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Mauritania Table of Contents


Traditional Elites

Although originally supported by Mauritania's leading chiefs, the PPM in 1963 made the policy decision to suppress the institution of chieftaincies in order to foster unity and allegiance to a national leader. Accordingly, no replacement was chosen for a chief who died or resigned. Nevertheless, traditional rulers continued to play a significant, if decreasing, role in the political system. At the local level, traditional rulers represented the administration with the peasantry, aided in the maintenance of public order, and mobilized resources for public works projects. Chiefs also collected taxes, and in return the government paid their salaries.

On the national level, traditional rulers were most often coopted and integrated into the party, where they played an important role. Some chiefs or their kin became secretaries of the party committee in their villages; others held civil service positions. Throughout Daddah's stay in office, nearly all his ministers and deputies came from the highest levels of traditional leadership, and especially from marabout (see Glossary) castes. Daddah regularly brought new members of the old elite into the government to improve efficiency and to enlarge his base of support. This changed only when the costs of the war in the Western Sahara threatened the economic well-being of the growing class of technocrats--a new elite--at home.

The 1978 military coup brought another group of traditional elites into government, as leaders of what had been warrior castes (hassani) replaced those of maraboutic groups. Of far greater significance for the long term, however, has been the movement of civilian and military technocrats into positions of political leadership. Taya's 1987 cabinet appointments-- such as the new minister of mines and industry, Khadijatou Bint Ahmed, and the new minister of foreign affairs, Commander Mohamed Lemine Ould N'Diayane-- have tended to be young (Ahmed, a woman, and N'Diayane are under forty), well educated, motivated, articulate, and energetic politicians.

Data as of June 1988