A postcard from Mauritania, which has just had its fifth coup since the 1970s; the rise of Lebanon's Green Party and boar-hunting, Algerian style.
“Look at this city. There’s nothing here. No development, no proper roads, no tall buildings, no restaurants, no bars. If I want to have fun at night, there is nothing to do except get in my car, turn the music on, and drive round.” The man talking, a political mover and shaker, is at the wheel of his Jaguar, so he at least has the option of a musical ride – or the money to buy a plane ticket out when he feels like it. Most don’t have that luxury.
The prices for basic necessities in Mauritania such as food and oil have risen by 30 per cent, making the country one of the economicially worst-hit outside of conflict zones. “Life is very hard now,” says a woman in a slum known as Keube – or “dustbin” – on the outskirts of the capital Nouakchott. “I can’t feed my children more than one meal a day.”
Mauritania’s economic crisis fed into a political one. In August, after two governments had been dissolved, 48 members of the governing party resigned. Two days later the president, Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, tried to sack senior military commanders. Within a couple of hours he was locked up, and the head of the presidential guard, General Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz (pictured centre), was in the president’s chair. After the coup – the country’s fifth since the late 1970s – the US and France froze aid, and Mauritania was suspended from the African Union.
General Abdelaziz used Mauritania’s economic meltdown as a justification for his actions, though it is clear a tussle for control with the ousted president was the real motive. In the past Mauritania’s military governments haven’t aided development in the country, and there is little sign this will change this time.
Life in the desert
01 Mauritania is twice the size of France with a population of only 3.4 million, making it one of the world’s least densely populated countries. 02 Its people are drawn from Arab and black-African nationalities. 03 Slavery was only outlawed in the 1980s, but still exists on a small scale, according to NGOs. 04 The Paris-Dakar rally was cancelled this year because of the apparent threat of al-Qaeda attacks in Mauritania.
Lebanon’s Green Party has a new president at its helm – Philippe Skaff, CEO of Grey Advertising (pictured) in the Middle East – and is making its first serious foray into politics ahead of the parliamentary elections that are scheduled for next year.
The Greens hope to pressure the government into launching a reforestation programme and forming a Green Brigade within the army. Running on “the earth has no religion” slogan, its secular message is directed at the increasing number of Lebanese tired of the “confessional pollution” controlling the political system. If nothing is done, there will be no more forests by 2030, warns the party. So much for the cedar tree.
Algeria’s effort to crack down on terror- ism has had an unexpected side effect: the wild boar population has soared. The government banned hunting 14 years ago in an attempt to prevent guns belonging to farmers falling into the hands of militant Islamic groups.
As a result, in mountain regions such as Kabylie, the stronghold of al-Qaeda in Algeria, wild boar have proliferated so much that they are damaging crops and have become a major road hazard. Local authorities have had to put up wild boar warning signs.
The boars can be seen scavenging in rubbish bins on the outskirts of the capital Algiers. Municipal authorities accompanied by security forces now organise regular “administrative hunts” to keep down the numbers. Even if they could shoot them, most people might not bother as, for religious reasons, wild boar is strictly not on the menu.
In August, navy leader Rear-Admiral Jose Americo Bubo Na Tchuto was arrested on suspicion of plotting a coup while the army chief was away. It’s not clear if the country, considered the cocaine smuggling hub of Africa, will hold parliamentary elections planned for November.