Magharebia (Washington DC)

14 November 2012

Mauritania National Award Sparks Controversy

Nouakchott — Mauritanian intellectuals argue that the council of the country's most prestigious culture award needs an overhaul.

Mauritania's most famous culture prize stirred nationwide controversy this year over allegations of political bias and the use of the French language.

"The country's official language is Arabic while the official statement was issued in French," Arahora.net editorialised about the Chinguetti Award Council, adding that it was "against the constitution".

Council chief Belal Ould Hamza on October 31st announced the names of the 2012 winners.

Mohamedna Ould Ahmed, Mohamed Abdalla Ould Mohamed Lamine and Mohammed Ali Ould Louli snatched the awards in science and technology, Mohamed al-Mahjoub Ould Bayyah earned the prize for literature, and Islam Ould Sidi al-Moustafa won the award for Islamic studies.

Mauritanian poet and filmmaker Mohamed Ould Idoumou argued that the award committee needs to review its evaluation methods and criteria for assessing literary works, away from writers' political views.

"More importantly, the winners of awards should be given more attention so that this may not be just a humble and insignificant occasion, but an important one with dates to celebrate it," he argued.

Last January, the Chinguetti Award Council announced the official launch for receiving nominations for the 5-million ouguiya (13,338 euros) award.

Researcher and author Yahia Ould Sidi Ahmed alleged that the works chosen failed to conform to the criteria of "depth, originality and innovation".

"With all due respect to the winners, we wonder what depth or innovation we can see in addressing topics like resistance and fiqh," he wrote in an op-ed on aqlame.com. "As far as I know, there are innovative works of art that the council shouldn't have ignored, as it was part of the class of depth and innovation."

For his part, Union of Mauritanian Writers Secretary-General Sheikh Ould Sidi Abdallah told Magharebia that the award "still has ambiguous criteria, given that the disciplines in which the award is given are not organised".

"People in charge do not realise that there is a difference between the general topic and sub-topics," he said. "Literature, for example, is not language, and Islamic Sharia is not Islamic thought. This is in addition to other humanities which have had branches that should have been taken into consideration in the award."

Ould Sidi Abdallah called for holding a seminar to review the award criteria in accordance with the "expansion in the areas of knowledge".

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