Mauritania’s struggle v poverty and extremism

Friday 23/10/2015
(Photo credit: Mohamad Azakir)

BEIRUT - Mauritania plans to boost efforts to combat poverty through a more equitable distribution of eco­nomic resources and aims to weaken extremist ideas with a programme of job creation, said Sid’Ahmed Ould Raiss, the West African country’s minister for Economic Affairs and Develop­ment.
Nouakchott, the latest member of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), says its membership in the organisation will boost efforts to distribute benefits from its good economic growth among its poorer social sectors, Raiss told The Arab Weekly.
Mauritania, like all other members of the United Nations, has adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which replaced the 2000-15 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
“Alongside the agenda, Maurita­nia wants to move on from its pov­erty follow-up approach, which accompanied the SDGs [Sustain­able Development Goals], towards the concept of distributing wealth and economic growth benefits,” he said during an interview in Beirut, where he attended October 19th ceremonies raising his country’s flag at ESCWA’s headquarters.
“In the last five years, we achieved good economic growth at an average of 5.5% annually. The challenge we deal with now is how to distribute this growth among fragile social brackets and how to diversify our economy in order for it to fend off outside shocks,” Raiss said, adding that the poverty rate, estimated at 42% in 2008 by the World Bank, has shrunk 11% since then.
“We are very happy to join ESCWA and count heavily on its expertise and capabilities to sup­port our national economic insti­tutions. We consider our member­ship of the organisation a chance for Mauritania’s economic integra­tion into the pan-Arab economy,” he added, commending ESCWA’s programming and policy-making guidelines for member countries.
Mauritania is worried by grow­ing threats of jihadists in its region but says it is well prepared to pro­tect itself, according to Raiss.
“We are in a region with security concerns, including, for exam­ple, northern Mali, where many terrorist extremist organisations operate,” he said. “Mauritania has been reorganising and re-equipping its army and has been applying a comprehen­sive approach against this phe­nomenon, including a dialogue with young men who have extremist thoughts to convince them to adopt moderate ideas.
“Also, we have an economic approach to create as many jobs as possible,” he added, under­scoring the impor­tance of Nouakchott’s security and intelligence cooperation with neigh­bouring and world states in undermining terrorism threats.
Mauritania is mostly desert, with a population of about 3.5 million. In 2013, its per capita gross national income stood at $1,060. The country has a wealth of natural resources, particularly in the mining sector, and experi­ences sustained growth thanks to a period of high international commodity prices, according to the World Bank.
The country is Africa’s second leading exporter of iron ore and also exports gold and copper. It is a modest oil producer and pos­sesses considerable natural gas deposits. Mauritania’s waters have some of the most abundant fish stocks in the world.
In Sub-Saharan African com­modity exporters, including Mau­ritania, a recent drop in prices, due mainly to lower demand by China’s slowing economy, is hurting growth, the World Bank said on October 5th. Sub-Saharan Africa’s average growth is pre­dicted to slow in 2015 to 3.7% from 4.6% in 2014, reaching the slowest growth rate since 2009 amid weak global economic conditions.
Mali suffered a coup in 2012. In the chaos that followed, Tuareg rebels seized control of the north, declaring independence, before being ousted by Islamist mili­tants. Instability remains, despite the French intervention and the presence of an 11,000-person UN peacekeeping force. Jihadist at­tacks, including one in June that left two Malian soldiers, one civil­ian and nine jihadists dead, take place not far from Mauritanian borders.
While focusing on economic integration in the Arab region, Mauritania pays special attention to relations with Gulf Arab states, Raiss said. Nouakchott, which sides with the Saudi-led coalition operation against Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen, “wants ties with Gulf Arab states, including trade exchange, to be more developed”, and has tried through the invest­ment code, which it revised in 2012, to attract projects from the region, he added.
In September, the Interna­tional Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and the UN Develop­ment Programme (UNDP) said in a report Mauritania could grow its economy through developing its renewable energy resources.
“This is true, and we are work­ing on the matter. Recently, 30% of our energy production has been attributed to renewable resources, including wind and solar energy,” Raiss said, arguing that the sharp decline in international oil prices since June 2014 has not halted his country’s plans in this regard.