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Mauritania's Students Feel Disillusioned With Democracy


University students in Mauritania say they feel disillusioned with democracy, one year after a series of elections ended years of military-dominated rule. They say it seems corruption, insecurity and their prospects for a better life are getting worse, not better, even though they now have a government representative of the people's will. VOA's Nico Colombant has more with reporting by Ebrima Sillah, in this the fifth and last part of a series on life in post-election Mauritania.

One student, Ahmed, says this is his first chance to express his views on the elected government of President Ould Sidi Mohamed Cheikh Abadallahi.

He did not mince his words. And he said if others had a chance to speak their mind, they would share similar thoughts.

"The reality, there is no one if you ask him in his daily life, in his normal situation, he will say everything is worse," he said. "In fact in the last decade, we had security. But these days, things are going worse, because there is no security, the prices are going up, everything is higher here. The life is very hard. You cannot imagine."

Long-time ruler Maaouiya Ould Taya was deposed in a military coup in 2005. He was replaced by Ely Ould Mohammed Vall, until the military leader handed over power to the elected President Abadallahi.

Ahmed says he has been disappointed by all leaders, but was hoping an elected one would be better.

"I think the problem is the leader. Mauritania has never had a special or capable man who has the will to invent, to create a new country, to create a new country in his will, in his values, and me I am very disappointed," he added.

Another student, Boubacar Muhtarr Bah, says government ministers seem to just care about their own political future and enrichment. He says the focus should be on students like himself.

"My hope is to be well developed," he explained. "We need more education. People will be very educated. Government should do the [utmost] to reduce the poverty and to help young people."

The coup in 2005 coincided with announcements Mauritania was about to start extracting oil for export. But another student, Muhammed Ould Muhammed Val, does not believe the government will use oil money for the people's benefit.

"I think oil resources [are] not important to Mauritanians," he said. "We know, we hear the news, Mauritania has oil. But I do not see anything, anything to indicate there is oil in Mauritania. So Mauritinia still is powerless, still has lots of poverty and illness. There is no economic indicator there is oil."

The main opposition leader, Ahmed Ould Daddah, recently claimed the government was mismanaging oil revenues, prompting the recently-named Prime Minister Yahya Ould Ahmed El Waghef to accuse him of "misleading public opinion."

Muhammed Lamin Ould Sidi, a student who came from his village to Nouakchott on a state scholarship, says he is still optimistic democracy can change Mauritania for the better.

"I think democracy is to give equality," he said. "It is the most important. In Mauritania, there are different races."

But he is quick to add students are getting impatient.

"We are here at the university. We are studying, but we do not know, just when we finish our school what we are going to do," he added.

He says his two older brothers who finished university ahead of him are still jobless. Students say many young men are turning more and more to religion, because they say normal schooling and work just do not give them any prospects for fulfillment.

Meanwhile, the ruling party has been suffering defections in recent weeks, with top officials saying they are also disappointed with the party's governance.

Government officials say it takes time for democracy to show results, and that they are working hard to secure outside help to improve infrastructure. They also say criticism is a healthy sign of a democracy trying to establish itself.

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