Ambassador André Interview with

Alakhbar Interview PhotoPart I

Since your arrival in Mauritania you had several meetings both formal and informal, visits and tours, we can say that you achieved in four months, more than what some diplomats did during their entire term in Mauritania, what is the secret of these moves that some time, went over the diplomatic restrictions?

My wife and I arrived in Mauritania nearly six months ago.   I have two roles as the American Ambassador.  First, I am the representative of President Obama to President Aziz, and of the United States Government to the Mauritanian government.  Our governments have a close partnership, which I seek to broaden.   I have met with every Minister in the government to discuss ways in which my government can assist the Mauritanian government to achieve our shared objectives.  I am grateful to all the government officials who have taken time to meet with me.  My second role is to represent the American people to the Mauritanian people.  In that role, I have met with political, religious, business and civil society leaders representing a broad spectrum of Mauritanian opinion.  My wife and I have met Mauritanians from all regions and from many different backgrounds.  The hospitality and kindness Mauritanians have shown us is truly amazing.

Finally, I am the American Ambassador to all of Mauritania, not just to Nouakchott.  As an Ambassador from a friendly country, it is normal that I travel outside the capital, just as Mauritania’s Ambassador to the United States regularly travels outside Washington.  I have so far been to 11 of the 15 wilayas.  I hope to see all 15 before my first anniversary in this beautiful country.  I coordinate my travel with our friends in the Mauritanian government, and observe all of Mauritania’s protocols.  My encounters are open and transparent.  Unfortunately, some media reports of my meetings indicated the exact opposite of what I actually said to my Mauritanian hosts.  Some media reports are completely fictional, such as the one about me attending a wedding.  As of today, I have never attended a wedding in Mauritania, but I would do so if invited.   Despite these false reports, I believe that most Mauritanians appreciate my strong interest in learning as much as possible about all regions and all levels of Mauritanian society.

You were accused from some persons of trying to divide Mauritania, and of inciting to the fights between its ethnical components, and some described your speeches on this question as “exaggerated”, reminding about your past experience in Sudan during the separation of the south from the north.Is that true that the United States began the procedures of the division of Mauritania?

The price of a free media is that some few journalists choose to be unprofessional and dishonest.  Still, media freedom is worth that price; even when that means that sometimes untrue, hurtful stories appear about public figures.  Many Mauritanian public figures, even President Aziz, have seen media reports falsely attributing to them statements they never made and acts they never committed.  I trust the Mauritanian people to separate truth from fiction.  An honest, professional journalist checks with the subject of a story before printing rumors to ensure the accuracy of their stories.

I have always advocated mutual respect among all Mauritanians, regardless of region, culture, caste or tribe.  I have frankly discussed my own country’s struggles to achieve true national unity and equality, which continue up to today, as my Mauritanian friends often remind me.  I have condemned statements encouraging hatred of others.  I have warned against such destructive speech because I have witnessed the terrible results of it elsewhere in Africa.

As regards Sudan, I am confident that Mauritanians have the good judgment to reject such absurd allegations.  The civil war that led to South Sudan self-determination began in 1983 when I was 22 years old, serving in a small village in central Senegal as a Peace Corps Volunteer.  South Sudan became independent in July 2011, prior to my time working with both countries.  I was the Director of our Office of Sudan and South Sudan in Washington DC from August 2011 until August 2013.  I am proud of the part I played in promoting peaceful, beneficial relations between the two Sudans, working closely with African Union officials during many rounds of talks in Addis Ababa.

Everything I have ever said or done in Mauritania is in service to the Mauritanian government’s stated goals of a freer, more secure and more prosperous nation, including strengthening national unity.  Mauritania and the United States are close partners.  I will always be faithful to that partnership.

During the past few weeks you had a number of meetings regarding the slavery issue in Mauritania, Did your efforts in this area succeed?

The purpose of these meetings was to learn the views of Mauritania’s government, civil society, business and religious leaders on the issue of slavery.  These meetings were successful because I now have a better understanding of the complexities of this difficult issue.  These meetings helped me understand all that has been achieved and all that remains to be done so that Mauritania is freed from this tragic heritage once and for all.  These meetings helped me to see the similarities between Mauritania’s struggles with this issue and my own country’s continuing struggles to resolve the many unfortunate consequences for the descendants of slaves in the United States.  I have since shared this understanding with my colleagues in Washington.  Together, we seek ways to assist Mauritania to make progress in this area, in coordination and collaboration with Mauritania’s government.

I have stated both publically and privately that I hope to see all elements of Mauritanian society unite in a common effort to lift up those Mauritanians who continue to live under conditions of extreme dependence unworthy of the dignity of a citizen of this proud country.  That requires government, civil society, religious leaders and local communities working as one team.  That has not yet happened.  Many Mauritanians are also calling for this unity of effort.

Finally, it is noted that the most prominent American figures who visited Mauritania in recent years were essentially from the military branch, while the civilian and political visitors were limited to the second level, is that because your attention is mainly focused on security issues not the political? What you respond to those who talk about a competition between the US and France in the Sahel? Is it accurate that you built a military base (Salahdin) in the northern part of Mauritania?

As President Aziz has said, “There can be no development without security.”  Mauritania’s security forces have successfully protected the Mauritanian people from terrorist acts over the last four years.  While we are proud of the contributions we have made to this effort, at the request of Mauritania’s leadership, this great success belongs entirely to Mauritania’s brave and patriotic security forces.

Our humanitarian assistance, feeding Mauritanians who would otherwise go hungry, has continued without interruption for many years.  Our development assistance was suspended following the unconstitutional changes of government in 2005 and 2008.  This is a matter of United States law.  With the democratic elections of 2009 and 2014, this legal obstacle no longer applies.  However, the development funding previously available to Mauritania has since been re-distributed to other countries.  I am working to restore development funding for Mauritania so that we may support elements of the government’s development plans.  My recent travel to the south of the country with our regional agricultural attaché was a part of that effort.  So too was the recent two-week visit of our colleague from the Centers for Disease Control, who worked with the Ministry of Health on defenses against transmissible diseases.  I am working to build up our civilian relationship to match the strength of our security relationship.

We are happy to see Mauritania’s many other partners making important contributions to the country’s development.   Mauritania’s development does not necessarily require foreign partners.  The country possesses the human talent and resources to develop on its own.  However, foreign partners can help development occur faster than it would otherwise, as long as those partners appropriately coordinate with the government, as we do.

As for your last question, the United States Government has no military bases in Mauritania.  Upon request of the Mauritanian authorities, we sometimes assist with infrastructure projects on Mauritanian military bases, such as the runway extension in Bassikounou that was requested by the Mauritanian government and coordinated with the World Food Program.