Mauritania and oil

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Mauritania face of the oil mirage

Desert, bordered by the Atlantic Ocean, populated only 2,7 million, Mauritania is one of the few coveted club of heavily indebted poor countries. In recent years, a hope animates Mauritanians: oil fields were discovered in the territorial waters, about 90 km from the coast, facing the capital Nouakchott.

Mauritania metamorphosis. Since the announcement of the discovery of oil, international consultants take up to Nouakchott, the West on the starting decide to stay, power shakes. President Maaouya Taya, in power since a coup in 1984, reelected since, has just promised a dramatic increase in civil servants' salaries. Rumors swell; talking reserves equivalent to those of Angola. Privately, some officials are quick to assure Europeans in charge of development aid that soon "we can do without you." Sheltered from the sun in their air-conditioned × 4 4, Moors rich who dominate the country, is already comparable to the Gulf emirs.

Preserving Hope

While extracting the first barrels is scheduled for December 2005, the promise of paradise does not convince everyone. " Some oil already flowing freely, others, including myself, are waiting to see it sink "Says Demba Seck, a former trade unionist and activist of the cause" black African "these black Mauritanians who feel discriminated against by the regime. Oumère Mohamed Fall, editor of the weekly La Tribune, has long been skeptical. " The first article I wrote on the subject was called 'no oil, no ideas.' I found that talking can of oil every year in February, when the Bank makes a report on Mauritania "Says the journalist. In fact, everyone's interest to maintain hope: the government, but also the oil companies, including Australia's Woodside who heads the consortium to exploit the resources. When a new field is found, the value of the Woodside action listed in Sydney, jumped. Boucheiba Brahim, head of oil trading company Maghreb Oil, also close to the opposition, remains optimistic. According to him, the main well discovered by Woodside, called "Chinguetti" in reference to one of the holy cities located in the Mauritanian desert, is home to many "120 million barrels." According to the weekly Jeune Afrique, quoting "London experts", the seabed would conceal two further large deposits respectively valued at 400 and 500 million barrels. The exploitation of these resources would make the country the sixth African producer of black gold and would provide a comfortable future.

Oil does allow the sustainable development of Mauritania?

On strict environmental, hope is limited. The Sahara, which occupies 60% of the territory, home to some dumps in the open. In the south, forests, exploited for firewood, suffered cuts. Fishery resources being scarce, are sold off with the complicity of the European Union, and nobody cares about the environmental impact of the extraction of iron in the north. " I do not at all trust the government to conduct an environmental policy "Says a retired senior official. The rare Mauritanian NGOs environmentalists fear that lax regulations allow the use of single hull tankers and precipitates the risk of oil spills. Woodside has commissioned social and environmental impact studies, but the results have not been published. The Australian group in secrecy and does not let itself approach easily.

Despite the promises of the president, opponents do not believe that the population, very poor, may indirectly benefit from the oil wealth. " In just a few days, part of the announced increase in wages was eaten by inflation "Denounces Demba Seck. Most observers also denounced the risk of diversion of funds for the benefit of close to power. Brahim Boucheiba shows his skepticism in a recent anecdote. The Mauritanian government, in addition to its share of 35% of resources, had taken an additional 12% of the oil consortium. Summoned to achieve its investment within six months, the regime preferred to sell its stake. The contract with Woodside, confirmed by law, provided that such transfer could benefit a company controlled by the state. In November 2004, participation has yet been sold 15,5 million to a British private company for a fee of 7 million to an intermediary company of the Gulf and 4 million to a consultant. Corruption ? Comment Brahim Boucheiba " when doing normal things not, we do not do them alone. " The only positive note could come from donors. According to Mohamed Fall Oumère, Mauritania may be forced to join the Initiative Extractive Industries Transparency. 2002 proposed by Tony Blair, the initiative aims to link the contracts between governments and extractive companies to sustainable economic development of the countries concerned.

Olivier Razemon
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