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First, we must correct the impression of a possibly over-inflated contrast in presentation between the 'functionality' of the pre-colonial order and the dysfunctionality of the order that has replaced it, in short the opposition between the 'good poverty' of the past and the 'bad poverty' of the present. To exalt either the razzia or slavery, or the epidemics that periodically scarred a nomad society, which always led an extremely precarious existence, was not intended. It was, however, necessary to stress the striking resistance of a way of life resting on a fragile balance between a big-climatic threshold marked by scarcity of water and grazing land and a set of technical, economic, institutional, ideological and other behaviours.

The devastating role of the last 15 years of drought in unleashing the exodus from rural areas, and the massive sedentarization of nomads has, justifiably, been stressed. But droughts and famines are not new in the countries of the Sahara and the Sahel. The Oualata Chronicle, for example, mentions no fewer than five great famines between 1249 AH (1830-31) and 1311 AH (1893-94) plus half a dozen epidemics (especially the serious one in 1286 AH (1869-70) that carried off over 300 people), not to mention countless razzias.13 The Tichitt Chronicle14 records the same recurrence of the cycle of drought-razzia-famine-epidemic that seems to have marked the whole history of this locality. But these disturbances, serious as they may have been, never occasioned a real break-up in the pastoral way of life comparable to that we have been witnessing for the last 15 years. Before colonization, the vagaries of the climate never led to the formation of a town; nor did they contribute significantly to a rise in the population of the caravan camps which the increasing number of tributes and razzias made particularly inhospitable in times of crisis. But once the economic and ideological wellsprings of pastoral societies had been broken in a process in which violence and coercion combined with the effects of commodity relations, conditions were ripe for such a climatic catastrophe as that the Sahel has recently been experiencing, to have mortal consequences for pastoralism.

The role of the state- a mechanism to administer legitimate violence, as Weber defined it - in this process cannot go unmentioned.

The role of political control of the pastoral space in the mobility that is a key part of the nomad way of life and mode of production has been demonstrated. Some argue that this control was exercised solely through segmentary tribal structures governed by kinship and excluding the appearance of any centralized political authority, or a state. This is notably the opinion of C. C. Stewart15 who takes up the functionalist theory of segmentarism developed by Evans-Pritchard and his followers, and considers pre-colonial Moorish society to have been ianarchic', 'acephalous', 'stateiess', and in which the emir, like any other tribal chief, was simply a 'primus inter pares' with no real authority. According to Evans-Pritchard, the opposition (both antagonistic and complementary)16 between equivalent lineage segments, conceived as a correlate of the genealogical structure of unilinear descent groups ('Arab' marriage with the patrilateral parallel cousin) which leads to strong agnatic solidarity17 and to an equally strong tendency to fission, obstructs the emergence of autonomous political structures within segmentary tribal societies that are perpetually condemned to 'anarchy' end war. While this representation undeniably contains features that portray part of Moorish social and historical reality, it has the disadvantage of being unable to explain the emergence, even in an embryonic form, of political structures that were becoming autonomous: those of the emirates. For even though these structures suffered the effects of the segmentary system and kinship they nevertheless represent the beginnings of a political power, a state in the process of being constituted. Neither does it seem that the emergence of those proto-state emirate forms associated with social stratification, which cannot be explained solely in the framework of the functionalist problematic of the theory of segmentarity, can be explained within the framework of social contract theorists (Locke, Hobbes. Rousseau) and their modern descendants, solely by the desire to legitimize a domination derived from a differentiation and polarization between wealth and poverty, exploited and exploiters of which the infant state is seen as simply the scarcely veiled instrument.

Beyond this alternative, which contrasts the impossibility of the state emerging in segmentary tribal societies governed by kinship with an exclusively instrumentalist theory (the state as the tool of class domination) there is the outline of an intermediate reality: a transitional area where kinship and politics combine in a complex articulation in which the ideology and language of kinship continue to provide a body of representation to political structures that express as much domination by a class (the warrior and marabout aristocrats) as perpetuation of the genealogical principle that supposedly governs tribal unity. In the situation inherited from the slave trade period and colonization, and whatever misunderstandings may have surrounded the real nature of tribal and emirate power at that time, the effects of kinship structures on the distribution and exercise of political power have continued to operate through new forms of clientelism.

Whether under the regime of freedom of political competition (in fact a very tightly controlled freedom) in the late 1950s (the period of the 'lot-cadre'), or under the post-colonial regime that today, has culminated in a militarization hardly concerned with political representation associated with elections (National Assembly, regional councils, local government and so on). Mauritanian politics has continued to draw on kinship networks for the establishment of a legitimacy that has been unable to kind sufficiently credible roots elsewhere.

Clientelism here, indicates the process of converting bureaucratically accumulated economic capital - payments made to local political middlemen or 'economically'- through the mechanism ('sole agency', trading commission, for example) of local distribution of central capitalism's industrial or agricultural products - into political capital ('representativeness'), without which the expansion of wealth and prestige would rapidly cease.

The close relationship of private economic prosperity and the bureaucratic, state management of dependency, even leaving aside what Hamid El Mauritanyi calls bureaucracy's 'illegal tranche of income'18 (the product of corruption, diversion of public funds, and so forth) appears in the reciprocal circulation of money and men in both directions. Every concessionaire19 must, in fact, have connections in the state marketing commission and parastatals, the sole national clients of any significance, and every politician who 'retires' almost inevitably ends up with an 'agency'.

What is thus emerging is a necessary reciprocity between 'representation' in the commercial sense of the word and 'representativeness' in the political and social sense. In a society still strongly marked by its tribal structures and in which the bureaucratic-capitalist sector employs barely 2% of the labour force, they inevitably meet in the domain of kinship.

To ensure the fruitfulness and survival of their capital stock of 'representativeness', a man who becomes rich, a professional politician or aspirant to the position, must keep the broadest possible clientele happy, first, his close kin, then dependent groups and people of the same tribe. Their solidarity, generated as much by the redistribution of economic benefits as by kinship bonds, will in turn form the basis of the representatives' (politicians or concessionaires)' representativeness' in the state and capitalist sector of the national society and economy.

Does this imply, to use Samir Amin's expression, that in common with other African states dominated by central capitalism the Mauritanian state is becoming 'transnationalized'? If this expression means the massively dominant role of managing dependency, then it cannot be denied.

Such a viewpoint can, however, be criticized as excessively reductionist if it leads to a perception of the state in dependent African countries as simply an instrument of imperialist domination. This view is strictly in line with that which Lenin, quoting Marx and Engels, helped popularize: the state as the tool of a class dictatorship culminating, according to the authors of State and Revolution, in the 'withering away' of the state in the communist society of the future. The Mauritanian situation, marked by a profound interpenetration of kinship bonds, will in turn form the basis of the representatives' (politicians or religious factors exercise a decisive influence,20 does not accord with this theory.

The Mauritanian states expresses both the present dualism of the economy and the relevance of the ancient economic, ideological and symbolic structures of kinship. It is thus a hybrid, both an instrument of centralization and a central stake in centrifugal strategies. It cannot be reduced to the role of administrator or manager of dependency.

It is tempting to see in the Mauritanian state only an instrument in the service of multinational domination combined with a sort of cannibalism in which the administration of poverty-stricken indigenous populations and organization of the aid intended for them enrich the most unscrupulous sectors of the bureaucracy. In Haiti, some tontons macoutes allegedly sell the blood of their compatriots to the USA - Africa has not descended to this level. But we should beware of a cannibalism that might be an essential part of any state, for is not governing necessarily 'devouring the substance of others'?21


1. On all aspects of grazing and herding among the Moors, see the following works: Francart. 'Le pâturage en Haut Adrar'. Bull. IFAN. 1940. II. 3-4, 285-78 end 'Nose sur le vocabulare camelin en Haute Mauritanie', Bull. IFAN. 1941,III 45-52; V. Monteil, Essai sur le chameau au Sahara Occidental. Bull. IFAN. Saint-Louis-du-Senegal. 1952: and Contribution a l'etude de la flore au Sahara Occidentale, Paris, Larose 1949; A. Leriche. 'Vocabulaire du chameau en Mauritanie'. Bull. IFAN. 1952. XIV. 3. 985-95: end 'Costumes maures relatives a l'élevage'. Bull. IFAN 1953, XV.3, 1316-20.; Leborgne. 'Vocabulaire technique du chameau en Mauritanie' Bull. IFAN. 1953, XV, 1.292-380; Charles Toupet (thesis) 'Le sédentarisation des pomades dans la Mauritanie Centrale Sahélienne'. Paris. 1975.

2. 'Rapport annuel sur le commerce et l'industrie pendant l'année 1938', Colonie de la Mauritanie. Archives de la RIM, série Q No 411.

3. See also: Ould Cheikh, Les Maures, RAMS, 1980:: P. Bonte and Ould Cheikh, Nomadisme, sédentarisation, migrations dans la société maure, Unesco. Population Division, 1980; J. P. Hervouet. 'Types d'adaptation sahéliens', Thèse de IIIe Cycle, University of Rouen. 1975.

4. Concerning water for grazing purposes, one of the main areas of herding where the administration has taken action, the second Mauritanian economic and social development plan (1970-73) estimated that there were 3.000 cement wells in Mauritania; 750 built by the administration between 1950 and 1968, including 600 in the 1950-60 period alone.

5. Urban wages (Nouakchott, Nouadhibou, Zouérate) of employees in the same category (domestics. Iabourers etc.) reach barely 3.000 ouguiya per month. It is quite common to see small, underpaid (a few hundred ouguiya) children working as domestics.

6. This is still far from the consumption levels in industrialized countries. The annual average per person in France, for example, is 94 kg (see Jean Ziégler, 'Le scandale de la surconsommation de viande dans les pays riches', Le Monde Diplomatique, November 1981, p. 10.

7. See the paradigmatic role attributed by some authors (Luc de Heusch, René Girart et al) to the ritual behaviour of East African herders, and those 'sacred' kingships of the Great Lakes region that involve cattle. See also Bonte and Becquemont, 'Travail, valeur, besoins et conscience aliénée: le cas des éleveurs de l'Afrique de l'Est'. La Pensée, 1980, pp. 90-121.

8. Of 51 agreements to redeem the tribute (noted in the Mederdra archives for 1946-47) between dominant groups and tributaries, 36 involved a settlement in cash (120.475 Francs): five a 'mixed' settlement part cash (11.000 Francs), part cattle (29 sheep and two she-camels); eleven in cattle (174 sheep, seven cows, two steers, ten she-camels (including four with young), eleven male-camels, one she-ass, one vliz (strip woven from sheepswool for tent-making)).

9. The dominant ideology, of the marabout class in particular, claims to justify the Moorish social hierarchy by a decision of the Almoravid leader Abù Bakr Ben 'Umar (d.1087 in Tagant). On his death-bed, he is said to have decided to distribute the men making up his army as follows: warriors, responsible for propagating Islam by force of arms; marabouts, responsible for religious teaching and education: the tributaries, responsible for maintaining the first two groups. See in particular 'Al wasit...'. Cairo and Casablanca (2nd ed.). 1958, by Ahmad teen Al Amin Al-Sinqiti, p. 475 (in Arabic).

10. For example, the al-me clause at the end of the Sârr Bebbe war(second part of seventeenth century) stipulated that the defeated group would, when necessary, offer the victors and their descendants one-third of the water they drew from their own wells.

11. 'Virtually all the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania come from the traditional aristocratic orders: 162 out of 175. Men from tributary or artisan groups (ten) and servile categories (six) can almost be counted on the fingers of one hand... 90 out of 175 are chiefs or sons of chiefs, and 66 are from the families of notables'. F, de Chassey, in Mauritanie, 1900-1975,. Paris, Anthropos 1978, p. 286.

12. On this we have collected numerous testimonies from the masters themselves. See also one by a Dahomeyan exile: Louis Hunkarin, Un forfait colonial: l'esclavage en Mauritanie. Imprimerie moderne. Privas 1931.

13. Paul Marty (trans.). 'Chronique de Oualata et de Néma'. Revue des Etudes Islamiques. 1927. III, pp. 355-426.

14. Vincent Monteil (trans.) 'Chronique de Tichitt', Bull. IFAN. I, 1939, pp. 283-312.

15. C. C. Stewart. 'Political authority and social stratification in Mauritania', in E. Gellner and A. Micaud (eds). Arabs and Berbers. London, Duckworth 1972.

16. Evans-Pritchard wrote of the 'tribe without rulers' model of the Nuer 'Each segment is itself segmented and there is opposition between its parts. The members of any segment unite for war against adjacent segments of the same order and unite with those adjacent segments against larger sections.' The Nuer. Oxford, Clarendon Press 1940, p. 142.

17. One has only to think of the 'asabiyya of Ibn Khaldun the wellspring of the solidarity and unity of action of groups of nomad conquerors and the key concept in the cyclical conception of history developed by the great Magrhibi writer. See Al-Muqaddima.

18. Hamid El Mauritanyi. L'indépendance néo-coloniale, op, cit.

19. Perhaps there is need to distinguish 'real concession' end 'fictional consession', the representatives who actually sell something (mass-consumed foodstuffs, textiles, cars, and so on) market purveyors and other front names for licences (fishing etc.), and those solely concessionaires, the middlemen who some call ironically 'Messrs Tenpercenters'. Obviously, there are complex links between the two categories.

20. For more detail see: A. W. Ould Cheikh. 'Comment prêcher dans le desert. Fonction cléricale, fonction guerrière et émergence de l'Etat dans la société maure', in P. Bonte and J. Galaty (eds), African Pastoralism and the State, London. Sage (forthcoming).

21. A Tiv (Nigerian tribal group) saying, reported by Paul Bohannan and quoted by G. Balandier. Political Anthropology. London, Allen Lane The Penguin Press 1970, p. 60.

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