#GetToKnow: Morocco
November 17, 2017

#YourOpinionMatters: Mauritania.

#YourOpinionMatters – Mauritania

Interview questions

1. What was life like growing up in Mauritania?

Happy, we did not need much to be content with what we had, and that is the general spirit of the Mauritanian people, very welcoming and humble people.

  1. What is your fondest memory when you think of your homeland?

Playing outside with all the neighbourhood kids at my cousin’s house. It did not matter whether we were girls or boys, black or moors we were just kids.

  1. Tell us more about Mauritanian culture; i.e. religion, language and traditions.

First off, Mauritania is a cultural melting pot, with all the differences that that can bring, when it comes to customs and languages. There are the Fulani, the Wolof, the Soninke, the Bambara’s, the Haratins (old moor slaves that share the same culture with the moors) and the moors. What we all have in common is our religious beliefs, Islam. It is the base of our society and we try as much as we can to refer to that basis, our faith, to govern our relationships.

  1. Can you elaborate on the socio-economic standing of the country? (i.e. quality of life, economy etc.)

Well I haven’t lived home in 10 years so I am not sure I can elaborate much but from what I gather the Mauritanian way of life has dramatically changed. Our GDP has grown in the past few years yet the population has trouble seeing the fruits of that growth. Their day to day life has become increasingly expensive. The youth also has trouble finding jobs; and a lot, for those who can afford to (or not, a lot try to cross the Mediterranean Sea to try their luck in Europe), opt to try their luck elsewhere. The quality of our education system is quasi-non-existent. With the different changes in the education programs and the impositions of Arabic as a language of instruction, the students have trouble navigating it and look as though they are very concerned about their future.

  1. President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz took power through a coup, and was later elected president in 2009 and won elections again in 2014 – what in your opinion have been his key achievements to date as a leader?

I guess I can say that he has been a helping force in containing the Salafist. Although, the country is becoming increasingly conservative.

  1. In August this year, a constitutional referendum approved the president’s proposals to scrap the Senate and to change the flag – what is the main rational for this development and what are your personal thoughts on it?

Rational, I don’t think there is any, or at least if there is one, it was probably to ensure he does not have any future opposition should he wish to wake up once more and change the Constitution yet again.  It was a ridiculous decision and to this day I still can’t understand it. And the red, on the flag, for the blood of those who fought the colonial power that was France? Last time I checked the government still gladly cooperated with our old colonial power. Very hypocritical in my mind.

  1. Mauritania has been described as “one of the most open media environments of the Maghreb region”[1]; would you say peoples freedoms (speech, press, association, religion etc.) are preserved and freely practiced?

Well, of course if we compare ourselves to other countries in the Maghreb we look like a safe haven. But, I don’t think that is a good point of reference. There is a semblance of tolerance vis-à-vis the press, but I think there is so much they can say. The apostasy trial going on recently is an example, I think it was a political play under the umbrella of popular discontentment to change the law and make it harsher. And so if a person is to be even a little critical of our religious practices that may face the death row.

  1. With regards to human rights, Mauritania was the last country in the world to abolish slavery (1981); however, there are reports that the Mauritania continues to practice slavery[2] – please share your views on this.

I truly believe it is still practiced in Mauritania, might not be as flagrant as it was before and there has been an increase change in the views of the society or of the Haratins peoples themselves. But I think it may still come through different forms, i.e. “this person is part of our family, they are happy to help whenever they can.” I think the government needs to be more severe in applying its sanctions when slavery is found to be practiced and maybe, just maybe our society as a whole will once and for all change our behaviours and stop excusing it.

  1. Since 2014 France has established military operations in the Sahel – including in Mauritania – to safeguard against jihadist groups. With this in mind, are there prevalent and persisting security threats in the country?

YES!

  1. In terms of foreign policy, how active a role does Mauritania play at the African Union (AU) and in African affairs in general?

I think the government claims its Africanisms when it is convenient for its interests, and when it is not, it does not bother itself with African Affairs.

11. What are the key challenges, greatest opportunities and strengths facing the country today?

Our main challenge is cohabitation between the populations, the tensions between us is increasing, the political agenda to assimilate all of us to Arabic culture is creating divisiveness among us. I think that should we have better leadership/ governance there would be a management of our resources which would create better opportunities for our country. There is a lot of potential that just need to be exploited.

[1] BBC., 2017. Mauritania country profile. Available at: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-13881985. [Accessed on: 13 November 2017].

[2] Macguire, E., 2017. CNN. The abolitionist fighting to free Mauritania’s slaves. Avaliable at: http://edition.cnn.com/2017/06/21/africa/mauritania-slavery-biram-dah-abeid/index.html.Accessed on: 13 November 2017].