wikileaks ico  Home papers ico  Cables mirror and Afghan War Diary privacy policy Privacy
Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
09NOUAKCHOTT461
2009-07-16 14:14:00
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Nouakchott
Cable title:  

THE RISE OF THE OULED BISBAA

Tags:   PGOV  PINR  KDEM  MR 
pdf how-to read a cable
VZCZCXRO9181
PP RUEHPA RUEHTRO
DE RUEHNK #0461/01 1971414
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 161414Z JUL 09
FM AMEMBASSY NOUAKCHOTT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 8628
INFO RUCNMGH/MAGHREB COLLECTIVE
RUEHZK/ECOWAS COLLECTIVE
RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS 1130
RUEHMD/AMEMBASSY MADRID 2308
RUEHDO/AMEMBASSY DOHA 0702
RUEHRL/AMEMBASSY BERLIN 0767
RUEHSM/AMEMBASSY STOCKHOLM 0154
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON 0778
RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS
RHMFISS/HQ USAFRICOM STUTTGART GE
RHMFISS/COMSOCEUR VAIHINGEN GE
RUEHDS/USMISSION USAU ADDIS ABABA
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 1225
						C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 NOUAKCHOTT 000461 

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/01/2019
TAGS: PGOV PINR KDEM MR
SUBJECT: THE RISE OF THE OULED BISBAA

REF: NOUAKCHOTT 01365

Classified By: Ambassador Mark M. Boulware for Reasons 1.4 (b and d)

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 NOUAKCHOTT 000461

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/01/2019
TAGS: PGOV PINR KDEM MR
SUBJECT: THE RISE OF THE OULED BISBAA

REF: NOUAKCHOTT 01365

Classified By: Ambassador Mark M. Boulware for Reasons 1.4 (b and d)


1. (SBU) Summary: It is extremely difficult for Westerners
to gain an understanding of the complex and opaque world of
Mauritanian tribes. Mauritanians tend to be tight lipped
about tribal issues and rarely unveil tribal details or the
dynamics of tribal politics. The Ouled Bisbaa, a
traditionally minor influence in the Mauritanian tribal
landscape, has been increasingly gaining riches and power in
recent years. General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz and Colonel
Ely Ould Mohamed Vall Eleya, first cousins and Ouled Bisbaa
tribesmen, have played an active and influential role in
Mauritanian military, political, and economic life since

2005. They have been at the heart of palace intrigues, power
and business schemes, military coups, junta-led governments
and political manipulations of all sorts. This cable
provides background information on a tribe that is poised to
consolidate its power over larger, more traditional tribes
through the July 18 election. End summary.

--------------
WHO ARE THE OULED BISBAA?
--------------


2. (SBU) The Ouled Bisbaa are descendants of Arab warriors
"berberized" in the South of Morocco. The tribe originated
in Morocco and spread through what is now Mauritania and down
to the Senegal river valley. Before French colonial times,
the Ouled Bisbaa carved themselves a reputation among Moor
tribes for being "professional" and very fierce looters.
Popular lore says that other Moor tribes feared and despised
them. In the 19th century, Ouled Bisbaa allied with the
French colonial powers and played an active role in
Mauritania's "pacification." During the French colony, many
established themselves in the Senegal river area and
controlled commerce along the West African coast.


3. (SBU) Today, among Mauritanian tribes, the Ouled Bisbaa
enjoy a solid reputation for being skilled businessmen.
Nevertheless, according to a Mauritanian tribal elder,
traditionally the Ouled Bisbaa have never been considered an
influential tribe -- a "big tent" tribe in local parlance.

In Mauritania's traditional tribal world, prestige is based
in intellectual/religious knowledge and wisdom and Ouled
Bisbaa tribesmen have a reputation for not cultivating those
prized qualities. A few of them are reputed intellectuals,
including former minister of Foreign Affairs Abdallahi Ould
Benhmeida and other poets and judges such as the Leaweissi,
Ghadoury, and the Moctar Hassen but they are a minority.


4. (SBU) The perception among many Moors is that the
Mauritanian Ouled Bisbaa are not really a tribe but an
"interest group." "The real tribe is located in Morocco,"
they say. Many Moors view the Ouled Bisbaa as a tribe
without solid roots in Mauritania, closer to its Moroccan
origins or to Senegal. The Mauritanian Ouled Bisbaa,
although spread all over the country and in Senegal, are
mostly associated with the city of Akjoujt, in the region of
Inchiri. To the north, the Ouled Bisbaa are present in the
Moroccan city of Marrakech and the Western Sahara city of
Smara. To the south, they are based near Rosso, the native
city of Ouled Bisbaa Senator El Hadj. Both Aziz and Ely grew
up in Louga, Senegal and their cousin Malainine Ould Tomi's
family ha businesses in Saint Louiss. Many Ouled Bisbaa fro
the south speak fluent Wolof and to many nativeHassanya
speakers, Aziz's Hassanya is not up to pr. It is commonly
said that General Aziz is notreally a Mauritanian but a
Moroccan or a Senegalse. In many political cirrcles, Aziz is
accused f having surrounded himself with Mauritanians clos
to Morocco and "installing a small Rabat" at thePresidential
Palace.


5. (SBU) A diverse groping of small factions without real
contact amon them, the Ouled Bisbaa, unlike most Moor
tribes, have always lacked centrl leadership. Most
recently, reputed Ouled Bisba businessmen have become tribal
leaders of sort. Among them we can cite Mohamed Hmayenne
Bouamtou, the Ould Ghadde brothers; and Mohamed Baba Oul

NOUAKCHOTT 00000461 002 OF 004


Ezizi Ould Mamy, young entrepreneur and local representative
for many French-based businesses. It is rumored that the
Ouled Bisbaa's inability to reconcile Vall and Aziz lies in
this lack of traditional "wisemen" leadership. This
division, many claim, will weaken the tribe's influence,
which is disproportionate to its demographic weight. It may
also hurt Aziz's chances of winning the election, as it is
rumored that Vall is the favorite of many Ouled Bisbaa.

--------------
OTHER TRIBES' PERCEPTION
--------------


6. (SBU) Other tribes are wary of Ouled Bisbaa supremacy.
Memories of Smasside supremacy -- former dictator Ould Taya's
tribe, which is based in the Atar region and which controlled
commerce and politics during Taya's time -- are still fresh.
Furthermore, more numerous and traditionally influential Moor
tribes like the Smasside themselves are resentful that a
small tribe like the Ouled Bisbaa has been able to amass so
much money and influence -- essentially seeing them as
coarse upstarts. Aziz's harsh discourse against corruption
makes them uneasy that Aziz will persecute them if he's
elected. Also, Aziz is viewed as a very ignorant man not fit
to represent Mauritania abroad. The Ouled Bisbaa, many
claim, "are arrogant rogues that do not really have roots in
Mauritania."


7. (C) Some Moors stress that Aziz and his manipulations to
benefit his tribesmen have exacerbated traditional
Mauritanian tribal attitudes, a return to "feudal and tribal
traffic of influences." Aziz's political ambitions have
brought other tribal elements closer together to oppose Ouled
Bisbaa power. Comment: In a recent visit to Ambassador,
pro-Taya businessman Lemrabott confirmed this by saying many
groups had financed actions to ensure Aziz and Vall do not
win the election. End comment. Ironically, at the same
time, the Ouled Bisbaa's push to take over political power
has completely upset traditional political and tribal
alliances. In this election, unheard of alliances or what
Mauritanians describe as "against nature" alliances have
emerged. For example, the recent pact between Ahmed Ould
Daddah and his long-time Smasside enemies has been motivated
by the Ouled Bisbaa threat. Many strange bed fellows have
emerged in reaction to Aziz's push for power.

--------------
THE OULED BISBAA IN RECENT YEARS
--------------


8. (C) Many Mauritanians believe that the August 6, 2008
coup d'etat orchestrated by General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz
is an Ouled Bisbaa's attempt to control not only the military
but to consolidate their political and economic power. Some
will link this to the desire to gain control just as
Mauritanian's begin to see the possibility of significant
petroleum revenues -- essentially to set themselves up as the
Mauritanian "Al Sauds" before the money really begins to
flow. The Ouled Bisbaa are a small and fractioned tribe of
Moroccan origin who have a reputation for their outstanding
business skills and who acquired influence in the military
through Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz's and Ely Ould Mohamed Vall
Eleya's privileged relationship with Maaouiya Ould Taya and
his Smasside tribe -- colonels at the time, they were
Commander of the Presidential Battalion (BASEP) and Chief of
Security and Intelligence respectively. This alliance with
the Smasside allowed Vall and other tribesmen to become rich
and powerful (reftel) Note: Vall came to the military
through family connections with the Ould Taya's -- Ely's
sister Lemliha Mint Eleya was married to Sid'Ahmed Ould Taya.
Ely helped Aziz join the military and later Aziz ended up
marrying the daughter of an influential Smasside tribesman
who was very close to Ould Taya. End note.


9. (C) The cousins put themselves on the Mauritanian
political map in 2005 through a coup d'etat against Ould
Taya. According to Mauritanian popular lore, Aziz was the
brain of the coup while Vall became the face. These rumors
were recently confirmed by Aziz during a political rally in
which he prided himself in being the author of the 2005 coup

NOUAKCHOTT 00000461 003 OF 004


and stated Vall "was asleep when the 2005 coup happened."
Many Mauritanians add spice to the story by stating that
"Vall was dragged out of bed to become the junta's leader."
Note: Aziz is reputed for being a very ignorant and coarse
person whereas Vall is charismatic, refined and articulate.
End note. Vall, who has since become one of the richest men
in Mauritania through very opaque business activities,
successfully presided the country during the transitional
period leading to the 2007 elections and curried considerable
favor with the West for not running for president and for
peacefully transferring power to democratically elected
president Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi.


10. (SBU) While Vall semi-retired from the military after
the 2007 election, Aziz, who's Ouled Bisbaa cousin Khatou
Mint Boukary was Abdallahi's wife and first lady of
Mauritania, continued leading the BASEP and was promoted to
the rank of General by President Abdallahi. Aziz was rumored
to have considerable influence over Abdallahi; influence that
Abdallahi both sought and resented. The General was at the
heart of the parliamentarian conspiracies that blocked the
Abdallahi government and Mauritanian institutions in 2007.
Abdallahi's final fallout with Aziz and his generals,
particularly Aziz, unleashed the August 6 coup d'etat.

11. (C) The Ouled Bisbaa, who have invested a lot of
resources in the August 6, 2008 coup and who have benefited
from it through appointments and privileges, have been
holding on to power for the last ten months by all means
possible. Ouled Bisbaa businessman and banker Mohamed
Hmayenne Bouamatou has been a staunch coup supporter and is
rumored to be Aziz's main source of campaign financing. Ould
Bouamatou is perhaps the richest man in Mauritania with a
solid stake in Mauritania Airlines, a bank, a cement factory,
telephone company, cigarette franchise, and many other
interests. His early history reads like Horatio Alger,
starting with a canteen to help him meet his high school
costs and building gradually in wealth and influence. He
really took off after 2000 when cousin's Aziz and Vall gained
influence. Bouamatou is considered to have exceptionally
close ties with the "FranceAfrique" clique in Paris that has
shifted French policy from Sarkozy's original tough line to
its later "security-driven" approach. Bouamatou is
frequently accused of heavy involvement in drug trafficking
although we have never seen solid evidence to support the
charge. Other Ouled Bisbaa who have supported and benefited
from the coup include Foreign Affairs Minister Mohamed
Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou; Chamber of Commerce President
Mohamedou Ould Mohamed Mahmoud (who's also the Minister of
Foreign Affairs' father); Malainine Ould Tomi, former Chief
of Mission for the High State Council, Mohsen Ould El Hadj,
Rosso Senator; Ould Benhmeida, Governor of the Central Bank
of Mauritania; and businessmen Mohamed Lemine Ould El Mamy,
Ahmed Ould Ghadda, and Azizi Ould El Mamy.

12. (SBU) Nevertheless, the tribe has been deeply divided
by Aziz and Vall's enmity. At some point in 2007, Aziz and
Vall had a fallout and have never since reconciled. Rumor
says that Vall wanted to run for President and that Aziz
opposed his candidacy in favor of Abdallahi. The 2008 coup
was Aziz's doing and Vall kept a considerable distance from
the events and even criticized them. The fact that two Ouled
Bisbaa tribesmen and close cousins are opposing each other
publicly in an electoral race is unheard off in Mauritania,
where blood is thick and where people will do anything to
save tribal face.
--------------
TRIBALISM PREVAILS
--------------


12. (SBU) Many claim Mauritanians remain deeply tribal. In
periods of competition with outside elements or other
ambitious tribes, tribes still close ranks and form alliances
following the "Assabiya" concept or esprit de corps. What's
new in Mauritanian society, they say, is that the prestige of
the elders has been lost to the businessmen, politicians and
civil servants, who are clientelistic and lack traditional
principles. These interest groups take precedence over the
tribe and the tribe is less successful at directing the votes
of their members as efficiently as before. The irony, again,
is that these new dynamics are weakening tribal identities
and giving way to a more modern political system.

NOUAKCHOTT 00000461 004 OF 004



--------------
COMMENT
--------------


13. (SBU) Ouled Bisbaa's influence in Mauritania since 2005
through figures like Aziz, Vall and Bouamatou, is undeniable.
It is also an aberration from the point of view of tribal
equilibrium and traditional tribal politics. The fact that
such a small tribe has amassed so much money and power is a
threat for other tribes, who are making new alliances and
attempting to close ranks against an Aziz win. If they are
successful and if there is no electoral fraud, Aziz could
loose the election. What is certain is that, from a tribal
perspective, Ouled Bisbaa's push for power through Aziz, and
even Vall, is far from leaving other tribes indifferent and
may give a Moor candidate like Ould Daddah a good chance to
win the elections.
BOULWARE