The development debates organized by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Development with the assistance of the World Bank Institute are set in a special context that makes them more than timely and current. Mauritania has just adopted a strategic framework for poverty reduction whose formulation was undertaken through an approach of participation, dialogue and exchange. The SFPR represents a new approach compared to the development paradigms that have prevailed until now, but also a radical shift in the public policies priorities, targeting and implementation methods. In Mauritania, the SFPR was conceived as an expression of a national consensus that reflects the synthesis of the different actors' views: the government, the parliament, the municipalities and organizations of civil society. This national consensus should be strengthened through a process of ongoing thinking and discussion. The relevance of the development debates stems first of all from their shared input on improving the understanding of poverty and the definition of mechanisms and operating methods for the programs and measures for poverty reduction.
The totality of the debates should illicit a meaningful exchange on the determining dimensions and priorities of poverty reduction. The results of this exchange should be incorporated into a strategic vision that puts poverty reduction above the main development policy concerns.
Technical services of the public administration, scholars, mayors and representatives of other organizations of civil society took part in these debates. Seven sessions were held on the following Themes:
· Poverty: diagnostic, causes, policies formulation
· Markets, growth and poverty
· Human capital accumulation and long term growth
· Regionalization and globalization
· Implementation and ownership of strategies.
At the end of these debates, the prominent elements that seem to have focused the attention were the following themes:
Theme 1: Diagnostic, Causes and Intervention Policies Formulation
Poverty is a multidimensional phenomenon, and its definition and diagnostic should take into account both economic and non-economic dimensions, namely socio-cultural dimensions. The measurement instruments and analytical tools currently known do not permit us to precisely grasp the dynamics and manifestations of poverty.
Access to means of production, especially land, is a determining factor of poverty in Mauritania, where poverty is generally a rural phenomenon.
Moreover, the poor's perception of their situation could create and maintain a fatalistic mentality that constitutes a major impediment to their social and human capital development.
Theme 2: Markets, Growth, and Poverty
Employment, wealth and infrastructure development are opportunities offered by growth. For the poor to take full advantage of growth, policies should emphasize their level of education and training, and their access to means of production and infrastructure.
For the poor to take advantage of the opportunities that the market offers (production, commercialization, consumption), governments should adopt a set of measures aiming at both adapting the market to the poor's conditions, and to enhancing their levels and means in accordance with the qualification and competitiveness requirements.
Growth is necessary but not sufficient to reduce poverty. In fact, the growth rate should exceed the population rate for the living conditions of the poor to improve.
Theme 3: Human Capital Accumulation and Long-term Growth
The success of any economic and social development policy is contingent upon accumulation of "human capital." The productivity of an individual is a function of his qualifications; hence the role, among others, of education and health in sustained growth.
In recent years, important reforms have been undertaken in the Mauritanian education system. Nonetheless, more efforts need to be undertaken, especially with regard to increasing the schooling rate, particularly in rural areas, to adapt the educational content to the economic needs.
Notable progress has been realized in the health sector (in the form of better health coverage, availability of essential medicines and strengthening of sectoral financing). However, these efforts should be supported with a special emphasis on the rural areas.
Theme 4: Vulnerability
Given that vulnerability remains less known compared to poverty, both in terms of definition and measurement, and there is often confusion about the two concepts, the debate centered on questions essential to the understanding of the concept of vulnerability, before the discussion turned to the Mauritania case: what is vulnerability? How can it be measured?
In defining vulnerability, two main elements should be emphasized: insecurity relating to different kinds of shocks (from within and/or outside) and the inability to counter or mitigate the effects of these shocks. These two concepts should be understood at both the individual and the group/community level.
Measurement instruments designed to evaluate poverty should be distinguished from those designed to measure vulnerability. Vulnerability is about expectations of future revenue, whereas poverty refers to actual income. Therefore, the analysis of vulnerability should proceed from a longitudinal approach, and that of poverty from a transversal approach. Another issue is whether or not there should be unique indices for vulnerability, distinct from poverty indices, and whether or not there should be a vulnerability line unique to each specific category of the population (poor and vulnerable).
The case analysis of Mauritania showed the following main elements:
As the Mauritanian economy is based essentially on two sectors, fisheries and iron ore mining, the economy of the country is highly dependent on the external market. This dependency weakens the economy and thus affects the vulnerable groups.
Given the relative importance of the rural population living mainly on agriculture and livestock, and its dependency upon the climatic conditions, a large part of the Mauritanian population are in a position of vulnerability. The effects of drought and socio-economic changes have led to, among other things, an urbanization phenomenon, which has induced precariousness and social exclusion. As a result of drought and the international economic situation, the Mauritanian economy has faced difficulties that have pushed the country to adopt structural adjustment policies that led to a freeze in employment in the civil service and lay-off in some state owned enterprises that constitute the main modern sector. This situation has weakened some categories, namely unemployed graduates; job creation has occurred mainly in the informal sector, which is precarious by nature.
Theme 5: Good Governance
In general, good governance should lead to good public affairs' management that benefits the overall citizenry, and especially the poor. In that light, good governance cannot be dissociated with poverty reduction.
The linkage between the different components of good governance is obvious, especially the rule of law, participation, decentralization and the strengthening of the role of civil society. The institutionalization and implementation of poverty reduction strategies should be considered as means of good governance, sound management of public assets, independent judicial system, strong and open public administration and strengthened decentralization.
Theme 6: Regionalization and Globalization
Confronted by the tough requirements of the globalization phenomenon, countries of the South have found a framework for cooperation in regional and sub-regional integration that may lead to very positive results. The OMVS gives an example of regional beneficial externalities for all the partner countries, a partnership framework success.
Understood from the poverty reduction angle, the large stakes of globalization reside in the food security issue. The poor ask whether the world prices of food commodities will drop enough for them to feed themselves decently, and whether they will rise so high that the fragile agricultural sectors in their countries would be dismantled.
Additionally, the new WTO rules are considered under certain opacity for operators and consumers in the least developed countries. This results in their inability to access the international market.
In sum, for Africa and especially Mauritania, globalization is not necessarily the worsening of poverty. To the contrary, one should ask whether open regional integration would not precisely serve as a protective wall against the globalization phenomenon.
Theme 7: Implementation
The debate on this theme focused mainly on two questions, namely,
· The Mauritanian experience in this area
· The mechanisms and modalities to be envisaged in implementing the SFPR.
Looking at the historical evolution of implementation of poverty reduction strategies, two major shortcomings are revealed, namely the lack of synergy between institutions, and the lack of reliable information on poverty.
With regard to the envisioned SFPR mechanisms and methods for implementation, important questions remain, namely:
· The need to pursue and strengthen the shared process that was so widely adopted during the formulation of the SFPR document
· The definition of an institutional mechanism clarifying the roles of all participants
· The decentralization and relocation of measures and programs
· The implementation of a strict monitoring and evaluation mechanism with the involvement of the beneficiaries and civil society
· The formulation and the implementation of a communication strategy allowing for the involvement and the adherence of all the actors to the measures so as to insure their success and perpetuation
· The strengthening of the national statistical system in order to produce reliable and updated data
· The systematic monitoring and control of all the implementing measures of the SFPR.