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Mauritania 2020 Crime & Safety Report

This is an annual report produced in conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy in Nouakchott. OSAC encourages travelers to use this report to gain baseline knowledge of security conditions in Mauritania. For more in-depth information, review OSAC’s Mauritania country page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

Travel Advisory

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Mauritania at Level 2, indicating travelers should exercise increased caution in Mauritania due to crime and terrorism. Do not travel to areas designated as off limits by the Mauritanian military due to crime and terrorism. Review OSAC’s report, Understanding the Consular Travel Advisory System.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

Crime Threats

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Nouakchott as being a CRITICAL-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. The Mauritanian government reports an increase in violent (e.g. murder, assault, battery, robbery, occupied burglary, kidnapping, carjacking) and non-violent (e.g. theft, vehicle burglary, vandalism, unoccupied burglary) crimes since 2015, all of which predominately affects Mauritanians; criminals tend to not target Westerners specifically, although U.S. nationals and other western expatriates have been the victim of crime in Nouakchott in recent years, including robbery and sexual assault. Criminal gangs are active in the main cities.

The Mauritanian government has taken small measures to mitigate crime. For example, the National Guard and Gendarmerie patrol the highest-crime neighborhoods, particularly in southern Nouakchott. These initiatives achieved a reported decrease in criminal activity by the end of 2017, but with law enforcement increasingly implicated in crimes, including a high-profile daylight robbery of the BMCI bank and multiple cases of sexual assault, it is difficult to verify governmental claims of progress in crime reduction initiatives.  

Instances of street crime and crimes of opportunity are also on the rise in Nouakchott. Typical street crimes include pickpocketing, purse snatching, mobile phone theft, theft from vehicles, and mugging. There are also reports of pedestrians flagging down motorists (a common type of ride sharing) to steal their vehicle or belongings. Similar risks of crime exist in Nouadhibou, Rosso and other Mauritanian cities, but data are not available. Review OSAC’s reports, All That You Should Leave Behind.

The U.S. Embassy prohibits its employees from walking in restricted zones during daylight hours, and from walking alone or in groups of any size during nighttime hours

The government of Mauritania designates certain areas as off limits to foreigners and most Mauritanians. Monitor information from the Mauritanian Ministries of Interior and Defense regarding these “No Movement Zones.”

U.S. government employees may only travel outside Nouakchott during daylight hours. They must travel in convoys of at least two vehicles when traveling outside of Nouakchott, and must remain in groups throughout the duration of travel. The U.S. government’s ability to assist U.S. citizens – even in emergencies – is limited in Mauritania due to security concerns and the country’s lack of infrastructure.

The local currency, the ouguiya, may not be imported or exported. Credit cards are in use only at a few hotels in the capital, and in the northwestern city of Nouadhibou. Travelers should strongly consider paying hotel bills in cash. ATMs are available in Nouakchott and other large cities, but are not secure. Review OSAC’s reports, The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud, and Taking Credit.

Review OSAC’s reports, Hotels: The Inns and Outs and Considerations for Hotel Security.

Cybersecurity Issues

A recent ITU report ranked Mauritania 124th globally in its commitment to cybersecurity. The ITU considers Mauritania to be in the initiating stage of cybersecurity, meaning it has only just started to make commitments to the issue.

Mauritania passed its first-ever data privacy laws in 2017. The laws created a national authority for the protection of personal information. There is now a standard format and appropriate institution charged with maintaining the security and confidentiality of personal data, although statistics related to enforcement actions and agency effectiveness are not yet available.

Review OSAC’s reports, Cybersecurity Basics, Best Practices for Maximizing Security on Public Wi-Fi, Traveling with Mobile Devices: Trends & Best Practices, Satellite Phones: Critical or Contraband?

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Driving in Mauritania can be extremely dangerous. Traffic rules and driver etiquette differ considerably from U.S.-style rules of the road. Many Mauritanians drive without regard for speed limits, traffic signs, or stoplights. It is common for drivers to brush up against adjacent vehicles as they jockey for lane position. Drivers switch lanes without first checking for the presence of other vehicles. Drivers pass illegally on shoulders, and may nudge other motorists when coming back onto the roadway. This blatant disregard for basic safety leads to frequent vehicle crashes and injuries to drivers and passengers. To reduce the likelihood of accident or injury, assume a defensive driving posture. This often means yielding the right of way to drivers that are more aggressive. As such, it is important to factor in additional driving time when attending meetings or making appointments.

Additionally, roadway obstructions and hazards caused by drifting sand, animals, and poor maintenance often plague motorists. Pedestrians often attempt to cross busy streets without waiting for cross traffic to slow or stop. These hazards, when combined with the number of untrained drivers and poorly maintained vehicles, make heightened caution imperative. Drive with extreme vigilance, and always wear a seat belts Avoid nighttime driving.

Do not travel alone into the desert or after dark outside of major urban areas due to road safety concerns. Overland travel is difficult and roadside assistance is non-existent. The country’s size (larger than Texas and New Mexico combined) and its harsh climate make road maintenance and repair especially problematic. Vehicle services are infrequent outside of Nouakchott, and many fuel stations in the interior only sell diesel fuel, meaning gasoline is unavailable in many places. Fixed Police and Gendarmerie checkpoints exist on the outskirts of every city, and random checkpoints are common in urban and rural areas alike.

Four major roads leave Nouakchott, all of which have two asphalt lanes. Due to the sparse vegetation and a lower population density north of Nouakchott, travel along the roads toward Nouadhibou and Atar is slightly safer than travel to the east or south. The Road of Hope and the road to Rosso frequently run through villages and livestock grazing land, and have steep drops at the edge of the roadway. These features, combined with rapid changes in elevation, often limit visibility and create driving hazards. The road to Rosso is under renovation and in poor condition. Even small amounts of rain can make paved roads impassable for cars without high clearance – even in Nouakchott – as drainage systems in the city are dysfunctional. Plan on this route requiring extra time.

The U.S. Embassy allows travel outside of the city for staff members, but all trips require a minimum of two vehicles, multiple means of communication, spare tires, off-road recovery kits, and adequate food and water. Private travelers should have a local guide, along with at least one additional vehicle in case of breakdown. A GPS receiver and satellite phone are essential when traveling in remote areas. The telecommunications infrastructure, including cellular telephone coverage, is limited. Give an itinerary to a friend or relative with instructions to alert proper authorities if communication from the travelers is significantly overdue.

Review OSAC’s reports, Road Safety Abroad, Driving Overseas: Best Practices, and Evasive Driving Techniques; and read the State Department’s webpage on driving and road safety abroad.

Public Transportation Conditions

Public transportation is not safe in Mauritania, particularly in the interior. Taxis and public transportation are not secure forms of transportation for western visitors. U.S. Embassy personnel may not use public transportation; visitors should likewise avoid it. Almost all taxis and other forms of public transportation are unregulated and in poor condition. Sexual assaults have occurred at night in taxicabs. Refuse rides from strangers; subjects offering rides have lured victims into their vehicles for sexual assault. Review OSAC’s report, Security In Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

The Nouakchott–Oumtounsy International Airport (NKC) opened in 2016 on the outskirts of the city. The Gendarmerie provides security services for the airport, which makes it one of the safest public facilities in Nouakchott. Passengers and visitors must show photo identification to enter the airport, and then must pass through metal detectors before checking in. Additionally, security personnel x-ray all luggage and other bags before entering the airport.

Flights are routinely late, and luggage is frequently lost. Authorities scan all luggage when exiting the airport, confiscating all alcohol and pork products.

Terrorism Threat

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Nouakchott as being a MEDIUM-threat location for terrorism directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. From 2005 to 2011, Mauritania suffered from terrorist attacks and kidnappings by terrorist groups; there have been no incidents in the country since 2011. Al-Qa’ida-linked groups are active in neighboring Mali; the recent increase of terrorist activity in Mali and Burkina Faso means there is a continued risk of spillover into Mauritania due to the country’s lengthy shared borders with Mali.

There have been numerous cases of Mauritanians self-radicalizing and pledging allegiance to violent extremist organizations. Authorities have arrested and incarcerated those who have done so publicly. In 2016, Mauritanian security forces arrested three ISIS sympathizers in Nouakchott; 13 other suspected ISIS members are currently awaiting trial. The government works with the United States and other partners on programs to address violent extremism.

The Government of Mauritania supports the G-5 Sahel Joint Force, a regional counterterrorism force composed of troops from Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad, and Mauritania. The headquarters of the G-5 Sahel organization is in Nouakchott; in February 2020 Mauritania will assume the rotating presidency of the G-5 Sahel.

Anti-U.S./Anti-Western Sentiment

Sentiments towards U.S. nationals and the U.S. government are mixed. As the first country to recognize Mauritania’s independence in 1960, and with a strong record of humanitarian and other support as Mauritania struggled in its early years, the United States continues to enjoy considerable goodwill. However, perceptions of U.S. policy as being anti-Islam and pro-Israeli have led to sporadic protests and other displays of anti-U.S. sentiment. The U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move its embassy to Jerusalem was very unpopular and sparked protest.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Nouakchott as being a MEDIUM-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

Civil Unrest 

Spontaneous protests occur in Nouakchott and in other parts of the country on a regular basis, usually on Friday afternoons after prayer at local mosques. Resentment among the Mauritanian youth about political, religious, racial, and justice issues, and the lack of economic opportunity continues. Most protests attract 100 to 400 people and are generally non-violent. Unauthorized or violent protests attract heavy police resistance. Police frequently use tear gas to control or disperse crowds. In addition, riot police intervention in these protests sometimes leads to injuries among the protesters. Review OSAC’s report, Surviving a Protest.

Common areas to avoid during periods of civil unrest in Nouakchott include the Saudi Mosque, the Ibn Abbas Square, and the UN headquarters.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

As a Saharan country, where drought conditions are common, adequate and consistent access to water is a constant concern. Paradoxically, the streets flood when it rains (August-November), often resulting in pools of standing water that persist for weeks until the city pumps them out or the water evaporates. These pools of water pose vehicular hazards, and can create sizable potholes and bogs; as well as public health hazards, as they provide breeding grounds for mosquitoes. During the rainy season, pedestrians and children -- who often play near or in the pools -- are at highest risk of increased exposure to mosquito-borne illnesses.

Mauritania does not provide air quality data to the public. However, air quality in Mauritania is similar to that of neighboring Senegal, which does provide daily data. Air quality is usually better from June through October, and worsens from October through March; January, February, and March are often the worst months. Dust, debris, smoke from burning trash and unregulated vehicle emissions contribute to poor air quality in Mauritania. Limit environmental exposure as much as possible, especially during the winter months when sandstorms are frequent. If caught in a sandstorm, take shelter in a building or vehicle with all windows closed.

Critical Infrastructure Concerns

Roads are in poor condition, drainage is limited, and overall construction quality is poor compared to U.S. standards. Mauritania suffers from weak telecommunications infrastructure. While Mauritania has three 3G communication networks, but coverage and service remain limited – particularly for mobile data usage and internet access. In terms of access, data published by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in 2018 indicates only 1% of Mauritanian households have a fixed-telephone subscription, and just 14% of have Internet access.

Personal Identity Concerns

Mauritania is an Islamic republic by law. Islamic ideals and beliefs in Mauritania encourage conservative dress and behavior. Remain mindful when traveling with personal religious publications. Consider local laws and customs before making religious statements in public places or engaging in Islam-related debate in public. Religious freedom is restricted and affronts against Islamic modesty and morals carry penalties which range from fines to the death penalty. Mauritania recognizes Islam as the sole religion of its citizens and the state; any oral or written communication the authorities deem to be proselytism is illegal and may lead to deportation, arrest, prosecution, or incarceration. Participation in Christian gatherings and activities that have not been authorized by the Mauritanian government is illegal. Apostasy is punishable by death. Review OSAC’s report, Freedom to Practice, and the State Department’s webpage on security for faith-based travelers.

Racism remains a prevalent problem in Mauritania. In 1981, Mauritania became the world’s last country to outlaw slavery. Yet, the country did not enact criminal laws enforcing the ban on slavery until 2007. Taking legal action on slavery cases is notoriously difficult in Mauritania; however, in 2019, authorities prosecuted three Mauritanians under anti-slavery legislation.

Same-sex relationships are illegal in Mauritania. If convicted of homosexual acts, the law sentences men to death by stoning and women to imprisonment (ranging from three months to two years) and a fine. There are no organizations advocating for sexual orientation or gender-identity rights in the country. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for LGBTI+ travelers.

Review the State Department’s webpage on security for female travelers.

While in Mauritania, individuals with disabilities may find accessibility and accommodation very different from what you find in the United States. There are very few sidewalks or paved roads and few buildings are wheelchair accessible. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for travelers with disabilities.

Drug-related Crime

Mauritania has no identified problem with the production, transshipment, or abuse of synthetic drugs, either opioid or non-narcotic. The country is a transshipment point for concentrated cannabis (hashish) that originates in Morocco and moves through Mauritania on its way to markets in Europe, the Persian Gulf, and the Levant. There is a small problem with domestic cannabis use, and a perceived growing problem of cocaine use. The national police have a unit that conducts anti-drug education and monitors national trafficking and abuse trends.

Kidnapping Threat

Westerners are at an elevated risk of kidnapping in Mauritania, especially in the northeast and southeast regions of the country. Between 2005 and 2011, kidnappers took numerous Westerners, many of whom ended up in the hands of Mali-based terrorist groups. However, there have been no kidnappings of Europeans or U.S. nationals in Mauritania since 2011. Review OSAC’s report, Kidnapping: The Basics.

Other Issues

Review OSAC’s report, Picture This: Dos and Don’ts for Photography.

Read the State Department’s webpage on customs and import restrictions for information on what you cannot take into or out of other countries.

Police Response

The emergency line in Mauritania is 116 for Gendarmerie, 117 for Police, 118 for Fire, and 119 for Traffic Police. Police response in Nouakchott, especially in outlying areas, is slow at best. Police rarely have access to vehicles. In most cases, a victim must appear at a police station or give officers a ride to the scene of a crime to obtain law enforcement services.

Persons of Black African appearance may be subject to prejudicial treatment by Mauritanian authorities.

The Sureté Nationale is responsible for law enforcement and crime investigation in urban areas, and falls under the authority of the Ministry of the Interior. The Sureté Nationale is organized into commissariats, roughly the equivalent of U.S. police precincts.

Law enforcement activities in small towns and rural areas are the responsibility of the Gendarmerie, who patrol the major highways and operate a majority of the checkpoints throughout the country. The Gendarmerie is part of the Ministry of Defense.

The National Guard (Guard Nationale) falls under the Ministry of the Interior, but is a part of the Mauritanian armed forces. The National Guard protects vital installations and ministries, VIP security, maintaining order, and prison management.

The Group General de la Securité des Routes (GGSR) is also under the Ministry of Interior. Its responsibilities include urban vehicle control and searches, control of main roads, enforcement of traffic laws, management of vehicle documents, registration, and control of people transiting the country.

Very few law enforcement officials speak English; knowledge of French or Hassaniya is helpful to speak with police officers. However, U.S. citizens receive favorable treatment from Mauritanian law enforcement; most government agencies recognize the financial and infrastructure contributions provided by U.S. businesses and the U.S. government. As a result, law enforcement officials may extend some measure of additional courtesy to U.S. citizens.

There have been instances of authorities singling foreigners out for questioning and detention. All visitors should carry a passport or other form of official identification. If Mauritanian authorities detain or arrest you, cooperate fully and insist that they allow you to contact the U.S. Embassy immediately. Remain calm and respectful at all times in these situations.

Although phone numbers for reporting crimes to local authorities do exist, visitors should, whenever possible, present themselves in person at the nearest police station or Gendarmerie brigade. U.S. victims of crime should also contact the ACS section of the U.S. Embassy. Download the State Department’s Crime Victims Assistance brochure.

National police contact numbers by region:

·         Nouakchott Central Commissariat: +222 4525-2158/2159 

·         Hodh el-Charghi: DRS (Regional Security Director): 4513-0364

·         Hodh el-Gharbi: DRS: 4515-1210

o   Aioun Station: 4515-1333 

o   Tintane Station: 4515-5009 

Couboni Station: 4515-8333 

Goghi Post: 4515-8142 

·         Assaba: DRS: 4563-2277 

o   Kiffa Station: 4563-2214 

o   Guerrou Station: 4563-6220 

·         Gorgol: DRS: 4533-5207 

o   Kaedi Station: 4533-5251, 4533-5229 

o   Maghama Station: 4533-0205 

·         Brakna: DRS: 4553-7363 

o   Aleg Station: 4553-7475 

o   Boghe Station: 4550-8741 

o   Bababe Station: 4550-6304 

o   Maghtalahjar Station: 4552-0402 

·         Trarza: DRS: 4556-9149 

o   Rosso Station: 4556-9238 

o   Ferry Post: 4556-9221 

o   Boutilimit Station: 4554-0103 

·         Adrar: DRS: 4546-4321 

o   Atar Station: 4546-4229 

o   Atar Airport Police: 4546-5008 

·         Inchiri: DRS: 4576-1475 

o   Akjoujt Station: 4576-1314 

·         Tagant: DRS: 4569-9141 

·         Guidimaka: DRS: 4534-4322 

o   Selibaby Station: 4534-4237 

·         Tiris Zemmour: DRS: 4544-0365 

o   Zouerate Station: 4544-0187 

·         Dakhlet Nouadhibou: DRS: 4574-5523 

o   Nouadhibou Central Police: 4574-5634 

o   Nouadhibou Airport: 4574-5319 

o   Jedida Station: 4574-6100 

o   Takhtit Station: 4574-7979 

o   Leweina Station: 4574-5694 

o   Jedida II Station: 4574-7303 

o   Nouadhibou Immigration Police: 4574-5514 

Medical Emergencies

Mauritania is a medically austere environment. Modern emergency medical services and hospitals do not exist in Mauritania. Medical and dental facilities in Mauritania do not approach Western standards. There are no Western mortuary services available in Mauritania.Find contact information for available medical services and available air ambulance services on the U.S. Embassy website.

Patronize local pharmacies with caution. Many medicines are difficult to obtain or may be counterfeit. Carry your own medical supplies, medications, and prescription eyewear. Review OSAC’s report, Traveling with Medication.

Most care providers overseas only accept cash payments. The U.S. Department of State strongly recommends purchasing international health insurance before traveling internationally. Review the State Departments webpage on insurance overseas.

The local water supply is not potable. Drink bottled, distilled, or other processed water instead. Review OSAC’s report, I’m Drinking What in My Water?

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Mauritania.

Review OSAC’s reports, The Healthy Way, Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad, Health 101: How to Prepare for Travel, and Fire Safety Abroad.

OSAC Country Council Information

Nouakchott launched its Country Council in 2017. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Africa team with any questions or to join.

U.S. Embassy Contact Information

The U.S. Embassy is located at the intersection of Nouadhibou highway and Rue de l’Ambassade du Senegal road with a physical address of Nouadhibou Road, Avenue Al Quds, NOT PRTZ.

Embassy Business hours are 0800-1800 Monday-Thursday and 0800-1200 on Friday. The Embassy is closed on Saturdays and Sundays.

Main Embassy Line: +222 4525-2660; Emergency Consular Recording (messages during emergencies): 4525-3707; Website: https://mr.usembassy.gov/

Helpful Information

Before you travel, consider the following resources:

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