Mauritania’s President, Ould Ghazouani Seeks Reelection Amid Regional Security Crisis

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.

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