Jared J. Blackmire


 Number 152: Mauritania and Oil-driven Poverty


            When non-renewable resources such as oil first began to be introduced into industry there was not much concern over when we would deplete them and have to look elsewhere to drill.  However now the time has come when not only are we running out of these non-renewable resources, but we are also going to great lengths to import this resource.  Our desire for these resources has also driven us to enter the poorest of countries and drilling in locations that will not help the country’s people to rise out of poverty.  Our greed has now turned to the Sub-Sahara African country of Mauritania, where slavery was only declared illegal 23 years ago, and the average family income per year is only $2,220.  The real questions now are what this new oil means, why the people are skeptical, what may happen if the generated money does not reach citizens, and how the people are reacting to the proposed plan of oil drilling off the coast.


            In 2002, Mauritania was placed at number 152 out of 177, by the United Nations in the Human Development Report (H.D.R.), which evaluates the standards of life for countries across the world.  Poverty and poor social resources are two of the greatest causes for the low ranking in the H.D.R.  Under the rule of President Maaoiuya Ould Taya, the Mauritanian people have been told that with the Australian based Woodside Petroleum drilling off shore, 50,000-75,000 barrels of oil would be produced and sent out each day.  With this oil being exported, approximately $100 million would be added to Mauritania’s annual revenue by 2008.  This would increase the governments revenue by approximately ¼.  Whether this ¼ will reach a single Mauritania citizen is in the hands of President Ould Taya and his shady officials.


            This skepticism and doubt does not go without warrant.  Two other countries in Mauritania’s current position have gone through the process by which the people were told that the revenues would trickle down to them, but never did. One example exists in Equatorial Guinea where the President’s family has grown immensely wealthy while there are still less than acceptable water, electricity, and basic health care (Human Development Report 2004) for the ½ million people living there.  In the country of Chad, the World Bank has had to go so far as to create a mechanism that is meant to entice the President to spend Chad’s oil money on social development programs instead of weaponry.  Whether this will truly happen is up in the air and inside of President Idriss Deby’s family payroll.


            Several bloody coups have already erupted over this issue in and throughout many African countries due to their leader’s inability to evenly distribute the funds that the populations desperately need in order to survive on a day to day basis in the hellish poverty they know.  While most Mauritanians spend their days herding sheep for a living, the governmental officials take their time driving up and down the beaten roads of Mauritania in their luxury SUV’s and buying grand new homes for their families to live in while the common people are forced to living in Mauritanian Hoovervilles.  For them it is a day to day struggle to feed their families meanwhile the government officials use glittering generalities about a stronger state when all along their only priority is their income.


            These unjust actions of the elected officials are not tolerated by all of the Mauritanian people. One such gentleman by the name of Cheikh Saad Bouh Kamara, a human rights activist, said that things are gradually getting worse for the Mauritanian people.  The facts go to support Kamara as the prices of beef, cooking oil, rice, and sugar have already risen by between 14-21%.  Kamara went on to say “Some, a small circle of people, will become more rich. But the bigger majority will remain poor.” (Abidjan Interview)  On the other hand there are still those who believe that the new off shore drilling sites are a good thing and will bring many good jobs to the country. The reality of the situation is that these jobs will go to the close friends and families of those in power, thereby keeping the money circulating within the same already wealthy families.  Sid’Ahmed Ould Abeidana, who has a well off job in an air-conditioned capital office said, “Oil finds are encouraging people to stay in Mauritania and build the country up.” (Abidjan Interview)


            While the Australian Woodside Petroleum begins exploring off shore, the Mauritanian people are living on the assumption that the money will come and tomorrow will be a better day than today.  Only the future holds the truth to where these great sums of money will go, however it is very clear that if the Mauritanian government continue to treat their citizens with such reckless abandonment, other leading countries such as the U.S. may step in with such drastic measures as they have taken in Iraq.  The benefits of off shore drilling would be extremely beneficial to the Mauritanian people by opening up thousands of new jobs but for now, the people of this country must take it upon themselves to decide how much longer they wish to remain at number 152.







Works Cited


Abidjan, “Mauritania: Will offshore oil reduce poverty?” IrinNews.

19 Jan. 2004


ODIN, DFID, SIDA, Echo, Japan, and Australian Government, 15 Sept. 2004 <http://www.irinnews.org/print.asp?REPORTID


Mauritania.” Central Intelligence Agency. 14 Sept. 2004 FirstGov 15 Sept. 2004 <http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/mr.html


“Human Development Report 2004.” Human Development Reports. 9 Sept. 2004,

16 Sept. 2004 <http://hdr.undp.org/reports/global/2004/pdf/hdr04_HDI.pdf