On the margins of the Arab and Muslim world, Mauritania offers a strategic geopolitical location for Gulf actors to exert their influence. Moreover, the Gulf cities have become symbols of capitalist success and economic richness, especially in the Arab world, but also in Africa (Barthel, 2010). Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha increasingly epitomise global urban transformations and new modern development patterns, beyond the urban model of the West. Websites show videos and futuristic images endorsing international standards and marketing tools. But, for the great majority of Mauritanians, the urban modernisation and development are more symbolic than real. The main prestige projects are precisely that, “projects”. This infers that until now they remain only in announcement form. The Ribat al-Bahr project resembles an empty showroom. Five years after the Sukuk project’s inception, only seven houses have been built. The Qatari project seems also to be on hold (it has disappeared from the Diar website). Gazing upon these kite aerial photos, one might venture to ask to whom exactly is this city destined? For whom are these extravagant spaces provided? Why do the government and private investors want to beautify the cityscape when for the majority of Mauritania’s inhabitants everyday life is hampered by chronic poverty and social and political unrest? Currently, the World Bank is promoting a huge slum-upgrading programme, linked to the Millennium Development Goal of “Cities Without Slums”. One of the priorities was to upgrade the oldest and biggest slum located in the centre of Nouakchott. In principle, the 50,000 inhabitants are given titles of to the land they live on. The rationale of the programme is to legalise urban informal areas, or to convert squatter lands, considered as “dead capital” into a real estate asset. Obviously, this programme fits neatly into the neoliberal ideology of land tenure inspired by Hernando de Soto (2000): poor people are poor because they live in informal areas; so, if they receive property title, they will have a start-up capital and enter the modern market economy. But the privatisation of land exposes people to the risk of being dispossessed by richer investors and evicted. In part, dispossession is already occurring. Only the richest slum dwellers,or those with patronage networks, can get the property title to the land they were living on. The poorest and most marginalised people of the slum have been resettled 15kms south of the capital, in a dusty location with no facilities.
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