27 Nov Mauritania: Oasis of peace and stability
President Ghazouani’s widely admired whole-of-government approach to ensuring security for citizens and investors in the West African nation has laid the groundwork for inclusive and sustainable socioeconomic development
At the crossroads of North and sub-Saharan Africa with an Atlantic coastline that extends over 450 miles, the Islamic Republic of Mauritania boasts an increasingly dynamic economy. This year, the nation’s gross domestic product is forecast to expand by about 4.8%, primarily driven by exports of its wealth of natural resources that include highly desirable minerals and ocean fish. Agriculture and livestock are also important economic contributors, despite the fact that two-thirds of the country is covered by desert. 2024 should see the start of another major upswing for the economy, with growth of around 6.5% expected as production begins at the Greater Tortue Ahmeyim offshore natural gas field, a transformational project for the country that is being led by BP and Kosmos Energy.
As well as outperforming its West African neighbors economically, Mauritania stands out for its political and social stability in the volatile Sahel region where other nations have suffered from extremism. According to the US’s Acting Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, who visited the country in 2022 as part of President Biden’s efforts to strengthen ties with key African partners, Mauritania is “a beacon of democracy and a beacon of security in this part of the world.” While the country has enjoyed peace within the borders it shares with the Western Sahara, Algeria, Mali and Senegal since 2011, a recent reinforcement of safety levels has been attributed to the widely admired leadership of President Mohamed Cheikh El Ghazouani, who was democratically elected in 2019 with a mandate for socioeconomic reforms, consensual politics and cementing territorial integrity and stability.
“Security is fundamental to the peace of mind of our citizens and investors. Our successful security strategy that has enabled us to protect ourselves against terrorist attacks and secure our borders is based on three pillars,” explains Ghazouani. “The first is about building the operational capabilities of our armed forces and security. The second is based on promoting values of tolerance among our young people and the third consists of promoting economic and social development, particularly in remote and landlocked areas. This third aspect implies significant and effective state presence throughout our territory, because we have observed that, in the Sahel region, the more the state is absent, the more the climate becomes conducive to insecurity and terrorism.”
Beyond its own borders, Mauritania has made a vital contribution to restoring stability in the wider region through its founding membership of the G5 Sahel, a framework for development and security cooperation that was established in the nation’s capital, Nouakchott, in 2014 by Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali and Niger. Ghazouani currently holds the rotating presidency of the organization. “Despite challenges, we have made significant progress. G5 Sahel has enabled member countries to pool their efforts to create conditions conducive to development and security. It has also highlighted the close relationship between security and development to the international community — this is especially evident in an environment like the Sahel, where insecurity is often linked to underdevelopment,” he states. “The G5 Sahel is facing strong turbulence at the moment, which further pushes us to redouble our efforts to find solutions to resolve our problems.”
Universal strategy for development
As US Principal Deputy National Security Advisor Jon Finer noted during his recent trip to the country: “Mauritania’s whole-of-government approach to combating terrorism is praiseworthy because it addresses not only the security threat, but the underlying political, economic and development needs that — if ignored — threaten the stability and security of a country.”
Ghazouani’s government is pursuing an ambitious strategy for addressing those combined needs that seeks to accelerate economic growth and inclusive prosperity for all citizens. The president points out that, “Mauritania is known for its rich mineral resources, notably its high-quality iron ores, gold reserves and other minerals such as copper, phosphate and gypsum. Despite these resources and those of our fishing, agricultural and livestock industries, Mauritania has not succeeded in initiating sustainable economic and social development in the last six decades. To remedy this, we have developed a vision for transforming our economy and harnessing the potential of each sector, giving priority to job-generating industries.”
His government is also moving the country’s economy into new sectors, notably by capitalizing on Mauritania’s potential as an energy generator. “In addition to Grand Tortue Ahmeyim, we have other important gas fields such as BirAllah that offer promising prospects. Green hydrogen also constitutes a very big opportunity for Mauritania, which has very substantial wind and solar energy resources across large areas that are arousing keen interest among international operators, making Mauritania a destination of choice for the global energy transition,” he reveals. “To initiate economic and social development from these resources and ensure that our entire population benefits, revenues from their exploitation will be allocated to financing social and productive infrastructure, and to investments aimed at guaranteeing prosperity for future generations. Our goal is to create an expanded middle class that will help reduce inequality — a cause that is particularly close to my heart that I am committed to reducing as much as possible.”
To meet this goal, Ghazouani’s government has put investment plans in motion that are increasing access to high-quality education, training, health, drinking water, electricity and other services in a country that is one of the least densely populated worldwide and in which only 56% of its approximately 4.8 million residents live in urban areas. Other priorities include further strengthening social justice and cohesion, the empowerment of women, good governance and human rights.
The government is also implementing a range of programs to make doing business easier. “Development cannot be fully achieved without the strong involvement of the private sector. For the private sector to get involved, it is necessary to create an attractive environment, which requires reforms. We are deploying major reforms in this direction at the moment in order to guarantee investors, whether foreign or national, maximum security and assurance in a win-win spirit,” Ghazouani explains. “These include the modernization of our business climate’s regulatory framework, as well as a reform of our judicial system. The reforms are accompanied by a modernization of our administration to make it more responsive and rapid.”
Within this process, the government has created a Ministry of Digital Transformation and Modernization of Administration that is simplifying administrative and tax procedures; a new investment code; an investment agency to facilitate and accelerate procedures for investors; and a Higher Investment Council that is chaired by Ghazouani, which includes representatives from multinationals currently operating in the country.
As a result of the government’s reform package, in particular the progress it has made in protecting workers’ rights, this November the Biden administration announced that Mauritanian exports to the US will regain their preferential duty-free benefits through the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which had been suspended in 2019. Ghazouani welcomes this move: “Mauritania is a nation open to trade and willing to trade with all countries, including, naturally, the US. Currently, our trade with the US is not at an optimal level, but I believe the elements are now in place to improve this situation. We maintain close collaboration, economically, politically and strategically, with the US and our objective is to put in place initiatives that promote development and create more opportunities for trade and investment in general.”
He regrets that the Sahal country currently has a relatively low profile among the international trade and investment community. “I cannot understand why, in a world as global as ours, Mauritania, with its many opportunities in terms of its underground wealth and other possibilities, remains unknown,” says Ghazouani. “The Mauritanian people are welcoming, tolerant and they reject violence and anything that is not marked by fraternity and friendship. Given also our geostrategic position between the African and the African-Arab worlds, as well as our proximity to Europe and the fact that we are the closest point to the US East Coast in Africa, I see no reason why Mauritania should not become an attractive destination for US investors and tourists.”