By Jemal Oumar
By Jemal Oumar
August 15, 2011 (Magharebia)
Nouakchott –Attacks by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) are driving up the cost of food and other basic goods in eastern Mauritania.
The price hikes, compounded by increased demand during Ramadan, are worrying residents of Bassiknou and other eastern settlements.
“After the battle between the army and the terrorists, prices of vegetables rose to three times their regular price,” said Sidi Brahim Ould Mesoud, a meat vendor in Bassiknou, more than 1,000km from the capital. “Before these events, I could get the goats I needed at reasonable prices, enabling me to make comfortable daily profits. But today I barely get what I want because of the high prices of animals.”
Cattle dealer Elkassem Ould Mouftah echoed Ould Mesoud’s concerns, saying that Mauritanian animal herders used to rely on grazing in Wagadou Forest, the site of a now-destroyed al-Qaeda encampment.
“Most meat dealers in Mauritanian border villages do not dare penetrate that forest for fear of the organisation’s elements or landmines they planted on forest paths,” said Ould Mouftah. “Likewise, turnout by Mauritanians at the weekly markets in Mali has declined for fear of the roads being cut off by terrorists, who increased their hostility toward inhabitants of the Mali-Mauritania border.”
In the same context, Deya Ould Chenane, president of the Consumer Protection Association in Bassiknou, said: “In the central market, prices jumped, especially for consumer goods and particularly vegetables and daily foodstuffs, and the Wagadou battle is the reason, as the vegetables the local market needs come from forest plantations in Wagadou, which has become a theatre of war that could be renewed at any moment.”
“Meat prices also rose since what is being slaughtered each day no longer meets the critical need of the population,” Ould Chenane added.
The Wagadou Forest was once a hub of economic activity for Mauritanian traders. But after the recent clash with al-Qaeda, civilians are beginning to feel the impact of the terror group.
“Due to the forest’s very close proximity to the Mauritanian border, the effects of the battle and what occurred thereafter affect the population of the region as a whole – economically, socially and psychologically,” said Mohameden Ould Badi, an economic analyst.
He explained that the region was “located precisely at the beginning of the southern border of Mauritania, not far from the centre of Fassala, the district of Bassiknou and the district of Adel Bagrou, distinguished as a source of livelihood and an important hub in animal husbandry”. ‘
“Thus, it is natural for Mauritania to be concerned with securing it, added to the social, ethnic and cultural overlap between the populations on both sides of the border with Mali,” Ould Badi added.
The al-Qaeda conflict has also led to a decline in trade volume between residents of Mali and Mauritania, according to supplier Mahmoud Ould Elvilai.
“Today, types of goods that came mostly from the capital Nouakchott are piled up in the Bassiknou market awaiting shipment to villages and communities on both sides of the border and maybe beyond,” he said, noting that the city has yet to recover economically from the recent Bassiknou attack.
Analyst Mokhtar Salem told Magharebia that stepped up Mauritanian army patrols have also cut down on the smuggling of cigarettes and drugs.
“Terrorism suddenly leapt into the circle of trade in the border region between Mali and Mauritania,” Salem said. “It became imperative for ordinary citizens and traders to coexist with a new atmosphere they were unaccustomed to previously.”
Photo credit: Jemal Oumar