A referendum to be held before the end of the year will decide whether or not the flag of Mauritania is changed. The proposal to add two red stripes to the national flag has been met with harsh criticism.
After a period of deepening political instability and a so-called Dialogue national inclusif led by president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, himself a leader of two military coups, Mauritanians will be asked to go to the polls soon to vote on constitutional changes and the revision of national symbols.
“Two red stripes will be added to the top and bottom of the national flag to honour the sacrifice of the nation’s martyrs, and there will be a patriotic modification to the national anthem while maintaining its religious character,” it says in the accord from the political talks.
The flag of Mauritania was adopted in 1959. It is one of the few national flags in the world which doesn’t contain red, white or blue, the three most common flag colours. The colour green as well as the crescent and star represent Islam. The golden yellow is said to represent the sands of the Sahara Desert.
The Islamic Republic of Mauritania is a vast West African country with a relatively small population of about 4 million. Half of all Mauritanians live in the capital of Nouakchott, one of the largest cities in the Sahara, located close to the Atlantic coast. Arabic is the official language, French is widely used in the media.
The proposal to add red stripes to the national flag has not been received with unanimous support from Mauritanians.
Some argue that no-one, not even the country’s political leaders, has the right to change a flag which has been passed down to Mauritanians as a symbol of national heritage, unity and pride. Others argue that changing the flag is a mere gesture in the face of growing frustration with unemployment, hunger and corruption.
A former Mauritanian minister of foreign affairs and retired United Nations senior official, Ahmadou Ould Abdallah, criticizes the decision to change national symbols, saying in an interview with the Réseau Mauritanien d’Informations:
“Faced with the daily difficulties encountered by citizens, the security challenges that accumulate, the huge national needs, the priority now is to stop the suicidal spiral which leads us towards a catastrophe.”
The diplomat issues an unusually stern warning to his country’s leaders:
“We must avoid ridiculous and false debates about the changing of national emblems, the country’s name or the transfer of the capital city. We saw with Mobutu and Muammar Gaddafi that their flags didn’t survive their reigns.”