The Islamic Republic of Mauritania is in North Africa and borders the Atlantic Ocean to the west, Western Sahara to the north, Algeria to the northeast, Mali in the east and southeast, and Senegal to the southwest. Nouakchott is the capital and is located on the Atlantic coast.
In 2008, the government was overthrown in a military coup by General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz. Aziz left the military to run for president in 2009, which he won. The next presidential election will be held in 2019. President Mohammed Ould Abdel Aziz is constitutionally barred from running again.
According to world population review Mauritania has a population estimate of 4,623,187 (2018).
The first Saharan people to abandon the nomadic lifestyle were the Bafours. After the Sahara’s desertification, they moved south. Central Saharans followed soon after.
Moorish Islamic warriors conquered the Ghana Empire in 1076. The Arabs dominated the local population and Mauritania over the next 500 years. From 1644-1674, the Mauritanian Thirty Year War was a final and unsuccessful attempt to repel the Arab invaders. The descendants of these warriors became the high level of Moorish society.
France absorbed the territory of modern Mauritania in the late 1800s. An imperial mission in 1901 was led by Xavier Coppolani. Through alliances and military actions, he extended French rule. The final holdouts in the northern emirate of Adrar were defeated in 1912. The territory became part of French West Africa in 1920.
Interclan warfare and slavery ended under French rule. During this time, the people generally remained nomadic. When independence occurred in 1960, 90 percent of the population was still nomadic and Nouakchott, the capital, was founded at a local village site.
Drought in the 1970s caused problems in the country. Upon independence, sub-Saharan peoples moved to Mauritania. Since they were educated in French systems, many new arrivals became clerks and administrators. Modern day slavery is still a problem in Mauritania and some estimates show 20 percent of the population may be enslaved. This mainly results from the north’s “black Moors” being subject to domination by “white Moors.”
In the late 1980s, 70,000 black African Mauritanians were expelled from the country. Ethnic tensions are still powerful in the country.
Morocco and Mauritania annexed Western Sahara in 1976 and Mauritania took the lower one-third. After military losses to Morocco’s political rivals, the Polisario, Mauritania retreated in 1979. Morocco then took over the country’s claims. While Morocco occupies the area, the U.N. still considers the Western Sahara a territory that needs its statehood wishes expressed.
Politics and Government
The Ould Daddah Era (1960-78)
After being installed by the French after independence, President Moktar Ould Daddah turned Mauritania into a one-party state with an authoritarian regime. His party, the Parti du Peuple Mauritanien (PPM), ruled the country. Daddah believed Mauritania not ready for multi-party democracy. He was reelected in uncontested elections in 1966, 1971, and 1976. In 1978, after a failed war in Western Sahara nearly collapsed the country, a bloodless coup ousted him.
CMRN and CMSN Military Governments (1978-84)
The CMRN junta led by Col. Mustafa Oul Salek could not end the war or stabilize the government. Another military government, the CMSN, replaced it and was led by Mohamed Khouna Ould Haidallah. He gave up all claims to the Western Sahara and ended the war, leading to improved relations with Algeria. The relationships with Morocco and France deteriorated. Coups attempts plagued the regime and opposition crackdowns led to unrest.
Col. Maaouya Ould Sid’Ahmed Taya deposed him in 1984 and improved the political situation to some degree. He reestablished relations with Morocco which deepened in the 1990s. While it supports Polisario’s Western Sahara government, its official position in the conflict is technically a neutral one.
Ould Taya’s Rule (1984-2005)
The PRDS (Parti Republicain Democratique et Social) controlled Mauritanian politics after the 1992 multi-party elections. President Taya became head of state in 1984 after a bloodless coup and won reelection in 1992 and 1997.
Political parties were legal again in 1991. Civilian rule returned in 1992 but most opposition parties boycotted the first legislative elections. The RDS controlled parliament for over a decade. An attempted coup occurred in 2003, but failed. Its leaders were never apprehended.
Mauritania’s 2003 presidential elections featured six candidates, including the first female. Taya won reelection with 67 percent of the vote.
Taya pursued Arab nationalist policies in the 1980s and had close ties with Iraq. In 1989, clashes occurred with Senegal. International isolation occurred and there were tensions with the West after Mauritania supported Iraq in the 1991 Gulf War. In the mid-1990s, Mauritania shifted to become more pro-Western.
In 1999, Mauritania and Israel agreed to have full diplomatic relations, joining Egypt, Palestine, and Jordan as Arab League members to recognize Israel.
August 2005 Military Coup
A coup in 2005 led by Ely Ould Mohamed Vall ended Taya’s 21 years of rule. On August 3, his group took key areas of the capital while Taya was attending Saudi King Fahd’s funeral.
Vall was named president and director of the national police. The coup was accepted generally by the people and the international community has gradually accepted the new leaders. In elections in 2006, 97 percent approved presidential term limits. The recognition of Israel was maintained. Parliamentary elections took place in 2006.
2007 Presidential Election
In 2007, the first democratic presidential elections since 1960 occurred and transferred military power to civilian rule. This was the first multi-party presidential election in Mauritania. Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi won the election.
2008 Military Coup
The Presidential Guard head took over the President’s palace and army units surrounded a key state facility in the capital in 2008. After the president fired two senior officers the army surrounded the state television building. The army arrested the president, prime minister, and internal affairs minister.
General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz organized the coup and was the former chief of staff of the army. All of the coup’s plotters had been dismissed just prior by a presidential decree.
After The Coup
Some reports indicated the people supported the coup. The president’s 2007 election rival, Ahmed Ould Daddah, also supported the coup. There were some nations that supported the coup leader, but several, including the U.S. supported Abdellahi and referred to him as the legitimate president. In response to protests, the new ruling junta cracked down on opposition and banned protests. Abdellahi was eventually released and placed under house arrest due to international pressure.
Opposition caused the junta to delay planned elections. International pressure shifted when France and Algeria supported the junta. The U.S. opposed it but took no affirmative action. Abdellahi eventually resigned, leading to the election of Abdel Aziz, the junta leader, as president. Despite opposition complaints, the elections were viewed by Western countries as legitimate. This led to international recognition and the return of cooperation with Mauretania’s government. President Mohamed Ould Abdel AZIZ was elected as president in August 2009 and remains in power in 2014.
Regions and Departments
There are 12 regions (wilaya) and one capital district. There are further divided into 44 departments. The regions are Adrar, Assaba, Brakna, Dakhlet Nouadhibou, Gorgol, Guidimaka, Hodh Ech Chargui, Hodh El Gharbi, Inchiri, Nouakchott, Tagant, Trisi Zemmour, and Trarza.
Mauritania is comparable in size to Egypt and at 1,030,700 sq. km, it is the 29th largest country in the world.
The country is mostly flat with arid plains and occasional ridges. There are scarps facing southwest bisecting the country. There are also sandstone plateaus, the highest of which, Adrar plateau, sits at 500 meters. Mineral rich peaks rise above the plateaus. The highest peak is Kediet ej Jill which has a 1,000 meter elevation.
Most of Mauritania is desert or semidesert. This has been expanded due to a severe drought since the 1960s.
Helped by a prudent fiscal policy and the gradual recovery of global mineral prices, Mauritania has emerged from a period of slow growth caused by falling commodity prices. Real GDP growth rose to 3.5% in 2017, up from 2% in 2016, pushed primarily by improved performances in the fishing, livestock, manufacturing, and commerce sectors. Given the population growth rate (about 3%), however, the pace of the economic recovery remains slow, with real per capital income having risen only a scant 1.1%. This situation jeopardizes the gains made in poverty reduction between 2008 and 2014.
Mauritania has iron ore deposits which are nearly half of total exports, other mineral resources include old, copper, gypsum, and phosphate rock and exploration is ongoing for uranium, crude oil, and natural gas.
The coastal waters offer one of the best fishing areas in the world. In 1986, the first deep water port opened near Nouakchott.
Risks to Mauritania’s economy include droughts, dependence on foreign aid and investment, insecurity in neighboring Mali, shortages of infrastructure, institutional capacity, and human capital.
According to world population review Mauritania has a population estimate of 4,623,187 (2018). There is ethnic diversity with 40 percent mixed Moor/Black, 30 percent Moor, 29 percent Black, and 1 percent French. Almost all of the people are Muslim, mostly Sunni. Arabic is the official language, particularly the Hassaniya dialect. The two main ethnic groups are black Africans and Arab-Berbers. Subgroups of the black Africans are the Fulani, Soninke, and Bambara.
The healthcare system in Mauritania mainly consists of administrative centers and emergency health facilities. The healthcare expenditure of the country totals an estimated 4.8% of the net GDP. There are roughly around 500 basic healthcare units situated throughout Mauritania.
The healthcare system in the country is predominantly public, however, over the past decade the private medical sector has experienced a steady increase. The industry which has undergone the most privatization is the pharmaceutical field. The only major hospital in Mauritania is situated in the capital and largest city, Nouakchott. This hospital is suitable for medical emergencies; however it is not fully equipped to house inpatients.
Primary school teaching has been in Arabic since 1999. French is introduced later and all scientific courses are taught in French. There is increasing use of the Weldiya dialect and English. There are universities, including the University of Nouakchott. From 2000-2007, public education spending was 10.1 percent of total expenditures.
Mauritanian education begins at the pre-primary level where children aged 4 to 6 attend Koranic school where they are encouraged to memorize verses from the Koran. At age 6 they enter formal education which is compulsory and supposed to be free for all. However poorer families are often unable to afford the cost of education materials and school feeding, especially in rural areas. Primary school lasts for 6 years from ages 6 to 12. At the end of this period, children sit for an examination for their Certificat d’Etudes Primaires Elémentaires or CEPE.