Overview

Mauritania is a mostly desert country, with a population of about 3.5 million. In 2014, its per capita gross national income (GNI) stood at $1,270. The country has a wealth of natural resources, particularly in the mining sector, and has experienced sustained growth thanks to a period of high international commodity prices. The country is Africa’s second leading exporter of iron ore and also exports gold and copper, two exports with significant growth potential. In addition, Mauritania is a modest oil producer and possesses considerable natural gas deposits in the offshore Banda field. Mauritania’s waters have some of the most abundant fish stocks in the world.

Political Context

After a military coup followed by a transition to democracy in 2005-2006, the country’s authorities engaged in constructive dialogue with development partners. Mauritania was granted debt relief under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative and the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative (MDRI). Following another military coup in 2008, the international community suspended most of its activities in Mauritania. The World Bank reengaged in September 2009, following elections that led to the formation of a national unity government and the lifting of international sanctions. In the past several years, Mauritania has enjoyed political stability with the June 2014 presidential elections taking place peacefully.

Social Context

Despite robust economic growth, Mauritania’s poverty rate remains high, particularly in rural areas. The main constraints to poverty reduction are low productivity of the rural economy, a lack of human capital-intensive sectors, governance issues, the quality of public services, and vulnerability to exogenous shocks. According to a poverty assessment from 2008, the poverty rate declined from 46.7% to 42% from 2004 to 2008. In 2015, a new household survey will provide more recent data. Mauritania’s human development index moved up from 0.424 to 0.487 between 2004 and 2014, compared to an average of 0.502 for Sub-Saharan Africa.

Economic Overview

Mauritania faces interlocking macroeconomic challenges. Annual real GDP growth is expected to decline to 3.2% in 2015, as a consequence of the sharp decline in iron ore prices in the latter part of 2014. Agriculture and fisheries are expected to grow at 4% in 2015. The fishery sector maintains its momentum, and benefits from the finalization – in July 2015 – of a long-negotiated bilateral agreement with the European Union. Services are the largest contributor to growth, followed by the primary sector. On the expenditure side, a substantial decrease in private investment has underpinned a sharp decline (by roughly 24%) in fixed capital formation over the last year. The severe terms of trade deterioration (-23% in 2014 and -11% in 2015) has compelled the Mauritanian authorities to accompany a devaluation of the national Ouguiya, which depreciated by 5% vis-à-vis 2014 although it has actually appreciated in real terms due to inflation differentials with Mauritania’s major trading partners. In spite of this, inflation has been contained at 4.5%, a slight increase over 2014.

Development Challenges

Mauritania faces multiple development challenges. These include the efficient use of revenue derived from natural resources, competitiveness, diversification, and poor governance.

Efficient Use of Resources

The extractive industries, which drive the country’s growth, create very few jobs. Consequently, it is very important for the government to adopt an appropriate tax system that allows for both the recovery of an equitable portion of the profit from natural resources and to promote well-structured policies targeting the reinvestment of earnings as well as investments, so as to generate sustainable and better distributed returns. In the agricultural and fisheries sectors, which employ most of the labor force and have significant potential, productivity levels are low and the sectors remain vulnerable to climate change.

Diversification and Competitiveness

Mauritania’s competitiveness is hampered by a small formal economic base, a lack of diversification, and a weak legal framework. Since the 1990s, Mauritania’s exports have revolved around the mining sector and fisheries which, on average, accounted for four-fifths of total exports between 1990 and 2000. In recent years, apart from crude oil, diversification has not increased. On the contrary, exports have become even more concentrated in recent times (this concentration increased between 2012 and 2013), with iron representing more than 50% of total exports.

Poor Governance

Reducing inequalities and tackling wealth redistribution are key challenges that Mauritania can overcome, provided that it continues its commitment to good governance, particularly in the mining sector and in the supervision of State enterprises. Good governance also plays a key role in strengthening social resilience in order to facilitate the improvement of health services, particularly in the areas of maternal health, infant and child mortality, and combating hunger.

 

Last Updated: Dec 07, 2015

World Bank Group Engagement in Mauritania

The World Bank Group undertook its first development project in Mauritania in 1963, with the financing of MIFERMA, a multinational mining enterprise. Since 1985, this partnership has been gradually expanded. At present, the Bank’s portfolio in Mauritania includes eight International Development Agency (IDA)-funded operations, including five regional projects, and one guarantee representing a total commitment of $370.3 million. The IDA portfolio is supplemented by several trust funds, the current total committed amount of which stands at $27 million. In addition to the lending program, the Bank is engaged in analytical work and technical assistance in different areas, including a recently completed Reports on the Observance of Standards and Codes (ROSC) on accounting and auditing, a study on land governance, technical assistance on the management of State-owned enterprises and agencies, and work on civil registries and their impact on service delivery. In September 2013, the World Bank Board of Executive Directors discussed a new Country Partnership Strategy for Mauritania for the fiscal years 2014 to 2016. This new strategy is closely aligned with the pillars of the Government’s Third Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP-3) and provides an opportunity to deepen some of the essential reforms needed to create jobs and strengthen resilience in Mauritania.

International Finance Corporation (IFC)

In advisory services, IFC is promoting leasing as an alternative source of financing under its Africa Leasing Facility. The government has retained its services to structure a public-private partnership (PPP) for the development of a new container terminal in the port of Nouakchott. In 2012, IFC invested $12 million in two commercial banks under its Global Trade Finance Program (GTFP) and provided a two-year credit line of $127.5 million to the Société Générale Mauritanie to ensure the uninterrupted supply of energy products.

The Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA)

The activities of MIGA, which has never financed investment guarantees in Mauritania, are focused mainly on technical assistance in the financial sector.

 

Last Updated: Dec 07, 2015

Developing the National Education Sector

The Bank is providing support for two education projects—a $15 million higher education project and a $16 million skills development project. They are both aimed at improving the relevance and efficiency of technical and vocational training by making the labor force more responsive to market demands and strengthening the institutional framework. A major focus of the project is to help modernize the training institutes and the quality of programs. Seven technical training institutions have already negotiated performance contracts and by 2016 at least three programs should be certified to meet international standards. A regulatory framework for private sector training institutions will be put in place, thereby increasing the supply of programs capable of meeting enterprise demand. In March 2015, the Bank approved $11.3 million in additional financing for skills development.

 

Last Updated: Dec 07, 2015

Mauritania is receiving external financial assistance from the African Development Bank, the European Union, the United Nations, and bilateral donors. It is also receiving financial assistance from Arab funds and China, and the latter has recently scaled up its assistance. The World Bank is collaborating with these partners on several projects and proposed new initiatives in 2014.

 

Last Updated: Dec 07, 2015


LENDING

Mauritania: Commitments by Fiscal Year (in millions of dollars)*

*Amounts include IBRD and IDA commitments