Book chapter

Mauritanian Politics and the Institutionalization of Military Supremacy (2020)

in: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics

Abstract

Since its maiden coup in 1978, which initiated both an era of recurrent coup activity and a regime type dubbed "Mauritania of the Colonels," the Mauritanian military, once an unassuming, apolitical institution, has been in power either directly or through a "civilianized" military regime. Since its creation in the early 1990s, the Battalion for Presidential Security (BASEP) has played a prominent role in the workings of Mauritania of the Colonels. Only during a 17-month interlude under a civilian democratically elected president, following a bungled transition marked by the underhanded interference of some military officers, did the military formally leave power—and then only formally.Whether they tried to meet them in earnest or not, the challenges of withdrawing the military from the political arena and democratizing the country have dogged all military heads of state. The challenges were complicated by Mauritania's intractable ethnocultural rivalries subsumed under the "national question" and the related "human rights deficit." After Colonel Ould Taya, whose lengthy and repressive regime had the deepest impact on the country and the national question in particular, the challenges were even harder for his successors to face.The latest transfer of power between one retired general and another, both of whom had conspired to overthrow Mauritania's only democratically elected civilian president, is evidence that, as major players, Mauritania's military leaders are well on their way to institutionalizing the Mauritania of the Colonels they assiduously fashioned for more than 40 years.