This year, one of world’s 193 UN member states made changes to its national flag: The Islamic Republic of Mauritania. Two red horizontal bands were added to its flag, effective from 15 August 2017. The changes have been criticized because the President of Mauritania failed to include the country’s opposition in the decision and because of low voter turnout in the flag referendum on 5 August 2017.
It was in 2016 that the President of Mauritania, Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, announced that a referendum on constitutional changes and changes to the country’s national flag and national anthem would be held before the end of the year.
“Two red stripes will be added to the top and bottom of the national flag to honour the sacrifice of the nation’s martyrs,” it said in the accord from the 2016 political talks ment to end years of political instability in Mauritania. Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, twice elected as President of Mauritania, has also lead two military coups against two of his presidential predecessors.
Read my report from 2016 on the announced changes to the Mauritanian flag.
However, the process of changing the constitution and the national symbols was delayed, not least because of opposition from the Senate which was to be abolished. Opposition parties and political opponents of the President rejected the referendum altogether.
In the national referendum on 5 August 2017, 85 % voted in favour of constitutional changes and changes to the national symbols. However, voter turnout was only about 50 %, so the changes can’t be said to have widespread national support.
The changes to the national flag and the national anthem have been criticized as a mere political gesture compared to the much larger issues facing the nation. Many Mauritanians suffer the consequences of unemployment, malnutrition, corruption and the government’s abuse of power. Even slavery remains a problem in parts of the Mauritanian society. Only in 2007 did Mauritania become the last African country to criminalize slavery.
From a vexillological point of view, Mauritania’s new flag is less remarkable and less unique than the old flag. The now defunct national flag of Mauritania, in use from 1959 till 2017, was made up of only two colours: green and yellow. Thus, it was one of only a few national flags in the world which doesn’t contain the three most common flag colours: red, white and blue.
As of August 2017, only Jamaica has a national flag which doesn’t feature either of the colours red, white or blue.
Read more about 2017 in flag history: The Philadelphia Pride Flag.