French-speaking students protest pro-Arabic reforms

On March 24, hundreds of French-speaking Mauritanian students staged a protest at the University of Nouakchott to protest government plans to "arabize" (switch from French to Arabic) the country’s school system and administration. According to the students, the march degenerated into a violent riot after police barred them from exiting the university compound and fired teargas into the building.

Tensions between the proponents of a fully arabized Mauritanian society and a minority of French-speaking Mauritanians have existed since the country gained its independence from France in 1960. For the past 50 years, the state has had to deal with the conflicting interests of the Arabic-speaking majority, of Moorish descent, and that of various black African minorities, whose common language is French.

The increasingly nationalistic climate that led to a first military coup in 1978 prompted the military government to launch a massive pro-Arabic campaign in the country’s schools and administration, sparking angry reactions from the black African population. To calm their fears, a "double curriculum" system, in Arabic for the Moorish majority and French for the black African minorities, was established. The resulting system was costly and unfair, resulting in the educational inequalities between Arabic and French-speaking students. In 1999, the government launched a fifth linguistic reform requiring all students to take courses in both French and Arabic (science and math courses in French, and literature and social science in Arabic).

A recent speech by Prime Minister Moulaye Ould Modhamed Laghdaf, in which he announced that official Mauritanian documents would from then on be written in Arabic and not French was met with anger by part of the Francophone minority. Several hundred students decided to hold a protest on March 24 to denounce what they see as a discriminatory act against black minorities.

French-speaking students protest at the University of Nouakchott on March 24. The sign reads: "Discrimination begins with the total arabization of the country". Photo sent by Alassane.

According to the students, police barred them from exiting the campus before firing teargas into the university. Photo sent by Alassane.

Some students were injured in the ensuing scuffle. Photo sent by Alassane.

"We fear that eventually, French will disappear"

Alassane is a student at the University of Nouakchott. As a black African and French-speaking citizen, he is opposed to his government’s arabization plans.

We French-speaking students are opposed to the new arabization measures announced by the prime minister. We’re also concerned by the culture minister’s [Cissé Mint Cheikh Ould Boidé] remarks on French and African dialects being an 'obstacle' to Arabic expansion – we consider this discriminating towards the non-Arabic people. I believe that we Francophone students represent the discriminated black race, we have a duty to speak out. We fear that eventually, French will disappear from school curriculum entirely, or only be taught as a foreign language.

We were shocked by the brutality of the police repression on March 24. Not only did they bar us from exiting the university campus, but they also fired teargas grenades into the science and technology building, where many protesters were gathered. Several students were injured. The situation between the Moorish community and black Africans is tense enough as it is; police repression is only adding fuel to the fire.

We think that arabization policies will degrade the quality of our educational system and isolate Mauritania on the international scene. All of our neighbours are French-speaking countries, and even Arab states don’t use Arabic as their working language."

"I don’t think this reform is discriminatory"

Ebada Ould Eljouneide is a high school teacher and works for Mauritania's education ministry. Of Moorish descent, he defends a bilingual educational system for all.

The 'double curriculum' system was a disaster: it led to a system where different Arabs and blacks living in the same country couldn’t even understand each other; it was just absurd. I consider that the reform that divided school subjects between the two languages was fairer and less costly. Arabic is our official language, and French is our language for dealing with the rest of the world. Both blacks and Arabs should learn at least the basics of both languages.

The prime minister’s announcement that the administration will switch official documents to Arabic is nothing new, so I’m surprised it sparked protests. That reform has been in the air for a while, and it makes complete sense in my view: what other country writes its official documents in a language other than its official language? It’s a reform that the Arabic-speaking majority has been asking for for a long time. I don’t see it as discriminatory; I see it as a previous injustice being fixed."


Arabization a perpetuation of Racism and Slavery in Mauritania

It comes to no surprise the actual rulers in Mauritania would decide to resort to an outrageous Arabization program to perpetuate an old conspiracy against Black Mauritanians. When this imposter seized power many incurable Pollyanna were celebrating confident Ould Abdel Aziz was a providential man who would restore Blacks’ dignity. Far from being a savior the actual President’s actions do not augur anything good. I cannot resist but ask myself if an inveterate tyrant whose hands are messy with innocent people’s blood is able to suddenly relinquish the nefarious game of torturing and killing his desperate ‘zero class citizens.’ Many Moorish are convinced they can become Arabs by ‘kissing other Arabs posteriors’, and by forcefully expunging Mauritania of its Blacks ‘cattle’s.’ No wonder terrorism is starting to flourish in this country. I am starting to really question the veracity of the French saying which stated that ‘a stick can spend many days in the river, but it will never become a crocodile.’ Because many relentless Moorish have successfully become more Arab than those who were born in Yemen. Well some overzealous individuals have even managed to become Al Qaeda’s adepts. However, it would not be fair to just criticize the Moorish government. I am confident many highly corruptible Black Mauritanians are to be blamed too in the perpetuation of this mayhem. Some shameless black individuals are now travelling abroad and excelling in the servile business of luring the international community.
I am alas afraid this unfair Arabization will paves the way to concocted brutalities against the peaceful Blacks in this country. The successive Moorish governments have always disdainfully implemented rules detrimental to Blacks. In fact, Haratines, Fulani, Sonike and Wolof people bear the blunt of an aged injustice. To this date an undisclosed number of Haratines are kept in bondage in cities like Kiffa, Atar, and Tidjikja, to just name a few. In Mauritania, the fate of many Haratines, Fulani, Wolf and Sonike people could be equated to the one of the Black Sudanese’s. Blacks Mauritanians are either inveigling to accept the cockamamie theory that for them to be pious Muslims they ought to learn Arabic and stay the hell away from the languages of the ‘infidels’ (French and English); worst, the enslaved Haratines are inculcated that the only way for them to enter Paradise is to blindly follow their masters. Let me be clear with my brothers and sisters in Mauritania, the actual president is worst than Maouiya the ousted dictator who had joyfully killed thousands of innocent Black Mauritanians without being brought to justice. You will be doomed to take this Arabization plot in your stride. Do not be enamored by the highly manipulative slavers whose primary goal is to keep you foxes in bondage. What your idiotic demagogues are offering you is not a ticket to paradise, but a deprived future. The clown who rules Mauritania will not cut you a slack, he doesn’t know when and how to stop.

Mohamed Sow ex Nouakchott- info journalist