Ever since I was posted to Nigeria, I have always considered “vanguard” (1) as one of the most objective the most balanced and therefore the most trustworthy Nigerian newspaper.
Unfortunately this judgment of mine was suddenly and unexpectedly shaken by an article, titled: “slave trader and racists in Mauritania, and official policy of arabicisation is fully in place with Islam used as justification”, written by one OWEI Lakemfa and published in the issue of April 2, 1998.
However when I pondered on the issue, I come to the conclusion that all the journalists working for “vanguard” can’t be expected to be objective, intellectually honest and up to the required professional level. All the same the management of this respected mass-medium should in my opinion exact from those engaging its responsibility and putting at stak its reputation, a minimum of accuracy, objectivity and truthfulness.
My purpose in writing this rejoinder, which I expect to see published by your newspaper in accordance with the rules of the arts, is not to lock horns with Mr. OWEI LAKEMFA, in a sterile controversy, for I have better things to do than that.
What I am seeking is rather to debunk gross forgeries, to straighten deliberately deformed facts so as to desintoxicate the section of vanguard’s readership which might have been led astray by this malevolent piece of disinformation concerning my country, Mauritania.
To begin with let it be said that this article has not been written after a thorough fact-finding inquiry meticulously and systematically conducted in Mauritania, nor is it the outcome of an exhaustively documented scholarly investigation. Instead it is entirely based on unverified hearsays, superficial and half-baked information and erroneous indications, the connecting thread holding these elements together being a strong prejudice against the Arabs rooted as it were in a substratum of hatred against Islam and Moslems.
A widely read Nigerian newspaper.
While a reliable and professional journalistic work should be based on hard facts, precise events and accurate data. It
should not consist of a string of biased unsubstantiated statements and a series of gratuitous affirmation meant less to inform and instruct than to slender and disparage.
Indeed Mr.OWEI’s article on Mauritania does not aim at furnishing objective information on the country it rather aims at smeering its reputation by throwing mud at its people and its leadership.
But Mr.OWEI ought to have been more cautious for the slender one voices, may fire back, and the mud slung could boomerang and hit its thrower right on the face.
Actually Mr.OWEI‘s article reveled more about its author than about Mauritania. Most of the facts dealt with in the article and on which he based his judgments and grounds his opinions are truncated, twisted and decontextualized.
Thus when Mr.OWEI mentioned at the outset of his article the pardon accorded by the Mauritanian government to the so called human rights activists; he overlooked the merit of this deed and kept mum on the nefarious nature of the misbehavior of these disgruntled politicians who joined hands with a sensation-seeker foreign journalist who, for money sake, black- painted Mauritania. What Mr.OWEI avoided to point out is that despite their treacherous act these individuals have enjoyed a fair and public trial and have had access to the lawyers of their choice. All this has been deliberately slided over by Mr.OWEI for a reason better known to him. That is called lying by omission which is against the ethics of the profession.
Furthermore there are statement by the author that constitute potent proof of bad-faith and hatred against Arabs and Moslems alike. These statements are evidence of a racist arabophobia and anti-Islamic fanatic bigotry. Hear him: “slave traders are Arabo-Berbers settlers”, “all the bodies Mauritania belongs to are made up of Arab States, and hence Mauritania belongs to Arab league, to the Arab Maghreb Union, to the Arab Monetary Fund… to Islamic development bank, the organization of Islamic countries…”
In this respect, let it be said outright that it is a glaring falsehood to talk of Arabo-berbers slave traders in Mauritania at the end of the 20th century. With respect to
slavery let it also be said that this hateful practice was a universal phenomenon known to all human societies irrespective of their races and colours.
Like other societies, including African societies and particularly West African ones, the Mauritanian society as a whole, had, at a given stage of its socio-economic evolution, know this phenomenon. But it has been for long time legally abolished and morally condemned.
So when Mr.OWEI writes that the Arabo-berbers have destroyed the Ghana Empire and reduced the Soninke to slavery in which they are kept till now, he is telling outrageous lies that cannot stand to the slightest verification and he thereby is insulting the intelligence of “vanguard” readership.
Mr.OWEI further wrote that the Arab tribe of “Maquil” (he should have written: BENU HILAL and BENU HASSAN) built the “cities of Trarza and Brakna”.
No Mr.OWEI, you should have known better, “Brakna” and “Trarza” are not cities as you wrote, they are Emirates stretching over vast regions of Mauritania; you should also have known that the ethnic groups of Mauritania are: apart from the Arab majority (and not minority as you explicitly say): Haalpularen which are practically the same as Fulani, Soninke and Wolof, as to the Tukulor, this ethny is better known to Mr.OWEI.
Mr.OWEI wrote as I mentioned before that Mauritania out of wickedness and in order to depersonalize the negro-African ethnic groups, got affiliated to “all the organisms made up of Arab states such us: the Islamic development bank! The Organization of Islamic Countries!!!” what can one make of these statements? Are the Islamic development bank and O.I.C made up only of Arab states? Or could Arabs and Moslems be put in equation and are equally hateful to the author? or is this other inaccuracy just a slip of tongue that denotes the feeling the author harbours for the Arabs and the Moslems alike?
Anyway, it would be tedious and time consuming to list and comment upon the inaccuracies, the erroneous data, the twisted facts and the defaced events that Mr.OWEI’s article involves. The ones I have pointed out are telling enough and indicative of the worth of the whole article and the credibility of its author.
What I would like to say to the Bonafida readers of the respected “vanguard” is that Mauritania is geographically a bridge linking the Arab Maghreb and the Sahalian countries and
therefore the Arab world and black Africa. Historically it has always been a cradle of knowledge and scholarship it rayed out culture as far north as Sevilla and Cordoba, in Spain and as far south as Sokoto and Zaria in Nigeria.
Socially it is a multi-ethnic, pluri-culture society with an arabophone majority (more than 84% of the total population) and this is a fact that nobody can wish away, living alongside three other ethnic groups: Haalpularen, Soninke and Wolof. These ethnic groups bound together by Islamic religion and welded to each other by blood ties resulting from mixed marriages, live together in harmony and mutual respect.
They do have particularities, differences and sometimes divergences and disputes but they have always been capable to solve their contradictions without the need of any outsiders.
Mauritanians have never accepted to listen to prophets of bad omen; they never let strangers drive a wedge between the social components of their community. they may quarrel among themselves but they remain wise enough not listen to those, who for reasons better known to them, seek to set the country on the path of civil war and genocide that have befallen other African countries who yielded to divisive agents.
Mauritanian negro-Africans are mature enough, articulate enough, to fend for themselves and to claim their rights if they think they ought to do so.
If Mr.OWEI cannot control his propensity to fly to the rescue of somebody, please spare Mauritanians your zealous militantism and wait until you are called upon.
In the meantime, it might be of some use to tell you that Mauritania enjoys multi-patism democracy, the freedom of the press, the freedom of association, the independence of the judiciary etc… Mauritanians of all walks of life, of all ethnic background feel absolutely free to voice their opinions, provided they speak the objective truth. The national opposition is playing its role freely; the civil society organizations and the NGO discharge their activities unrestrained…
So Mr.OWEI you can rest assured that anything untowardly such as social inequity, discrimination, ill-treatment, abuse of power, you name it… will be spelled out, analyzed and eventually criticized and denounced in the free and profuse press of the country.
Therefore don’t have too much headache about the fate of black Mauritanians; they can take care of themselves with more competence and credibility than any outsider. And they are not impressed by crocodile’s tears.
Lagos, 6th April, 1998
MOUHAMED LEMINE OULD EL KETTAB