Mauritania is essentially a desert country, with vast expanses of pastoral land and only 0.5% arable land. Its population of 4 million and population density of 3.9 inhabitants per square kilometer make it the fourth least densely populated country in Africa. In 2020, the proportion of city dwellers will surpass the rural population, growing from 48.3% in 2013 to 52.8% by 2020.
In power since 2008, General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz was re-elected in 2014 for a second and last term. A constitutional referendum in 2017 abolished the Senate, established Regional Councils for local development, modified the national flag and anthem, and combined various entities in a single Haut Conseil de la Fatwa et des Recours Gracieux (High Council for Fatwa and Administrative Appeals). In the legislative, municipal, and regional elections held in September 2018 after the referendum, the ruling party, the Union for the Republic (UPR) won 91 of the 157 seats in the National Assembly, 12 of the 13 regional councils, and 177 of the 219 communes. The Islamist party, Tawassoul, became the leading opposition party. It is also worth noting that there was a decrease in the proportion of women in the National Assembly, from 23% to 21%. The President of the Republic will not seek a third term in the next presidential elections slated for June 2019.
The economy continued its gradual recovery in 2018. GDP growth has been on an upward trajectory since 2015, rising from 3% in 2017 to 3.6% in 2018. This increase was driven by robust activity in the telecommunications, transportation, electricity, and primary sectors. By contrast, the extractive sector continues to curb growth. Given the population growth rate (about 2.8%), the pace of the economic recovery remains slow, with real per capita income having risen only a scant 0.8 %. This situation jeopardizes the gains made in poverty reduction between 2008 and 2014.
The fiscal position continued to improve in 2018. Efforts to achieve fiscal rebalancing helped transform the fiscal deficit of 0.2% of GDP in 2017 into a surplus of 1.5% in 2018, the first surplus recorded since 2013. By contrast, unfavorable terms of trade, combined with persistent production challenges in the extractive industries, exacerbated the current account deficit, which rose from 14.3% of GDP in 2017 to 18% of GDP in 2018. Despite the deepening deficit, financing was ensured by an increase of foreign direct investment linked to offshore gas exploration and financial flows from the extractive sectors.
The medium-term economic outlook is favorable. Growth is projected to increase to an average of 6.2% for the 2019-2021 period. Continued expansion of the primary sector, strengthening of the services sector through the implementation of structural reforms, and an increase in mining production are expected to be the main drivers of this growth. This robust macroeconomic framework is expected to strengthen, provided the Government maintains fiscal prudence, which would help keep public debt on a sustainable path. An improvement in the terms of trade owing to an increase in international iron prices is expected to mitigate external pressures and allow the central bank to respond to financing needs.
Mauritania experienced sustained GDP growth from 2008 to 2014, accompanied by significant improvements in household welfare. The annual real growth in mean household expenditure per capita was 1.52%. All quantiles did well and there was a sharp decline in the proportion of poor population, which fell from 44.5% of the country’s population in 2008 to 33% in 2014. The improvement in living standards has been more marked among the poor and extremely poor than among the non-poor. Inequality, measured by the Gini index, decreased from 35.3 in 2008 to 31.9 in 2014. These developments are explained by improvements in production, productivity, and income in rural areas following the restructuring of the agriculture and livestock sector and by other factors such as internal migration and changes in relative prices.
However, some population groups in Mauritania have not benefited from this process, and the country is still lagging behind in many social dimensions. Poverty has not fallen in the capital, Nouakchott, probably because of migration to urban areas as the capital tends to attract the poorest of the poor. Labor force participation and the employment rate have not improved, and groups that have not benefited from social progress, such as youth, women, and low-income workers, are increasingly marginalized. Only 55% of children aged 6 to 11 are enrolled in primary school, one third of households live in precarious housing, and 38% of the population has access to electric lighting.
Last Updated: May 06, 2019