Ex-President of Mauritania: There is no development without security

Ely Ould Mohamed Vall [Georgi Gotev]

Ely Ould Mohamed Vall, former President of Mauritania, told a Brussels audience that the first prerequisites for the development of Africa are the fight against terrorism and corruption.

Vall, President of Mauritania from 2005 to 2007, spoke yesterday (19 November) at a conference organised by the Atlantic Treaty Association (ATA) and attended by personalities active in foreign policy, security and defence, in Southern Europe, and NATO.

As the organiser of the event, Fabrizio Luciolli, the President of ATA explained, the purpose of the conference was to seek common solutions to common threats and common problems. The association follows a tradition of connecting people from different regions, especially the Mediterranean, the Middle East and the Gulf.

Vall ensured the transition to democracy of Mauritania during his term as President and organised the elections in which he chose not to participate. A career military officer, he is currently committed to promoting regional cooperation against terrorism in Africa.

In his speech, the former President of Mauritania chose development as his main topic. He insisted that Sub-Saharan Africa could be a reliable and efficient partner of the EU and NATO, in the framework of a global strategy against terrorism and the roots of terrorism.

Terrorism, he said, wrongly claims it has roots in Islam, but in fact it also has very deep social, economic and political roots and buys the complicity of the authorities to promote its obscure activities.

“Terrorists divide our societies as they introduce values which are alien to us. They divide our families and fuel hatred against all those who do not share their aberrant vision of religion,” Vall said, speaking in French.

‘The world should recognise Africa’s potential’

“According to stereotypes, Africa is a source of problems rather than solutions. But if Europe in particular and the rest of the world in more general terms recognise Africa’s potential, at the same time assisting its democratic processes, rather than supporting authoritarian regimes, we could work together for building a better future,” he argued.

The former President of Mauritania insisted that Africa had enormous resources, some untapped, other neglected.

“Africa is a young continent possessing more qualified and graduated personnel that it is generally assumed on the other side of the Mediterranean. Africa has energy resources and raw materials, but they profit very little to African companies and mostly to foreign companies and to corrupt regimes,” Vall said.

He argued that the African internal market was constantly growing, but that the continent’s contribution to global development was impeded by several obstacles, among which he named terrorism and corruption, often interrelated, as the biggest ones.

“We Africans are the biggest victims of terrorism,” Vall said. He quoted statistics, according to which the largest number of victims of terrorism is localised in Nigeria, Mali, Chad and in the Horn of Africa.

“It is not a surprise that a large number of the refugees in Europe are coming from these countries. Terrorism alienates investors and tourists,”  Vall added, giving his country Mauritania as an example, which, since it has been categorised by Western governments as a region of high risk, has seen, according to the World Bank, a dramatic drop in foreign direct investment.

Vall said that minerals and hydrocarbons were the most easy to be diverted, as confirmed by a recent report by the US Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Justice Department, in investigations of corruption at the Kinross Gold Corporation, in Mauritania.

Regarding corruption, all African countries, with certain exceptions, including Ghana, are unable to fight the phenomenon, the former President of Mauritania said.

Vall argued that one of the direct consequences of this was the disenchantment of the African youth, hurdles to cooperation between neighbours and to regional cooperation, and the impoverishment of populations. The only possible way for security is democracy and cooperation, he insisted.

“The negative stereotypes about Africa need to be abandoned. Development assistance should change, it should be linked to real progress in democracy and respect of human rights. Exchanges between North and South should be boosted, to help overcome the intellectual isolation and the misconceptions,” Vall said.

“The West should stop believing that authoritarian regimes provide a batter safeguard against terrorism. Authoritarian regimes often play the card of sectarianism and tribalism. This weakens the security services and the army in many countries, including in mine”, he said.

Asked by EURACTIV to comment on the follow up of the Paris terrorist attacks, the former president of Mauritania said that not only the EU, but the USA and Russia should side with France to combat Islamic State.

“What happened in Paris should open the eyes of the whole world about how serious is the problem in a region close to us. Maybe the time has come for NATO, Russia, and the regional powers to consider a concerted effort and reestablish peace in the region and security in the world,” he said.

Some conference attendees responded by criticising the West’s approaches to the issue, which some speakers said had created more problems that they had solved. Western hypocrisy was criticised, in particular with respect to the reluctance to name Turkey as a place where Islamic State sells its oil, and across which terrorists circulate unhindered.

As Mohamed Dahlan, a former minister and National Security Advisor of the Palestinian National Authority said, the West was turning a blind eye to Daesh selling oil to Turkey. A terrorist who committed attacks in Europe recently escaped to Syria, he said, and asked: “Through which country? Through the moon?”

Dahlan also told the audience that the West had destroyed Iraq, Syria, Libya, and that’s why Europe has refugees. Further, he said that terrorism in Syria “came from Turkey”, and that the West “knows that”.

David Hobbs, Secretary General of the NATO parliamentary assembly, said that to combat ISIS, there was a need to combine the best elements of soft power and hard power, of foreign and domestic policies.

“Our nations and military organisations need to work militarily, in coalitions against Daesh. We need to work together internationally, on the military strategy to deny Daesh’s goals in the Middle East. That might well mean working with Russia – it’s a question of self-interest,” he said, adding “this doesn’t mean that we should change positions on anything else”.

Sources from the conference told EURACTIV that such views weren’t widely shared in NATO, and that the Deputy Secretary General of NATO, US diplomat Alexander Vershbow, had spoken at a dinner the previous evening in more conservative terms, considering the Russian intervention in Syria a nuisance.

Mohamed Dahlan, former minister and National Security Advisor of the Palestinian National Authority, made the following comments to EURACTIV:

“The mistakes made by the EU countries and the Americans are there. But after Paris they should tackle the situation better than before. Either the EU countries didn’t understand, and I doubt it, or they have been using the situation for politics, not for security. France, who suffered so terribly, should now deal with the region differently.”

“But in the region, millions have been killed or lost their homes. The Americans destroyed Iraq, Syria, Libya, they tried to do the same in Bahrein and in Egypt, with the Muslim Brotherhood. Because with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt Turkey would be a superpower.”

“The Americans are destroying one country, then going to the next one, forgetting about the first. Iraq has been destroyed and they passed to Syria. Iraq has been forgotten. And before that they forgot Palestine. But they will pay the price of handling the situation with Israel in an unbalanced way. This region will not be stable unless Palestinians will take their rights.”

Asked about the role of the Russians in Syria, he said:

“They are playing their own game. It’s amazing that the Americans complain now, after the Russians deployed their forces in Syria. But what the hell have the Americans being doing the last years in Syria? They have been training 65 people, and they have joined Daesh. And this cost them half a billion (dollars). Are they joking here?”

“We Arabs don’t need anyone to design our life, and us to thank him. We know our situation better than anybody else. And we are very keen to help the European countries to come over the situation, because you will pay the price. Europe will pay a big price. In the past, we used to pay this price, as Arabs, as Palestinians. Now we are equal.”

Mauritania, officially the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, is a country in the Maghreb region of western North Africa.

Approximately 90% of Mauritania's land is within the Sahara desert and consequently the population is concentrated in the south, where precipitation is slightly higher. The capital and largest city is Nouakchott, located on the Atlantic coast, which is home to around one-third of the country's 3.5 million people. The government was overthrown on 6 August 2008, in a military coup d'état led by General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz. On 16 April 2009, Aziz resigned from the military to run for president in the 19 July elections, which he won.

About 20% of Mauritanians live on less than US$1.25 per day. Slavery in Mauritania has been called a major human rights issue, with roughly 4% (155,600 people) of the country's population – proportionally the highest for any country – being enslaved against their will, especially enemies of the government. Additional human rights concerns in Mauritania include female genital mutilation and child labour.

Following the 2008 coup, the military government of Mauritania faced severe international sanctions and internal unrest.

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