Mauritania elects a president

Summary: Ghazouani peacefully elected as president in place of Abdel Aziz – no change. Economy doing well.

Mauritania attracts little international attention, with the main interest currently focused on football and its rise from 206th to 103rd in Fifa’s world rankings; today for the first time ever it debuts in the Africa Cup of Nations playing Mali. It is a member of the Arab League, with a mixed population of four and a half million and a large area of nearly 400,000 mi.², 95% desert.

Along with other Saharan countries it plays a part in the international effort led by France and the US to deal with IS and al-Qa’ida threats in the Sahel, although recent action has mainly been concentrated in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger in the southern Sahel. France said last month that France’s support was time-limited; “progressively what needs to be said is that the security of Africans will be ensured by Africans.”

Presidential elections were held on 22 June, the first in Mauritania’s history to choose a successor to a democratically elected president. President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz (62) came to power in a 2008 coup and was elected president in 2009. He had completed two five-year elected terms, the maximum allowed under the constitution, and stepped aside. As expected the successful candidate was Mohamed Ould Ghazouani (62), a former general and defence minister, backed by the Union for the Republic, the party founded by Abdel Aziz, which is regarded as an ally of the West against Islamist militants.

With a reported turnout of 62%, Ghazouani got 52% of the vote. The anti-slavery campaigner Biram Dah Abeid was second with 18.58% and former prime minister Mohamed Ould Boubacar backed by Mauritania’s biggest Islamist party Tawassoul got 17.85%. The election was conducted peacefully (and was observed by a 35 man African Union mission led by the former Cameroon prime minister Philemon Yang), but the result was rejected by both leading opposition candidates before the final results were in.

Slavery remains an issue. Biram is the son of a slave and according to a Middle East Eye report on his campaign has served long spells in prison for his antislavery activism. In 1981 Mauritania formally abolished slavery, the last country in the world to do so, but it still continues with 2% of the population – 90,000 people – living as slaves according to the 2018 global slavery index. Criminal laws allowing slaveholders to be prosecuted were passed in 2007, but have yet to be effectively enforced.

The economy has done well under Abdel Aziz with projected GDP growth for 2019 at 6.4%, and the large offshore Greater Tortue Ahmeyim gas field under development. There is a useful report on Mauritania’s international trade at link: main exports iron ore, gold, fish and shellfish . But Reuters reports widespread discontent among young people with few prospects. Corruption is rife and salaries have stagnated.

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