Country FilesNorthMauritania Country Profile 2015: Plotting a post-Abdel Aziz future

Tue,11Dec2018

Mauritania Country Profile 2015: Plotting a post-Abdel Aziz future

By The Africa Report

altAfter winning re-election on 21 June 2014 with 82% of the vote, President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz will continue to focus on bolstering his anti-terrorism credentials while seeking to play the mediator in conflicts in the Sahel region.

The economy remains underdeveloped and dependent on the export of unprocessed natural resources, but growth in the electricity supply should encourage industrialisation in the long term.

Meanwhile, the opposition continues to boycott elections, arguing that the government refuses to organise fair votes. In order to respect the constitution, Abdel Aziz has promised to step down at the end of this term. Allies and opponents alike will start to look at how they can benefit from the retirement of the former coup leader.

New prime minister Yahya Ould Hademine, appointed in August 2014, is an engineer and a technocrat. He expects little cooperation from the opposition.

Most of the opposition parties in the Forum National pour la Démocratie et l'Unité repeated their boycott of last November's parliamentary and municipal elections amid calls for transparency and integrity in the election processes.

New blood

Moderate Islamist party Tawassoul, led by Jemil Ould Mansour, is one of the newer parties and took 15 seats in the 2013 legislative elections, making it the opposition party with the greatest representation.

Mansour represents a new generation as opposition leaders Ahmed Ould Daddah and Messaoud Ould Boulkheir are both in their 70s.

altWhile economic growth has been strong, the government has not transformed it into improved livelihoods for the population.

Ranked 161st out of 187 countries on the latest UN Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Index, the country has been subject to repeated cycles of severe droughts and scarce rainfall.

A UNDP assessment predicts that most of the Millennium Development Goals will not be met by 2015. The country's natural resources will remain a pillar of economic growth in 2015.

The Mauritanian coastline is among the world's richest fishing grounds and fishing deals are a huge source of revenue. As The Africa Report went to press, the EU was in talks to renew a fisheries protocol set to expire in December 2014.

Production of iron ore – the country's main export – is expected to reach 18m tonnes by 2015, up from the 13m tonnes targeted in 2014.

In June 2014, the state- owned mining firm Société Nationale Industrielle et Minière (SNIM) inked a $1bn deal with Switzerland-based commodities trading giant Glencore for access to the SNIM-owned national railway.

Gold tarnished

A cloud of uncertainty lingers over the gold mining sector. Canada-based gold miner Kinross is set to make a decision in early 2015 on whether to expand operations at its Tasiast plant, which remains the only productive gold mine in Mauritania. The Tasiast project was also bogged down by protests after the laying-off of some 300 workers in the first half of 2014 due to the drop in gold prices. 

Oil and gas exploration continues apace but a string of disappointments are delaying its development. Ireland's Tullow announced in 2014 that net production from the Chinguetti field – originally discovered by Australian firm Woodside Energy in 2001 – averaged just more than 1,200 barrels per day (bpd), a drastic decline from the 75,000bpd recorded when production began in 2006.

In April 2014, the company's Tapendar-1 well found no hydrocarbons. Despite these hurdles, Tullow's Banda gas-to-power project is gaining momentum and production is set to begin in 2016. Mauritania will export its planned electricity surplus to Senegal and Mali.

On the diplomatic front, Mauritania's counter-terrorism alliance with the US will remain a crucial part of the country's security paradigm in 2015.

In June 2014, the US donated a pair of military aircraft worth $21m. Help is also coming from other countries. In July 2014, France announced that a new anti-terrorist military operation, Operation Barkhane, would be established with five North African countries including Mauritania.

Abdel Aziz has vowed to vigorously take on terrorist groups like Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb during his new term.



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