|Biographical detail : ||The founder of independent Mauritania, who was forced into exile but retained the respect of his people.
Mokhtar Ould Daddah was the founding father and who presided his country, Mauritania, which gained independence in 1960, until a coup deposed him in 1978. He spent the next 23 years in exile, in France, before returning home in July 2001 and greeted by over 55,000 people.
In his early thirties, Daddah entered local politics. He was elected Prime Minister in 1959 where his party dominated the new Parliament and after France granted the country independence on 28 November 1960 he became the first post-independence president of, as he renamed it, the Islamic Republic of Mauritania.
Mokhtar Ould Daddah was known for his modesty and fairness as well as honesty and incorruptibility. He had to create a nation from scratch. The newly independent Mauritania had external threat due to the territorial claims of newly independent Morocco. Furthermore, internally there were racial tensions between the dominant Arab-Berber population and the Black African community.
Daddah took his country, in 1972, out of the “franc zone” and created a new national currency. The following year, he renounced economic and cultural co-operation accords with France and in 1974 he nationalised the mining industry.
Daddah became embroiled in a ruinous war with the Polisario Front, which claimed to represent the independence aspirations of the Saharawi (Western Saharan) people. Daddah’s reputation plummeted further when he had to call on France to rush in military supplies. By the end of 1977 the Daddah regime was tottering. In a desperate move in February 1978, Daddah appointed an army commander Col. Mustapha Ould Salek. Within five months Ould Salek led a group of junior army officers in the bloodless overthrow of the regime.
Daddah, who almost created Mauritania and laid the first stone to build its capital Nouakchott, was imprisoned for 15 months and freed only after pressure from France where he went to exile, mostly in Nice. In his absence he was sentenced to hard labour for life, for treason, violation of the constitution and undermining national economic interests. Daddah’s popularity never diminished after his overthrow. His memoirs, soon to be published, will perhaps shed more light on the life of a very private man.
Mokhtar Ould Daddah was born into a religious family and studied in Paris, the colonial power, which ruled Mauritania. He met in Paris and married a daughter of the French President, Charles de Gaulle.