Monday, August 08, 2005

Out of touch: back to Africa

Today's "now what?" moment came when I was browsing the news and saw a headline on Mauritania, a West African country which recently underwent a bloodless coup. The headline which caught my eye stated that the new government had released "Islamist" political prisoners held by the previous government. Without CNN or Fox News spinning this for me, I wasn't sure how afraid to be :).

I first turned to BBC, which had a nice "Q&A" story.

For some dark humor, check out this quote:
This unit of 150 men is still in Nouakchott and failed to notice any change of behaviour in the National Guard.
This refers to US "consultants" in the country who were gathering intelligence and working with the local government in the "war against terror." I'm sure they won't be offering to teach the new government much.

I also found this story from six months ago, where the new government sentenced previous coup plotters to life in prison. Worth noting is that the president who was ousted in this particular coup put himself into power via coup in the 80s.

What a mess. What's the American spin? I went to CNN and read the most recent AP story. It doesn't attempt much spin. Although the message is clear (Islamic fundamentalists take over government, free Islamist prisoners) the overtones are very vague and soft. The story is full of criticisms of President Taya's policies and actions, and very little mention is made of the implications of losing an ally.

Surely Fox News would satisfy my craving for, as the kids like to say, "OMG TERROR." Not so -- Mauritania isn't mentioned on the front page at all, or even the first page of "US & World News." A search found the most recent story from August 3, a full five days ago. That story was just an AP story.

Of course, maybe the real issue here isn't faith or democracy at all:
The country is expected to begin producing crude for the first time in early 2006. Initial output is expected to total about 75,000 barrels a day, significant for impoverished Mauritania but relatively insignificant compared to regional powerhouse Nigeria, which produces about 2.5 million barrels a day.
In any case, it'll be interesting to see how and if this story develops in the US media. The best I can come up with is "more of the same" -- a struggle for power in a poor nation grasping at straws for its future, under the guise of "the will of the people." For once, I don't feel out of touch.

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