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PEACEFUL POWER TRANSITION IN MAURITANIA

Former general and defense minister Ould Ghazouani wins presidential elections.

For many decades since many of its nations got independence from colonial rule, the African continent, has become infamous for leaders who never want to leave or hand over power.

A number of African leaders often do just about everything they can and wish to remain in office. Many of the presidents in the continent have stayed in power by intimidating, killing or jailing any serious opponents, even at the expense of isolating their countries from the world. 

Recent political events in several countries of North Africa, including the removal from power of two long-serving African leaders, however, have come as a major surprise to many people and a great relief to most of their citizens. This has in some way helped to change the long dictatorship narrative.

During the most recent elections in the North African country of Mauritania, the ruling party’s new candidate, Mohamed Ould Ghazouani, was easily the winner in the presidential elections, following the stand-down by his immediate predecessor Mohammed Abdel Aziz, this marked what has now become a rare peaceful transfer of power in African countries.

The country’s electoral commission declared Ghazouani winner late on Saturday June 22, with 52% of the vote. His nearest rival, anti-slavery campaigner Biram Dah Abeid, came second with 18.58%, while third place candidate Mohamed Ould Boubacar, who is backed by Mauritania’s biggest Islamist party, got 17.85%.

So far, Mauritania has experienced five military coups, since its independence from France in 1960. From the 1960s, military rulers took charge of the country until civilian Aziz was elected in 2008 thus serving as the country’s president for 11 years.

Newly elected President, Ghazouani’s biggest challenge as he steps into office, will be to end slavery, which has smeared the country’s reputation despite being legally abolishaed in 1982 and criminalized in 2007. Tens of thousands of the 5million population of Mauritania, still have to endure slavery, with the government being frequently under criticism by human rights groups and urged to shun the practice.

The North African country also faces an unrelenting threat from armed extremist groups in the Sahel and has tried to win the support the Western world in the fight against terrorism in the region. Mauritania’s ruling party has positioned itself as an ally of the West to help curb the Islamist militancy.

Economically, Mauritania still falls under the categorization of one of poorest countries in Africa in terms of GDP per capita although the country’s finances are expected to improve following the recent offshore discoveries of natural gas.

The recent elections were the first in the sparsely populated northern Sahara nation’s history, since its independence from France in 1960, to choose a successor to a democratically elected president.

Abdel Aziz move to peacefully step aside, came as a surprise to many of his compatriots and international observers, considering that he had served the maximum two five-year terms as president of Mauritania, a country of fewer than 5 million people, which takes up a large chunk of the western Sahara Desert.

The decision by Abdel Aziz has completely deviated from a trend in which African leaders, including in Rwanda and Congo Republic and Burundi, have changed or abolished presidential term limits to cling to power. Despite his rather positive economic record, has been criticized for not facing up to Mauritania’s most searing injustice in the country – the continued persistence of slavery.E

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