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Habibulah Mohamed Lamin

Mauritania and Algeria to open borders

Algeria's Mohamed Asloun races in a Mauritania rally. Leaders hope to drive better relations [AFP]

Date of publication: 11 October, 2017

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Mauritania is turning to Algeria in a bid to enhance its economic ties with the oil-rich country after years of tension with Morocco, writes Habibulah Mohamed Lamin.
Mauritania and Algeria have reached a landmark agreement to open their territorial borders to each other.

After two years of tension between Morocco and Mauritania, Nouakchott is turning to Algeria to enhance economic ties with the oil-rich country, open the first border crossig between Tindouf and Choum.

The move builds on the thaw in relations between the north African neighbours over the past year. Algeria has been hit hard by the tanking oil price of the past few years and is keen to promote its natural resources to its neighbours.

Mauritania, meanwhile, is in need of exporters to fight the illicit oil trafficking industry.

While oil is cheaper than water in Algeria, it is three times more expensive in Mauritania. This will boost the free trade zone that Mauritania has opened in the port city of Nouadibou, where hundreds of vehicles are being imported on a daily basis.

Algeria could also benefit from the Mauritanian freight train route to export its massive iron reserves centred in the southwest at Gar Ajbailat, just 50km from Dakhla camp.

While this intersection of interests has been developing due to economic demand, the political side of the deal has been essential as well. Mauritania's current government has been riding out a long-term crisis with Morocco, Algeria's regional rival.
The triple coalition, led by Algeria, has been shaping itself to become a influence centre in the region


The El Guerguerat crossing has been at the centre of the dispute, with the Mauritanian military establishing a heavy presence at the border. Mauritania has also refused to accredit a Moroccan ambassador to Nouakchott for more than three months. And all this is taking place at a time when Mauritania has been imposing restrictive measures on Moroccan exports.

The Western Sahara's Polisario Front has also been part of the game. It recently established healthy relations with Mauritania's President Mohammed Ould Abdel Aziz, who has been receiving Polisario officials for the past six months.

The triple coalition, led by Algeria, has been shaping itself to become a influence centre in the region. By gaining access to the Mauritanian economy, Algeria will expand its influence in the African continent and open another door to the EU. Algeria also has strong relations with Russia, especially following reports of a Russian oil pipeline from Nigeria to Morocco, which is a geographically impossibility without going through Mauritania.

Tindouf, which is supposed to be the centre of any future cooperation, is a central point for agricultural products, which could also provide food supplies for northwestern Mauritania to be later sent to the country's east, where people mainly depend on cattle farming.

Aziz has been trying to enhance the agricultural sector but the mostly desert Mauritanian land and the scarcity of water have been obstacles that most mega-agri projects have failed to overcome. With Algeria stepping in, serious agricultural investments are expected to be part of the deal.
While the opening of the borders has many positive consequences for Mauritania, the unstable political environment does not guarantee that this government is immune from coups


Mauritania's east still suffers food shortages because of corruption and poor infrastructure, with dozens of villages still lacking paved roads to the capital.

While the opening of the borders has many positive consequences for Mauritania, the unstable political environment does not guarantee that this government is immune from coups; a new leader might yet cancel the long-awaited regional alliance.

Perhaps, the timing of the agreement could indicate that it is indeed temporary, at least at this stage, because of the upcoming presidential elections in Algeria and Mauritania, which coincide in 2019.

Still, a short-term achievement may be a useful foundation upon which to build, and may yet break the barriers that consecutive leaders on both sides have for years failed to overcome. 


Habibulah Mohamed Lamin is a journalist 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 politics and culture of the Maghreb.

Follow him on Twitter: @
habibullahWS

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