Magazine article New African

Mauritania Keenly Awaits Its Elections: Mauritania Is Expected to Hold Presidential Elections on 7 November, and the People Can't Wait to Show Where Their Loyalty Lies, Especially after the Abortive Coup on 8 June

Magazine article New African

Mauritania Keenly Awaits Its Elections: Mauritania Is Expected to Hold Presidential Elections on 7 November, and the People Can't Wait to Show Where Their Loyalty Lies, Especially after the Abortive Coup on 8 June

Article excerpt

Having crushed the coup attempt in June, Mauritania is keenly awaiting its presidential elections expected to be held in November, although at the time of going in press, the government had not formally announced the election date. The major challenger to President Maaouiya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya is Mohamed Khouna Ould Haidallah, the former military head of state who was overthrown in 1984 by Taya, then an army officer. Ould Haidallah has formed an unusual broad coalition with the country's liberal reformers and Islamists, from whom he draws wide support.

President Taya came to power in 1984 and has since won two elections, in 1992 and 1997. His government has been boosted in recent years by the discovery of offshore oil and gas reserves, which, experts say, could revolutionise the economy.

Two main fields have been discovered so far--the Chinguetti Complex and Banda. Both are being operated by the Australian company, Woodside Petroleum. Woodside is working in partnership with several Australian companies, including Fusion Oil and Gas.

According to Alan Stein, Fusion Oil's chief executive: "This is starting to show the potential there is for many, many more discoveries in this region."

Until the discovery, of the two fields, Mauritania relied heavily on fishing and iron ore for much of its revenue. Iron ore, in fact, still accounts for 12% of GDP and provides one of the country's tourist symbols--the trains that carry the ore from the mines at Zouerate in the north to the port of Nouadhibou are the longest in the world, and a major tourist attraction.

Now, with the new discoveries, it is hoped that government royalties from the oil and gas fields would bring relief in the fishing and iron ore sectors.

On 18 July, the IMF approved a loan of $8.8m for poverty reduction and growth in the country. An IMF statement that accompanied the loan said despite substantial economic growth in the country in recent years, "much remains to be done to alleviate poverty".

The statement continued: "Mauritania has registered strong economic performance supported by sound policies and a firm commitment to reform. As a result, growth has been robust, inflation has remained low, and the external position has strengthened."

According to Anne Krueger, an official of the IMF, Mauritania "has made substantial progress in reducing poverty. But, despite these achievements, much remains to be done to alleviate poverty further. There is also the need to strengthen governance and transparency, and pursue the reform agenda with respect to public finances and the financial sector. Addressing these challenges, would set the stage for sustained growth and poverty reduction."

The Mauritanian government has for years closely followed the prescriptions of the IMF and the World Bank, leading to massive structural reforms and privatisation. This has led to large-scale economic growth but, according to government critics, little poverty reduction.

In June last year, Mauritania became only the sixth country in Africa to qualify for full Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) assistance. Even then, the country's external debt still stands at a massive 270% of GDP. It is hoped that debt service relief (from HIPC) of $1. …

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