interview with Peace News journal

It is an innovative initiative by Mauritanian young teachers and journalists to share their stories and findings with the world online community. Most of the detailed stories will be published by the hard copy of Peace Newspaper , the only English publication in Mauritania. But brief postings and features will be posted occasionaly on peacerim blog.Thanks in advance for your kind inputs.
Monday, August 14, 2006

Nouakchott (PEACE Interview) Dr. Mouahamed Lemine Ould EL KETTAB is a former rector of Nouakchott University, an experienced diplomat, a lecturer, a researcher and an author of many bilingual books with a rich experience in media and academia. He is well known for being an active participant in the world cultural and academic events. Peace newspaper has followed him for a while, before conducting this interview in English:

PEACE: Dr.El KETTAB, thanks for your time. You have many academic and diplomatic titles, what is your favourite one and why?

Dr. El KETTAB: Just call me Professor Dr. El KETTAB. That is an honor for me. It is closer to my heart and thinking. That is what I all wanted to be. I am keen on that and everything else is circumstantial.

PEACE: Professor El KETTAB, politically, how do you evaluate the transitional government of Mauritania?

Professor El KETTAB: It is too early to evaluate the transitional period so far at least. It is too early to tell whether it is good or not. As I said before being interrupted by the rain, we have to be hopeful. I hope that this transition will be up to expectations. The Mauritanians are expecting a lot from the military authorities. They are waiting for a lot of things to come out of this transition. It is not easy to judge it yet but as intellectual, I can say that there is disparity between what has been said and done. I am not happy with the chosen people to carry out the proposed policies.

PEACE: As unhappy intellectual, that is why you like to keep yourself at distance?

Professor El KETTAB: as an observer, I have to keep at distance so that I can judge objectively. If you get involved you will not see problems. I am outside the seen so that I can take my time to look at the situation and see how it goes. So far, there are things lacking.

PEACE: Is it fair for the intellectuals to be outsiders and deprive the nation from its elite?

Professor El KETTAB: I am not the one who chooses to be an outsider. I did not call upon.
It is not only me. The intellectuals are not yet associated even in conceiving national policies.
They are outside the picture for the time being at least.

PEACE : what a bad future for the country if the big players are not involved or called upon?

Professor El KETTAB: I hope that this phenomenon will not last long. I hope that by the end of the transition those who will take over will understand that there is a category of the people who cannot set a side. They could not be sideline like that. This is not in the interest of the country. If you take the enlighten people and set them a side, you deprive the country from its elite. Only those ones can conceive the best national policies.
PEACE: let us talk of the elections. How do you see the situation of million candidates for the presidential elections of 2007?
Professor El KETTAB: the former regime has created a culture where any body could do anything. People came to the conviction that everyone could do anything. Nothing is further from the truth than that. This culture seems to continue to exist. We have to give up this way of thinking. Give Cesar what is ought to him. Those who are competent should be empowered and given the possibility to do what they can do. No one should run for presidency if he is not competent. We have a myriad of political parties; zones of them are just small fractions without any popular base.The political leadership and social base of many political parties are one. In the political national landscape, you do not see any ideological difference between them.

PEACE: have you gone through their political programs?
Professor El KETTAB: Have they any! Have they programs and projects of societies that are distinct from one an other. I do not think so. In the world you see right and left wing parties and all kind of different ideologies and visions. Here, they just wake in the morning and declare themselves political parties, without systematic ideology or clear background. The parties that are ought to be rethought .They have to think out for policies that go in line with the country interest. The intelligentsia of the country is not associate yet.

PEACE: culturally, is it true that Mauritanian society become more commercial than cultural?
Professor El KETTAB: the worst thing is that the former regime hated culture and educated people because they do not accept to be manipulated or professional applauders. The former president said that the Blake of this country was its intelligentsia. They are the source of all problems, according to him. It worst off all when you know as diplomat that references could lead you to no where in this country. You will get the easy one to live on applauding for the people in power.

PEACE: why going against the steam when you can applaud like anyone else?
Professor El KETTAB: you have the tragedy to be aware. You are not like anyone else. You know your obligations. You cannot close your eyes and do like they do. People understand that being an intellectual lead to nowhere. That is why they have neglected culture, education and intellectual attitude. They forget about culture and just want to find a shortcut. They get the easy way. One young man told me that I am an educated with a professor salary but no influence at all. So why I have to duplicate this bad situation in the young people minds by encouraging them to fight for continuing their education in uncultured society. Unfortunately, it is the truth of the society we live in but it must change. The attitude is wrong and such situation will not last. Actually, that regime has gone and brushed out. New one is taking shape. There is awareness and people will not accept this to last forever.

PEACE : as an author, can you live on your pen and publications?
Professor El KETTAB: It is impossible. Without the help of my friends, I will not be able to publish my books or booklet to keep modest. I have to give my author rights for a Moroccan house of publication for ten years. That is how I published the Arabic animal’s tales. Without such deal, many of books will remain unpublished like some projects in my office waiting to be published. We cannot make a living on our pens in Mauritania. Your pen can give you problems not decent living. With your pen, you can have pain, not gain.

PEACE : why publishing for the country if it is not interested in culture?
Professor El KETTAB: I am obsessed by writing. I have to. I am thankful for getting me outside the administration; it gave me time for publication. If I had to stay in office, I will not be able to publish my work at all. Thanks for giving me the time to get back to my books and plunge in my own world of culture and education.

PEACE: let us take one of your English publications: Mauritania at Glance, what do you want to communicate in this book briefly?
Professor El KETTAB: it is a brief presentation for traveller and businessmen so that they can learn about Mauritania culture while flying. So that when they landed down at the airport, they will get a clear picture of the national socio-cultural patterns. That is how I thought of Glance of Mauritania. It is about all elements of Mauritania culture in a booklet for reading in plane. It is to help new comers and visitors of Mauritania to develop a better understanding of the country system and culture.

PEACE : it leads to diplomacy, how different it is from the depicted dark image of culture?
Professor El KETTAB: it is a pity that our diplomacy is a catastrophic failure. It is a crying situation in this country. It is horrible, it show incompetence of diplomacy in a country that have been ruled by a backward regime. As you know, mediocrity will go to mediocrity. If you are mediocre, you will look for mediocre. That is why our diplomacy was utterly a failure. People trusted with it have no competence. For example, if you do not speak any European language, you will be sent as an ambassador to Washington or Paris. If you can hardly write your name in Arabic, you will be sent to Saudi Arabia, Tunisia or Syria. If you do not speak any language, they will send you to be an ambassador to the United Nations. That what has been going on, it is still going on. I had to attract the attention of the leadership to this many times but even after the change of July 3, nothing has changed so far. Worst of all, they have chosen the same people.

PEACE : how to fix what you called catastrophic diplomacy?
Professor El KETTAB: if we have a good president and good government of enlightened people who understand the role and function of diplomatic mission and what it is all about.

PEACE: what is it all about?
Professor El KETTAB: diplomacy is a tool of economic and cultural development for fostering relationships of friendship between Mauritania and other countries. You cannot do without educated people and good communicators who could communicate with the world community. Our diplomats could not understand anything of what is going on! How on the earth you can send a Mahadra , traditional school graduate to be our ambassador to Paris! How you can send an ambassador who cannot speak English to the United States of America!

PEACE : let take it internationally, how do you see the incompetence of the international diplomacy in regard to the war on Lebanon ?
Professor El KETTAB: what is going in the Middle East today is done on purpose. It is a matured, well –prepared policy. You should not believe what is said. It is not always true.

PEACE: why in diplomacy, you said fine things and do the contrary?
Professor El KETTAB: That is an attitude. It is a sort of diplomacy. It is unrightfully one but still diplomacy. It is a critical situation in the Middle East; it is the western attitude towards the Arab world. It is the American attitude towards the Arab world. Sometimes, we blame the others for our problems and undemocratic progress. That is why the west used to sympathize with Israel as democratic and civilized country.

PEACE: Is what they do in Lebanon have anything to do with civility and democracy?
Professor El KETTAB: It is not civilized but democracy with us is something and with Israel it is something else. It is the west double standard policy in the Middle East. It takes us far away to ask if there is democracy and justice all over the world or is it a Darwinian world where the weak is swallowed up by the strong! That is an other issue.

PEACE : an other issue to talk about is a dream of having English press in Mauritania. Shall we stop dreaming?
Professor El KETTAB: All things start by being dreams. So dream and go on dreaming. We need a dream. Someday, the dream will come true. It is not bad thing to a have a dream. The dream could be true one day. Also, the English readership is expending and widening in Mauritania. People are becoming are becoming aware of the importance of English all over the world. Who speaks of petrol is speaking English and business goes with English. In the Maghreb Arab countries, they have English newspapers. I think it has all the chance to be accepted and keep up the expectations.

PEACE : what about your own dream of the Intellectual Club, is it legalized by the authority?
Professor El KETTAB: I just received the news yesterday that it is legalized. I had the receipt now. It will start its activities as soon as I came back from my trip.

PEACE: in concluding, how do see the political future of Mauritania?
Professor El KETTAB: well, I am not a guide. If I have to advise the political parties, they have to think deeply in every aspect of their political life. They should think over and over again in the future. They should know that their voice will shape the destiny of Mauritania. So that they have to do everything possible to get the country on the right track.

PEACE: we do appreciate your time despite being busy with your tomorrow trip. Thousand of our questions are still pending for next meeting, God willing.
Professor El KETTAB: thanks for pushing me to speak in English for the first time in four years of communicating and publishing in other languages.

PEACE: still smart and influent English. We are honored to be the first to interview you in English simultaneously.
Interview conducted by Seyid Ould SEYID,MA at
and Med Yahya O.A. Wedoud at

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