Only slightly developed and long neglected, Mauritania played no role in the rising nationalism in the AOF after World War II. The 1946 constitution of the French Fourth Republic established the former colonies of the AOF as overseas territories of France integrally tied to the French Union. The French administration in Saint Louis retained jurisdiction in criminal law, public freedoms, and political and administrative organization; the Colonial Ministry could still rule by decree, if the decree did not violate a statute. The indigénat and forced labor were abolished, and French citizenship was extended to all inhabitants of French territories willing to renounce their local legal status.
Elective representation existed on three levels: territorial, federation (AOF), and national (French). A General Council (renamed Territorial Assembly in 1952) was established in each territory with extensive controls over the budget, but with only consultative powers over all other issues. The Mauritanian General Council comprised twenty-four members, eight elected by Europeans and sixteen elected by Mauritanians. Each territory had five representatives, elected from its General Council, on the AOF's Grand Council in Dakar, Senegal, which had general authority over budgeting, politics, administration, planning, and other matters for all of the AOF. Each territory also sent representatives to the National Assembly, the Council of the Republic, and the Assembly of the French Union in Paris.
The franchise created by the 1946 French constitution was small and restricted to government officials, wage earners, veterans, owners of registered property, and members or former members of local associations, cooperatives, or trade unions. Consequently, in the Mauritanian elections of 1946, there were fewer than 10,000 qualified voters. In 1947 individuals literate in French and Arabic were added to the electorate, and in 1951 heads of households and mothers of two children were made eligible. By 1956 suffrage had become universal.
Before 1946 the territory of Mauritania formed one electoral unit with Senegal, which was represented by a single senator in the French Senate. The 1946 constitution, however, separated Mauritania from Senegal politically, giving it a deputy to the French National Assembly. At the same time, the bicameral General Council, which was reorganized into the unicameral Territorial Assembly in 1952, was established in Mauritania. Nonetheless, political activity in Mauritania was minimal. The territory's first party, the Mauritanian Entente, was headed by Horma Ould Babana, who served as the first Mauritanian deputy to the French National Assembly.
The Mauritanian Entente was founded in 1946 under the auspices of Leopold Senghor and Lamine Gueye of the Senegalese section of the French Socialist Party. Formed specifically for the 1946 election, the Mauritanian Entente was neither well organized nor mass based. Yet on a platform calling for movement toward independence and elimination of chiefdoms, Babana easily defeated the candidate of the conservative French administration and the leading clerics. The new deputy, however, spent most of his five-year term in Paris, out of contact with politics in Mauritania. As a result, on his return for the 1951 elections, Babana was defeated by the Mauritanian Progressive Union, led by Sidi el Moktar N'Diaye and supported by the colonial administration and its allies, the traditional Maure secular and clerical ruling classes, who feared the Mauritanian Entente's "socialist" program. In the 1952 election for members of the Territorial Assembly, the Mauritanian Progressive Union won the twenty-two of the twenty-four seats.
The reforms of 1956, or Loi-Cadre (see Glossary), were even more sweeping than those of 1946. In the face of growing nationalism and the development of a political consciousness in the AOF, the Loi-Cadre ended the integrationist phase of French colonial policy and bestowed a considerable degree of internal autonomy on the overseas territories. Universal suffrage and the elimination of the dual college electoral system led to the creation of district and local representative councils and a great enlargement of the powers of the territorial assemblies. Each territory could now formulate its own domestic policies, although the territories continued to rely on France for decisions concerning foreign affairs, defense, higher education, and economic aid.
The most important provision of the 1956 Loi-Cadre was the establishment of a council of government to assume the major executive functions of each territory that until that time had been carried out by a Paris-appointed colonial official. The councils were composed of three to six ministers elected by the territorial assemblies on the advice of the dominant party. Each minister was charged with overseeing a functional department of government. The head of the ministers became vice president of the council and, in effect, if not in title, prime minister. In Mauritania that person was Moktar Ould Daddah, the country's only lawyer and a member of a prominent pro-French clerical family.
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