Mauritania is set for its first ever peaceful transfer of power since independence

Voting in Mauritania.
Voting in Mauritania.
Image: Reuters/Media Coulibaly
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Nobody in Mauritania has ever witnessed a peaceful transfer of power in the country—but that’s about to change.

Following elections on Saturday, Mohamed Ould Ghazouani, candidate of Mauritania’s ruling party, has been announced as president-elect, winning 51.9% of the vote. Ghazouani will take over from Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, who seized power in Mauritania in a 2008 coup and ruled for 11 years, winning two elections and serving five-year terms for each.

While Abdel Aziz is stepping down, it remains to be seen how much will change with his Union for the Republic ruling party set to remain in power. For their part, opposition parties have rejected the result with one describing it as “a coup d’etat.

Ghazouani campaigned on the ruling party’s record of economic growth but he will likely face pressure to resolve Mauritania’s enduring slavery problem. Despite criminalizing slavery in 2007—the world’s last country to do so, Mauritania has been consistently criticized for not doing enough to stop the practice. Last year, the African Union rebuked Mauritania for failing to adequately enforce its anti-slavery laws and prosecute the perpetrators.

Rare move

Abdel Aziz’s decision to respect term limits and step down from office is uncommon among African strongmen rulers, especially those who came into power through coups. This year alone, constitutional amendments to change term limits have happened in Egypt and Uganda.

As a result, Egypt’s Abdel Fattah el-Sisi could now rule until 2030 after the country’s parliament voted to approve an extension of presidential terms from four to six years while Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, now 74, is free to seek a sixth term in office during 2021 elections after the country’s top court upheld a decision to scrap presidential age limits previously capped at 75. In Rwanda, amended term limits also mean Paul Kagame who has ruled since 2000, can stay in office until 2034.

But not all longtime rulers in Africa have had it rosy recently. Algeria’s Abdelaziz Bouteflika was forced out of office after 20 years, following several weeks of unprecedented national protests which were triggered by his plans to contest a fifth term while Sudan’s Omar Al-Bashir was removed from office after sustained public protests following a 30-year rule.

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