A coastal country in north-west Africa, bounded by Morocco and Algeria on the north and by Mali and Senegal on the east and south.
Most of Mauritania lies in the Sahara. Except in the south-west corner it is arid, and everywhere it is hot. Inland from the Atlantic Ocean a region of smooth sand dunes slowly rises, over large deposits of copper and iron ore, to sandstone ridges and the granite highlands of the north-east of the country.
Mauritania's exports are dominated by iron ore and fish. Agriculture, confined mainly to the Senegal River valley in the south, despite attempts to extend irrigation by constructing dams, includes the growing of millet, dates, and rice. Nomadic livestock-rearing has declined with periodic droughts and the expansion of mining. Apart from mining, industrial activity involves a small amount of light manufacturing. There are deposits of copper, gypsum, phosphates, sulphur, gold, and uranium.
Dominated from c.100 ad by nomadic Berber tribes (who still form one-quarter of its population), Mauritania was first sighted by Europeans in the 15th century. French penetration of the interior began in 1858, and in 1903 the country became a French protectorate. In 1920 Mauritania was made a territory of French West Africa. It became an autonomous republic within the French Community in 1958, and fully independent in 1960. Following the Spanish withdrawal from Western Sahara in 1976 Morocco and Mauritania divided between them the southern part of this territory, known as Tiris-el-Gherbia. Bitter war with the Polisario Front (who demanded Western Saharan independence) ensued, but in 1979 Mauritania relinquished all claims and withdrew, leaving Morocco to annex the formerly Mauritanian region. The country's first president, Moktar Ould Daddah, was replaced in 1978 by a military government, the Military Committee for National Salvation (CMSN), which would appoint a President and civilian Council of Ministers. In 1991 a referendum voted overwhelmingly in support of a new constitution for what was to be an ‘Islamic, African, and Arab republic’ operating multiparty politics, with an elected executive President. In January 1992 Colonel Moaouia Ould Sidi Taya was duly elected, having been first appointed President by the CMSN in 1984. In 1989 some 40,000 Black Mauritanians were expelled to Senegal, following ethnic violence in both countries. A border war with Senegal lasted from 1989 until 1992. Ethnic tensions within Mauritania have continued. A series of unsuccessful coup attempts from 2003 culminated in a successful military takeover in 2005: Taya was deposed and a Military Council for Justice and Democracy, chaired by Colonel Ely Ould Mohamed Vall, took power.
Source: MAPS IN MINUTES™ © RH Publications (1997)
1,030,700 sq km (398,000 sq miles)
1 ouguiya = 5 khoums
Muslim 99.0%; Christian 0.5%
Moor (mixed Arab-Berber and African-Sudanic) 81.5%; Tukulor 8.0%; Fulani 5.0%
Arabic, French (both official); ethnic languages
UN; AU; Arab League; Maghreb Union; Non-Aligned Movement; WTO