Poised for Take off? since Gaining Independence from France in 1960, Mauritania Has Been Working to Establish a Better Way of Life for Its Population and a Place on the World Stage. Now, It Appears, This Previously "Quiet" Country Might Have Something to Shout about. Mauritania's Ambassador to London HE Dr Youssouf Diagana Talks to the Middle East. (Mauritania)
Lancaster, Pat, The Middle East
Iron ore and fish have been the mainstays of Mauritania's export industry for as far back as most people can remember. But, following the issue of exploration licences for oil, gas, uranium and gold last year, hopes are high the country is on the cusp of an economic boom.
Speaking to The Middle East in London this week, Mauritania's ambassador to Britain, Dr Youssouf Diagana, confirmed that for 10 years or more speculation had surrounded his country's potential oil reserves. "About three years ago we decided to go ahead with a programme of exploration and now, following the issue of licences to a number of foreign companies last year, we are hoping the news will be good". Certainly Mauritania could do with some good news. Since it gained independence from France in 1960, this Islamic republic of 2.5 million people, which is bordered by the African States of Senegal and Mali to the south and Algeria and Morroco to the north, has struggled with attempts towards modernisation.
President Maaaouya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya, who took office in 1984 was determined to improve the lot of his countrymen and has done much to set his country on the path to economic liberalisation. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank have both praised the government's economic reforms, notably those regarding privatisation.
Dr Diagana explained: "When the French left in 1960 there was little in Mauritania except the railway they built to transport iron ore to the coast for export. We had no roads, no hospitals and only one secondary school in the entire country. Slowly, with the help of loans from the larger agencies, as well as friendly countries, we began to build an infrastructure, working through developmental aims set in a series of five-year plans. Our capital city Nouakchott did not previously exist, under French rule we shared a joint capital city with Senegal. On the eve of independence, a group of tents was set up near an old fort and declared the new nation's capital."
Nouakchott is now a bustling city of 750,000, its port, Port Nouakchott, built using an interest free loan from China and Chinese expertise is a magnificent feat of engineering. "We are very proud of what we have been able to achieve but we still have a long way to go", said Dr Diagana.
The ambassador noted that for years after independence every member of the government had been through the same secondary school--the only one in the country--now, new generations of Mauritanian politicians and diplomats study at the country's new university.
Part of the reason for opening the London embassy was to foster good relations and facilitate improved bilateral trade. Dr Diagana, the first resident Mauritanian ambassador to London, arrived in the capital three years ago after serving in Beijing, Bonn, Japan and Abidjan. …