Mauritania - Political background

Mauritania gained independence from France in November 1960 and elected Moktar Ould Daddah as president. By 1964, he succeeded in merging all former political parties with his own, to form the Parti du Peuple Mauritanien (PPM), and declared Mauritania to be a one-party state. The political system became highly centralized and controlled by the president. The Ould Daddah regime attempted to strengthen the country's independence from France and foreign economic control. Iron-ore mines were nationalized in 1974, and a Mauritanian currency (the ouguiya ) was introduced.

Until the early 1980s, the Western Sahara dominated Mauritanian politics and foreign affairs. In the early years of Ould Daddah's presidency, Morocco made territorial claims on both Mauritania and the Western Sahara. By 1969, however, Morocco finally recognized Mauritania as an independent state. In the mid-1970s, an agreement was concluded with Spain and Morocco, dividing the Spanish Sahara between the two African countries and ignoring an International Court of Justice ruling that the peoples of the Western Sahara should determine their own fate. In attempting to enforce this agreement, Moroccan and Mauritanian forces met strong resistance from the Western Saharan Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia al-Hamra and Río de Oro (Polisario), supported by Algeria. This resulted in the bloodless military coup of July 1978, in which Mustapha Salek was installed as president. Salek, as head of the Military Committee for National Recovery, outlawed all political parties, including the PPM. He resigned in June 1979 due to shifts within the military committee.

Mohamed Khouna Ould Haidalla became prime minister in May 1979. Three months later, an agreement was formalized with the Polisario withdrawing all Mauritanian claims to the Western Sahara. In 1980, Haidalla became president and dismissed members of the military committee who had been in charge of the government since the 1978 coup. Haidalla formed a government and drafted a Constitution providing for a multiparty system. There were several attempts to overthrow the Haidalla government, which became more repressive as a result. In 1983, Amnesty International reported that dozens of political prisoners were being held in underground cells. On 12 December 1982, Colonel Maaouya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya led a successful military coup, and assumed the role of chief of state.

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