Mauritania: polls boycotted, slavery condemned

Parties that make up Mauritania's Coordination of the Democratic Opposition (COD) have announced a boycott of November's legislative and municipal elections after talks with the government collapsed without agreement earlier this month. The ruling Union for the Republic is the only party fielding candidates in every district, with the next highest representation from Islamist group Tewassoul, the only member of the 11-party COD that will field candidates. Tewassoul calls its participation a form of struggle against the "dictatorship" of President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, who took power in a 2008 coup. The opposition is demanding the polls be postponed until April to allow time for a voter census and guarantees of the independence of the electoral commission. A vote was due in 2011 but has been repeatedly delayed due to disagreements between the opposition and government. The last legislative election was held in 2006. (AFP, Oct. 29; Reuters, Oct. 4)

Amid the electoral controversy, the Walk Free Foundation issued a "Global Slavery Index," naming Mauritania, Haiti and Pakistan as the world's countries with the highest prevalence of modern slavery. The Index ranked 162 countries by estimating the number in each affected by forced and bonded labor, human trafficking, forced marriages, and the use of children in the military. Mauritania is named as having 140,000 to 160,000 living in slavery, in a population of 3.8 million. Within Africa, it is followed by Nigeria with between 670,000 and 740,000 in bondage, Ethiopia with between 620,000 and 680,000, and the Democratic Republic of Congo between 440,000 and 490,000. The Walk Free Foundation was founded last year by Australian mining magnate Andrew Forrest. The index was endorsed by former US Secretary Hillary Clinton, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates. (AP, Premium Times, Nigeria, Oct. 27)