Black Mauritanians fear census will deprive them of citizenship
NOUAKCHOTT - Dozens of ethnic black Mauritanians rallied Thursday to denounce a census they feel aims at depriving them of their citizenship in a country riven by ethnic and racial strife.
The census is "solely aimed at depriving black Mauritanians of their citizenship," said Wane Birane, spokesman of the protest movement which calls itself "Don't touch my nationality."
The group slammed "unpleasant questions posed to black Africans" on their knowledge of the country and the low representation of their community in panels supervising the census.
Over the past months, authorities have conducted a nationwide census to get a modern, secure, biometrics-based population count to replace the current one which many view as "unreliable and subject to falsification".
The government has launched a media campaign to deny what it calls false rumours, and "to reassure the people that they will all be registered, without restrictions," the official in charge of the drive, M'Rabih Rabbou, said during a television debate.
"We can't believe him, this census must be stopped or people must be registered based on their old identity cards, without other conditions," Birane said.
He also called for the dissolution of census panels in which black Mauritanians are under-represented and for the sacking of the census chief.
Mauritania has a multi-ethnic population of around three million made up of white and black Moors as well as various black African tribes.
The large west African nation has a long history of inter-ethnic conflicts.
During a 1989-1990 border war with Senegal, tens of thousands of black Mauritanians, from high ranking civil servants to herdsmen, were accused of being Senegalese, rounded up and deported.
Most have been repatriated over the past three years with the help of the UN refugees agency.