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Minorities At Risk Project: Home    

Assessment for Kewri in Mauritania

View Group Chronology

Mauritania Facts
Area:    1,030,700 sq. km.
Capital:    Nouakchott
Total Population:    2,511,000 (source: U.S. Census Bureau, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References



Risk Assessment

The Kewri have a few of the factors that indicate a high likelihood of future rebellion. The Kewri face regime instability as a risk factor, but levels of protest have been consistently low, probably as a result of poor mobilization and there have been no recent reports of rebellion. Furthermore, the Kewri, while territorially concentrated, have low levels of group organization and cohesion. While the Kewri continue to experience some government repression, levels since the 1989-90 crackdown have been low. Some nominal compensation has also been provided to victims, although not to the satisfaction of Kewri human rights groups. President Taya was ousted from power in a bloodless coup in August of 2005. A transitional government was then installed with plans for elections and civilian rule by May 2007. Although elections occurred and the transition to a democracy seemed smooth, a 2008 coup unseated the newly elected president.

Protest, while low, has been persistent, and this is likely to continue so long as Kewri groups are not allowed more access to political, cultural and economic resources. However, given the fragmented nature of Kewri identity and the weakness of alliances with other dissident groups (especially Black Moors) protest is unlikely to escalate to mass rallies.

The welfare of Mauritania's Kewris remains sensitive to Mauritania-Senegal relations. The 1989 expulsion was in response to a Mauritania-Senegal dispute, and continuing tensions between the two countries mean that Kewris (who are related to the dominant groups in Senegal) live in a precarious environment. Improved relations and Mauritanian cooperation with Senegal could improve the situation of Kewri groups. In 2008, the new government in Mauritainia and Senegal were working on the repatriation of Kewri until the coup halted these efforts.

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Analytic Summary

The Kewri, who are mainly agriculturalists, pastoralists and fishermen, are composed of primarily three black ethnic groups the HalPulaaren (speakers of Pulaar, Toucouleur and Fulani (Peuls)), the Soninke (Sarakole) and the Wolof. These groups are concentrated in the southern border regions of Mauritania along the border with Senegal (GROUPCON = 3), and each group has its own language (LANG = 1). French is spoken by the educated as a second language and was used in the school system until the White Moor-dominated government introduced a single, Arabic-language school system. Because the French established some of the early school systems in the south of the country, the Kewri were historically well-educated. Specific population estimates of each ethnic group are unavailable, though it is generally accepted that the largest (and most politically active) of the groups is the HalPulaaren followed by the Soninke and the Wolof.

French colonial administrators favored the Kewri, in particular the Fulani, allowing them to acquire civil service training and French language skills. Hence, the Kewri played a larger role in colonial administration than did the nomadic Moors. However, upon independence, White Moors quickly gained political and economic dominance, although the Kewri did not give up their privileged position without protest (PROT65X = 4).

The Kewri, who are ethnically and culturally Black Africans, live in a political culture dominated by Arabized White Moors, whose political culture has been shaped by both their Arab, Middle Eastern and Berber, North African origins. While ethnically, linguistically and culturally distinct (RACE = 2; LANG = 1; CUSTOM = 1), the Kewri, like the Moors, are Muslims (BELIEF = 0).

The Kewri are fragmented along ethnic (tribal) and linguistic lines. There are also significant class divisions, including a slave class (consisting primarily since the abolition of slavery of former slaves and their descendents). They are represented primarily by the organization African Liberation Forces of Mauritania (FLAM), which staged an unsuccessful rebellion in the 1980s (REBEL85X = 4; REBEL90X = 4). However, FLAM has been largely suppressed militarily, and recently has engaged in more conventional political activities. Some Kewri also support Black Moor-dominated political parties such as the Action for Change Party.

Kewri are underrepresented in security, military and police forces as well as in cabinet positions (one is HalPulaar) (POLDIS06 = 3). The Kewri are also economically disadvantaged (ECDIS06 = 3). Most Kewri grievances stem from their general political, economic and cultural disadvantages. However, much of the rhetoric focuses on the events of 1989-90 and their aftermath.

During 1989-90, the government expelled thousands of Kewri from the country in a dispute with Senegal. The Kewri were also purged from the police and armed forces with hundreds tortured, disappeared and/or extrajudicially executed. Many Kewri who were expelled lost their land to Moors and have been unable to retrieve it. Many others have refused or been unable to return to their homes. Multiple Kewri organizations, including the Mauritanian Association for Human Rights (AMDH) and the Association of Women Survivors of Repression, still pressure the government to compensate victims of the 1989-90 repression and to bring those responsible to justice (despite an amnesty law). These groups also use the events of 1989-90 to highlight the disadvantages and vulnerability the Kewri suffer. However, only minor instances of verbal opposition occurred recently and no rebellion has been reported in recent years (PROT04, PROT06 = 1; REB01-06 = 0).

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References

Bennoune, Mahfoud. 1978. "The Political Economy of Mauritania: Imperialism and Class Struggle." Review of African Political Economy. 12: 31-52.

Handloff, Robert E, ed. 1988. Mauritania: A Country Study. Washington: GPO for the Library of Congress.

IRIN. 8/7/2008. "Mauritania: Military ousts president, seizes power." http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=79676, accessed 01/26/09.

Lexis-Nexis. Various news reports. 1990-2006.

Olson, James. 1996. The peoples of Africa: An Ethnohistorical Dictionary. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

U.S. Department of State Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Mauritania. 1999-2006.

United Nations Integrated Regional Information Reports. Various reports. 1999-2006.

Vermeer, Donald E. 1981. "Collision of Climate, Cattle, and Culture in Mauritania during the 1970s." Geographical Review. 7l:3 281-297.

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Information current as of December 31, 2006