Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 05/2012

The Drivers of Insecurity in Mauritania

Anouar Boukhars

April 2012

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace


The trans-Saharan region is emerging as a hotbed of instability and insecurity. A confluence of forces, from the revolts in North Africa and the proliferation of weapons to transnational trafficking of illicit goods and terrorist activity led by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, are generating acute interest in this part of the world. Born dirt poor and with a weak sense of common identity, states in this region have confronted daunting developmental challenges. Governments are chronically weak with feeble political institutions, ethno-political tensions run high, essential services and public goods are lacking, and corruption is endemic. Battling internal turmoil, these states exhibit a limited capacity to monitor their borders and maintain a monopoly on the legitimate use of force, with organized crime stepping in to fill the void. Mauritania epitomizes the risks that these unstable states with weak capabilities pose to regional and international security. Three stresses emerge as critical to Mauritania’s current state of insecurity: the weakness and corruption of state institutions; sociopolitical tensions rooted in old tribal structures and historical ethno-racial divisions; and the growing radicalization of Mauritanian youth. The problem of homegrown radicalization is further compounded by its interconnectedness with transnational forces like illicit trafficking and regional terrorist networks. These factors reinforce each other, creating a vicious circle that must be broken in order to restore some stability.