Situation and cooperation

Fishing vessels at the beach in Nouakchott, Mauritania

Mauritania forms the geographic link between the Arab states of the Maghreb and the sub-Saharan African countries. This is also reflected in the ethnic composition of its population. Some 30 per cent are Arab Moors, while around 30 per cent are members of sub-Saharan African ethnic groups. The remaining 40 per cent or so belong to the Haratin group, which is comprised of the descendants of former slaves who integrated themselves into the Moorish population.

The dark-skinned "Afro-Mauritanians", as they are termed, were discriminated by the politically dominant Moorish people for a long time. This led to ethnic tensions. When they last escalated in 1989, more than 60,000 Afro-Mauritanians were forced to flee to Senegal and Mali. Several thousand people lost their lives. Since the democratisation process was launched in 2005, the situation has become calmer. And yet, large sections of the Afro-Mauritanian population still have poorer access to education and social protection. The progressive arabisation of the country is another recurrent source of conflict and protests. The pogroms of 1989/90 are a taboo subject and have not been dealt with at all, not in politics, jurisdiction or society at large.

Mauritania has to cope with profound structural change. During the 1950s, three quarters of the population still lived as nomads. Due not least to the drought disaster in the Sahel in the 70s and 80s, the proportion of nomads has since fallen to around seven per cent. By contrast, according to World Bank figures, nearly 60 per cent of Mauritanians today live in urban zones. The development of urban infrastructure, for water supply and sanitation for instance, has been unable to keep pace with this rapid trend. This has resulted in burgeoning slums.


Mauritania is a country with a low level of governance. Shortcomings mainly concern the implementation of existing laws and strategies. Government action is very much aimed at preserving the power of the elites. Top jobs in politics, administration, business and the judiciary are reserved for those with the right tribal connections. The system is dominated by Arab-Moorish ethnic groups. Corruption is widespread. The military retains considerable power. It still plays an influential role in politics and has close tribal linkages.

Judicial independence is not ensured in Mauritania. There is a lack of qualified staff, with judges and prosecutors who are loyal to the regime occupying many posts. Traditional Islamic Sharia law applies throughout the entire country.

Mauritania has a comparatively free press. The behaviour of government members and administrative officials is a topic for critical debates, especially in digital media. However, only the educated elites in large cities have access to newspapers and the internet.

Human rights

A former slave in Mauritania

The human rights situation in Mauritania has improved in recent years. Various regulations to protect human rights are part of the constitution and of national legislation. Application of these regulations, however, is poor.

Women enjoy more political and social freedoms in Mauritania than in other Islamic states. A quota system requires that at least 20 per cent of seats in parliamentary and local elections must be reserved for women. Currently, women hold 25 per cent of seats in the national assembly. And yet, due to social traditions and religious beliefs, women are still being discriminated, especially in lower social strata. Female genital mutilation is widespread.

One elementary human rights violation is slavery, which remains widespread in Mauritania. Slavery was officially abolished in 1980 and offenders have been liable to criminal prosecution since 2007. Under pressure from the United Nations a new law was adopted in spring 2015 which includes a more far-reaching definition of slavery and provides for stronger sanctions.

Social welfare

Fish market in Nouakchott, Mauritania

Despite the reform processes, the social welfare of Mauritanians has scarcely improved in recent years. Whilst it is true that poverty has been significantly reduced since 1990, according to Mauritania's statistical office, more than 30 per cent of the population still live below the national poverty line. Child mortality is still extremely high and great deficits remain with regard to maternal health. According to figures from the World Bank, the school enrolment rate stands at just 73 per cent and only about 70 per cent of the children finish primary school.


Workers repairing locomotive parts at the iron ore mining company SNIM in Nouadhibou, Mauretanien

Mauritania is rich in natural resources such as iron ore, copper, zinc, phosphate, gold and oil. Furthermore, the country's coastline is one of the richest fishing grounds in the world. Yet, the government has so far not managed to channel state revenue from the use of these resources into specific measures to reduce poverty so that the entire population can draw benefit from the natural assets of the country.

Exporting raw materials is very much the focus of Mauritania's economy. It does not provide enough employment for the country's growing population; the manufacturing industry is poorly developed. The majority of the people engage in subsistence farming or are employed in the informal sector, where they have no social protection. According to the government, unemployment stands at almost 13 per cent, while the World Bank estimate puts it at 31 per cent in 2014. Youth unemployment was estimated to be well over 40 per cent.

Large areas of the country are desert land and cannot be used for agricultural purposes. Much of the country’s food has to be imported. The available crop land is becoming more and more depleted by overuse with more and more fertile soil being lost.

Priority areas of German cooperation with Mauritania

Mauritania’s economic and social development is heavily dependent on contributions from the international donor community. At the German-Mauritanian government negotiations in November 2014, 19 million euros was committed for development cooperation. Of this, 7 million euros was allocated to Financial cooperation and 12 million euros to Technical Cooperation.

In 2015 another 4 million euros was committed for Technical Cooperation.

The following priority areas of cooperation were agreed with Mauritania:

  • good governance (democracy, civil society, public administration)
  • environment (environmental policy, conservation and sustainable management of natural resources)

In addition, German cooperation outside the bilateral priority areas covers technical and vocational training.

Mauritania benefits significantly from the BMZ's special initiatives. Funds from the special initiative for stabilising the MENA region were made available, for instance, for a human rights project. Funds from the One World – No Hunger special initiative have been earmarked for expanding the cooperation activities in Mauritania's fishing sector (priority area of environment and resource conservation).

Good governance

Election posters during the 2013 campaign for local elections

In order to increase political stability in Mauritania, Germany is supporting the democratisation process in its partner country and helping to improve governance. Support is going, in particular, to the development of public financial systems and decentralisation.

Germany is helping the Mauritanian Ministry of Finance to develop a public financial management system for revenues and expenditures. The intention is to help make processes more efficient and facilitate the exchange of information with other public institutions. The project is also supporting the implementation of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) at the national level.

To help drive Mauritania’s decentralisation process forward, Germany is supporting reform processes that transfer responsibilities from the central government down to the local level. Both the Ministry of the Interior and municipalities are being assisted in introducing a nation-wide system for capacity building for parliamentarians and civil servants. Training measures help the target group to correctly discharge their duties and develop a democratic political culture.

In order to better inform the public of their rights and opportunities for involvement, support is provided for civil society organisations that advocate responsive administration and promote political empowerment of women.

Environmental policy, conservation and sustainable management of natural resources

Workers in a fish processing plant in Nouadhibou in Mauritania

Germany is supporting Mauritania in the conservation of its tremendously species-rich fishing grounds. Other priorities of cooperation are the sustainable management of crop land, grazing land and forest areas in the South of the country and the adaptation to climate change.

The fisheries sector plays a key role in Mauritania’s economic and social development. It employs a considerable number of people and makes a major contribution toward national foreign exchange earnings. The fisheries agreement that was concluded by Mauritania and the European Commission in July 2015 provides for the EU paying 59.125 million euros a year to the West African country in return for fishing rights.

In order to ensure that fish stocks are managed in a sustainable way, Germany is supporting Mauritania's efforts to improve the management of its coastal national parks, link the protected areas and provide financial security. A project on radar-based monitoring has contributed successfully to protecting stocks from being overfished by foreign fishing fleets. Funds from the BMZ's One World – No Hunger special initiative have been earmarked for expanding the cooperation activities in Mauritania's fishing sector.

Cooperation in the southern regions of Guidimakha and Hodh El Gharbi focuses on the careful management of natural resources and environmentally sound agriculture. With German support, farmers and herders have formed 37 user associations. They now decide jointly how they will manage soil and water resources in an area covering over 10,000 square kilometres. The number of women in the important bodies of the user associations has increased significantly.

Mauritania already feels the effects of climate change. Droughts and heavy rainfalls have increased. Germany supports Mauritania's government in its efforts to give the issue a more prominent role in national strategies and planning processes. Strategies are drawn up on the basis of vulnerability analyses to assess how the effects of climate change on small farmers and herders can be mitigated.

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