Moktar Ould Daddah (December 25, 1924 - October 14, 2003) was the President of Mauritania from 1960, when his country gained its independence from France, to 1978, when he was deposed in a military coup d'etat.
Daddah was born to a princely family in Boutilimit, Mauritania. As a law student in Paris (he graduated as the first Mauritanian to hold a university degree), Daddah met and married the daughter of President Charles de Gaulle. This was to be a key factor in his rise to power in what was then a French colony. On his return to Mauritania in the late 1950s, Daddah joined the centre-left Progressive Mauritanian Union, and was elected President of the Executive Council. In 1959, however, he established a new political party, the Mauritanian Regrouping Party. In the last pre-independence legislative elections held later that year, his party won every seat in the National Assembly, and he was appointed Prime Minister.
He was known for his ability to work to establish a consensus of opinion among different political parties, as well as between the White and Black Maures and Bantu peoples, Mauritania's three main ethnic groups. The balanced representation of different ethnic and political groups in his government won the confidence of the French authorities, who granted independence to Mauritania under his leadership in 1960. Daddah was named Acting President of the new republic, and was confirmed in office in the first post-independence election in August 1961.
As President, Daddah pursued policies that differed markedly from those he had professed prior to independence. In September 1961, he formed a "government of national unity" with the main opposition party, and in December, he arranged for the four largest parties to merge as the Mauritanian People's Party, which became the sole legal party. He formalized the one-party state in 1964 with a new Constitution, which set up an authoritarian presidential regime. Daddah justified this decision on the grounds that he considered Mauritania unready for western-style multi-party democracy. Under this one-party constitution, Daddah was reelected in 1966, 1971 and 1976.
In 1971, Daddah served as President of the Organization of African Unity (OAU). At home, however, his policies were failing. The economy was stagnating and remained strongly dependent on French aid. Moreover, drought in the Sahel, principally in the period between 1969 and 1974, and decline in export revenues due to fall in international prices of iron, had lowered living standards considerably. In 1975, he presented a charter which called for Mauretania to become an "Islamic, nationalist, centralist, and socialist democracy." This charter was initially popular, and the opposition, in general, welcomed it.
What brought an end to his regime was great dissatisfaction with Mauritania's war in Western Sahara against the Polisario Front, which was fighting against the Moroccan takeover. Many Mauritanians sympathized with the Polisario cause, and Daddah lost public support. In 1977, Nouakchott was attacked by the Polisario Front, and Daddah was forced to appoint a military officer to head the ministry of defence. On July 10, 1978, Lt. Col. Mustafa Ould Salek ousted Daddah in a military coup. After a period of imprisonment, he was allowed to go into exile in France in August 1979, where he organized the opposition Alliance pour une Mauritanie Democratique (AMD) in 1980.
He returned from exile on July 15, 2001, and died in 2003.