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Analysts Debate Economic Effects of Dakar Rally Cancellation

The last-minute cancellation of the Dakar rally has led analysts to worry there will be economic turmoil in the countries it was to pass through, especially Mauritania. But some experts say the race was never as economically beneficial as has been claimed. Jade Heilmann has more from Dakar.

The cancelation of the Lisbon-Dakar Rally came a day before its expected start date.

Mauritania was scheduled to host eight of the rally's 15 legs, and is therefore losing a lot of tourism revenue. According to journalist Salem Bokari who is in the country, locals are very worried.

"The desolation is big in Mauritania with the government and with the population because the damage is very big for the tourism for the services and for people who are living since 30 years ago from the rally activities," Bokari said.

But not everyone believes the yearly race is as beneficial to the African countries as others claim.

Long-time activist Ibrahim Kane believes this rally is more profitable to Europe and European business than it is for Africa.

He believes this is a good opportunity to revisit commercial exchanges between Europe and Africa, as some African countries are trying to do with the Economic Partnership Agreement negotiations.

"Look at the moment the debate in Africa is how the commercial relationship between Africa and Europe should go," he said. "You know how this debate on what we call in France 'APE' is conducted, it is not conducted for the benefit of african countries"

Kane says he is not against the race, but believes it could be re-organized to bring more to the countries it drives through.

"The ideal thing would be for them at least to say that there is a percentage of the benefits collected from this rally to be invested in African countries," he said. "Let me just give you an example of Mauritania, if [the organizers of the race] decided to build at least 10 to 15 schools in Mauritania in cities that were visited, that would be very very useful"

But the Dakar Rally organization says they are already implementing humanitarian aid programs.

The cancelation of the race followed the killings of four french tourists in Mauritania, closely followed by the killing of three soldiers, and direct threats to the rally organization. The Mauritanian government blamed the killing on a terrorist sleeper cell affiliated with al-Qaida.

David Seddom is a freelance consultant who specializes in issues of risk and security. He says the link to terrorism is a good tactical decision for the Mauritanian government.

"There is a worry, certainly in the U.S. administration, about the level of potential threat," he said. "Governments in the area including the government of Mauritania have had quite a lot of financial and logistic support from the United States as a result, so they are not going to say 'no, no, no, there is no problem' it is attracted quite a lot of support from the United States."

He believes this sort of income is more profitable than than the income the Dakar rally brought.

"This is a long term arrangement between the U.S. administration and these governments starting back in 2004 or so," Seddom said. "So here is a regular kind of support, and that, I imagine, plus the kind of political advantages as a long standing relationship with the U.S. administration gives these governments, I would of thought, far outweighs canceling the Dakar rally."

This year was to be the rally's 30th anniversary.