28 Nov Interview with SEM. Mohamed Salem Ould Merzoug, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Mauritania
BF: Under the leadership of His Excellency Mr. Mohammed Ould Cheikh El Ghazouani, Mauritania is working to develop, diversify and deepen its economic and commercial partnerships with the countries of the African continent but also elsewhere by taking advantage of its geostrategic position and its natural resources, while promoting its private sector through the sanitation and renovation of the business climate and the massification of sectoral investments. To begin, I would like to have your insights on the geostrategic situation of Mauritania. Located at the crossroads of North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa, what are the strategic advantages but also the main challenges that come with this geographical location?
Mohamed Salem Ould Merzoug: Mauritania holds a distinctive geopolitical position, serving as a vital link between the Maghreb, the Mediterranean, sub-Saharan Africa, and the Atlantic. This strategic location positions the country as a bridge, not only in terms of geography but also culturally, spiritually, and civilisational. President Mohamed Ould Cheikh El Ghazouani’s visionary leadership has recognized the potential inherent in this unique positioning, paving the way for a comprehensive development strategy.
The country’s extensive Atlantic coastline, facing Europe and the Americas, underscores its significance as a potential hub with multimodal connectivity. Beyond its geographical advantages, Mauritania has leveraged its role as a transmission belt to build bridges on cultural and civilizational levels, fostering connections between diverse spheres. This cultural foundation serves as a crucial underpinning for the construction of shared paths, contributing to the nation’s rich tapestry.
President El Ghazouani’s new vision aligns with the country’s strengths, emphasizing the development of renewable natural resources, including agriculture, livestock, fishing, and clean energy. This strategic shift reflects a commitment to sustainable growth, education, health, and environmental stewardship. The choice to focus on renewable resources, coupled with investment in education through the republican school system, positions Mauritania for a resilient and prosperous future.
Recognizing the finiteness of certain resources, particularly in the mining sector, the country has embarked on a nuanced strategy that minimizes dependence on extractive industries. This diversification of the economy lays the groundwork for enduring development and resilience against natural constraints and obstacles. President El Ghazouani’s vision, encapsulated in this multifaceted strategy, represents a strategic contribution that charts a course toward lasting strength and development for Mauritania.
BF: The question of security in the Sahel is at the center of concerns. Fortunately, Mauritania has had good results in the fight against terrorism, particularly through military action and arbitration. The country has prevented terrorist attacks since 2011, it is also the current presidency of the G5 Sahel. How do you reassure existing and potential investors and partners about the security of Mauritania?
Mohamed Salem Ould Merzoug: Security in Mauritania is a multi-faceted concept encompassing both military and investment dimensions, each playing a pivotal role in the nation’s overall development. At its core, security involves military, police, and administrative measures that form the foundational bedrock of the country’s stability. Beyond the traditional military and police aspects, the security of investments emerges as a critical component integral to the broader mechanics of development.
Significant strides have been made in the realm of security through structural reforms, particularly in the justice system—a linchpin of the rule of law. The overarching objective of these reforms is to establish legal certainty and predictability, ensuring uniform application of standards, transparency, fairness, and sound governance aligned with international norms. This commitment to institutional integrity has fostered trust among investors and technical and financial partners, creating a foundation for sustained development.
On the physical and military security front, Mauritania has successfully secured its territory, notably in the Sahel region, addressing the region’s challenging security landscape. However, the unique approach adopted by Mauritania goes beyond a mere military and police focus. The nation’s security strategy is multidimensional, integrating ideological and socio-economic dimensions. This holistic approach has proven effective, addressing the dual existential challenges faced by Sahelian states: security and development.
The confluence of these comprehensive security mechanisms positions Mauritania as an oasis of peace and stability amid the regional turbulence experienced by neighboring countries. This commitment to security is further augmented by the government’s prioritization of social investments in key areas. President Mohammed Ould Cheikh El Ghazouani has underscored the importance of social investment in areas such as the Republican school system, health insurance for vulnerable populations, social housing, and cash transfers. Viewing social investment as both a factor of production and a redistribution mechanism, the government aims to contribute to social peace and tranquility, promoting social justice and overall well-being. This integrated approach underscores Mauritania’s commitment to security, development, and social harmony.
BF: Mauritania is rich in resources, particularly thanks to its extractive industries. It is Africa’s second largest iron producer, while its recent oil and gas discoveries place the country on Africa’s great energy spectrum. Who are the country’s main trading partners and what are the main axes of your international cooperation?
Mohamed Salem Ould Merzoug: At the heart of our cooperative policy lies an unwavering commitment to stimulate a significant surge in private investments within our nation. Undertaking sweeping reforms across legal, judicial, chambers of commerce, and business law spheres, we have meticulously crafted an institutional framework exemplified by the Mauritanian High Council of Investment – a dynamic entity presided over by the president.
Complementing this, an inter ministerial committee dedicated to business matters, an investment promotion agency, and a specialized directorate within the Ministry of the Economy have been instituted. Notably, we’ve instigated a groundbreaking reform by integrating economic and commercial advisors within our diplomatic missions. Deployed strategically, these advisors, initially stationed in the United States, Europe, key African regions, and the Middle East, constitute a vital link between diplomacy and economic initiatives.
Our recent diplomatic expansions, including economic and commercial offices in South Korea and India, along with the establishment of an embassy in Canada, underscore the innovative dimension of our economic diplomacy paradigm. In recognition of Mauritania as an outstanding product on the global stage, these initiatives are pivotal in fostering international collaborations.
These reforms, underpinned by a forward-thinking approach, establish a robust framework designed to intensify private investments, fortify economic ties, and elevate Mauritania’s status as an enticing destination for international collaboration. The fusion of diplomatic initiatives with investment-focused reforms underscores our steadfast belief in Mauritania’s innate appeal and its potential for mutual prosperity – a conviction further supported by key data, such as the substantial 50% allocation to economic diplomacy efforts.
BF: American investments in Mauritania have generally targeted the hydrocarbon and mining sector. However, other sectors such as green energy, telecommunications and agriculture now look promising for US investors. By the end of 2022, the American government has committed to investing $55 billion in the African continent. In addition, Mauritania is also eligible for the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC). What investment opportunities do you want to highlight in the country that could interest the United States? What is Mauritania doing to stand out and benefit from renewed American interest in Africa?
Mohamed Salim Ould Merzoug: Mauritania and the United States share a longstanding friendship, characterized by historical camaraderie, even during moments when circumstances diverged from our aspirations. Recognizing the significance of nurturing enduring ties, we embarked on a comprehensive effort to foster a lasting improvement in our relationship. The success of this endeavor can be attributed to the collaborative work, extensive exchanges, and, above all, the confidence instilled by the leadership of our president. This revived sense of trust has laid the foundation for a new, positive momentum, which we are diligently working to strengthen every day. Our commitment to democratic principles, the rule of law, human rights, and innovative social and economic policies underscores our dedication to this constructive partnership.
We express our gratitude to the U.S. administration for our eligibility for the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC). Looking ahead, our immediate objectives include furthering our collaboration through initiatives such as the expansion of direct bilateral aid, leveraging the benefits of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), the return of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) facilitated by the establishment of an office in Nouakchott, and the intensified and diversified investment opportunities our country presents.
In the broader context, the United States has made substantial commitments to support Africa, as evident from the decisions made during the summit held last December in Washington between African and American leaders. It is my firm belief that Mauritania, given its commitment to sustainability and the creation of a more conducive business environment, should be a beneficiary of this friendship. Additionally, supporting Mauritania becomes a strategic contribution to the fight against terrorism in the Sahel and, more broadly, aligns with the construction of a robust architecture of peace and security at both regional and global levels. These compelling reasons emphasize the importance of Mauritania receiving assistance from our friendly ally, the United States.
BF: Mauritania remains a discreet country on the international scene. How do you think your country is perceived internationally? And what is Mauritania doing to improve its image and increase its participation in international affairs?
Mohamed Salem Ould Merzoug: Mauritania’s global presence is far from discreet; it resonates with excellence, annually fortifying its standing as a nation that commands attention. Our president’s influential voice shapes decisions on the international stage, contributing to our image as a paragon of security and stability, particularly in the Sahel region, where our leadership is universally recognized.
Our distinctive approach to combating extremism yields positive results, and our diplomatic prowess spans diverse regions, fostering meaningful communication with the Arab world, Black Africa, the Muslim community, and Europe. Presiding over the G5 Sahel, despite the originally scheduled return in two years, reflects the consensus surrounding the conciliatory role our country plays within this organization. Additionally, we hold the chairmanship of the L’Organisation pour la mise en valeur du fleuve Sénégal (OMVS) and the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Council of Foreign Ministers.
Our eligibility for the MCC and invitations to significant global summits, such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit in Madrid in June 2022 and the upcoming one next year, are testaments to our integration into the global order. If our diplomatic actions, guided by humility and efficiency, are perceived as discreet, we proudly embrace this approach. The diplomatic achievements under the stewardship of president Ghazouani reflect the pride we take in our global engagement.
BF: Do you have a final message for USA TODAY readers?
Mohamed Salim Ould Merzoug: Our fervent hope is that private investors recognize and seize the opportunity to invest in the oasis of peace and security that Mauritania represents. With a stable environment, strategic location, and multifaceted development initiatives, our country stands as a promising destination for those seeking to contribute to and benefit from sustained growth and prosperity.