Friday, August 19, 2005

Oil in Mauritania

A nice and comprehensive article(note the date):
The Promises of the Underground

Samir Gharbi June 12, 2005

In 2006 Mauritania will, barring a grave political destabilisation, be among the top 10 African producers of black gold (oil). Production may even pass Cameroon (100,000 barrels a day). This is close to the output which brought Tunisia prosperity in the 1980s and 1990s...At $50 a barrel, on average, the majority of which will go into the State coffers, oil will be as large a sector as fish or iron. The hope is that this resource (the first well was discovered May 13, 2001 at Chinguetti) will be effectively used to help a population which has long suffered misery and the desert.

Starting from almost nothing in 1960, the year of independence, Mauritania is a country of fishers and herders (nomads), and lots of business. Until 1974, mining was controlled by a French firm. Its economic and social base --Saharan tourism and other service activities -- has taken time to develop. Average income in Mauritania is about $450 or $500 per year, which makes it a "low-income" country. But this is the average. One in two Mauritanians (46 percent according to the World Bank), live below the poverty line. And one in four (26 percent), do not have sufficient means to live a "decent" life, that is, to house, eat, and care for themselves at a basic level. Add to that an illiteracy rate of almost 60 percent for those 15 years and older and an elevated rate of maternal and infant mortality.

That is to say, petro-dollars will have much to do. Without waiting, as was the case with iron, the government must not let the oil fields be entirely controlled by foreign companies, however well-intentioned they may be. The government has created a Ministry of Petrol which must create a real national company. Not an oversized bureaucratic institution, but a group of men and women motivated to serve their nation: competent and transparent in managing production (quality and volume), able to sell at the best price, and to form teams of Mauritanian economists, geologists and researchers...To the State there remains several missions with one objective: To use petro-dollars to eradicate poverty in the near future, not through hand-outs, but in creating small and medium sized businesses. To accelerate and enlarge programs already in place to provide real universal access to primary education, potable running water, electricity and health. And to prevent a small group from enriching themselves to the detriment of the majority.

Poorly translated by me.

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