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Mauritania: Meritocracy vs. Patronage.

March 13, 2009

Mauritania will see some kind of ‘democratic’ election this year. If anything, that seems pretty inevitable at the moment. The Commission Electorale Nationale Indépendante (CENI) will, at least with donor support, ensure a transparent electoral process. However, the comédie of the 2007 presidential elections has shown that there still is large room for manipulations: Gifts (food and/or money) and promises to voters.


What is the underlying mechanism?

Mauritania is a very poor country with high unemployment rates. At the same time the state is the largest employer. What follows is a patron-client relation. Daniel Posner explains it as follows

“voters seek access to state resources by allocating their electoral support to (a candidate) who they assume will be more likely than (another) to redistribute those resources to them. (…) (P)oliticians woo support by promising to channel resources to would-be voters.”

Therefore voters will cast their vote for the candidate that is most likely to win and to provide the opportunity for the voter to extract state resources. Gifts act as a sort of declaration of intent by the politician to be willing to distribute state resources in return for electoral support.

Public Sector Reform?

The central source for individual rents from the state and reason for patronage is employment in the public sector. So – and this is the idea I had today – why not reform the public sector? If recruitment was on a merit-basis, possibilities for informal appointments should fade. This may potentially switch the motivation of voters towards a more policy-oriented direction. Obviously this would demand a strong, (semi-)autonomous body to ensure merit-based recruitment and strong political pressure in the first place, but that could be something for the donors to put on their agendas.

Does anyone know about the current state of public sector recruitment in Mauritania? Have there been any reforms lately? A quick google query only displayed a overly ambitious NPM-style World Bank project.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Tidinit permalink
    March 13, 2009 05:48

    You are perfectly right that a public sector reform is necessary to curb or avoid to a certain extent what Daniel Posner has explained in the captation of your post. During Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallah (SIDIOCA) time, the Mauritanian government embarked on such an endeavor by imposing seniority critera for “juicy” positions in the public administration, under the watch of the Minister de la Fonction Publique, Ould Dahi. Six months later the same government started doing otherwise, that is, promoting people in high positions in the administrations and in other well paid positions in parastatals and development projects. That was the start of SIDIOCA’s calling back the cronies of Ould Taya that precipitated his own fall. The junta was pressurizing him into going in that direction to trap him later.

    Two additional comments on your post:

    1. I am not sure that Mauritania will see some democratic elections this year after the mess left by Kadafi yesterday (supporting the junta to go for the elections shaped to have General Abdel Aziz win). The opposition (SIDIOCA, Messaoud Ould Boulkheir, Ahmed Ould Daddah and Mohamed Ould Mouloud and others such as Boidiel Ould Houmeid of FNDD) will not let those elections occur. If Abdel Aziz forces his way in doing them, the junta will have a problem being recognized in Africa and elswhere et the targeted santions that will be universalized by the UN Security Council will make the ruling of the country by the junta difficult and we might see another coup d’etat occuring again;

    2. The World Bank and the IMF are the most inefficient bodies to work for reforms in Mauritaia. Thy allowed the transition and the SIDIOCA government to embezzle more than 400 to 600 million $ or more from the oil revenues and other sources on what Daniel Posner is saying. Since the coup against Ould Taya, these groups should have mis-used more than a billion $ that are unaccounted for. The treasury coffers are now empty and the WB and IMF make noise only when Mauritanians speak too loudly about corruption and noticed by Transparency International or following regime change through a coup or some other similar events.

    However the idea is excellent and can save democracy, the rule of law and trickling down some $$ down to the poor. But are the princes willing to go to that extent? The past teaches us that they do not, but distribute part of the loot to their own tribal clans. But not all tribes hav access to these juicy positions (see an earlier post in TMND).

    Mauritania needs really a good and non corrupt political class. 90% of those in the opposition are prone to corruption, like their adversaries who are running for the junta. Otherwise, there is no hope for foreseeable future unless e have another lean transition with a clean person to prepare the country for cleaner elections in 2012 or before or after. Several voice have uggested that Ahmedou Ould Abdallah, the current reprsentative of Ban Ki-Moon for Somalia can do that job, provided he does not run at the end of that transiition. Ould Abdallah has not said anything and the players are fighting each other to grab power from the adversary accross the fence. I personally do not see how Mauritanians will solve their current political crisis and God has other more pressing business to run.

    Any idea? Kadafi failed and none besides the junta will talk to him again.

    • March 13, 2009 08:58

      thanks for your comment. very good points you made there:

      on imf/wb: I totally agree on the ineffectiveness of their programmes, at least in Mauritania. However, in talking about the oil revenue, do you refer to the EITI? The European donors have been very strong in pushing this through in the Cotonou §96 consultations as well. Can you give any evidence of oil revenues having ended up with the junta? What about that bank account in Paris anyway?

      on elections: You are right that elections may not be coming soon, but I think for a country that is so dependent on aid and considering the currently strong international stance against military coups ‘democratic’ elections are the only way out. But surely, at the moment it is not clear when these will occur and who will participate in them.

      in general: surely the juicy positions are a heavy problem, but I think the bottom of the iceberg shouldn’t be neglected either. Even with a clean candidate Mauritania faces a systematic problem and the part of problem I identified here is the screwed up incentive structure for voters. As long as there are such patron-client relationships the most powerful and nasty candidate (or his supporters) will win. People need to use their votes in order to demand policies to go in certain directions.

  2. Tidinit permalink
    March 14, 2009 08:42

    Sorry hnnsbhrnbrg for not having responded to your queries. I had a hectic week. To respond to some of your questions, thanks for reading page 10 of the “Billets d’Afrique et d’ailleurs” from the link below. On where the money has gone, it has been used to pay support from here and here since the fall of Ould Taya and certainly to feed some overseas acconts and buy some real estate in Nouakchott. For your info some 57 million US$ disappeared from the French Account (Banque de France) and never accounted for. We learned this in checking the amount received from oil by december 2006 and a funny audit report which indicate an amount for 2006 less an amount of 57 million US$. If you want to know more on public money management issues, lease chck Taqadoumy and visit and particularly the part on the rapports de la commission sur les revenus petroliers. As I have said, the WB and IMF guys are jokers when it comes to looking into the transparency of expenditures in Mauritania. With the reading of the article referenced below, I am not anymore surprised where the 57 million US$ went to. Moreover, one day someone should check whether Société Générale et Paribas based in Nouakchott have given some loans at high interest rate to Mauritania against future shipment of oil and gas. They are doing it all the time in Gabon, Angola, Congo,and in others banana republics of this world (check Global Witness). France signing oil and gas deals with an illegal junta raises the question who got paid what anf from where. Everything is questionable as official figures are secret and we resort at reconciling news from here and there and the conclusions have been quite accurate.

    Take care.

    Kal and Alle: this article is excelent and well informed. You may wish to look at it carefully to sharpen your future posts on Mauritania. Those you have already written are very, very sharp and thank you so much. Without your permission, I have been informing people of the three blogs: TMND, this one and Western Sahara info. Keep it up or otherwise we will die stupid.

  3. March 15, 2009 02:09

    Keep it up or otherwise we will die stupid.

    Thanks, and I promise to do whatever I can to save your life and brains.

    Coming to think of it, why don’t you give us a post or two of your own about Mauritania?

  4. Tidinit permalink
    March 15, 2009 18:15

    Thank you Alle for making me laugh and I did not realize I wrote that “keep it up or we die stupid”. Will try to write something very soon. Promised.


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