How much damage will Mauritania’s coup do to Africa?

August 6, 2008

a-man-walks-in-front-of-mosque-in-central-nouakchott-february-2-2008.jpgSoldiers took power in a coup in Mauritania on Wednesday after presidential guards deposed President Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi when he tried to dismiss senior army officers. Abdallahi took over only last year after winning elections to replace a military junta that had ruled since it toppled the previous president in a bloodless coup in 2005. The largely desert nation, one of Africa’s newest oil producers, has suffered five coups since 1978 but Africa as a whole has transformed its reputation for violent government ousters in recent years after notching up around 80 successful coups and many more abortive attempts between the 1950s and 2004.

There have only been a handful of military seizures in the last five years compared to the heyday of military takeovers in the 1960s. In the mid-70s around half of African countries had military governments. Since then, democracy has gradually made ground and attempts to seize power are strongly frowned upon.

Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation and once notorious for military government, suffered its last coup in 1993. 


The African Union condemned the Mauritania coup within hours on Wednesday, demanding that constitutional rule be restored. The AU was established in 2002 to replace the Organisation of African Unity which was discredited by its tendency to turn a blind eye to violence and tyrannical government in its member states. The AU has strongly condemned previous attempts to overthrow legitimate governments by force and threatened to “excommunicate” rebels who came close to overthrowing the Chadian government last February before being repulsed by forces loyal to President Idriss Deby. But despite the AU’s strong rhetoric, African diplomacy has generally had little success in reversing coups. 

Most African governments are now anxious to attract booming foreign investment on the continent and nervous that coups or crises like that in Zimbabwe, whose economy has collapsed, will frighten off overseas investors.


Razia Khan, Chief Africa Economist at Standard Chartered Bank, warned that ripples from Mauritania’s coup could spread wider.

“This news will come as a setback to perceptions of improved governance (in Mauritania). It should also result in some focus on the political stability of Africa’s new oil economies, more broadly. A timely reminder of what is at stake and the risks — not favourable for investor sentiment.”

What do you think? Will Mauritania’s coup damage the economies and prospects of other African countries?. Should the AU take muscular action to reverse the military takeover?


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This is typical in Africa, unfortunately. For the AU to intervene forcefully as I am sure many hope would need this in a provision of the AU’s charter which Muritania would be signatory to…Unfortunately owing to the fact that far too many member states are in fact military juntas in power without constitutional authority it is doubtful that such a provision exists, nor will they suffer it to be created for fear of the effect of it on their own rule. So whatever one might wish of AU intervention, the sad reality is that as a policing body it can do very little if anything.

Posted by Bill | Report as abusive

No damage, why would it damage Africa, Mauritania is a very small part of Africa. When Neo Nazis attack foreigners in Germany, does it damage Europe?

Posted by Nduka Tolefe | Report as abusive

No damage at all. Everything is the same in Africa. Soon China will be pragmatic here as well while western nations whine.

Posted by buffalojump | Report as abusive

What kind of question is this?

Another ignorant Western journalist who thinks Africa is a single country?

There are more than 50 countries in Africa, each with different cultures, political systems, economic systems, etc.

Mauritania is Mauritania and not Africa.

Posted by Vincent | Report as abusive

The coup in Mauritania will not have a major effect on other African economies. For starters, Mauritania is not the most developed economic country on the continent. Secondly, by nature African economics do not have strong regional linkages. So that Mauritania has a coup will not lead the ‘continent’ to collapse, or reduce prospects for that matter. So in terms of the economic impact, I am not too sure the question is relevant. However, the coup in Mauritania raises more pertinent questions about the role of African institutions in dealing with conflict.
There’s just as much that the AU can do, unfortunately. The AU Constitutive Act (2000) and the Declaration on the Framework for an OAU Response to Unconstitutional Changes of Government (2000) are the only instruments that can be used – and the latter has been used resulting in the suspension of Mauritania from the AU as recently announced. In terms of the Declaration, lack of compliance to the AU’s demands to reinstate a democratic order will result in sanctions against Mauritania. Unfortunately, reinstating ‘democratic order’ can mean anything, including the holding of a flawed election that may bring back the perpetrators of the coup to power – hence legitimizing their power. So, just like in Zimbabwe, the coup in Mauritania proves yet again that as Africans we need to put in place mechanisms that allows us to deal with these crisis independently the view of X or Y leader.

Posted by Faten Aggad | Report as abusive

The AU is an impotent bull. Yes it is. Look at Kenya, Zimbabwe and all our recent Africanisms! It has done nothing but literally look on. When Western countries say something we’re quick to pull the imperialism card. When they say nothing, we say/do nothing. And who pays the price? The poor hardworking man in the country doing all he can to fight pests off his crop and sell it later for a living. You can not expect a corrupt auditor to clean up your institution. And that is why Africa is caught in this endless cycle of coup- short term peace- economic progress- repression- coup!!! That is our sad reality! Even more sad is that we’ve come to accept it, so yeah we read the headline “coup in Mauritania” and we’re so disensitized that we just move on. So are the multinationals that do business in Africa. They know where to apply the “lube” to keep going, regardless of who is in power.

Posted by Dennis Kasolo | Report as abusive

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