Mauritania officially the Islamic Republic of Mauritania is a country in northwest Africa. It is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean on the west, by Senegal on the southwest, by Mali on the east and southeast, by Algeria on the northeast, and by the Morocco-controlled Western Sahara on the northwest.

Background History

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 ushered in a military council government. Aziz was subsequently elected president in July 2009 and sworn in the following month. 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).


Country Name:

  • conventional long form: Islamic Republic of Mauritania
  • conventional short form: Mauritania
  • local long form: Al Jumhuriyah al Islamiyah al Muritaniyah
  • local short form: Muritaniyah


  • name: Nouakchott
  • population: 709,000
  • geographic coordinates: 18 07 N, 16 02 W
  • time difference: UTC 0 (5 hours ahead of Washington, DC during Standard Time)


  • 28 November 1960 (from France)

Government Type:

  • Military Junta

Executive Branch:

  • chief of state: President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz (since 5 August 2009)
  • head of government: Prime Minister Moulaye Ould Mohamed Ladghdaf (since 14 August 2008)
  • cabinet: Council of Ministers

Legislative Branch:

  • structure: bicameral legislature consists of the Senate or Majlis al-Shuyukh and the National Assembly or Al Jamiya Al Wataniya

Judicial Branch:

  • structure: Supreme Court; Court of Appeals; lower courts

People & Society


  • 3,359,185 (global rank: 133)
  • growth rate: 2.323% (global rank: 35)


  • noun: Mauritanian(s)
  • adjective: Mauritanian

Major Cities:

  • Nouakchott (capital): 709,000

Ethnic Groups:

  • mixed Moor/black 40%, Moor 30%, black 30%


  • Muslim (official) 100%


  • Arabic (official and national), Pulaar, Soninke, Wolof (all national languages), French, Hassaniya

Life Expectancy at Birth:

  • total population: 61.53 years (global rank: 185)
  • male: 59.3 years
  • female: 63.82 years

Infant Mortality:

  • total population: 58.93 deaths/1,000 live births (global rank: 34)
  • male: 64.02 deaths/1,000 live births
  • female: 53.7 deaths/1,000 live births


  • adult prevalence rate: 0.7% (2009 est.) (global rank: 60)
  • people living with AIDS: 14,000 (2009 est.) (global rank: 87)


  • definition: age 15 and over can read and write
  • total population: 51.2%
  • male: 59.5%
  • female: 43.4%


Half the population still depends on agriculture and livestock for a livelihood, even though many of the nomads and subsistence farmers were forced into the cities by recurrent droughts in the 1970s and 1980s. Mauritania has extensive deposits of iron ore, which account for nearly 40% of total exports. The nation's coastal waters are among the richest fishing areas in the world but overexploitation by foreigners threatens this key source of revenue. The country's first deepwater port opened near Nouakchott in 1986. Before 2000, drought and economic mismanagement resulted in a buildup of foreign debt. In February 2000, Mauritania qualified for debt relief under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative and nearly all of its foreign debt has since been forgiven. A new investment code approved in December 2001 improved the opportunities for direct foreign investment. Mauritania and the IMF agreed to a three-year Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF) arrangement in 2006. Mauritania made satisfactory progress, but the IMF, World Bank, and other international actors suspended assistance and investment in Mauritania after the August 2008 coup. Since the presidential election in July 2009, donors have resumed assistance. Oil prospects, while initially promising, have largely failed to materialize, and the government has placed a priority on attracting private investment to spur economic growth. The Government also emphasizes reduction of poverty, improvement of health and education, and privatization of the economy. Economic growth remained above 5% in 2010-11, mostly because of rising prices of gold, copper, iron ore, and oil.

Gross Domestic Product:

  • GDP (PPP): $7.242 billion (global rank: 152)
  • GDP per capita (PPP): $2,200 (global rank: 184)
  • real growth rate: 5.1% (global rank: 71)
  • composition by sector: agriculture: 19.2%, industry: 36.6%, services: 44.1%


  • currency: Ouguiyas (MRO)
  • exchange rate (per US Dollar): 273.3


  • population below poverty line: 40%
  • unemployment rate: 30%

Agricultural Products:

  • dates, millet, sorghum, rice, corn; cattle, sheep


  • fish processing, oil production, mining of iron ore, gold, and copper

Exports Commodities:

  • iron ore, fish and fish products, gold, copper, petroleum

Imports Commodities:

  • machinery and equipment, petroleum products, capital goods, foodstuffs, consumer goods



  • Western Africa, bordering the North Atlantic Ocean, between Senegal and Western Sahara


  • total: 1,030,700 sq km (global rank: 29)
  • land: 1,030,700 sq km
  • water: 0 sq km
  • comparative: slightly larger than three times the size of New Mexico


  • desert; constantly hot, dry, dusty

Land Use:

  • arable land: 0.2%
  • permanent crops: 0.01%
  • other: 99.79%

Natural Resources:

  • iron ore, gypsum, copper, phosphate, diamonds, gold, oil, fish

Current Environmental Issues:

  • overgrazing, deforestation, and soil erosion aggravated by drought are contributing to desertification; limited natural freshwater resources away from the Senegal, which is the only perennial river; locust infestation

Transnational Issues

  • international disputes: Mauritanian claims to Western Sahara remain dormant
  • human trafficking: Mauritania is a source and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to conditions of forced labor and sex trafficking; women, men, and children from traditional slave castes are subjected to slavery-related practices rooted in ancestral master-slave relationships; Mauritanian boys called talibe are trafficked within the country by religious teachers for forced begging; Mauritanian girls, as well as girls from Mali, Senegal, The Gambia, and other West African countries, are forced into domestic servitude; Mauritanian women and girls are forced into prostitution in the country or transported to countries in the Middle East for the same purpose

Published: Monday, September 08, 2008