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In 2019, the former president of the West African country of Mauritania, Ould Abdel Aziz, respected his country’s term limits and quit his job – even though he came to power in a coup. It was the first successful, peaceful transfer of power ever in the country.

Now, many are wondering if his successor, President Mohamed Ould Cheikh Ghazouani, who won the 2019 general election, will continue this trend when Mauritania holds its presidential poll on June 22.

Polls show that Ghazouani is leading. But civil rights, government corruption, Islamist violence in neighboring Mali and elsewhere in the Sahel region, increasing tension with Mali, and the execution of numerous deals with foreign companies concerning energy and other natural resources, are all pressing issues and foremost on voters’ minds, according to the Africa Center for Strategic Studies.

Meanwhile, as the Minority Rights Group explained, slavery still exists in Mauritania – and it remains a real issue, often tarnishing the country’s international reputation and lingering beneath the surface of domestic politics, World Politics Review wrote. While the government ostensibly has been cracking down on the practice, deep divisions between white or light-skinned citizens (Arabo-Berber, or “bidhan”), and Black (Afro-Mauritanian, or “haratin”), who are often not granted citizenship even though their families have lived in the country for generations, still run through Mauritanian society. Ghazouani belongs to the white community that has controlled the country since independence from France in 1960, but he has met with anti-slavery advocates.

Anti-slavery activist Biram Dah Ould Abeid, the son of a free slave, is running against the incumbent, ensuring these issues will be debated on the campaign trail, reported Agence France-Presse. Abeid came in second in the 2019 vote.

Former President Aziz, who is now in jail on embezzlement charges related to deals for offshore oil projects, sought to run against Ghazouani, but election officials rejected his candidacy, wrote the Agence de Presse Africaine. His incarceration reflects how the state bureaucracy is riddled with graft. Transparency International ranked Mauritania 130 out of 180 in its 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index.

Ghazouani, incidentally, described Aziz as late as December 2019 as “my brother, my friend,” noted Al Jazeera.

Hamadi Ould Sid’ El Moctar, who leads an Islamist party now serving as a token opposition in parliament, is also running against Ghazouani. Muslim clerics have a history of suppressing Islamist violence in Mauritania, the United Nations explained. But Moctar’s party, the National Rally for Reform and Development, or Tewassoul, is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, a group that has stirred instability throughout Northern Africa and the Middle East, critics said.

Regardless of who wins, more money might help the next leader to address Mauritania’s problems. Ghazouani has been making deals with BP and Kosmos Energy for the extraction of natural gas, the United Arab Emirates for green hydrogen production, and, as the Associated Press reported, mining critical minerals with South Korea.

Meanwhile, as Spain-based Atalayar noted, Mauritania is poised to become a major world gas producer, one of the largest in Africa, joining Algeria and Nigeria.

Nothing ensures peace better than prosperity, but even so, the next president will have a lot to do.

“Mauritania has enormous potential,” said Ousmane Mamadou Khane, minister of economy, providing a to-do list of what earnings from gas and other investments would target, essentially the basics: “(It would) meet the country’s huge needs in basic education, road infrastructure, water, sanitation and energy.”

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