Foreign Policy magazine published an article that analyzed the reasons that make Mauritania the focus of attention of regional and international parties, and the author stressed that everyone is courting it.
Samuel Ramani, a professor of politics and international relations at the University of Oxford, said in his article that NATO, China, Russia and regional powers are all seeking closer ties with Mauritania, which he describes as a stable West African country with vital energy supplies and a strategically valuable location.
He pointed out that Chinese President Xi Jinping met with his Mauritanian counterpart Mohamed Ould Ghazouani twice, the first on July 28 in the Chinese city of Chengdu, and the other during the China-Arab summit held in the Saudi capital Riyadh on December 2022, 21, which was followed by China's conclusion of a cooperation agreement in the fields of agriculture, fish and green energy. China also gave Mauritania $<> million in debt relief.
On August 14, German Development Minister Svenja Schulze visited the headquarters of the UN refugee agency in the Mauritanian capital Nouakchott, which the author saw as an implicit acknowledgement of the northwest African country's hosting of up to 100,<> refugees from neighboring countries.
These meetings underscore Mauritania's status as the "citadel of relative political stability" in the Sahel region, made up of Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad, which is governed by a "military junta", said Ramani, who is also an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute.
EU relies on Mauritanian gas to help reduce Shutterstock's energy deficit
Gas & Green Energy
The meetings also indicate the intensity of geostrategic competition in Mauritania, which is often overlooked. This competition revolves around Mauritania's natural gas reserves and its green energy potential provided by its vast desert terrain, not to mention its strategic location on the Atlantic coast.
China's courtship of Mauritania is a reflection of parallel initiatives by other great and regional powers in the Middle East. These initiatives span from counter-terrorism to the development of green hydrogen, and are likely to increase if the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) decides to intervene militarily in Niger.
Despite its history of coups, counterterrorism efforts and a democratic transition in Mauritania have been among the "few success stories" in the Sahel.
The candidate of the Union for the Republic, Mohamed Ould Ghazouani, won the June 2019 presidential elections. Despite fears of the military's crackdown on protesters after the election, France hailed his victory, calling it a "historic democratic moment". The EU also praised the "atmosphere of peace and tranquility surrounding the polls".
Ramani believes Mauritania's transformation into a "safe haven" in the restive Sahel region has put it in the crosshairs of outside powers.
Although Mauritania joined NATO's Mediterranean Dialogue Partnership Programme in 1995, a series of coups have restricted cooperation with Western countries. But relations between Mauritania and the West improved in October 2009 after former President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz met his then-French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy and business leaders in Paris.
The news was welcomed by Western companies, such as Canadian gold mining company Red Black and Australian uranium mining company Murchison United.
Speculation about the creation of a base
As Mauritania's security situation improved and its political system became "semi-democratic," its relations with NATO strengthened dramatically. NATO undertook a mission to train Mauritanian military personnel and established four crisis management centers in the country, which helped the alliance combat threats to security and public health.
Mauritania's invitation to the Madrid summit in June 2022, as a non-NATO partner, has sparked speculation that a NATO base on its Atlantic coast could be established.
The drive to expand security cooperation between NATO and Mauritania is also driven by the desire of European countries to curb "irregular" migration flows from the Sahel. In November 2022, Spain concluded an agreement providing logistical assistance to support Mauritania's efforts to limit the entry of irregular migrants.
Mauritania has assumed new strategic importance as European countries seek alternative energy suppliers. Mauritania is poised to become a gas exporter to Europe by the end of 2023, with the completion of the first phase of the great "turtle/Ahmeim" project, led by BP and Cosmos Energy.
Russia, too, is looking for a role in Mauritania, increasing its engagement with Nouakchott in its search to improve the working conditions of Russian fishermen in Mauritania's exclusive economic zone and providing support against terrorism in the Sahel.
Ghazouani's ability to combine his country's growing diplomatic profile with its long-term economic growth with effective counterterrorism measures will determine whether being dragged into West Africa's coup belt can be avoided.