Mauritania – ‘“land of a thousand poets’

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If you ever looked for a country that fits the picture of the Arabian fictional movie, Aladin, one would not rule out Mauritania. The Northwest African country has a rich repertoire of oral literature including epics, riddles, folk tales and legends, Islamic poetry and prose with storytelling fitting the Mauritanian tradition for centuries. And what further infatuates this fantasy thinking is, about a third of the topography is desert with flat parts, covered with arid plains and occasional oasis. Though, Mauritania is in fact located in Africa at the intersection of North Africa (the Maghrib) and West Africa. In size, the country is roughly one and a half times of Texas. Its area is 398,069 square miles (1,031,000 square kilometres), and its divided into 4 geographical sections, the Saharan, the Sahelian, the Senegal River Valley, and the coastal zones. The country has various indigenous groups that is blended seamlessly with the French and Moorish cultures helping to shape the art of storytelling in the country, a reminder of the country’s colonial past. As romantic this may sound, the country sadly though, is one of the last countries in the world where people are still born into slavery, and literally owned by other people, facing a lifetime of abuse, and forced labour.

“In Mauritania, there are flagrant breaches of the conventions that the country has ratified: slavery in all its forms, whether traditional or modern; racism and discrimination, especially against people of African descent; torture; enforced disappearances; secret imprisonment; and restrictions to freedom of opinion, expression, association and conscience”, these were the words of anti-slavery activist Biram Dah Abeidin 2014out of a cell in Aleg prison. And even though Mauritania’s population is around 4.6 million (Worldmeter, 2020), and is known as the fourth least densely populated country in world it still has some lagging issues in other social inequalities. Since independence, successive Governments have struggled to improve poverty in the capital city Nouakchott, probably because of migration to urban areas and because the capital tends to attract the poorest of the poor. The employment rate has not improved, and groups that have not benefited from social progress, such as youth, women, and low-income workers, that are increasingly marginalized. Only 55% of children aged 6 to 11 are enrolled in primary school, one-third of households live in precarious housing, and 38% of the population has access to electric lighting. Based on all these social indicators Mauritania is classified by the United Nations as a Least Developed Country (LDC).

On the Neil economic scale, a can of coke cost IS MRU 45,00 Mauritania Ouguiya (R 2, 11) and the price of litre petrol is MRU 43,00 Mauritania Ouguiya (R 2, 03). Mauritania inflation rate for 2019 was 2.30%, a 0.75% decline from 2018. The inflation rate in Mauritania was recorded at 2.90% in June of 2020.

Despite all these challenging issues faced by Mauritanians, there are some opportunities too, namely in the Oil and Gas sector. In 2018, BP invested in the Mauritania-Senegal FLNG plan. The Greater Tortue Ahmeyim LNG project will produce around 2.5 million tonnes per year, with first gas expected in 2022. There are expansion plans for a hub on Yakaar-Teranga and one on Birallah in Senegal that will benefit Mauritania as the partner in the plan. The Mauritania-Senegal region has now evolved from a frontier to an emerging hydrocarbon opportunity attracting the attention of the global industry. Mining also continues to offer great potential. Among the many unexplored natural resources are gold, diamonds, copper, gypsum, and hydrocarbons. But one of the most remarkable assets is the countries geographical location which is at the crossroads of North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa. Mauritania is also the nearest tropical destination to Europe, an asset that some foreign investors have already used to their advantage, in the fruit and vegetable sector. There are also plans to build a bridge over the Senegal River, linking Rosso to Saint-Louis, Senegal. Having these communication links in place will make trade between Mauritania and its neighbours easier, and will help to integrate Mauritania more fully into the Maghreb and West Africa. Many Mauritanians have faith in the supernatural powers of holy men called marabouts, or murabitun. It is believed that their baraka, or divine grace, allows them to perform miracles. The people of Mauritania now hope the new government can deliver to their needs, and combat the decades of issues facing them by bringing opportunity to the country, and hope as Aladin did for Agrabah.

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