New PM named in Mauritania as corruption accusations swirl

The political system in Mauritania has been rocked this year by a parliamentary investigation into alleged corruption in the government of former President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, who stepped down last year after a decade in power.

Saturday 08/08/2020
A 2019  file picture of Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Cheikh El Ghazouani speaking at a rally. (AFP)
A 2019 file picture of Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Cheikh El Ghazouani speaking at a rally. (AFP)

NOUAKCHOTT – Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Ghazouani on Thursday appointed veteran public administrator Mohamed Ould Bilal as prime minister, hours after the previous government resigned amid an investigation into alleged high-level corruption.

Bilal’s appointment was announced in a statement from the presidency following the resignation of his predecessor Ismail Ould Cheikh Sidiya and his entire government.

Bilal was “tasked with forming a government,” an official at the presidency said.

The political system in Mauritania has been rocked this year by a parliamentary investigation into alleged corruption in the government of former President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, who stepped down last year after a decade in power.

His close ally Ghazouani won the election to succeed him, but Abdel Aziz quickly found his government’s actions, including deals involving offshore oil projects, under scrutiny by parliament.

The investigators on Wednesday gave a report documenting their findings to the public prosecutor.

Several current ministers were questioned about suspected graft that occurred on their watch while serving in senior positions in Abdel Aziz’s government.

Abdel Aziz came to power in a 2008 coup and was an important ally of Western powers in the fight against Islamist insurgents in the Sahel region.

In brief remarks to reporters on Thursday morning, Cheikh Sidiya said he had submitted the government’s resignation to Ghazouani but did not provide an explanation.

Hours later, the presidency announced the appointment of Bilal, who has served as the head of the country’s national water agency, a presidential aide and a cabinet minister.

Born in 1963, Bilal hails from Keur-Macene in the Trarza region. He rose through the ranks of development and food security agencies before his appointment as Minister of Equipment, Urban Planning, and Housing under the rule of President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi (2007-2008).

Under the next head of state Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz (2008-2019), Bilal briefly served as director of the Mauritanian Electricity Company (Somelec).

Then with Ghazouani in power, Bilal worked as an adviser at the Prime Minister’s office.

Ould Bilal is from the Haratine, meaning that he comes from a socio-racial category of Arabic speakers who are defined in Mauritanian society as racially black, unlike the Bidan who are Arabic speakers socially defined as white.

Mauritania’s elite largely hails from the Bidan even though the Bidan are a demographic minority in the country.

The appointment of Bilal, a technocrat and a Hartani, may be intended to project an image of inclusivity at a delicate moment for Ghazouani.

The inauguration last August of Ghazouani, a former general and defence minister, marked the mostly desert nation’s first peaceful transfer of power since independence from France in 1960.