The Legacy of Mauritania’s Colonels: West Africa’s Next Crisis?

Briefly taking stock of the pertinent theoretical literature on democratic transitions, civil military relations, identity conflict, and the merit of focusing on the role of individual leaders, this study comparatively examines and evaluates their legacy on two of Mauritania's enduring challenges: The country's recurring ethno-cultural tensions labeled “the national question” symbolized by an unsettled “human rights deficit,” and the sempiternally deferred military withdrawal from politics and genuine democratization, each colonel promised, but none actually delivered on. It is argued that the colonels' failure to meet these pressing challenges, due in part to their shared obsession to uphold a system of socio-cultural domination and new challenges such as terrorism and the extreme politicization of Islam, expose Mauritania and West Africa to the risk of yet another violent crisis.