Interview with SEM. Mohammed Ould Cheikh El Ghazouani, President, Islamic Republic of Mauritania

Interview with SEM. Mohammed Ould Cheikh El Ghazouani, President, Islamic Republic of Mauritania

Business Focus: Mauritania seems to stand out among the Sahel countries in terms of the fight against terrorism through military action and arbitration. The country has prevented terrorist attacks since 2011, which has recently been widely attributed to your leadership. Tell us about your approach to security – by what means and measures has the country managed to prevent and contain security excesses? And where is Mauritania today in terms of security?

Mohammed Ould Cheikh El Ghazouani
: Mauritania’s security strategy, implemented successfully since 2011, stands as a testament to our effective defense against terrorist threats and the safeguarding of our national borders.

This well-rounded strategy is anchored on three fundamental pillars. The first pillar focuses on bolstering the operational capabilities of our armed forces and security apparatus. Concurrently, the second pillar is dedicated to fostering values of tolerance, particularly among our youth. We actively advocate for dialogue, even with those who may have been radicalized, under specific conditions. These conditions include non-participation in terrorist activities resulting in the loss of lives. If these criteria are met, and individuals sincerely express remorse and a desire to reintegrate into society, we are committed to extending support. Furthermore, for those who recognize ideological missteps through discussions with our experts and genuinely seek repentance, assistance will be considered, provided no criminal acts have been committed.

The third pillar underscores the importance of promoting economic and social development, especially in remote and occasionally landlocked areas. Our goal is to deliver a comprehensive range of services to these regions. This facet underscores the necessity of a robust and widespread State presence across the entire national territory. Through our observations in the Sahel region, we’ve recognized that an absent state exacerbates conditions conducive to insecurity and terrorism. This emphasizes the crucial need for sustained and impactful state engagement in these regions.


BF: As President of Mauritania, you have led the rotating presidency of the G5 Sahel alliance since January 2023 and have made the reintegration of the coalition throughout the region a priority. In July, you called on Mali to join the organization to support regional peace and stability. What role does the G5 Sahel organization play in the security of the region, and what role does Mauritania play within the group? What has Mauritania done recently to promote more alliances with its neighbors beyond security measures ?

Mohammed Ould Cheikh El Ghazouani: The G5 Sahel group, established in Nouakchott in 2014, stands as a regional platform for cooperative efforts in development and security across the Sahel region. Despite the encountered challenges, we view its formation as a significant success, marking notable progress. Through collaborative endeavors, member countries harnessed their collective strength to foster conditions conducive to both development and security. A key achievement of the G5 Sahel lies in emphasizing the interconnectedness of security and development on the international stage. This correlation is particularly evident in the Sahel’s context, where insecurity often intertwines with underdevelopment.

Recognizing the unique characteristics and challenges of each region and country is crucial, demanding adaptable approaches tailored to their specific circumstances. Regrettably, Mali’s withdrawal from this organization hindered the realization of our shared objectives. Consequently, even before our originally planned rotating presidency, the member countries unanimously requested Mauritania to assume this role prematurely. Despite the considerable challenges, we accepted this mission with the understanding that the G5 Sahel is currently navigating formidable turbulence, compelling us to intensify our efforts. This challenging period underscores the need for robust, concerted solutions to address our issues, promoting enhanced consultation and resolution of differences. We remain steadfast in our commitment to seeking effective solutions that will lead us toward a more cohesive future.


BF: The government has been praised by the World Bank as a leader in economic and legislative reforms aimed at improving ease of doing business and tackling climate change. Explain to readers what your government has done to improve the business climate in Mauritania? What do you think are the main areas to prioritize to make the country more attractive to international investors and support the private sector?

Mohammed Ould Cheikh El Ghazouani: I firmly believe that achieving comprehensive development necessitates active engagement from the private sector. To stimulate the involvement of the private sector, it is imperative to generate interest by creating an attractive environment, a goal achievable through necessary reforms. Currently, our focus is precisely on implementing these reforms to ensure investors, whether foreign or domestic, experience maximum security and confidence, fostering a mutually beneficial relationship. We are actively undertaking substantial reforms in this direction, including the modernization of the regulatory framework for the business climate and a comprehensive reform of our judicial system.

A dedicated commission, comprising legal experts, lawyers, judges, and other professionals in the legal sector, has provided us with a detailed report. This report serves as a guiding document for our ongoing judicial reform efforts, aiming for a more efficient and equitable justice system.

Simultaneously, we are complementing this reform with the modernization of our administrative processes to enhance responsiveness and efficiency. To achieve this, the Ministry of Digital Transformation and Modernization of Administration has been established. This ministry is tasked with, among other responsibilities, streamlining administrative and tax procedures through the integration of information technologies. Additionally, efforts are underway to modernize private sector access to public markets.

In order to further facilitate and expedite procedures for both national and foreign investors, we have instituted an investment agency (APIM) and the Higher Investment Council, personally chaired by me. This council brings together representatives from major multinational companies and public sector actors, fostering collaborative decision-making for the benefit of our nation’s economic growth.


BF: The Mauritanian economy has seen gradual growth, increasing by 2.4% in 2021 and 5.2% in 2022. Grand Tortue Ahmeyim ‘s large hydrocarbon projects are expected to bring a lot of new revenue to the country. Additionally, the country has a considerable agricultural sector which currently employs approximately 50% of the population. In 2023 and 2024, GDP growth is expected to reach 6.5%. What are your policies that you are developing to create more jobs in Mauritania?

Mohammed Ould Cheikh El Ghazouani: Mauritania stands out for its abundant mineral wealth, particularly the high-quality iron ores, boasting reserves estimated at approximately 2 billion tons. Additionally, we are endowed with substantial gold reserves amounting to 25 million ounces, alongside other valuable resources like copper, phosphate, and gypsum.

Despite the abundance of these mineral resources, as well as our rich fishing, agricultural, and livestock industries, Mauritania has faced challenges in fostering sustainable economic and social development over the last six decades. To address this, we have formulated a visionary approach to reshape our economy and leverage the potential of each sector, with a particular emphasis on prioritizing job-generating domains such as agriculture, fishing, and livestock.

Furthermore, strategic measures have been devised to generate thousands of jobs across various sectors, including significant investments in energy, infrastructure, seawater desalination, and other key areas. This comprehensive vision aims to unlock the full economic potential of our nation, fostering both sustainable growth and social progress.


BF: How does the government intend to ensure that its entire population benefits from new revenues from gas exploitation?

Mohammed Ould Cheikh El Ghazouani: Mauritania is currently in the active phase of developing its extensive mining resources, with a specific focus on the iron, gold, and copper sectors. The Grand Tortue Ahmeyim (GTA) gas field, set to commence exploitation in the first half of 2024, represents a significant milestone in our gas exploration efforts. Additionally, promising gas fields like BirAllah further contribute to the optimistic outlook for our gas industry. Notably, Mauritania’s vast wind and solar energy resources position the nation as a highly attractive destination for the global energy transformation, particularly in the realm of green hydrogen.

To catalyze economic development stemming from these resources and ensure widespread benefits for our population, we are directing our efforts towards the comprehensive economic and social transformation of the country. This involves increased investments in social and production infrastructure, coupled with an enhanced role for the mining sector in the broader energy transition.

We recognize the substantial opportunities presented by our status as a green hydrogen producer, coupled with the generation of electric power from diverse sources such as gas, wind, and solar energy. Revenues derived from the exploitation of these resources will be earmarked for financing crucial infrastructure and strategic investments aimed at securing a prosperous future for generations to come. Our overarching objective is to foster the emergence of an expanded middle class, thereby contributing to the reduction of inequality – a cause that holds profound significance for me. While acknowledging that inequalities persist globally, I remain steadfast in my commitment to minimizing them to the greatest extent possible.


BF: Iron is Mauritania’s main export, with $2 billion worth of iron ore exported in 2021. This is followed by fish, oil, gold and copper. Mauritania’s main export partner is China, which accounts for 36% of total exports, followed by other countries such as Japan, Switzerland, Spain, France, Italy and Germany. In 2022, the United States imported $6.1 million worth of goods from Mauritania, primarily fish. How important is the United States in particular, and what do you think needs to be done to increase exports and trade with the United States??

Mohammed Ould Cheikh El Ghazouani: Mauritania is inherently open to trade, extending its willingness to engage in trade activities with all nations, including, of course, the United States. While our current trade levels with the United States may not be at their optimum, I am confident that the necessary foundations are in place to enhance this situation. We maintain a robust collaboration with the United States, spanning economic, political, and strategic dimensions.

Our overarching objective is to institute initiatives that foster development and create expanded opportunities for trade and investment across various sectors. Notably, Mauritania has earned eligibility for the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), and I firmly believe that we should capitalize on this connection to fortify bilateral trade relations.

Given the United States’ growing interest in Africa, I am optimistic that our geographical proximity and the potential opportunities we offer position Mauritania as a future pivotal partner for the United States within the African continent. This strategic alignment can unlock new avenues for cooperation and mutual benefit.


BF: By the end of 2022, the US government has committed to investing $55 billion in the African continent. You also recently met with the vice president for policy and evaluation of the U.S. government’s Millennium Challenge Corporation, which seeks to invest in economic growth and reduce poverty. To what extent could Mauritania benefit from these funds, and what opportunities should U.S. investors be most interested in?

Mohammed Ould Cheikh El Ghazouani: I had the privilege of participating in the United States-Africa summit in December 2022, where a pivotal announcement was made. The anticipation of this initiative materializing is significant, and I am confident that when it comes to fruition, it will unfold substantial opportunities. As I highlighted earlier, Mauritania is well-positioned to attract a substantial portion of these funds, leveraging this chance to finance crucial projects, particularly in the realm of renewable energies.

Furthermore, I foresee promising prospects in the agribusiness sector, presenting opportunities to finance infrastructure and value chains associated with fisheries and livestock. Considering our geographic proximity, untapped potential, and the myriad assets at our disposal, I find no reason why Mauritania should not emerge as an appealing destination for American investments.


BF: You have enjoyed strong success since assuming the presidency in 2019, with a focus on reforms, territorial integrity and national security. In May, you won a test vote for local and legislative elections in preparation for next year’s elections. Have you achieved your objectives, what are the objectives still to be achieved, and your vision for the country?

Mohammed Ould Cheikh El Ghazouani: Since assuming the presidency in 2019, we have been steadfast in our commitment to significant progress, with a primary focus on implementing reforms, upholding territorial integrity, and ensuring national security. With a clearly defined vision for the country and the effective deployment of our armed and security forces, we have successfully achieved a crucial objective.

Recognizing the paramount importance of security to both investments and the peace of mind of our citizens, we take pride in securing our borders, which span thousands of kilometers, including a 2,360 km border with Mali.

Internally, we take pride in being a nation where Mauritanians can freely express their political choices without fear of harassment. The recent organization of elections underscores our unwavering commitment to democracy. Our dedication to democratic reforms is an ongoing endeavor aimed at constructing a rule of law that serves the entire population.


BF: Do you have a final message for USA Today’s readers?

Mohammed Ould Cheikh El Ghazouani: It is disheartening that Mauritania is not better recognized on the global stage. Given our strategic location bridging the African and African Arab worlds, along with our proximity to Europe and openness to the United States across the Atlantic, there is no reason for this lack of recognition. From a security and geopolitical standpoint, although not on the southern coast of the Mediterranean, we stand at the doorstep of Europe. Moreover, in terms of security, we are the closest point in Africa to the US east coast.

In a world as interconnected as ours, it is perplexing that Mauritania, with its abundant underground wealth and numerous opportunities, remains relatively unknown. The Mauritanian people are known for their hospitality, tolerance, and rejection of violence, fostering a culture marked by fraternity and friendship.

I am convinced that Mauritania should be more than just a physical destination; it should be a destination in people’s minds. There are compelling reasons why our country should be a preferred choice for American investors and tourists.