When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Geopolitics

Al Qaeda And Drought Drive West Africa's Mauritania Back Into Dire Poverty

A devastating drought has only made matters worse for residents in the northwestern African nation of Mauritania, where Jihadist attacks and kidnappings attributed to Al Qaeda had already killed off the local tourism industry.

In Mauritania, the road is long and dry...and dangerous. (c.hug)
In Mauritania, the road is long and dry...and dangerous. (c.hug)
Isabelle Mandraud

CHINGUETTI -- The innkeeper at the Blue Moor, a hotel perched along the scenic Adrar plateau, looks sad as he waters the plants. "It took so much time to make this garden grow," he says with a sigh.

Here in northeast Mauritania, this innkeeper is alone. He hasn't seen a single tourist arrive for more than two years. Like the other 35 inns in this former medieval trading city of Chinguetti, which was designated in 1996 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Blue Moor is now closed down.

Located some 600 kilometers from Nouakchott, the capital, Chinguetti is currently in the midst of a serious drought. But its problems began even before that, thanks to a radical militia group known as Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. The group is active in several northwestern African nations, including Mauritania. Like much of the African Sahel, Chinguetti and the surrounding area is now considered highly dangerous for tourists. France's Foreign Affairs Ministry, for example, issues regular travel advisories.

Following several jihadist attacks and kidnappings of Westerners, the Mauritanian government began to take on the threat. But the damage was already done. According to Mauritania's tourism minister, Bamba Ould Daramane, extreme poverty, which had dropped by 50% following a surge in desert-hiking tourism in the early 2000s, has since skyrocketed.

Selling off camels, one by one

A destitute family has taken up residence just in front of the Caravan Hotel, the first hotel to open in Chinguetti in 1989. Children with tattered clothing play in a dirty courtyard surrounded by crumbling walls. Their visibly distressed father says he no longer has the means to feed his children.

"Almost the entire population benefited from tourism: hotel owners, businesses, artisans and camel drivers. You cannot imagine what that meant," says Dadde Ould Slama, the mayor of Wadane, a neighboring town of roughly 4,500 people.

Wadane is 60 kilometers from Chinguetti and has also been dramatically affected by the drop in tourism. "Before, we would welcome 8,000 or 9,000 visitors every year, without counting the Paris-Dakar Rally," says Ould Slama. "Then everything stopped. Today, it is very discouraging."

The Dakar Rally, a daredevil road race with a leg that took racers through Mauritania, was relocated to South America three years ago due to security concerns.

Because of the downturn in tourism, camel drivers had to sell off their livestock, little by little. Hotel employees were let go. Artisans no longer have work. "We cannot even afford to pay our bills to the bank," says Ndel Khairi, the manager of the Caravan Hotel and a cousin of the owner.

The luckiest eke out an existence with small-scale farming. But many Mauritanians, young people in particular, have left to join the already swelling population of the shantytowns surrounding Nouakchott.

Running low on food... and aid

Making matters even worse for the area is a severe drought that struck Mauritania beginning last year. According to the World Food Programme (WFP), nearly 700,000 people are currently in a "state of food insecurity" – three times the number in 2010. In a report made public on Feb. 9, the WFP recommends "urgent action to assist the poorest households and to avoid a major humanitarian catastrophe."

In Atar, the regional capital of the Adrar, Geneviève Courbois knows the situation well. After living more than 20 years in Mauritania, the Frenchwoman is struggling to combat malnutrition as the head of the organization she founded, Children of the Desert. "It is devastating," she says. "People no longer have any resources."

Nor is there much outside aid. The halt in tourism has had additional consequences. International flights no longer touch down at Atar's airport, where protests broke out last September. Volunteer medical professionals from abroad and NGOs now hardly come to the region.

Last Thursday night, in front of Mauritania's presidential palace, a man was tackled to the ground just before he could light himself on fire. Mohamed Abderrahmane Ould Bezeid, a teacher in his 30s, had just been posted to a teaching position in a remote part of the country. When he refused to go, the state suspended his salary.

Read more from Le Monde in French

Photo - c. hug

You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
  • $2.90/month or $19.90/year. No hidden charges. Cancel anytime.
Already a subscriber? Log in

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
Society

Colombia Celebrates Its Beloved Drug For The Ages, Coffee

This essential morning drink for millions worldwide was once considered an addictive menace, earning itself a ban on pain of death in the Islamic world.

Colombia's star product: coffee beans.

Julián López de Mesa Samudio

-Essay-

BOGOTÁ — October 1st is International Coffee Day. Recently it seems as if every day of the calendar year commemorates something — but for Colombia, coffee is indeed special.

For almost a century now we have largely tied our national destiny, culture and image abroad to this drink. Indeed it isn't just Colombia's star product, it became through the course of the 20th century the world's favorite beverage — and the most commonly used drug to boost work output.

Precisely for its stimulating qualities — and for being a mild drug — coffee was not always celebrated, and its history is peppered with the kinds of bans, restrictions and penalties imposed on the 'evil' drugs of today.

Keep reading...Show less

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
  • $2.90/month or $19.90/year. No hidden charges. Cancel anytime.
Already a subscriber? Log in
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS

Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.

Watch VideoShow less
MOST READ