Greenwich Mean Time Zone UTC+00:00
Capital City Nouakchott
Currency Mauritanian ouguiya
National Day 28 Nov
AN ECONOMIST BY TRADE, Ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania His Excellency Mr Sidya Ould El Hadj took up his position last September. He admits that COVID-19 and the restrictions that followed have slowed down work and life everywhere, the UK and Mauritania included. “As a newly arrived Ambassador in London, I would have liked to have personally met UK officials, as well as other members of the diplomatic community. I believe that in-person meetings would have greatly facilitated the progress of bilateral cooperation with the UK and engagement with other diplomats.” But for now, the digital space and ‘Zoom diplomacy’ will have to do.
Raised in “a modest family background” in Kiffa, a small city in south eastern Mauritania, Mr El Hadj was fortunate to have “a chance to go to school unlike many of [his] friends.” He recalls that “few people were aware or convinced of the importance of education” in the years immediately after independence. However, he completed his secondary education in Nouakchott, the country’s capital, travelling abroad for higher education, and completing an MBA in Banking at University of London a number of years later.
Diplomacy is a thread that runs strongly through the Ambassador’s siblings. With one brother working for the UN, the other was assigned to Mauritanian embassies in Europe and Africa. “I recall being highly impressed by their stories describing their travels around the world, and their meetings with world leaders and famous people.”
Accordingly, Mr El Hadj went on to hold a number of positions as a senior economist for various United Nations organisations including the UN Development Programme, Economic Commission for Africa and the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean. This involved “working on economic analysis, trade, growth, structural adjustment programmes, economic integration, financing for development, poverty reduction, external indebtedness and social security.”
Among other positions, Mr El Hadj was chief economic adviser at UNICEF Regional Office for West and Central Africa. He wrote specialised papers for the negotiations of the Free Trade Area of the Americas and for those leading to the establishment of the Association of Caribbean States. During a secondment as an adviser on taxation and budgetary reforms at the Cambodia Ministry of Finance came one of the most memorable events in his career; he “managed – along with other colleagues – to defuse strong tensions verging on the resumption of violence among representatives of Cambodian factions a few days prior to the 1993 UN supervised election in that country.”
He’s grateful to have had “the privilege of working in Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean and Asia.” He continues, “I also met fascinating people from around the world, working with people with high levels of expertise in their fields.” Mr El Hadj believes his “rewarding” career has “helped [him] understand the different perspectives that countries may have on the major issues facing the world.”
This experience as an economist will stand him on firm ground for his appointment as Mauritania’s Ambassador in the UK capital. “Although, I do not wish to diminish the importance of the political aspects of diplomatic work, I believe that much of my focus here [will relate] to trade and investment. My career experience should be a great help to accomplish my mission here.”
“UK-Mauritania relations are at their very beginning,” he says, “in the sense that there is no structured ongoing programme of bilateral cooperation at the moment. Therefore, I think that there is an opportunity to explore various areas of mutual interest on which we can build in the future. As I mentioned, my priorities include establishing economic relations with particular emphasis on trade and investment. I also intend to explore security and defence areas, among others. The expertise of the UK in all these fields and Mauritania’s desire to transform into a better performing economy, while maintaining peace and stability, offers good opportunities for mutually beneficial cooperation.”
He has “high expectations for Mauritanian-UK relations” following Brexit. “The UK is already actively building new relations with countries around the world.” Mr El Hadj believes he has two basic roles in that regard: “the first is to make sure that the Mauritanian desire to build good and friendly relations with post-Brexit Britain is well known, and the second is to identify specific areas where concrete and meaningful relations could be established.”
Another of his priorities as Ambassador in the UK, is to “make sure that [his] country, its history and culture are better known” across the UK. He continues, “Although Mauritania has many diplomatic challenges, I believe that one of the greatest is to ensure that the country is better known. In my travels around the world, I found very few people knew where Mauritania was. In Mauritania, we need to double our efforts in this regard.”