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Research Report

Arms in and around Mauritania: National and Regional Security Implications

Stéphanie Pézard
with Anne-Kathrin Glatz
Copyright Date: Jun. 1, 2010
Published by: Small Arms Survey
Pages: 126

Table of Contents

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  1. (pp. i-viii)
  2. (pp. ix-x)
  3. (pp. xii-xiii)
  4. (pp. xiv-xiv)
  5. (pp. xv-xvi)
  6. (pp. xvii-xvii)
  7. (pp. xviii-xviii)
  8. (pp. 1-12)

    Located in West Africa, in the western Sahel, Mauritania has a population of only 3 million spread across a territory twice the size of France.¹ As reflected by the structure of its population, this huge country is located, both geographically and culturally, at the frontier between North and sub-Saharan Africa (see Box 1). The capital, Nouakchott, is much closer to Senegal and Mali than to any capital in North Africa, from which it is separated by the Sahara. Migrations from these two countries strengthen Mauritania’s links with the sub-Saharan region. However, the government’s efforts to Arabize the country since it...

  9. (pp. 13-15)

    An internal report by the Mauritanian Department of National Security, which is responsible for allocating weapons permits, sets the number of weapons held by the security forces at 35,000 to 36,000, but without providing any details as to how this total was arrived at (DNS, 2008). The security forces include the army, the police, the National Guard, the gendarmerie, and a praetorian guard made up of the Presidential Security Battalion, the Battalion of Marine Fusiliers, and the Paratrooper Battalion (ICG, 2006, p. 2). The Mauritanian army comprises approximately 15,000 troops. During the Western Sahara War, it received aid from France...

  10. (pp. 16-36)

    Interviewed representatives of Mauritanian and international organizations in Nouakchott and focus group participants in Nouadhibou and Aioun al-Atrous converge on two points: the low rate of criminality, even though it has been increasing over the past ten years,34 and the fact that firearms are rarely used in criminal acts, as criminals tend to use bladed weapons. Attacks on roads (committed by bandits known as coupeurs de route) are almost unknown in Mauritania.35 Witnesses report only a few hold-ups and burglaries; car thefts and rape, which rarely involve the use of firearms, seem to be more frequent. The general inference is...

  11. (pp. 37-44)

    All of the respondents participating in this study agreed that Mauritania’s civilian population was very heavily armed. Prior to colonization, it was normal for people to own weapons, mainly blunt instruments, for the purpose of settling tribal conflicts, and also for hunting and to protect livestock from predators. Firearms only arrived in the 1920s, with the colonizers. According to participants in the Aioun al-Atrous focus groups, it is common for nomadic herdsmen in the south-east to own rifles. Hunters, tribal chiefs, and the ‘middle class’ in this region often own bouvelkes, which are craft hunting weapons with a single cartridge....

  12. (pp. 45-77)

    Mauritanian arms imports, as declared between 1994 and 2008 to Comtrade, the United Nations database listing imports and exports of goods worldwide, are mostly made up of hunting rifles and guns destined for use in sports shooting (see Figure 2) and of ammunition for small arms. No transfers of military small arms and light weapons were listed by or for Mauritania over the same period (Lazarevic, 2009).

    In 2005, the United States declared that it had exported USD 11,000 worth of spare parts and accessories for military weapons to Mauritania. During the 14 years covered by the study reported on...

  13. (pp. 78-82)

    A certain number of conclusions can be drawn from this study with reference to the circulation and possession of firearms in Mauritania, as well as the level of threat represented by the non-state armed groups in the region:

    The firearms circulating in Mauritania include various types of assault rifle, as well as handguns and hunting rifles. They are mainly held for reasons of tradition and prestige, for use during ceremonies (such as marriages), for target shooting, and for self-defence.

    The two sources of arms supply for Mauritanians are the black market (where there are weapons from Western Sahara, Mali, and...

  14. (pp. 83-93)
  15. (pp. 94-108)