Mauritanians protest against conditions

Mauritanians protest against conditions
Growing numbers of protests are taking place in Mauritania against labour conditions, debtors' prison and other grievances.
3 min read
02 January, 2015
Mauritanis are adopting new and innovative forms of protest [Anadou]
A growing number of protests [AR] have broken out in Mauritania, as people have taken to the streets to air grievances ranging from a controversial labour laws and anger over debtor's prison laws to general conditions in the country.

Demonstrators have threatened self-immolation, in an echo of Mohamed Bouazid, the Tunisian street vendor who sparked the Arab Sprin. They've stopped traffic or occupied public institutions and political party headquarters as they marched in the streets carrying placards containing protest
     Demonstrations against a host of conditions amount to a widespread campaign of civil disobedience.
slogans and song lyrics.

Workers from the town of Zouerat, north of Mauritania walked 710 km to the capital Nouakchott calling for their demands to be heard after being fired from their jobs. The 260 workers received an outpouring of public support, forcing the government to intervene and put pressure on their company to reinstate them, and pay their salaries for the period they were on strike.

The demonstration highlighted problems with Mauritanian labour laws. The Ministry of Labour is now discussing changing the law so labour inspectors work in cooperation with trade unions to protect workers' rights and ensure employers respect the law.

Meanwhile, prisoners detained for not paying debts or fines have been released after going on hunger strike, as the government also sought to head of an effective campaign by inmates' families to abolish the debtors' prison law and release all prisoners held under the law.

Protests were organised in front of jails and legal seminars and discussion took place to highlight problems with the law. The authorities responded by releasing prisoners involved in civil and commercial cases and promising to abolish the law.

Over the past few months, protests have also taken place in areas suffering from a lack of clean water.

In all, the protests amount to a large and widespread campaign of civildisobediance, said Al-Tablib Abdullah Weld Ahmed al-Talib, a political activist.

"Organisations, local residents and political parties have organised protests on a daily basis... Sometimes they organise long demonstrations or sit-ins in front of the presidential palace or they threaten to self immolate," said Tablib.

Social researcher Mohammad Mahmoud Weld Abdi explained that forms of protest vary, and that new forms are always emerging.

"Mauritanians have not forgotten the violent [bread] protests that erupted in 1995 due to the rise in prices, or the 2008 protests in Zouerat against the government decision to raise the price of essential commodities," said Abdi.

People are also acutely aware of the impact of the Arab Spring. Protests also broke out in Mauritania in 2011 and Abdi said these are still popularly held as the "most famous". 

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.