To travel to the immense country that is Mauritania is to rediscover the values of the nomadic population that has always characterised this extreme western part of the Sahara. The pleasure of time, the simple life, mutual respect between human beings, the strength of family ties, generous hospitality and intense social relations based on conversation and friendship are still the common denominator of the four and a half million Mauritanians who live in this territory bordering Morocco, Senegal, Mali and Algeria.
Nouakchott, a word of Berber origin, means "place of winds". But as soon as you exchange impressions with the local elders, some of them inform the visitor that it literally means "camel beach". To a layman it could be both: the winds are a constant along the coast, and large herds of camels - more properly dromedaries as they have only one hump - dot the wild pastures of this Atlantic side of the Great Desert.
This is the backdrop against which the nearly half a thousand entrepreneurs, investors and business people attending the 1st Business Forum being held in the capital of Mauritania have found themselves. Promoted and organised by the International Network of Arab and African Journalists (RIJAA), the Forum's mission was to support the slogan of Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Cheikh Ghazouani: "The economic development of our country depends on the implementation of an economic policy in which the private sector plays the main role. Private investment will be the engine of growth".
The large number of media from Morocco, Senegal, Mali, Gambia, Benin, Guinea, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Ivory Coast, Niger, Qatar, as well as France and Spain, is considered a turning point by RIJAA President Tidiane Diouwara: "Such diverse regions, with their different customs and sensibilities gathered here, constitute a formidable challenge in the fight against discrimination, violations of the right to information and public freedoms". He stresses that the three days of meetings and discussions at this first Nouakchott Business Forum have made it possible to establish or further intensify relations between Mauritanian, Arab, African and European political leaders, along with public sector agencies and private sector commercial institutions, as well as chambers of commerce, financial intermediaries, investors and, finally, all potential partners in a partnership that will undoubtedly be beneficial to all.
In short, it is a potential giant leap forward. It is like a change of era, or at least of century of economic activity. Mauritania recognises that the bulk of it has been, and still is, governed by customs and practices that are no longer competitive in today's world. There is a firm intention to change what is commonly known in the West as the shadow economy, so that the country can fully engage in transformative growth in the development and wealth of its society. The Mauritanian government is offering potential foreign investors everything from large, 99-year land concessions that can be extended, to full tax exemptions for the first eight years, with minimal increases thereafter. Fishing, energy, livestock and infrastructures of all kinds are the major sectors that could prove most attractive, in addition to tourism, for which some Gulf monarchies are already beginning to bet.