Mauritania offers gas reserves and mineral deposits with high potential for exploitation, a favourable geographic position to reach other West African countries, and growing opportunities for investment. Politically, Mauritania has experienced its first constitutional and peaceful transfer of power after President Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz stood down at the end of his second elected term of office in mid-2019. The election of President Mohamed Ould Sheikh Ghazouani has been hailed as a positive step for the local business environment. The country has long been marked by coups that have posed a threat to contracts with foreign companies in the past.
Since coming to power, President Mohamed Ould Sheikh Ghazouani has embarked on a series of economic and social reforms. Mauritania has remained the exception in the Sahel, a region where the terror threat is on the rise. Attacks in Mali and Burkina Faso have multiplied and 2019 was the deadliest year since 2012.
While Mauritania has remained the exception, observers warn its role in the G5S and the reforms brought by Ghazouani could raise the country’s exposure. Mauritania will likely continue to be viewed as a safe node for passive activity by Al-Qaeda’s (AQ) leadership, including for communications. Some Mauritanian nationals have historically played the role of ideologues within regional Sahel jihadi groups. Meanwhile, in May 2018, an AQ communique identified some French targets in Mauritania, signalling a continuing threat against the country.
The terror threat is expanding in the Sahel with the resurgence of Islamic State (IS) affiliates, mainly the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS). Operating in small convoys with motorbikes, ISGS has been able to carry out multiple sporadic attacks against soft targets and overrun bases. While the G5 Sahel coalition has achieved some success in degrading ISGS’s capabilities and deterring it from controlling large swathes of territory, the group retains the capability to operate at a local level, often hiring from its area of operations. Meanwhile, the threat in the region is tied to the ability of jihadi groups to exploit local grievances, intercommunal tensions and deep-rooted issues to advance their interests. One such group has been the AQ-affiliaed affiliated Group for Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM).
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