What? You can’t just change a weekend.
Since the last time I was here, Mauritania has decided to move its weekend to Saturday and Sunday to be more in tune with its European business partners.
“It’s clear that not being on par with our trading partners is causing us huge losses,” says Seyedna Ali Ould Mohamed Khouna, Mauritania’s public service minister (although he couldn’t give an actual figure.) With a Muslim majority in the country, the weekend traditionally started on the Friday, allowing workers to participate in the traditional Friday afternoon prayers.
The traditional weekend has been moved before. In 2005, ministers shifted to a Monday to Friday working week, saying the country’s economy was losing $70m (£43m) per year without it. Businesses say they benefitted from the change, but the next president changed it back in 2007.
The weekend has changed days at least three times since gaining independence from France. Although the weekend is now officially Saturday and Sunday, to ease possible complaints from religious groups, civil servants will actually finish work at midday on the Friday, thus gaining an extra half a day off per week.
As one of the world’s poorest countries, Mauritania wants to further exploit its oil and gas reserves. But other Arab states have accused it of compromising principles to improve its relations with the West.
You can’t just change a weekend I thought. How wrong I was.