Leading anti-slavery campaigner wins Mauritanian Presidency

Amin George Forji

The Sahara desert country of Mauritania is set to swear in it’s first ever democratically elected president, since independence, following the results of the second round of it’s historic presidential poll that took lace on Sunday, March 25. According to he results released on Monday by the country’s interior ministry,the leading anti-slavery campaigner, and former cabinet minister, Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi won by 53% against 47% to his challenger, Ahmed Ould Daddah, leader of the opposition. Mr. Abdallahi was supported by 18 political parties and pressure groups, as well as the military junta. His campaign was further boasted b support from the third and fourth placed candidates from the first round who all declared in favour of him.

“I hereby proclaim that the next president of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania will be Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi,” Interior Minister Mohamed Ahmed Ould Mohamed Lemine was quoted by Reuters News agency as proclaiming the results.

Turnout was said to be 67%, with an estimated 1.1 people voting.

Standing as independent candidate, Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi promised during his campaigns to completely stamp out slavery, which is still widely practiced throughout the country, despite an official ban in 1981. In fact, it is sometimes referred to as “Mauritania’s best kept secret”. Mauritania, thanks to its geographical location at the heart of the Sahara, has an ethnically diverse population of Arab moors and black moors, most of whom are mixed races. Slavery is rampant in both races, such that many indigens now see it as acceptable. In fact, this has been the main reason why he 1981 law has been ineffective. Mr. Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi however promised special tough legislation that would criminalize the act.

The opposition leader, economist, Ahmed Ould Daddah, 65, also campaigned against slavery, promising damages for former slaves and fines for eventual law-breakers.

Both candidates have bee imprisoned in the past by different military juntas. The present junta which seized power in the August 2005 coup, was barred from contesting.

Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi , 68 served as minister of state for the national economy, from 1971 to 1978 under the former aristocracy of Moktar Ould Daddah, and later as minister of hydraulics, then as minister of fishing under another dictator, Maaouya Ould Sid’Ahmed Taya between 1986-7.International observers lauded the ballot as largely free and fair. Speaking to reporters on Sunday, the EU observer mission chief Marie-Anne Isler Beguin said: “Nothing has stopped the process. There have been no incidents, no unauthorised people in polling stations.”

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