Magazine article Geographical

Mauritania

Magazine article Geographical

Mauritania

Article excerpt

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IN AUGUST, THE FIRST DEMOCRATICALLY elected president of Mauritania, Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, was overthrown in a coup organised by renegade soldiers led by General Mohammed Ould Abdelaziz. The prime minister, Yahia Ould Ahmed El-Waqef, was also detained, and at the time of writing, the whereabouts of the president were still unclear. While Mauritania is no stranger to political upheaval, the coup provoked demonstrations in the capital city, Nouakchott.

Roughly five times the size of the UK, but with a population of only three million people, Mauritania is located in northwest Africa, between the disputed region of Western Sahara, Mall and Senegal. A former French colony, it gained independence in 1960. At that time, Morocco, itself a former French colony, tried to acquire the country, leading to tensions between the two nations. Later, Morocco improved relations in an attempt to cement its occupation of Western Sahara. However, the relationship remained tense for much of the 1970s and '80s, not least because Mauritania recognised the Polisario, which continues to contest Morocco's occupation of Western Sahara. From the mid-1980s until 2005, the country was under the military control of Maaouya Ould Sid Ahmed Taya. He was eventually deposed in a coup.

Mauritania had already been attracting increased international interest before the recent coup, not only because of its geopolitical importance to the 'war on terror' but also due to its recently discovered fossil fuel resources. Africa's newest oil producer, the country is considered to have reserves totalling at least 500 million of barrels of oil in two offshore fields.

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Notwithstanding this hydrocarbon potential, Mauritania's economy is still largely dependent on agriculture and livestock herding. There are substantial deposits of iron ore, which account for up to 40 per cent of its exports by value. Fishing has grown in importance (especially via an agreement with the EU) and a deep-water port was recently established close to Nouakchott. While the fishing grounds off Mauritania are considered to be rich, illegal fishing has been a major problem. …

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