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Last Updated: Friday, 13 June, 2003, 14:23 GMT 15:23 UK
Multiple theories for Mauritania coup

An air of mystery still hangs over the foiled coup attempt against President Maaouiya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya in Mauritania this week, with the African media struggling to gain an insight into its causes and consequences.

Even local sources had few sources of information in this large but remote desert country on Africa's western tip.

The African media had to rely on international news organizations, such as the BBC World Service, Radio France International, and even the Qatar-based Arab TV channel Al-Jazeera, which had a correspondent of its own in the Mauritanian capital Nouakchott.

Another vital source of information were eye witnesses in the capital contacted by telephone.

During the fighting, Al-Jazeera interviewed the chief editor of Mauritania's Al-Ra'y newspaper, which had been closed down by the authorities because of its alleged support for Islamic groups.

Ahmad al-Wadi was quick to pin responsibility for the coup attempt on army officers disenchanted with the president's recognition of Israel and cooperation with the US war on terror.

France counted on Hananna when it saw it was losing control of Nouakchott
Notre Voie - Cote d'Ivoire

"Politically, as we know, the Mauritanian regime has had close ties with the Zionists for the last four years. This has caused extreme dismay among the Mauritanian people, who are very sympathetic with our people in Palestine and Iraq."

Islam factor

The Islamist connection also features prominently in newspaper speculation on the coup's causes after the smoke cleared.

Mauritanian President Maaouiya Ould Sid Ahmed Taya
President Taya has cracked down on Islamic groups

"Mauritania, against the opinion of its people, maintains full relations with Israel. This, coupled with increasing support for the west, made Taya's government quite unpopular," Musa Aliyu writes in Nigeria's Daily Trust.

Speculation also surrounds the man believed to have led the failed coup, an army officer called Salah Ould Hananna.

"Hananna is believed to enjoy the backing of units and the air force, and probably politicians and Islamic scholars, who have reasons to be unhappy with the regime. Sympathy with Iraq is reported to be a common ground pitching them against Taya," Aliyu writes.

Rumours that Hananna had close ties with Mauritanian Ba'athists and Saddam Hussein sympathisers in Nouakchott even prompt the Iraqi newspaper Al-Shira to wonder whether the toppled Iraqi leader may have been behind the uprising.

French connection

But Cote d'Ivoire's Notre Voie has another theory, linking the coup attempt to French dismay at increasing US influence in its former colonies.

"Nouakchott has been feeling closer to Tel Aviv and Washington than to Paris. But France is determined not to share with anybody," it says.

Pointing out that Hananna was once a military attache at the Mauritanian embassy in Paris, it continues: "Paris counted on Hananna when it saw that it was losing control of Nouakchott."

Attention is also turning to the coup's possible internal consequences, with the Sud Quotidien in neighbouring Senegal noting the lack of support for President Taya amongst officials in the country's security apparatus.

The violence sadly affects Africa's image
Cameroon Tribune

"There is talk of the probable dismissal of the chief of police, whose personnel did not offer any resistance 'in the interests of prudence'. Other changes are expected at the interior ministry, in particular among the intelligence services," the paper muses.


But there is even greater concern at the coup's impact on the reputation of Africa as a whole, already tarnished by its many civil wars and political crises.

Colonel Salah Ould Hananna (right) with Sidi Ould Lekhdeyem, who was not part of the coup attempt
Colonel Salah Ould Hananna (right) is on the run

"The violence... sadly affects Africa's image at a time when it needs to convince its backers and all its other partners of its determination to tackle its development," the Cameroon Tribune says.

South Africa's The Star agrees, seeing little to cheer about in the coup from a democratic perspective.

"Mauritania's president claims to have seen off the attempted coup. But he came to power in a 1984 coup, and is now parading himself as a civilian leader," it says.

"It has not been a good week for Africa," the paper concludes.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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