|THE MAURITANIA SEAL|
Location of Mauritania within the continent of Africa
Map of Mauritania
Flag Description of Mauritania:The Mauritania flag was officially adopted on April 1, 1959.
The crescent and star are symbols of Islam, while the green and gold are Pan-African colors.
Official name Al-Jumhūriyyah al-Islāmiyyah al-Mūrītāniyyah (Arabic) (Islamic Republic of Mauritania)
Form of government republic1 with two legislative houses (Senate ; National Assembly )
Head of state and government President: Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, assisted by Prime Minister: Yahya Ould Hademine
Official language Arabic3
Official religion Islam
Monetary unit ouguiya (UM)
Population (2013 est.) 3,438,000COLLAPSE
Total area (sq mi) 398,000
Total area (sq km) 1,030,700
- Urban: (2011) 41.5%
- Rural: (2011) 58.5%
Life expectancy at birth
- Male: (2008) 57.9 years
- Female: (2008) 62.2 years
Literacy: percentage of population age 15 and over literate
- Male: (2008) 64.1%
- Female: (2008) 49.5%
GNI per capita (U.S.$) (2013) 1,060
1In actuality a military-backed regime with a democratically elected president.
2Three of which are appointed by the 53 elected senators.
3The 1991 constitution named Arabic as the official language and the following as national languages: Arabic, Fula, Soninke, and Wolof.
Independent from France in 1960, Mauritania annexed the southern third of the former Spanish Sahara (now Western Sahara) in 1976 but relinquished it after three years of raids by the Polisario guerrilla front seeking independence for the territory. Maaouya Ould Sid Ahmed TAYA seized power in a coup in 1984 and ruled Mauritania with a heavy hand for more than two decades. A series of presidential elections that he held were widely seen as flawed. A bloodless coup in August 2005 deposed President TAYA and ushered in a military council that oversaw a transition to democratic rule. Independent candidate Sidi Ould Cheikh ABDALLAHI was inaugurated in April 2007 as Mauritania's first freely and fairly elected president. His term ended prematurely in August 2008 when a military junta led by General Mohamed Ould Abdel AZIZ deposed him and installed a military council government. AZIZ was subsequently elected president in July 2009 and sworn in the following month. AZIZ sustained injuries from an accidental shooting by his own troops in October 2012 but has continued to maintain his authority. The country continues to experience ethnic tensions among its black population (Afro-Mauritanians) and white and black Moor (Arab-Berber) communities, and is having to confront a growing terrorism threat by al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
Mauritania, country on the Atlantic coast of Africa. Mauritania forms a geographic and cultural bridge between the North African Maghrib (a region that also includes Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia) and the westernmost portion of Sub-Saharan Africa. Culturally it forms a transitional zone between the Arab-Amazigh (Berber) populations of North Africa and the African peoples in the region to the south of the Tropic of Cancer known as the Sudan (a name derived from the Arabic bilād al-sūdān, “land of the blacks”). Much of Mauritania encompasses part of the Sahara desert, and, until the drought conditions that affected most of that zone of Africa in the 1970s, a large proportion of the population was nomadic. The country’s mineral wealth includes large reserves of iron ore, copper, and gypsum, all of which are now being exploited, as well as some oil resources.
Mauritania was administered as a French colony during the first half of the 20th century and became independent on Nov. 28, 1960. By the terms of the constitution, Islam is the official state religion, but the republic guarantees freedom of conscience and religious liberty to all. Arabic is the official language; Fula, Soninke, and Wolof are national languages. The capital, Nouakchott, is located in the southwestern part of the country.
Geography of Mauritania
Mauritania is bounded to the northwest by Western Sahara (formerly the Spanish Sahara), to the northeast by Algeria, to the east and southeast by Mali, and to the southwest by Senegal. Its Atlantic Ocean coastline, to the west, extends for 435 miles (700 km) from the delta of the Sénégal River northward to Cape Nouâdhibou (Cape Blanco) Peninsula.
Both Mauritania’s relief and its drainage are influenced by the aridity that characterizes the greater part of the country. The impression of immensity given by the landscape is reinforced by its flatness. The coastal plains are lower than 150 feet (45 metres), while the higher plains of the interior vary from 600 to 750 feet (180 to 230 metres). The interior plains form a plateau of which the culminating heights, occurring at different levels, form many tablelands joined to one another by very long, gentle slopes of about 2°. The topography is relieved by vestiges of cliffs (generally cuestas); by sloping plains that terminate at one end of the slope with a steep cliff or faulted scarp, which may reach heights of 900 feet (275 metres); or by inselbergs (steep-sided residual hills), of which the highest is Mount Ijill at 3,002 feet (915 metres), an enormous block of hematite.
Mauritania may be divided into three principal geologic zones. The first of these, located in the north and northwest, consists of underlying Precambrian rock (about 2.7 billion years old), which emerges to form not only the backbone of northern Mauritania’s Reguibat ridge region but also the Akjoujt rock series that forms a vast peneplain (a land surface worn down by erosion to a nearly flat plain) studded with inselbergs. The second zone is located partly in the extreme north but mostly in the centre and east. In the north it consists of primary sandstone, which covers the Tindouf Syncline (a fold in the rocks in which the strata dip inward from both sides toward the axis); in the centre is the vast synclinal basin of Taoudeni, bounded by the Adrar, Tagant, and ʿAçâba (Assaba) plateaus. The basin is scarcely indented to the south by the Hodh Depression, with the Affollé Anticline (a fold in which the rock strata incline downward on both sides from a central axis) lying in its centre. The third zone is formed by the Senegalese-Mauritanian sedimentary basin, which includes coastal Mauritania and the lower Sénégal River valley of the southwest.
The drainage system is characterized by a lack of pattern. Normal drainage is limited to inland southwestern Mauritania, where tributaries of the Sénégal River, which forms the frontier between Mauritania and Senegal, flow southward and are subject to ephemeral flooding in summer. In the greater part of the country, however, the plateaus are cut into by wadis (dry riverbeds), where the rare floods that occur dissipate their waters into a few permanent drainage basins called guelt (singular guelta). In the wastes of the north and the east, precipitation is so rare and slight that there is practically no runoff.
As a result of the arid phases it underwent during the Quaternary period (2.6 million years ago to the present), the Mauritanian landscape in general presents three different aspects; these are represented by skeletal soils, regs (desert surfaces consisting of small, rounded, tightly packed pebbles), and dunes.
Skeletal soils are formed where outcrops of the underlying rock have been slightly weathered or where they have been covered with a patina or chalky crust. To these may be added the saline soils of the salt flats, formed from the caking of gypsum or of salt derived from the evaporation of former lakes. The regs form plains often of great extent, carpeted with pebbles and boulders. The dunes cover about half of the total area of the country. They are stretched out, often for several dozen miles, in long ridges known as ʿalâb, which are sometimes 300 feet (90 metres) high; they frequently overlap with one another, forming a network of domes and basins.
It is only in the country’s southern regions that the sands bear a brown type of soil. This soil is characteristic of the steppe (treeless plains) and contains 2 percent humus. It is only in the extreme southern part of the country that the iron-bearing lateritic soils of the Sudanic zone begin; in the lowest places occur patches of hydromorphic soils—that is to say, soils that have been altered by waterborne materials.
The climate owes its aridity to the northeastern trade winds, which blow constantly in the north and throughout most of the year in the rest of the country; the drying effect produced by these winds is increased by the harmattan, a hot, dry wind that blows from the northeast or east. With the exception of the few winter rains that occur as a result of climatic disturbances originating in the mid-latitude regions, precipitation essentially results from the rain-bearing southwesterly winds, which progressively extend throughout the southern half of the country at the height of the summer. The duration of the rainy season, as well as the total annual amount of precipitation, diminishes progressively from south to north. Thus, Sélibabi in the extreme south receives about 25 inches (635 mm) between June and October; Kiffa, farther north, receives about 14 inches (355 mm) between mid-June and mid-October; Tidjikdja receives about 7 inches (180 mm) between July and September; Atar receives 7 inches between mid-July and September; and Nouâdhibou (formerly Port-Étienne) receives between 1 and 2 inches (between 25 and 50 mm), usually between September and November. Because of opposition between the wet southwesterlies and the harmattan, precipitation often takes the form of stormy showers or squalls.
The strength of the sun and the lack of haze in these latitudes result in high temperatures. In the summer months, afternoon temperatures may reach the low 100s F (high 30s C) in most areas, and daily highs in the 110s F (40s C) are not uncommon in the interior. The average temperature in the coldest month at most stations is in the high 60s F (low 20s C), while the average temperature during the hottest month rises to the mid-70s F (mid-20s C) at Nouakchott in September, to the high 70s F (mid-20s C) at Kiffa in May, to the low 80s F (high 20s C) at Atar in July, and to the mid-80s F (high 20s C) at Néma in May.
Plant and animal life
Vegetation zones depend upon the degree of aridity, which increases from south to north. The Sudanic savanna, studded with baobab trees and palmyra palm trees, gradually gives way in the extreme south to a discontinuous belt of vegetation known as the Sahel (an Arabic word meaning riverbank, or shore, which is also used to designate the edge of the southern Sahara across to Lake Chad). In the Sahel, trees are rare and vegetation consists principally of acacias, euphorbia bushes (plants of the spurge family that have a milky juice and flowers with no petals or sepals), large tufts of morkba (Panicum turgidum, a type of millet), or fields of cram-cram, or Indian sandbur (Cenchrus biflorus, a prickly grass). Northward, toward the middle of the country, the steppe rapidly disappears, giving way to desert. Vegetation is restricted to such places as the dry beds of wadis, beneath which water continues to flow, or to oases.
In the savanna, little remains today of the populations of large animals that existed there into the colonial period, although the steppe is still frequented by gazelles, ostriches, warthogs, panthers, hyenas, and lynx; crocodiles are found in the guelt. Only addax antelope venture out into the waterless desert. Animal populations have been much reduced by hunting, obliging the authorities to introduce measures for conservation. The Banc d’Arguin National Park, situated along the Atlantic coast, is home to a particularly large variety of migratory birds and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1989.
Demography of Mauritania
- Ethnic groups
The Moors constitute almost three-fourths of the population; about one-third of them self-identify as Bīḍān (translated literally as “white”), which indicates individuals of Arab and Amazigh (Berber) descent. The remainder of the Moorish population has Sudanic African origins and is collectively known as Ḥarāṭīn. Sometimes referred to by the outside world as “Black Moors,” the Ḥarāṭīn speak the same language as the Bīḍān and, in the past, were part of the nomadic economy. They served as domestic help and labourers for the nomadic camps, and although some remain, they were the first to depart for urban settlements with the collapse of the nomadic economy in the 1980s. While there is a general correlation based on skin colour, what determines status is a credible lineage that can document noble origins. Thus, one might encounter a black “white,” as some Ḥarāṭīn might pass for Bīḍān if their name or lineage is unknown.
Roughly one-third of the population is made up of mainly four other ethnic groups: Tukulor, who live in the Sénégal River valley; Fulani, who are dispersed throughout the south; Soninke, who inhabit the extreme south; and Wolof, who live in the vicinity of Rosso in coastal southwestern Mauritania.
The Moors, Tukulor, and Soninke share a broadly similar social structure, in as much as these groups were historically divided into a hierarchy of social classes. At the head of these socioeconomic layers were nobles who had dependents and tributaries, and these “well-born” populations were frequently supported by servants and slaves.
In Moorish society the nobles consisted of two types of lineages: ʿarabs, or warriors, descendants of the Banū Ḥassān and known as the Ḥassānīs, and murābiṭ—called “marabouts” by the French and known in their own language as zawāyā after the name of a place of religious study (see zāwiyah)—who were holy men and scholars of religious texts. The warriors generally claimed Arab descent, and many of the zawāyā traced their origins to Amazigh lineages. The greatest part of the Bīḍān population consisted of vassals who received protection from the warriors or zawāyā to whom they paid tribute. At the bottom of the social hierarchy were two artisan classes—the blacksmiths and the griots (troubadour-praise singers). Servant classes were subdivided into slaves and freedmen, known as Ḥarāṭīn, although their personal autonomy was severely limited in the nomadic economy. Slavery was abolished by the French in colonial times and has been banned a number of times since independence. In 2007 the country’s legislature passed a bill that made slavery a criminal offense. Slavery (and its definition) remains a very sensitive issue for the Mauritanian government, which has long disputed its continued existence in spite of reports to the contrary by international groups. For servants in the rural economy who are dependent upon their masters and who lack the skills necessary to join the urban economy, the line between servitude and freedom is very ambiguous. So long as there is a dependence upon such labour to maintain the Bīḍānī lifestyle, there remain both expectations by the servant classes that their well-being is the responsibility of the well-born and the long-standing cultural assumption among the Bīḍānī that black Africans belong in a servile role. As the old nomadic economy withers away, however, so too this relationship has been gradually disappearing. Since independence there have been sporadic efforts to find common political ground between black populations in the country and the Ḥarāṭīn. Such a coalition would constitute a clear majority of the population, but to date, political pressure on the Ḥarāṭīn and their cultural and linguistic roots in Bīḍānī society have deflected any political configuration based simply on race.
Arabic is the official language of Mauritania; Fula, Soninke, and Wolof are recognized as national languages. The Moors speak Ḥassāniyyah Arabic, a dialect that draws most of its grammar from Arabic and uses a vocabulary of both Arabic and Arabized Amazigh words. Most of the Ḥassāniyyah speakers are also familiar with colloquial Egyptian and Syrian Arabic due to the influence of television and radio transmissions from the Middle East. One result of Mauritanian Arabic being drawn into the mainstream of the Arabic-speaking world has been a revalorization of Ḥassāniyyah forms in personal names, especially evident in the use of “Ould” or “Wuld” (“Son of”) in male names. The Tukulor and the Fulani in the Sénégal River basin speak Fula (Fulfulde, Pular), a language of the Atlantic branch of the Niger-Congo family. The other ethnic groups have retained their respective languages, which are also part of the Niger-Congo family: Soninke (Mande branch) and Wolof (Atlantic branch). Since the late 1980s Arabic has been the primary language of instruction in schools throughout the country, slowly ending a long-standing advantage formerly held by the French-schooled populations of the Sénégal River valley.
Almost all Mauritanians are Sunni Muslim, and the declaration of the country as an Islamic republic at independence marked a political aspiration that religion might unite very diverse populations under that common confession. Two of the major Sufi (mystical) brotherhoods—the Qādiriyyah and Tijāniyyah orders—have numerous adherents throughout the country, but there is little distinct pattern in the distribution of these groups. Urban religious associations based on place of worship, common hometowns or regions, and ethnicity have flourished throughout the country, and most urban-dwellers identify first with their rural origins rather than with the new towns and cities.
- Settlement patterns
Of Mauritania’s total population, about two-thirds live in and around urban centres. The Sahara region to the north, where habitation is generally limited to oases, stands in contrast to the Sahelian steppelands to the south, where regular precipitation permits extensive stock raising and some agriculture.
The heartland of Mauritania consists of the vast Adrar and Tagant plateaus, known as the Trab el-Hajra (Arabic: “Country of Stone”). There, at the foot of cliffs, are found several oases, among which some—such as Chingueṭṭi, Ouadâne, Tîchît, Tidjikdja, and Atar—were the sites of well-known urban trading centres in the Middle Ages. To the north and the east extend the vast desert peneplains identified as the “Empty Quarter.” The exploitation of iron ore at the Zouérate mines from the mid-20th century and the development of the port at Nouâdhibou have transformed this region of Mauritania into a major focus of the country’s economy.
Coastal and southwestern Mauritania are corrugated with regular northeast–southwest-aligned dunes and were important in times past for livestock husbandry, which supported the most densely populated area of the country. Adjacent to the Sénégal River in southwestern Mauritania, Moors and Fulani compete for agricultural and grazing resources, and further east Soninke populations compete with Moors for similar resources. Large-scale irrigation projects along the Sénégal River that date from the 1980s have greatly heightened competition for agricultural lands in that region, known as the Chemama. In the extreme south, large villages surrounded by fields of millet constitute the first sign of the Sudanese landscape.
In the southeast the vast Hodh Basin, with its dunes, sandstone plateaus, and immense regs, is a major livestock-raising region, the economy of which has many links with neighbouring Mali.
Until the 1980s nomadic life was prevalent in Mauritania, and among the Moorish population the nomadic lifestyle is still idealized. Livestock supplied the nomads with milk and meat, and transport was provided by riding camels and pack camels and, in the south, by pack oxen and donkeys. The women dyed sheep’s wool, with which they then braided long brown bands that were sewn together to make tents; they also tanned goats’ skins to make guerbas (waterskins). Population movement was determined by the search for water and pasturage. In the Sahara nomadic movements were irregular because of the extreme variability of precipitation, but in the Sahel, a pattern of seasonal rains led herds to the south in the dry season and back to the north in the spring where the Mediterranean climate produced a wet season. Sizes of nomadic encampments also varied from south to north. In the coastal southwest, encampments of up to 300 tents were found, whereas in northern Mauritania only groups of a few tents generally moved together.
Today, the rigours of nomadic life are largely a thing of the past. Changes in agricultural patterns, drought, transportation infrastructure, and the distribution of government services have combined to undermine the nomadic economy. Dams to conserve floodwaters have been built in the wadis, and palm tree culture has been considerably extended. Severe drought in the 1970s led to a rapid, seemingly irreversible urbanization of the population. The cumulative result of these developments has been a near-elimination of the nomadic lifestyle and economy that thrived as recently as the mid-20th century.
Prior to independence, Nouakchott—now the capital and primary urban centre—was a small village; at the beginning of the 21st century, however, some one-fourth of the population of the country resided there. Similar population movements during the last quarter of the 20th century increased the size of towns across the country, but mainly at points along the paved transportation arteries that fan east, north, and south from Nouakchott and along the Sénégal River.
The exploitation of the iron-ore reserves of Mount Ijill also contributed to a transformation of settlement patterns and the urban geography of Mauritania as migrant labourers from across the country and beyond were drawn to the mining economy. The ancient northern cities that were sustained by caravan traffic and trade with southern Morocco and West Africa have since grown idle beneath their palm trees; four of these cities—Tîchît, Chingueṭṭi, Ouadâne, and Oualâta—were collectively designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996 for their historic significance. Fdérik (formerly Fort-Gouraud), situated about 15 miles (25 km) from the mining town of Zouérate, and Nouâdhibou, now the centre of the country’s fishing industry and a site for iron-ore exports, have taken their place as administrative and economic centres in the north. Among the pre-20th century cities, only Tidjikdja and Atar have maintained a certain activity. By contrast, most of the towns along the Sénégal River, including Kaédi, Bogué, and Rosso, have become thriving urban centres.
- Demographic trends
Mauritania’s population is growing at a rate that exceeds the average for sub-Saharan Africa; the birth rate is also quite high, due to improved health care services. Because of the country’s large desert area, however, the average population density is among the lowest in Africa. More than nine-tenths of the population live in the country’s southernmost quarter. On the whole, the population is very young: more than two-fifths of Mauritanians are under age 15, with almost three-fourths of the population 29 years of age or younger. Although life expectancy is greater than the average for sub-Saharan Africa, it remains well below the global average. Economists estimate that some two-fifths of the population live below the poverty line.
Economy of Mauritania
In the Sahel region of Mauritania, a traditional subsistence economy composed of livestock raising, agriculture, crafts, and petty trading supports most of the population. In the Sahara region, however, a modern export economy is developing, based on the exploitation of iron-ore and copper resources and of the rich fishing waters off the continental shelf. The Mauritanian economy receives much needed capital investment and technical assistance from abroad, and, in turn, it is sensitive to the vacillations in the world markets. More than three-fourths of the Mauritanian population engages in traditional activities, among which livestock raising is the most important. In numbers, goats and sheep are the most important livestock, followed by cattle and camels. Cattle are raised primarily in the southern region, whereas goats and sheep are dispersed as far north as the limits of the Sahara. Camels are raised mostly in the north and the centre, especially in the Adrar region. The growth of the Mauritanian economy slowed in the 1980s after a lengthy period of rapid expansion in the 1960s and ’70s. Since the severe drought in the early 1970s, the country has been dependent upon imported foodstuffs to feed its population. In the early 1980s iron-ore production slowed because of a decline in world market prices; fishing became the leading source of foreign exchange earnings and remained so for much of the 1990s. In the mid-1990s the government began to demonstrate its commitment to the development of a tourist industry to further diversify the Mauritanian economy.
Mauritania’s budget, usually in deficit, was nominally balanced in the late 1980s. In the mid-1980s principal and interest on a relatively large foreign indebtedness was rescheduled, but indebtedness remains a significant problem. In the 1990s and early 2000s, additional portions of Mauritania’s debt were rescheduled or cancelled, and in 2005 the country was approved for the relief of its multilateral debt. Foreign aid, both bilateral (from France, Japan, Germany, and the Netherlands) and by multilateral agencies (such as the African Development Bank, the Islamic Development Bank, the International Monetary Fund [IMF], the International Fund for Agricultural Development, and the European Union [EU]), is primarily targeted to assist in project development but is also used for budgetary and food support. In the late 1990s donors linked aid to Mauritania with increased participation by the private sector. Although the government subsequently privatized a number of its holdings, donors were critical of practices that hindered the development of domestic markets. Increases in the gross domestic product (GDP) during the last two decades of the 20th century have generally been offset by population increases. Mauritania’s GDP grew solidly in the early 2000s, mainly because of petroleum production that began in 2006. Early optimism that petroleum production might provide a major new source of income, however, has been tempered by disappointing results.
- Agriculture and fishing
Where the precipitation exceeds 17 inches (430 mm) a year, millet and dates are the principal crops, supplemented by sorghum, beans, yams, corn (maize), and cotton. Seasonal agriculture is practiced on the easily flooded riverbanks and in the wadis of the Sahelian zone, upstream from the dams. There, too, millet, sorghum, beans, rice, and watermelons are grown. Irrigated agriculture is practiced in areas supplied by water-control projects and at oases, where well water is available; corn, barley, and some millet and vegetables are grown. The output of gum arabic, the region’s main export during the 19th century, is minimal. Agricultural production in Mauritania continued to decline during the last quarter of the 20th century because of drought. Crop production fell by approximately two-thirds in the period from 1970 to 1980, and by the early 2000s, Mauritania’s need to import the majority of its food continued.
In agriculture the aim of successive Mauritanian governments has been to increase the amount of irrigated land in the Sénégal River valley and, above all, to increase the production of rice (of which Mauritania is still obliged to import large quantities), to plant fresh palm trees to replace those destroyed by the cochineal insect, to drill fresh wells, to improve the quality of dates, and to encourage the cultivation of vegetables. The area planted with grains increased throughout the 1990s, with sorghum, corn, millet, and rice in particular being harvested from increased acreage.
The fishing grounds that lie off Mauritania’s Lévrier Bay are among the world’s richest, but heavy fishing there has raised concerns about their depletion. Mauritania stopped issuing fishing licenses in 1979, however, and in 1980 formed joint companies with Portugal, Iraq, South Korea, Romania, and the Soviet Union to exploit these resources. A series of agreements signed with the European Community and EU in the 1990s and 2000s defined fishing rights and quotas within Mauritanian waters.
- Resources and power
Decades of oil prospecting began to yield results in the early 2000s when exploration offshore identified sources of significant reserves. Production at the offshore Chingueṭṭi field began in early 2006, but output quickly fell to a fraction of its initial level. Further prospecting for both oil and gas at additional on- and offshore sites have continued.
Iron exploitation was organized and begun in 1963 by the Société Anonyme des Mines de Fer de Mauritanie (MIFERMA), of which 56 percent of the financing was by French groups and the remainder by British, West German, and Italian interests and by the Mauritanian government. The company was nationalized in 1974 and was renamed Société Nationale Industrielle et Minière (SNIM). The iron-ore deposits of Mount Ijill neared depletion in the late 1980s, and production there came to a halt in the early 1990s. Exploitation of reserves at Guelb El Rheïn began in 1984; the site soon grew unprofitable, however, and SNIM’s focus was shifted to Mhaoudat, where production began in the early 1990s. Iron exports fell from a peak of 12 million tons in 1974 to an annual average of 9 million tons in the 1980s. Iron ore has nevertheless remained a significant export product and an important feature of the Mauritanian economy.
The copper deposits of Akjoujt are extensive, with a copper content of more than 2 percent. Exploitation was begun in 1969 by Somima (Société Minière de Mauritanie). The firm was nationalized in 1975, but operations were suspended in 1978. Subsequent reactivation of the mine has been to work tailings to extract gold. There are substantial gypsum deposits near Nouakchott. Other mineral resources are minor, and salt output has declined. Reserves of ilmenite (the principal ore of titanium) have been located, and phosphate deposits have been identified near Bofal in the south.
Approximately half of Mauritania’s energy needs are fulfilled by hydroelectricity generated by installations on the Sénégal River. A power plant inaugurated in Nouakchott in 2003 is capable of supplying more than one-third of the power required by the capital.
Manufacturing is focused primarily on the mining and fishing industries and is otherwise limited. There are small food-processing and construction industries.
- Finance and trade
The Central Bank of Mauritania was established in 1973 and issues the national currency, the ouguiya. In addition to the central bank, there are a number of commercial banks of varying size. Mauritania’s banking sector is centred at Nouakchott. Insurance companies in Mauritania were state-owned prior to the liberalization of that sector by the government in the 1990s; by the early 2000s the state-owned insurance provider competed with a number of privately owned firms.
The relative significance of foreign trade is difficult to estimate because, while imports and exports of the modern sector are well known, there are no statistics for the traditional sector. Mauritania is nevertheless known to import from or by way of Senegal quantities of millet, tea, rice, sugar, cotton goods, and hardware, while it exports to Mali and to Senegal cattle, sheep, and goats. Immediately following the start of production in 2006, petroleum was the most important export product, although since then, iron ore and fish and fish products have reasserted their former dominance among export products. As Mauritania is not self-sufficient in food production, foodstuffs are among the country’s most significant imports; machinery and petroleum products are also imported. China, France, Belgium, and Spain are among Mauritania’s most important trading partners.
At the beginning of the 21st century, some two-fifths of the labour force were employed in the services sector. Owing in part to Mauritania’s natural and cultural wealth—some of its most important sites (the Banc d’Arguin National Park and the historic cities of Tîchît, Chingueṭṭi, Ouadâne, and Oualâta) have been inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage list—the country has excellent tourism potential. Exploitation of that promise remains under way, however; in the mid-1990s the government expressed its commitment to the development of the tourism sector, and in 2002 it announced a 10-year plan to continue promoting tourism.
- Labour and taxation
Almost half of labourers work in agriculture, animal husbandry, or fishing. Only some one-fourth of Mauritania’s labourers are employed in regular salaried positions, most of those by the government; the majority support themselves on a subsistence basis. With the exception of those serving in the military, police, or judiciary, workers are permitted to form unions without authorization. Workers in most positions are permitted the right to strike, although civil servants are required to give one month’s notice and private workers are required to show that all efforts toward conciliation have been spent prior to resorting to a strike. There are several trade unions in operation, the oldest of which—the Union of Mauritanian Workers—was formed in 1961.
The state imposes indirect taxes on imports, a turnover tax, a service tax, and taxes on cattle, vehicles, wages and salaries, and profits from industrial and commercial concerns. Tax exemptions are among the incentives offered by the government to encourage investment in target areas. Tax laws are not universally respected, however, and the failure by employees in many positions to pay taxes deprives the government of sizable revenue.
- Transportation and telecommunications
Transport by pack animals—camels in the north, oxen and donkeys in the south—has retained considerable importance in those parts of the country where a subsistence and barter economy prevails, although transport between cities and regions is increasingly by road. Considerable challenges confront road builders, however, including shifting sand dunes, flash floods in the south, and steep cliffs in the north. The main road connecting Rosso to Tindouf, Alg., via Nouakchott, Akjoujt, Atar, Fdérik, and Bîr Mogreïn is passable throughout the year. Some one-third of Mauritanian roadways are paved. The Trans-Mauritania highway, which links Nouakchott to the west of the country via Kaédi, Kiffa, ʿAyoûn el-ʿAtroûs, and Néma, was completed in 1982. A north-south highway linking Nouakchott and Nouâdhibou was completed in 2004. A rail link connects the mining centres of Zouérate, Guelb El Rheïn, and Mhaoudat with a port at Nouâdhibou. Passenger transport by rail is negligible. International airports include those at Néma, Nouakchott, and Nouâdhibou, and a number of other cities are linked by regular domestic air services.
The irregularity of the flow of the Sénégal River limits its use as a waterway; Kaédi can be reached only by ships drawing about 7 feet (2 metres) at the high-water season, normally from August to October. The port at Nouâdhibou can accommodate 150,000 tons; the deepwater port at Nouakchott can accommodate up to 950,000 tons.
Mail, telephone, and telegraph services are combined in the main post offices. Although it was privatized in the early 2000s, Mauritel maintains a monopoly on fixed-line telephone services. The number of subscribers to mobile cellular service is expanding rapidly. International telephonic communications are run through Paris. Relative to the country’s population, the number of computers in use in Mauritania is low. Internet cafés in Nouakchott provide instant communication via e-mail for patrons.
Government Society of Mauritania
The Mauritanian state had a presidential regime from 1960 until 1978, when a coup d’état installed a military government. A civilian government established in December 1980 was replaced the following April by a largely military administration. In 1991 a new constitution established a multiparty system and a new bicameral legislative structure. Additional coups took place in 2005 and 2008, each followed by elections. Constitutional amendments to the 1991 constitution, put forth in 2006, included a new legislative body, an adjustment of the presidential term, and an age limit of 75 for presidential candidates. Following the 2008 coup, the military leadership announced that the 1991 constitution, augmented by a supplemental charter, would remain in place.
Mauritania is a republic.The president, elected by popular vote for a five-year term, is head of state and government and is assisted by the prime minister, whom he appoints. The bicameral legislature is made up of the Senate—the majority of whose members are elected by municipal leaders for six-year terms—and the National Assembly, whose members are elected by popular vote for five-year terms.
The country is divided into administrative regions, each of which is directed by a governor. The capital forms a separate district.
Justice Islamic law (Sharīʿah) and jurisprudence have been in force since February 1980. Qadis (judges of the Sharīʿah) in rural and settled communities hear cases relating to marriage, divorce, and other personal status issues. A High Council of Islam is made up of five individuals appointed by the president to advise on matters at the president’s request. The judiciary also includes the lower courts, labour and military courts, the Court of State Security, a six-member Constitutional Council, a High Court of Justice, and a Supreme Court, the highest court of appeal, which deals with administrative as well as judicial matters.
Suffrage in Mauritania is universal for Mauritanian citizens age 18 and older, all of whom are permitted to hold office. A 2006 decree stipulated that one-fifth of political party positions be reserved for women; in addition, in September of that year two women were appointed as the country’s first female governors. Minorities also participate in the political process, though in general at a rate lower than their proportion of the wider population.
The Mauritanian defense forces consist of an army, a navy, an air force, and a paramilitary. The army is by far the largest contingent. Military service is determined by authorized conscription and is two years in duration.
Health and welfare
Modern health facilities are scarce in Mauritania. There is a major hospital in Nouakchott and a number of other regional health centres, including maternity clinics. Free medical services are available to the poor. Traditional remedies for illness—some of which are traced to classical Arabic texts, others based on the special skills of local bone-setters and herbalists—continue to serve an important role. Among other health problems found in tropical areas, tuberculosis, venereal disease, and intestinal and eye maladies are present. Data on the impact of HIV/AIDS in Mauritania is imperfect, but the incidence appears to be modest by comparison with other regions of the continent.
Primary schooling, which lasts for six years, begins at age six and is officially compulsory. Secondary education, which begins at age 12, lasts for six years, divided into two cycles of three years each. About half of the adult population is literate, although literacy rates for men are substantially higher than those for women.
At the time of independence in 1960, the language of the educational system was French, and a majority of students came from the southern part of the country, mainly from the Tukulor and Wolof populations, where there was a tradition of French colonial schooling. As a result, blacks in the country held most of the technical, professional, and diplomatic posts in the early 1960s, and the majority, Arabic-speaking Moors felt themselves to be disadvantaged. In the late 1980s, however, the military government accelerated a policy of Arabization that led to Arabic being taught in four-fifths of schools a decade later.
The University of Nouakchott (1981) has faculties of letters and human sciences and of law and economics. Other advanced education is provided by a research institute for mining and industry, a centre for Islamic studies, and a training facility for administrative personnel in Nouakchott. ---
After independence in 1960, President Moktar Ould Daddah, originally installed by the French, formalized Mauritania into a one-party state in 1964 with a new constitution, which set up an authoritarian presidential regime. Daddah's own Parti du Peuple Mauritanien (PPM) became the ruling organization. The president justified this decision on the grounds that he considered Mauritania unready for Western-style multi-party democracy. Under this one-party constitution, Daddah was reelected in uncontested elections in 1966, 1971 and 1976. Daddah was ousted in a bloodless coup on July 10, 1978.
A committee of military officers governed Mauritania from July 1978 to April 1992. A referendum approved the current constitution in July 1991. The Democratic and Social Republican Party (PRDS), led by President Maaouya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya, has dominated Mauritanian politics since the country's first multi-party elections in April 1992. President Taya, who won elections in 1992 and 1997, first became chief of state through a December 12, 1984 bloodless coup which made him chairman of the committee of military officers.
The government bureaucracy is composed of traditional ministries, special agencies, and parastatal companies. The Ministry of Interior spearheads a system of regional governors and prefects modeled on the French system of local administration. Under this system, Mauritania is divided into 13 regions (wilaya), including the capital district, Nouakchott. Control is tightly concentrated in the executive branch of the central government, but a series of national and municipal elections since 1992 have produced some limited decentralization.
Politics in Mauritania have always been heavily influenced by personalities, with any leader's ability to exercise political power dependent upon control over resources; perceived ability or integrity; and tribal, ethnic, family, and personal considerations. Conflict between white Moor, black Moor, and non-Moor ethnic groups, centering on language, land tenure, and other issues, continues to be the dominant challenge to national unity.
Political parties, illegal during the military period, were legalized again in 1991. By April 1992, as civilian rule returned, 16 major political parties had been recognized; 12 major parties were active in 2004. Most opposition parties boycotted the first legislative election in 1992, and for nearly a decade the parliament has been dominated by the PRDS. The opposition participated in municipal elections in 1994 and subsequent senatorial elections, most recently in 2004, gaining representation at the local level as well as three seats in the Senate.
Mauritania's third presidential election since adopting the democratic process in 1992, took place on November 7, 2003. Six candidates, including Mauritania's first female and first Haratine (former slave family) candidates, represented a wide variety of political goals and backgrounds. Incumbent President Maaouya Sid'Ahmed Taya won reelection with 67 percent of the popular vote while Mohamed Khouna Ould Haidalla finished second.
2005 military coup
In August 2005, a group identifying itself as the Military Council for Justice and Democracy seized control of key points in Nouakchott while President Taya was abroad at the funeral of King Fahd in Saudi Arabia. The group of officers leading the coup released the statement: The national armed forces and security forces have unanimously decided to put a definitive end to the oppressive activities of the defunct authority, which our people have suffered from during the past years.
The Military Council later issued another statement naming Colonel Ely Ould Mohamed Vall as president. Vall was himself once regarded as a firm ally of Taya, even aiding him in the original coup that brought him to power and serving as his security chief afterwards. This high-level betrayal of the former president suggests broad discontent within the branches of local government, which is further supported by the seemingly complete lack of bloodshed.
This was the fourth coup since 2003 and apparently took root when President Taya banned all religious speeches and teachings in the country's mosques. The coup was condemned by most world authorities, but local political parties expressed hope that the Military Council would remain true to its word, and end its leadership after two years—hopefully leading to a democratic government.
On June 25, 2006, a national referendum took place in which Mauritanians approved several reforms by 97 percent, with at least 76 percent of eligible voters casting their votes. These reforms included limiting presidential terms to two five-year terms and preventing the president from holding on to his post if older than 75. The presidential term limit is very unusual for the region and the age limit on a president is a first. The referendum was followed by parliamentary and local elections in November and December, 2006 and presidential elections in 2007.
The 2007 election effected the final transfer from military to civilian rule following the military coup in 2005. This was the first time that the president had been selected in a multi-candidate election in the country's post-independence history. The election was won in a second round of voting by Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, with Ahmed Ould Daddah a close second.
2008 military coup
On August 6, 2008, a day after 48 lawmakers from the ruling party resigned in protest of President Abdallahi's policies, the head of the Presidential Guards took over the president's palace in Nouakchott. The army surrounded key government facilities, including the state television building, and the President, Prime Minister Yahya Ould Ahmed Waghef, and Minister of Internal Affairs Mohamed Ould R'zeizim were arrested.
The coup was organized by General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, former chief of staff of the Mauritanian army and head of the Presidential Guard, whom the president had just dismissed. Others involved in the coup included General Muhammad Ould Al-Ghazwani, General Philippe Swikri, and Brigadier General (Aqid) Ahmad Ould Bakri, all of whom had been dismissed in a presidential decree shortly beforehand. The coup was apparently bloodless and the President, Prime Minister, and Interior Minister were arrested and held under house arrest.
Abdallahi formally resigned in the spring of 2009, and presidential elections were held on July 19, 2009. General Aziz resigned from the military to run for president, winning the election with a 52 percent majority.
Culture Life of Mauritania
History of Mauritania
Early History through Colonialism
By the beginning of the 1st millennium A.D. Sanhaja Berbers had migrated into Mauritania, pushing the black African inhabitants (especially the Soninké) southward toward the Senegal River. The Hodh region, which became desert only in the 11th cent., was the center of the ancient empire of Ghana (700–1200), whose capital, Kumbi-Saleh, located near the present-day border with Mali, has been unearthed by archaeologists. Until the 13th cent., Oualata, Awdaghost, and Kumbi-Saleh, all in SE Mauritania, were major centers along the trans-Saharan caravan routes linking Morocco with the region along the upper Niger River.
In the 11th cent. the Almoravid movement was founded among the Muslim Berbers of Mauritania. In the 14th and 15th cent., SE Mauritania was part of the empire of Mali, centered along the upper Niger. By this time the Sahara had encroached on much of Mauritania, consequently limiting agriculture and reducing the population. In the 1440s, Portuguese navigators explored the Mauritanian coast and established a fishing base on Arguin Island, located near the present-day boundary with Western Sahara.
From the 17th cent., Dutch, British, and French traders were active along the S Mauritanian coast; they were primarily interested in the gum arabic gathered near the Senegal River. Under Louis Faidherbe, governor of Senegal (1854–61; 1863–65), France gained control of S Mauritania. The region was declared a protectorate in 1903, but parts of the north were not pacified until the 1930s.
Until 1920, when it became a separate colony in French West Africa, Mauritania was administered as part of Senegal. Saint-Louis, in Senegal, continued to be Mauritania's administrative center until 1957, when it was replaced by Nouakchott. The French ruled through existing political authorities and did little to develop the country's economy or to increase educational opportunities for the population. National political activity began only after World War II. In 1958, Mauritania became an autonomous republic within the French Community.
- An Independent Nation
On Nov. 28, 1960, Mauritania became fully independent. Its leader at independence was Makhtar Ould Daddah, who in 1961 formed the Mauritanian People's Party (which in 1965 became the country's only legal party) and was the leading force in establishing a new constitution. Ould Daddah was elected president in 1961; the same year Mauritania became a member of the United Nations.
The 1960s were marked by tensions between the black Africans of the south and the Arabs and Berbers of central and N Mauritania, some of whom sought to join Mauritania with Morocco. By the early 1970s the main conflicts in the country were over economic and ideological rather than ethnic matters, as dissident workers and students protested what they considered an unfair wage structure and an undue concentration of power in Ould Daddah's hands. The long-term drought in the semiarid Sahel region in the south, which lasted from the late 1960s into the 1980s, caused the death of about 80% of the country's livestock, as well as extremely poor harvests in the Senegal River region.
Ould Daddah attempted to act as a bridge between N Africa and black Africa and in the early 1970s was on good terms with Libya, Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco as well as with the black African nations of Senegal and Liberia. In 1973, Mauritania became a member of the Arab League. In the same year the country began to loosen its ties with France by withdrawing from the Franc Zone and establishing its own currency. In 1976, when Spain relinquished control of Spanish Sahara, the territory became Western Sahara and was partitioned between Morocco and Mauritania. This move left Mauritania (as well as Morocco) in conflict with the Polisario Front, a group of nationalist guerrillas fighting for independence for Western Sahara.
Ould Daddah's regime was overthrown in 1978, and Lt. Col. Mustapha Ould Mohamad Salek assumed power, promising to end involvement in the war. Salek's proposed Arabization of the country's educational system made him many enemies in the African community. He resigned and was succeeded by Lt. Col. Mohamed Mahmoud Ould Louly in 1979. In that year, Mauritania, under pressure from the Polisario Front, renounced all claims to Western Sahara. In 1980, Ould Louly was overthrown and replaced by Prime Minister Lt. Col. Mohamed Khouna Ould Heydalla. In 1981, Mauritania severed diplomatic relations with Morocco after it appeared Morocco had engineered a coup attempt against Heydalla. In 1984, Lt. Col. Maaouiya Ould Sidi Ahmed Taya overthrew Heydalla's regime. Taya restored relations with Morocco in 1985.
In 1989, racial tensions between blacks and Moors reached new heights as 40,000 black Senegalese workers were driven out of the country. Rioting resulted, tens of thousands of black Mauritanians were forced from their land by the military (many of whom fled to Senegal), and Mauritania broke off diplomatic relations with Senegal. In 1991 a new constitution providing for multiparty rule was approved by referendum. President Taya was reelected in 1992 and 1997, amid allegations of fraud. In 1993 the United States stopped development aid to Mauritania in protest against the country's oppression of its black citizens and its support of Iraq during the Persian Gulf War; the government subsequently moved toward a pro-Western position.
Taya survived a coup attempt in June, 2003. In the Nov., 2003, presidential elections he received 66.7% of the vote; his nearest challenger, former president Heydalla, almost 19%. Despite new voting safeguards designed to prevent vote-rigging, there were again accusations of fraud. Heydalla was arrested after the election on charges of plotting a coup, which he denied. He received a suspended five-year sentence in December, and as a result of the sentence he lost his political and civil rights for five years. In Aug. and Sept., 2004, Mauritanian officials said they had foiled two more coup plots. At the same time, locusts ravaged a large portion of the nation's agricultural land, leading to concerns of a possible food crisis.
In Aug., 2005, while President Taya was abroad, the long-time national security chief, Col. Ely Ould Mohamed Vall led a coup that replaced Taya with a 17-member military council headed by Vall. The coup was quickly denounced by the African Union, United States, and others, but after the council promised to hold democratic legislative elections within two years the objections ended. Mauritanians generally greeted the Taya's overthrow with celebration, and opposition groups with qualified approval.
In 2006 voters approved a new constitution limiting a president to two five-year terms in office. In the legislative elections (Nov.–Dec., 2006) a coalition of former opposition parties won the largest bloc of seats, followed by independents, but no group won a majority. Senatorial elections were held in Jan., 2007, and in March Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, a former government minister who ran as an independent but was supported by former government parties and was regarded as the military's candidate, was elected president after a runoff. In 2008, however, increasing food prices and concerns over the government's overtures to Islamists led to government instability beginning in May and tensions between the president and parliament. In August, after the president dismissed several military and security leaders, one of them, Gen. Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, overthrew the president and replaced the presidency with a military-dominated council; a new cabinet was appointed in September. Mauritania saw an increase in Islamic militant attacks in the months following the coup, and fighting between Islamist and government forces continued sporadically into subsequent years, at times spilling across the border into Mali.
Aziz resigned from the military and the government in Apr., 2009, in order to run for president; Senate President Ba Mamadou Mbare became interim head of state. In June, 2009, a settlement negotiated as a prelude to new elections led to the formation of a power-sharing government that included military- and opposition-appointed members. As part of the agreement Abdallahi appointed the interim government and then officially resigned as president.
The presidential election in July, 2009, resulted in a victory for Aziz, with more than 52% of the vote, but the main opposition candidates rejected the results. The president was injured in a shooting in Oct., 2012, reportedly accidentally, though some reports suggested it might have been an assassination attempt. The president's party, Union for the Republic, won a majority of the seats in the legislature in the Nov.–Dec., 2013, elections, with its allies winning additional seats, but all but one of the parties in the 11-party opposition alliance boycotted the vote.
Mauritania Area: 1,030,700 sq km (398,000 sq mi) Population (2004 est.): 2,774,000 Capital: Nouakchott Chief of state: President Col. Maaouya Ould SidʾAhmed Taya Head of government: Prime Minister ...>>>Read On<<<
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