Mauritania: a hinge country

INTERCULTURAL DYNAMICS - Nov 14, 2007

CIDOB holds the seminar Mauritania: intercultural dynamics, political processes and relations with Spain, at which participants analysed the current state of the African country from different standpoints.

Description

For three days, the CIDOB Foundation was the venue for a seminar attended by Mauritanian and Spanish experts in different disciplines (sociology, anthropology, political science and economics), and who analysed the situation of the African country from different standpoints. These experts were participating in Mauritania: intercultural dynamics, political processes and relations with Spain, a seminar organised by the CIDOB Foundation in conjunction with the Spanish International Cooperation Agency (AECI) and the Contemporary Culture Centre of Barcelona (CCCB).

Chaired by Alberto López Bargados, an anthropologist from the University of Barcelona (UB), the seminar's participants included Abdel Wedoud Ould Cheikh, an anthropologist from the University of Metz; Fatimata M'Baye, President of the Mauritanian Human Rights Association (AMDH); Amadou Sall, a sociologist from the University of Nouakchott; Manuel Gómez-Acebo, Deputy Director General for North Africa at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation; Sidi Mohamed Ould Boubacar, Mauritania’s Ambassador to Spain; Susana Velázquez, the AECI's Head of the Maghreb Area, and Miguel Hernando de Larramendi, a historian from the University of Castilla-La Mancha who specialises in the contemporary Arab world .

One of the recurring themes of the various sessions was the opinion that since Mauritania is a hinge country between two cultural areas, establishing a Mauritanian identity above ethnic or linguistic divisions represents a challenge. The participants highlighted Mauritania's multiple identities ─ on one hand, it is considered to be a country of the Maghreb region, with Arabic as one of its official languages and Islam as the official religion. On the other, it represents the gateway to sub-Saharan Africa, and much of its population is made up of black African peoples, who traditionally live in the south of the country.

On the subject of establishing a Mauritanian identity, some of the main obstacles discussed by the participants were the difficulty of interrelation caused by the mutual incomprehension between speakers of the country's different languages, in addition to a growing separation between groups, a phenomenon that is particularly visible in the capital, Nouakchott. With the aim of bringing about a rapprochement between these different groups, the experts attending the seminar analysed the role played by the media and cultural movements.

The speakers mentioned that the international community was, at first, very critical of the coup d'etat that took place in Mauritania in 2005. However, subsequent negotiations with the military junta and its commitment to hold presidential elections in 2007, as well as a series of other agreed measures, led to a reconsideration of this initial disapproval. In the opinion of the seminar's participants, the presidential elections ─ which still have certain obstacles to overcome, such as how to share out government posts among the different ethnic and tribal groups ─ will herald a new democratic age for the country.

The participants also analysed the bilateral relations between Spain and Mauritania, which were initially marked by the fishing agreements that are of great importance for Spain. It was stressed that these relations are also particularly important for Spain since Mauritania has recently become a transit country for many of the sub-Saharan immigrants attempting to reach Europe. These relations have resulted in the intensification of development cooperation by the AECI; the body was also urged to develop its joint work with Mauritanian organisations to foster greater exchange of knowledge and technology.

The speakers also debated the decisive role played by Spanish cooperation in the area of immigration, while on the subject of finance and economics, participants commented that there are a growing number of Spanish companies that are investing in Mauritania, albeit not on the same scale as other countries, such as France. During the debate, closer cultural cooperation was proposed, by encouraging the knowledge of the Spanish language and making available more grants to enable Mauritanian students to study in Spain.

In tandem with the seminar, two films by the Mauritanian director Abderrahamane Sissako ─ Waiting for happiness and Bamako ─ were shown at the CCCB Auditorium, with the aim of illustrating and explaining part of Mauritania's reality to the seminar's participants.

In the seminar's conclusions session, the CIDOB Foundation and seminar director Alberto López expressed a commitment to continue organising meetings of professionals from different disciplines on a regular basis in order to promote information and debate about the current situation in Mauritania.

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