Understanding Washington’s Pursuit of Relations with Nouakchott – The Arab Wall
Understanding Washington’s Pursuit of Relations with Nouakchott

Understanding Washington’s Pursuit of Relations with Nouakchott

The United States has shown a keen interest in expanding bilateral cooperation with Mauritania. On March 14th, Antony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, held a telephone call with Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Ghazouani to extend congratulations on his election as President of the African Union for 2024. According to a statement from the US State Department, Blinken conveyed Washington’s desire to strengthen collaboration with Nouakchott to address global issues such as democracy, governance, peace, security, climate, and food security, in alignment with the African Union’s Agenda 2063. This interest underscores the United States’ commitment to fostering partnerships with countries in North Africa and the West African Sahel region.

Multiple Files
The United States and Mauritania have maintained relations for over six decades, marked by close cooperation in security, development, and counterterrorism. Key areas of collaboration between the two nations include:
1- Repatriation of Illegal Immigrants: Last June, the US Border Patrol reported a doubling of Mauritanian illegal immigrants between 2022 and 2023, representing a 100% increase. According to customs data and the US Border Protection Agency, over 8,500 Mauritanians illegally entered the United States via land borders from March to June 2023. Given the priority of addressing illegal migration for the administration of US President Joe Biden, particularly with the upcoming US presidential elections and amidst Republican criticisms of its border policies, the repatriation of Mauritanian illegal immigrants to Mauritania has become a focal point of cooperation between Washington and Nouakchott.

Within the framework of an expanding security partnership, the United States and Mauritania have established a mechanism for deporting a substantial number of Mauritanian immigrants who recently entered the United States without legal authorization to stay. The website of the US Embassy in Mauritania has reported multiple deportation operations, returning numerous Mauritanians lacking legal authorization to their homeland in cooperation with the Mauritanian government.

While Mauritanian authorities and relevant bodies are endeavoring to halt the influx of illegal migration to the United States, the US Embassy in Mauritania has initiated a media campaign aimed at informing potential migrants about legal pathways to the United States. This campaign targets individuals aspiring to migrate to the United States, with the goal of reducing the incidence of illegal migration from Mauritania.

On the other hand, American human rights organizations have urged President Joe Biden’s administration to grant temporary protected status to Mauritania. They point to reports of mistreatment against black populations who face deportation after fleeing. Numerous US lawmakers, both in the Senate and the House, have consistently pressured the US government to extend protection to include black Mauritanians. This effort notably involved Kamala Harris, the Vice President of the United States during her tenure in the Senate, where she spearheaded a message from her colleagues urging former President Donald Trump’s administration to cease the deportation of Mauritanian citizens.

2- American Aid to Support Refugees: Mauritania has emerged as a refuge for individuals fleeing security tensions in Sahelian countries, spurred by military coups, separatist movements, and armed conflicts. The influx of migrants from Sahelian nations into Mauritania surged from 57,000 in 2019 to over 112,000 last year. On January 2nd of the previous year, the United Nations World Food Programme projected the arrival of over 100,000 additional refugees from northern Mali, prompted by escalating tensions between armed Azawad movements and the Malian government.

The surge in migrants from Sahelian countries has raised security concerns in Nouakchott, leading authorities to call upon international partners involved in migration affairs for assistance in ensuring migrants are placed in suitable conditions to mitigate the risks of crime and insecurity. In response, the United States announced on March 19th of this year its provision of $5 million through the Population, Refugees, and Migration Bureau of the US Department of State. This contribution is designated to support the emergency plan implemented for the benefit of refugees and host populations in the eastern region of Hodh Ech Chargui in Mauritania. The representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Mauritania emphasized that this assistance will bolster initiatives aimed at enhancing basic services, livelihoods, vocational training, and community development.

3- Bilateral Cooperation in Counterterrorism: Cooperation between the United States and Mauritania in counterterrorism stands as a cornerstone in their bilateral relations. Washington has actively engaged with Nouakchott to bolster its security capabilities, providing training for its military and security forces in US military institutions.

The United States has offered both financial and technical assistance to strengthen Mauritania’s capacities in counterterrorism and border security. The Mauritanian army has actively participated in US Africa Command maneuvers such as “Flintlock” and “Phoenix Express,” with Nouakchott also hosting “Flintlock 2020.” Over the span of more than a decade, Mauritania has played a pivotal role in counterterrorism efforts and the prevention of violent extremism, serving as the host of the Secretariat of the Sahel Group and the Defense College of the Group.

4- Providing Economic Support to Nouakchott: The United States extends assistance to Mauritania in economic development through programs aimed at fostering economic growth and enhancing institutional capabilities and infrastructure. Washington also offers support in education and vocational training to bolster the workforce’s skills in Nouakchott. This encompasses scholarships, technical and vocational training opportunities for youth, and curriculum development initiatives aimed at reducing the influx of illegal immigrants to the United States.

Washington is actively engaged in bolstering trade between the two countries by streamlining exports and imports and broadening the scope of commercial ties. Mauritania receives technical and advisory assistance to enhance its trade capacities, develop logistical facilities, and improve access to global markets.

According to the US Commercial Representative Office, American goods exports to Mauritania totaled approximately $154 million in 2022, marking a 17.3% increase ($23 million) from 2021 but a 47% decrease from 2012. Total US goods imports from Mauritania amounted to $6 million in 2022, reflecting a 46.8% increase ($2 million) from 2021 and an 807% surge from 2020. Concurrently, the trade surplus of American goods with Mauritania stood at $148 million in 2022, marking a 16.3% increase ($21 million) from 2021.
Economic cooperation between the United States and Mauritania holds the potential to bolster economic stability and foster sustainable development within the latter.
Despite American efforts to bolster political, economic, and military ties with Mauritania, several challenges persist that cannot be overlooked. Foremost among these challenges is Nouakchott’s receipt of criticism from within Washington regarding human rights issues, particularly concerning the suppression of freedom of expression and arbitrary arrests. Additionally, the United States has expressed concern about Mauritania’s relationships with certain countries, such as Iran and Russia, as Nouakchott endeavors to broaden its range of options for addressing international developments.