Magharebia (Washington DC)

Mali Crisis Hurts Mauritanian Traders

Nouakchott — The unrest in Mali is taking a toll on the economy of Mauritania.

Local markets in Hodh Ech Chargui and Hodh El Gharbi provinces are seeing a significant decline in the number of Malian merchants, while Mauritanian traders fear crossing the border to ply their goods in Mali.

"There is no doubt that the Malian crisis has had a negative impact on trade that increased in recent years, which helped the mobile weekly markets prosper," mauripress.info director Mohamed Mahmoud Ould Cheyakh told Magharebia.

"All kinds of goods that were supplying Mauritanian markets from southern Mali on big trucks have been stopped by the Malian authorities," he added.

"Any supplies that reach the Mauritanian border today are just very small quantities smuggled in via donkey-drawn carts."

Cheyakh continued: "Produce that most populations in eastern Mauritania depend on has disappeared. As for the northern Mali populations under the control of armed groups, they have to rely on supplies and food from Algeria, since nothing is reaching them from Mauritania, Niger or the central Malian government."

The continuous flow of Malian refugees has aggravated an already difficult economic situation in southern Mauritania. Small communities now have only a few markets, journalist al-Rajel Ould Oumar said.

"At the beginning of the war, our activities in Malian villages near the border slowed down, and as time passed and the security situation deteriorated, it became even harder for us to easily move for fear of being targeted by armed gangs," trader Mohamed Abdallah Ould Ghaly told Magharebia.

Ould Ghaly added: "In spite of the presence of Mauritanian military units, no traders can take risks and move between villages because they would be exposed to armed robberies by groups looking for a source of supplies."

Mauritanian livestock trader Ibrahim Ould Sidi faces the same problem. "Ever since Ansar al-Din moved into the village of Leyra, we feel unsafe crossing with our cattle to Malian soil," he said.

"The area is in an atmosphere of war," Ould Sidi added.

He remembers years of stability before the armed Islamists and terrorists seized northern Mali. "We didn't care a bit about the border, as everything was open between us. Mauritanians were living on what's coming from Mali and the same thing was true for Malians," he told Magharebia.

"The war changed everything. Anyone who now crosses the border into Mali can be accused of dealing with terrorists," the herdsman added.

His fears are not without merit. Just last week, Malian authorities arrested three Mauritanian traders in Jebali for allegedly working with al-Qaeda. The men were released the same day.

"Under the current conditions, more and more caution is recommended while crossing border areas," a tribal dignitary in Bassiknou warned.

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