Algeria using Mauritania to accelerate influence across Africa

Algeria using Mauritania to accelerate influence across Africa
Algeria has used a fissure in Mauritania-Morocco ties to open a niche for itself in north African economic and military affairs, writes Habibulah Mohamed Lamin.
4 min read
20 November, 2018
Mauritania PM Yahya Ould Hademine with Algerian PM Abdelmalek Sellal [Getty]
Algeria's growing interest in Mauritania reached a point of no return when the two countries officially opened their territorial borders early this year. The promising step paves the road to greater military and, most importantly, economic cooperation.

As a matter of fact, Algeria's use of Mauritania as a gate to the rest of Africa came after the Moroccan kingdom found it was able to enter several west and east African economies through the Mauritanian door - which gave Morocco more space to enact its domestic and regional political agenda, especially concerning Western Sahara, with its strongest allies, Ivory Coast and Senegal. 

Morocco's return to the African Union marked its most important political victory on the African continent for more than thirty years.

Morocco has begun exporting its farming products to the rest of Africa through Mauritania. However, Algeria's presence will likely create a more competitive environment in which Algeria has already brought its products for exposure.

Safex, an Algerian company specialising in exhibitions and exports, organised its first trade fair in the Mauritanian capital, Nouakchott, in October. Algeria's minister of trade, Said Jalb, attended the event and was received by his Mauritanian counterpart, Nahha Hamaddi. 

Nine commercial treaties were signed during the two-week fair, Algerian state TV reported.

According to a source close to the Algerian trade ministry, no fewer than 600 Algerian business leaders offered an interest in investing in Mauritania.

Mauritania has emerged as fertile ground in which Algeria may enter the wider African economic arena and compete against Morocco with its domestic-made products. But what could really make the difference is the oil industry, in which Algeria has yet to play its card. There has been no mention of oil during official meetings.

Algeria's marketing of itself as a potential saviour of West African economies will heavily depend on its capacity to export its massive oil production to its neighbours.

Mauritania is need for a supplier to fight the oil-trafficking gangs that control its northern market, coming from Libya through Mali.

Algeria's recent disclosure of its biggest iron ore reserves, meanwhile, at Jbaila - 1,000km from Zouerat - are even closer to Mauritania than they are to Algiers.

Compromising security for influence

While Morocco has mastered the game of offering itself to guard European borders through EU funding, Algeria has not been as successful in becoming Europe's regional ally. And as the new Algerian approach indicates, it is instead aiming to extend its influence through the Sahel region and Mauritania's neighbours.

While Mali has been hard to depend on because of the continuous political crises there, Mauritania seems to offer more effective tools to enter the Mali economy through the shared family connection that both countries hold. This makes Mauritania's role in belonging to the Algerian squad even more crucial to both states security - particularly when it comes to intelligence-sharing.

But above all, Algeria's geopolitical presence neighbouring Libya and the Western Sahara gives it greater responsibility to become the leading state in maintaining security in the region. 

Perhaps the missing link in the chain is to create a tri-lateral coalition between Algeria, the Polisario Front, and Mauritania. The masterminds in Algiers appear to be trying in vain to encourage the EU to consider Algeria as the key regional ally to turn to when it comes to the forever-worrying question of regional security

But why did Algeria wait so long to extend a hand to Mauritania?

The Western Sahara question, which has been the main conflict in the region for decades, has taken over much of Algeria's regional and even international policy. However, and despite the Algerian support for a referendum to resolve the issue and its unconditional backing of the Polisario Front, there has been no resolution of the conflict.

This has driven Algeria to seek alternatives in order to find greater influence in Africa - and the recent setbacks in Morocco-Mauritania relations represent the perfect moment for Algeria to drag its southern neighbours in Mauritania to open a new page in their history.

Although Mauritania's tensions with Morocco have been eased, their relations have not yet fully recovered.

The Algerians struck the iron while it was hot to forge its ideal shape for future relations. Algiers will be hoping to use this as a template when it comes to its relations with other African states, loosening Morocco's strong grip in the continent's north.


Habibulah Mohamed Lamin is a journalist formerly based in the Western Sahara refugee camps in Tindouf, Algeria. He has worked as a translator and is director of Equipe Media Branch, a group of media activists covering Western Sahara. His work focuses on the politics and culture of the Maghreb.

Follow him on Twitter: @habibullahWS