Mauritania's President Ould Ghazouani seeks reelection amid regional security crisis | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source
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Mauritania's President Ould Ghazouani seeks reelection amid regional security crisis

An electoral banner for Mauritanian president Mohamed Ould Ghazouani is placed during a campaign rally, ahead of the presidential elections in Nouakchott, Mauritania, Wednesday, June 26, 2024. Banner in Arabic reads: "Safe choice." (AP Photo/Mamsy Elkeihel)
Original Publication Date June 28, 2024 - 4:26 AM

NOUAKCHOTT, Mauritania (AP) — Mauritania’s President Mohamed Ould Ghazouani — who is seeking a second term in office in a vote on Saturday — is promising more economic growth and social programs to eradicate poverty and prevent extremism in the vast West African desert nation, even though he is accused of corruption and mismanagement by his opponents.

Mauritania positions itself as a strategic ally of the West in a region swept by coups and violence, but the country has been denounced for rights abuses.

Ghazouani, who is expected to win the vote, is a former army chief who came to power in 2019 following the first democratic transition in the country’s history. He’s also the current president of the African Union.

The vote is taking place in a particularly tense regional climate, with Mauritania’s neighboring countries shaken by military coups and jihadi violence. Mauritania, one of the most stable countries in the Sahel region, has been hailed as a key partner of the West in curbing migration and fighting extremism and hasn’t suffered any attacks since 2011.

Earlier this year, the European Union announced a 210 million-euro ($225 million) fund to help Mauritania crack down on people smugglers and deter migrant boats from taking off, and announced an additional 22 million euros ($23.5 million) for a new anti-terrorism battalion in Mauritania that will patrol the border with restive Mali.

“Mauritania did not emerge as an exception within a turbulent region by chance,” Aïssata Lam, the spokeswoman for Ghazouni, told The Associated Press. “Above all, terrorism, banditry and insecurity thrive in environments conducive to poverty and ignorance. The major socio-economic development projects that have been launched to improve living conditions in vulnerable regions considerably reduce the risks of radicalization and criminal drift.”

Under Ghazouni’s rule, retirement pensions have doubled, Lam said, more than 1.5 million Mauritanians have benefited from social assistance and more than 100,000 families have been covered by health insurance paid by the state.

Ghazouni’s government improved the military capacities to fight terrorism, and implemented deradicalization and social reintegration programs, which promote “religious dialogue for a moderate interpretation of the precepts of our Holy Religion and providing training and employment opportunities for veterans,” Lam said.

But the opposition candidates accused his government of corruption and clientelism. There was “a catastrophic management of the state” under Ghazouni’s rule, said Biram Dah Abeid, an anti-slavery activist and Ghazouni’s main rival in the quest for the presidency.

“The Mauritanian regime has always lived on the pillage of wealth, the repression of populations and the use of forgery,” Dah Abied told the AP after a rally in Nouakchott, the country’s capital, where he was greeted with slogans “Zero Ghazouani” and “Long live Biram.”

Under Ghazoumi’s rule, he said, “corruption is in full swing alongside squandering of state money.”

Ghazouni faces five other opponents including leaders of several opposition parties and a neurosurgeon.

He used his electoral campaign to highlight Mauritania’s security commitments, a message that experts believe is addressed first to the military juntas in neighboring countries and the Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group in the region, but also to the jihadi groups, which have carried out incursions into Mauritanian villages.

?I advise against anyone, an internal or external party, from thinking of destabilizing Mauritania or its territorial integrity,” Ghazouni said during one of the campaign meetings.

Mauritania is rich in natural resources such as iron ore, copper, zinc, phosphate, gold, oil and natural gas. It is poised to become a gas producer by the end of the year, with the planned launch of the BP-operated Greater Tortue Ahmeyin offshore gas project at the border with Senegal.

Yet almost 60% of the population lives in poverty, according to the United Nations, working as farmers or employed in the informal sector. With few economic opportunities for young people at home, many are attempting to cross the Atlantic to reach Europe.

The country has also been denounced for human rights abuses, with the continuous existence of slavery casting a long shadow over its history. For centuries, the country’s economic and political elite of Arab and Amazigh people enslaved Black people from the northwest Sahara.

Mauritania outlawed slavery in 1981, the last country in the world to do so. But the practice continues, human rights groups said, with around 149,000 people in modern slavery in this nation of less than 5 million, according to the 2023 Global Slavery Index.

Dah Abied is a descendant of slaves, and made fighting the practice the cornerstone of his political career — and of his life. He founded the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement, an anti-slavery group, and has been arrested and imprisoned several times by Mauritanian authorities.

“My father was freed from slavery when he was in his mother’s womb,” he told the AP. But then he married a woman in the situation of slavery, Dah Abied said, and he saw his children being sold.

“My father was driven by the concern to fight against slavery, and he made it his legacy,” Dah Abied said. “I promised him that I would fight against slavery all my life, and that is what I am doing.”

News from © The Associated Press, 2024
The Associated Press

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