Saturday, 10 March 2007

Good Luck, Mauritania

And sometimes luck has more to do with outcomes than people like to acknowledge.

In just a few hours the West African nation of Mauritania will begin holding its first legitimate presidential election. In this case Mauritania's good fortune was the good will and integrity of Colonel Ely Ould Mohamed Vall, who took the reins of power in a military coup in August of 2005, ousting strongman Maaoya Sid'Ahmed Ould Taya who was in Saudi Arabia at the time, attending King Fahd's funeral. Vall pledged to bring democracy, liberate the press, and hold national elections within two years.

True to his word, the press is no longer muzzled, an independent judiciary appears to be established, and a constitution is in place guaranteeing basic liberties and intended to prevent dictatorships. Many involved in the overhaul have urged Vall to stay, but like our own George Washington who refused to stay in power, Vall will not hear of it.
"The problem for Mauritanians is that for the first time in their lives, they don't know what the outcome of the election will be ... Psychologically it's very hard. It terrifies them," said Col Vall, who before the coup headed the country's national police."But it's a fear that must be overcome."
Promises are cheap, and dictators frequently refer to their nations as democracies, holding phony elections periodically to fabricate legitimacy. It's no wonder Mauritania was presumed to be no different, showing as red for undemocratic on this map I created a year ago based on the research of OTFord at the Stewardship Project. Perhaps it can follow in the footsteps of Liberia, Nigeria, South Africa, and Malawi which have made progress toward democracy in the last 15 years, and soon be colored blue.

What I really don't know is whether the institutions Vall has created in 17 short months are strong enough to withstand the temptations of a newly elected president to return autocratic rule to a country where such has been the norm. A dense field of 19 candidates (none constitutionally allowed to be associated with previous dictators) complicates the equation as this West African nation approaches its new day of hope.

Mauritania, good luck!