Mauritania: Risk Assessment
Country Risk Rating
Business Climate Rating
- Supported by donors and international organizations
- Rich in minerals and fisheries resources
- Energy potential (gas, renewables)
- Persistent political and security instability
- Poorly diversified economy, vulnerable to commodity price fluctuations
- Growth not very inclusive with high unemployment, especially among young people
- Limited formal economy
The end to ambitions for the oil industry is hampering the recovery
Hard hit by the drop in mineral prices in 2014, the economy, sustained by the fishing and construction sectors, confirmed its recovery in 2017. Nevertheless, growth is expected to stall in 2018, curbed by the ceasing of production at the Chinguetti oil field. After almost ten years of oil production, the persistent lack of profitability at the site for operators has finally put paid to this only offshore field in production. Elsewhere, the extractive industries are expected to confirm, in 2018, the modest progress made in 2017. Iron production is set to continue to increase, while gold production will receive a boost from the expansion of the Tasiast mine. The Tijirit gold mine projects and the Ahmeyim and Guembeul offshore gas fields, on the border with Senegal, continue to offer favorable longer-term prospects for the extractive industries. In addition, activity in the secondary sector is expected to continue its recovery, buoyed by public investment which will mainly benefit the manufacturing and construction industries. The drive to develop fishing and agriculture, in order to diversify the economy, should manifest via growth in the primary sector. The services sector should remain firm, particularly thanks to transport and telecommunications activity. The depreciation of the ouguiya is likely, however, to affect prices, more especially those of basic foodstuffs, thus penalizing trade.
External imbalances persist despite efforts to improve them
Improved mobilization of tax revenues and control of expenditure have made it possible to almost completely eliminate the fiscal imbalances triggered by the collapse in commodity prices. Close to equilibrium in 2017, the fiscal balance is, however, expected to go back into deficit in 2018 because of increased public investment aimed at supporting growth. Constrained by the explosion in the external borrowing ratios following the shock to the trade terms and the depreciation of the ouguiya, the authorities will therefore attempt to contain current spending, especially since income is unlikely to rise much in 2018, despite the reforms undertaken, as they are still limited by weak revenues from the extractive industries.
In contrast, the current account deficit is expected to be lower in 2018 thanks to a reduced trade deficit. Income from exports of gold and fish products will make a positive contribution. Driven by spending linked to the public investment program, imports are, nonetheless, expected to remain stable, thanks to the fall in imports of capital goods destined for the extractive industries. Showing deficits, the balance of services and of income is unlikely to change much in 2018. The balance of transfers surplus is also expected to be maintained. Despite a less significant deficit, the external accounts imbalance continues. These accounts remain vulnerable, therefore, to a new shock. The official foreign exchange reserves, estimated at four months of imports (excluding the oil and mining industries), will therefore remain under pressure and are expected to continue to fall in 2018.
Tense political climate
The executive, represented by President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, re-elected for five years in 2014, after gaining power following a coup d’état in 2008, is expected to emerge from 2017 stronger than before, at the cost of a very tense political climate. The President’s use of a referendum to push through constitutional reform, initially rejected by the Parliament, is apparently weakening the institutions even further, at a time when they are far from being well-established. Boycotted by the opposition, the August 2017 elections were tarnished by accusations that the voter turnout figures had been manipulated. An ugly campaign, at times marred by violence, deepened the identity, community, social and economic divisions of Mauritanian society. Aiming, in particular, to change the Mauritanian national anthem and flag, in order to pander to nationalist passions, this referendum had, above all, the power to abolish the Senate and replace it with regional councils and a High Council for Fatwa. Despite the president’s denials, the opposition sees this referendum as a move to enable Abdel Aziz to stand for a third term in 2019. A few days after the election, the arrest, irrespective of procedures, of one of the main opponents of constitutional reform, Mohamed Ould Ghadda, supports the hypothesis of a shift to authoritarian rule. The risk of political and social unrest cannot, therefore, be ruled out in a country still ravaged by poverty, unemployment and inequalities. In addition, slavery, though abolished is still a scourge: the 2016 Global Slavery Index stated that over 43,000 people (1% of the population) were affected by slavery. President Aziz also faces persistent rumors of complacency with regard to certain Islamist groups such as Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQMI), symbolized by the declassification of documents attributed to Osama Bin Laden, showing evidence of a non-aggression pact signed in 2010 between the Jihadists and the Mauritanian government. Although spared from terrorism since 2011, Mauritania, like other members of the “G5 du Sahel”, remains exposed to the terrorist threat, given the porous nature of the border with Mali.
The country is continuing its efforts and progress on improving the business climate with the aim of attracting foreign investment.