The self-immolation of a young Mauritanian has renewed a debate about political and economic development in the country.
In an echo of the incident that sparked the Tunisian Revolution, a young Mauritanian man set himself on fire Monday (January 17th) in front of the Presidential Palace in Nouakchott.
On his Facebook page, Yakoub Ould Dahoud said that he was protesting the political and economic conditions in the country. He described himself as a “simple citizen who is claiming legitimate rights”.
Ould Dahoud’s online declaration called for “the release of rights activists who are fighting against slavery from civil prison” and demanded lower prices for rice, wheat, oils, sugar and milk.
He also called for election oversight and a constitutional amendment banning current and former military figures from seeking the presidency.
“Isn’t it yet time for the Mauritanian people to freely and seriously choose who to govern them and manage the wealth that suffices them, away from handouts of foreign sabotage governments?” Ould Dahoud asked.
Ould Dahoud spent hours in the intensive care ward at the Nouakchott Military Hospital before he was flown by his family to Morocco for treatment.
“Yakoub’s health condition has become serious with the passage of time; something that necessitated his immediate and urgent transfer abroad to receive treatment,” medical sources told Magharebia.
Authorities were silent about the accident and Ould Dahoud didn’t receive any official visits, neither by the government nor the ruling party; something that raised questions among some citizens.
“Many Mauritanian young people were affected by the new revolutionary method that was introduced by the young Tunisian man Bouazizi,” social expert Ahmed Ould Moustafa confirmed to Magharebia.
“There is a joint cultural and social, and even political, ground among the Arab Maghreb Union countries. Therefore, we are not surprised that the Bouazizi experience was repeated in Mauritania and Algeria, and perhaps in other countries in the Union. There are common challenges facing young people there,” Ould Moustafa added.
Civil activist El Alya Mint Mohamed blamed situation on the “unprofessional” media coverage of the Tunisian Revolution.
“Some satellite television channels were presenting Bouazizi as a legend and an example for young people to follow. I’m not surprised to see some Mauritanian young men setting themselves on fire, demanding the improvement of the living conditions or introduction of political reforms,” Mint Mohamed said.
She added, “I don’t think that the culture of setting oneself on fire is the best way to improve social and political conditions in our Maghreb and Arab countries in general. We have to look for other methods.”
Meanwhile, the incident of Yakoub Ould Dahoud has sparked a confrontation between the opposition and ruling party in Mauritania.
“There are serious issues that are taking place for the first time in Mauritania, which show the level of deteriorating conditions in it, such as the attempted suicide by an educated young man, who has until recently been a successful businessman, and the non-payment of salaries to employees by several institutions in the state,” Mohamed Ould Mouloud, leader of the opposition Union of the Forces of Progress (UFP), said at a Tuesday press conference.
The opposition Rally for Democratic Forces (RFD) echoed Ould Mouloud’s concerns, saying Tuesday that “the deteriorating economic and social conditions in the country were the factor that made Mr Yakoub Ould Dahoud set himself on fire.”
In response to the criticism, Mokhtar Ould Abdellahi of the ruling Union for the Republic Party (URP) said officials were withholding comment in order to avoid aggravating the situation.
The government is dealing with an unemployment rate of 31.2%, up from 31% in 2009.
The figure includes 414,648 unemployed youth.
“The extremist groups were taking advantage of the desperation of Mauritanian young people and were recruiting them to carry out suicide operations in the name of religion,” Al-Fadhl Ould Sayid, a young man in his 20s, said. “Today, young people prefer to commit suicide in the name of protest against the living conditions instead of the use of religion. It has become very clear, and everyone understands it.
Ould Sayid added, “What Yakoub did is a message to the rulers of the country to change their policies, especially towards young people.”
“Suicide is a strange habit in the Mauritanian culture,” Mohammed Lamine Ould Ainain told Magharebia. “I never imagined that a Mauritanian would try to commit suicide for any reason whatsoever.”
“Mauritanian society is known for its patience, open-heartedness and taking things easy,” he added. “This is what the harsh desert life has taught us.”