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Last Updated: Sunday, 11 March 2007, 11:25 GMT
Mauritania's day of hope arrives
By Richard Hamilton
BBC News, Mauritania

Man buys magazine
Colonel Ely OUld Vall Mohamed promises a peaceful transition
Voters are going to the polls in the north African country of Mauritania. Nineteen candidates are standing in what is being seen as the first fully democratic election to choose a leader.

Since independence in 1960, Mauritania has suffered a series of coups as well as more than 20 years of dictatorship.

In the northern coastal town of Nouadhibou, fisherman unload their catch from traditional wooden fishing boats into old trucks.

Nouadhibou has the sense of a frontier town - you feel as if you have come to the end of the world. Rusty shipwrecks and old trawlers lie in the harbour.

Wealth 'mismanaged'

One of the fisherman is Pap Jakati. "I hope that the elections will be free and fair," he said.

"We need the new politicians to manage the country well because we are used to politicians being liars and cheats. They cheat and betray the people. They mismanaged the nation's wealth."

Zeinebou
Zeinebou lives in one of the world's poorest nations
On the road down from Nouakchott, we stopped at a small village and talked to a young local woman called Zeinebou.

She told me what she wanted. "I hope that my life will change," she explained.

"In the past, politicians did not stick to their promises. We hope we will get all our needs from water to roads.

Caravan of hope

"We also need new schools and shops. Our village should have telephones and a good infrastructure - so we hope a new president will give us these. "

In the capital Nouakchott, a mobile voter education unit called the "Caravan of Hope" has been touring the city.

It has been explaining to young Mauritanians why it is important to vote.

Caravan of Hope on tour, Nouakchott
Just over a million Mauritanians are entitled to vote

One young black Mauritanian girl in the crowd said that she hoped that one day her country would have a black president.

"A black politician can help us and understand our suffering," she said.

"Until now all the candidates were from the Arab community. This country has never advanced because of the problem of racism. The Arabs are number one and we are nothing."

From north to south, the people of Mauritania are excited that they are finally emerging from the nightmare of military dictatorship towards a new democratic dawn.

But hope is tainted with some scepticism because of the country's difficult past. They sense that their journey to democracy has only just begun.


SEE ALSO
Q&A: Mauritania elections
09 Mar 07 |  Africa
Country profile: Mauritania
14 Nov 06 |  Country profiles
Timeline: Mauritania
14 Nov 06 |  Country profiles



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