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Mauritanian elections promise little upstream change

The expected winner of the presidential poll is unlikely to rock the boat for players in the country’s fast-expanding offshore sector

Mauritanians go to the polls on 22 June to elect a new head of state—with the regime candidate, defence minister Mohamed Ould Cheikh Mohamed Ahmed Ould Ghazouani, the overwhelming favourite to clinch victory.

As a longstanding close confidant of the outgoing president, Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz, he is expected to maintain the principle lines of current government policy. That should ensure a continued stable framework for the upstream hydrocarbons sector at a time when

BP is developing the $1bn Grand Tortue/Ahmeyin (GTA) gas project and there is a marked pick up in exploration interest among other foreign oil companies.

Ghazouani, who comes from an important religious and trading family in Assaba, in the south, only took up his ministerial post last year, after a long stint as armed forces chief of staff.

But he has known Abdelaziz since they both trained together as young officers, at the military academy in Meknes, Morocco, and his influence has long extended far beyond the defence arena. When the president was wounded in a little-explained shooting incident in October 2012, he entrusted Ghazouani with the informal leadership of the regime while he was away for hospital treatment and convalescence in France.

There are several opposition contenders. Biram Dah Abeid and Kane Hamidou Baba are both campaigners for the rights of the Haratine—the descendants of slaves who account for close to half of Mauritania's population. The progressive Coalition des forces du changement démocratique alliance is represented by Mohamed Ould Maouloud from the Union des forces de progrès (UFP) party, while former treasury official Mohamed Lemine El-Mourteji El-Wavi is making his first foray into national politics.

Sidi Mohamed Ould Boubacar, a former prime minister, is backed by the moderate Islamist party Tawassoul—which tends to shy away from putting up its own candidate in presidential elections.

Ghazouani could secure an outright win on 22 June if he gains more than half the votes cast. But the four opposition candidates are well known, and they may attract enough support to prevent the defence minister reaching the 50pc threshold, and thus force the contest to a second round on 6 July.

Opposition groups already collaborate and might back a single standard bearer in such a run-off. However, Ghazouani would still be the clear favourite.

Offshore strategy

With the government confident of victory, ministers have continued to focus on their departmental responsibilities despite the approach of polling day.

This is particularly important for oil, energy and mining minister Mohamed Abdel Vetah, as he seeks to ensure that the GTA project and increased exploration activity starts to generate a local spin-off in employment and business activity. Few Mauritanian companies have experience of the offshore sector. But the country does have a large mining sector and a specialist institution for training engineers, which is being reinforced through partnerships with leading French and Tunisian institutions.

Abdel Vetah opened a workshop at the Offshore Technology Conference in Houston in May to develop relationships between the Mauritanian private sector and the major suppliers and sub-contractors to the GTA project. OFSE firms McDermott, Schlumberger, KBR, TechnipFMC, Rowan Companies, Worley Parsons, Subsea7, Bechtel, OneSubsea, Sumitomo, Oceaneering and Halliburton were among those present.

In April, BP awarded the UK subsidiary of KBR the pre-FEED Services contract for the second and third phases of Grand Tortue/Ahmeyin. This will expand the capacity to deliver additional gas flows to a mid-water processing platform, according to KBR. Final conversion into LNG will still take place at the main plant being developed for the first phase of the project.

In February, Eiffage and Saipem secured the contract to build the berth facilities and breakwater for the offshore gas terminal; the total value of the deal has not been confirmed, but Eiffage's majority share of the work is priced at €350mn.

The breakwater will be assembled from 21 concrete units, each weighing 16,500 tonnes. These will be built in Senegal, where Eiffage is already a major player in the construction sector; but the 2.5m tonnes of aggregate required for the underwater base will be quarried in Mauritania, an arrangement that may reassure the country that it will not be relegated behind the Senegalese when it comes to local supply contracts.

Meanwhile, exploration interest in the offshore sector continues to grow, with ExxonMobil opening a new country head office in Nouakchott.


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