had since it gained independence from France in 1960.

There is a chance that the US and France could end up with a President that will be more vigorous in combatting the islamists in the country. Then again the reverse could be in order.

However a strong president that has the interests of Mauritania as an objective rather than just lining their pockets with gold will be the best way forward. That will be the best way to move the country forward.

Photo: General Ould Abdelaziz, Mauritania’s latest coup maker.

Photo credit: BBC News.

* Scott Morgan is an American journalist with an interest in African affairs.