Mauritania: The Country the World Forgot - The Intrepid

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Mauritania: The Country the World Forgot


Ask someone where Mauritania is and you’ll likely get a series of confused answers. Is it in South America? Asia perhaps? No wait, Africa! Or, is it Oceania?

More likely, this question will prompt another question: “What the heck is Mauritania?”

Mauritania is a Western African nation of approximately 3.1 million people. In 1960, the former colony received its independence from the French. Despite extensive iron ore gold deposits, Mauritania remains a desperately poor rural nation wracked by civil and political strife.

The majority of population relies on subsistence farming and the average Mauritanian makes only $2,334 a year.

On August 6, 2008, General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, former head of the Presidential guard and chief of staff of the Mauritanian army, launched a successful coup-de-tat against Mauritanian President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, the first democratically elected president of Mauritania. On Thursday, Abdallahi was moved from the capital of Nouakchott to his hometown of Lemden. Although free to receive visitors, Abdallahi is not allowed to leave the town and is under the constant supervision of military guards.

Increased diplomatic pressure from the United States, the European Union, and the UN Security Council secured Abdallahi’s release. “The Security Council demands the immediate release of President Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi and the restoration of the legitimate, constitutional, democratic institutions immediately,” said a statement issued by the Security Council in August. The U.S. and the EU have also suspended aid to the country have begun to freeze the government’s foreign assets.

On Friday, Abdallahi met with international journalists to discuss the situation. "I am constitutionally the president, democratically elected for five years," he told journalists. “I will act. I want to work with people in the country just as much as with foreign partners who support democracy.”

Although international governments responded quickly to condemn the coup, the coup has been insufficiently covered by the major news organizations. CNN.com has not posted a single article about the coup. United Press International has written a pitifully small 87 word article about the event, but misspelled Abdallahi’s name. Reuters and BBC News have done a better job covering the event, but even their coverage feels short and inadequate.

Mauritania is relatively small and isolated, so it’s understandable that the major news organizations only have a few journalists in the country. But, tracking down information for this story seemed far more difficult than it should have been. While it’s unreasonable to expect journalists to cover every single event in detail, it often seems that it’s Africa that suffers the most from this lack of coverage. Everyday human rights abuses, famines, and wars in Africa go unreported.

Ultimately, we as Westerns are all to blame for the poor coverage. Our lack of interest in international crisis, particularly anything involving Africa, has caused news organizations to devote resources to other stories. I mean what's more important, a coup in an African country or CNN's most popular story of day: Second Life affair ends in divorce?

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