2017 in Flag History: Mauritania’s New Flag

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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.

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New Flag In Mauritania?

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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.”

 

Read about the result of the Mauritanian flag referendum in 2017 here.