Mauritania’s camel-back mission to win hearts and minds

 The sleepy Mauritanian village of Ouad Initi is about to get a makeover: a bigger school, a health centre, and more running water. All part of internationally-backed efforts to win over hearts and minds and stop the spread of jihadism.

A lean, wrinkled man in sky-blue robes, the village chief, with several curious children at his heels, emerges to greet a posse of visitors — European Union workers out on a reconnaissance mission.

Remote villages like Ouad Initi, near the border with Mali, have long been neglected by authorities, making them easier prey for jihadists and other armed groups that have proliferated in Africa’s Sahel region.

Now they are at the heart of a push to win over grassroots support in Mauritania with authorities ramping up both security operations and infrastructure development to stop the spread of extremism.

“What is boosting confidence and stopping Al-Qaeda recruiting is continuity in governance,” a senior Mauritanian official said.

The European Union has earmarked 13 million euros ($14.7 million) of aid to boost Mauritania’s development and security at the same time.

“This type of joint civilian-military action is pioneering for the EU,” said Francois-Xavier Pons, the project’s head of mission.

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