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Mauritanian president calls on West African states to ally against jihadism

By Adrien MAROTTE - AFP
Mauritania Mohamed Ould Ghazouani is tipped for a second term as head of the country of 4.5 million.  By Michele Cattani (AFP)
SAT, 22 JUN 2024 LISTEN
Mohamed Ould Ghazouani is tipped for a second term as head of the country of 4.5 million. By Michele Cattani (AFP)

Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Cheikh El Ghazouani called on West African countries to come together in the face of jihadism, in an interview with AFP ahead of the country's presidential vote.

"The region must generate a common political will to be able to fight against insecurity," Ghazouani told AFP on Friday, on the campaign trail ahead of an election on June 29.

"I am not one of those who think today that countries can face a threat like terrorism individually."

The 67-year-old former army chief and defence minister is tipped for a second term as head of the country of 4.5 million that lies strategically between north and sub-Saharan Africa.

He told AFP that the "security situation in the sub-region is not at all good" and has become "worse".

The military has seized power by force in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger in recent years, heightening uncertainty in the region. Ghazouni's huge desert nation has a frontier of more than 2,000 kilometers (1,250 miles) with Mali.

While jihadism has spread in the Sahel, particularly in Mali, Mauritania has not seen an attack since 2011.

"We need to form a coalition," Ghazouani said, urging the countries of the region to "come together".

He spoke to AFP in Atar, some 450 kilometres northeast of the capital Nouakchott, where he launched his re-election campaign last week.

Ghazouani called for a possible replacement to the G5 Sahel alliance, which was created in 2014 by Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Chad, with the support of Western countries, to confront jihadism.

The military leaders in Mali, Burkina and Niger have all withdrawn from the G5 alliance in recent years.

"If the G5 Sahel is not the right one, we must find another G-something," he said.

Education and health

The three countries, which have broken militarily and politically with the former French colonial power, have pivoted closer to Russia under their new military rulers.

They have also pulled out of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and created their own alliance of Sahel states. Ghazouni said he Mauritania did not seek any role in the internal affairs of the other Sahel countries.

"We respect their sovereignty in their decisions. We want these countries to move as fast as possible towards elections," he said.

Mauritania, which is rich in natural resources but still has a low gross domestic product, was hit by a series of coups from 1978 to 2008, before the 2019 election marked the first transition between two elected presidents.

The president said that stability has been maintained by being aware of the militant threat as well as "enormous efforts" made in education and health provision.

Ghazouani has pledged to "step up" his social welfare policy for the poor if re-elected, claiming more than 1.5 million people had benefited already from housing and financial help during his first term.

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Started: 02-07-2024 | Ends: 31-10-2024

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