Mauritania, country in West Africa. Mauritania borders the Atlantic Ocean in the west, Western Sahara in the north, Algeria in the northeast, Mali in the east and southeast, and Senegal in the southwest. The country is about three times larger than Norway.

Mauritania is a sparsely populated desert land with few mountain areas. The country is poorly developed and very poor. The society is divided between the Arab peoples in the north and the Africans in the south. The capital is Nouakchott.

Mauritania (the name) means ‘the land of the Moors’ after the ancient kingdom of Mauritania; the name comes from ancient Berber kingdom and later Roman province of Mauritania (outside of present-day Mauritania).

The national anthem is called ‘Mauritania’s National Anthem’.

People and society

70 percent are Moors of Arab-Berber descent. Most are low-fat nomads. Along the Senegal River live tukolor, fulani, soninke, wolof and other peoples groups. Residential farmers make up the majority of these. 59.9 per cent live in cities (2015). The largest city is the capital Nouakchott.

Arabic and French are official languages. In the south, the Berber language is spoken zenaga. Fulani, wolof and soninke are Nigerian-Congo languages.

Life expectancy at birth is 65.4 years for women and 60.7 years for men (2016).

Islam is state religion and almost the entire population is Sunni Muslims. About 0.5 percent are Catholics and followers of tribal religions.

Drought, poverty and unemployment have led to emigration to other West African countries and the Canary Islands since the 1970s. About 1 percent of the population is slaves (2016).

Buildings on the outskirts of the capital Nouakchott

State and politics

Mauritania is a presidential and formally multi-party republic. The president is elected for 5 years and can be elected once. The government is appointed by the president. The House consists of a Senate with 56 members elected for 6 years and the National Assembly with 146 members elected for 5 years.

The country is divided into 15 regions (wilayas) and 216 municipalities.

Mauritania is a member of the UN and most of the UN’s special organizations, the Arab League, the West African Economic Community (ECOWAS, see ABBREVIATIONFINDER), the Maghreb Federation and the Cotonou Agreement.

It is voluntary military service (2012). The defense consists of army, navy and air force. In addition, semi-military forces come.


Occasionally large deposits of grasshoppers

Occasionally large deposits of grasshoppers, in recent years have caused considerable losses to agriculture.

3500 years ago, Mauritania was a fertile plain with scattered populations and rich fauna and flora. Black people were either displaced or forced by the Berbers. Islam was widespread as early as the end of the 600s. The northern areas were incorporated into the Puritan almoravid empire in the 11th century and Mauritania then became part of their great empires in West Africa, Morocco and Spain.

In the 16th century, Moroccan forces conquered large parts of the country and introduced Arabic language and culture, and European great powers established temporary trading stations along the coastal strip. In the centuries that followed, the Mauritanian chieftains supplied slaves and goods directly or through middlemen to Europeans who sailed to Senegalelva’s outlet.

In 1815, France gained control of the Mauritania and Senegal coasts. In 1904 Mauritania became part of French West Africa, and in 1920 the country became a French colony with present borders. In 1958, the country gained internal autonomy within the French community and two years later became an independent republic.

The country’s first president was Moktar Ould Daddah, who introduced a one-party government in 1964 and first collaborated closely with France, but later became more independent. The mining industry was nationalized in 1974. In 1975, Mauritanian forces entered Western Sahara to prevent Morocco from expanding its territory southward. After a military coup in 1978, when Ould Daddah was overthrown, Mauritania withdrew from Western Sahara.

Over the next few years Mauritania was ruled by various governments that deposed each other by military coup. In 1980, slavery was formally abolished. Several parties were allowed in 1991. The elected president was ousted by a coup in 2008 and General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz took power. During the Arab Spring of 2011, Mauritians demonstrated against undemocratic authorities. In hindsight, these have hit hard on Islamist groups. At the same time, the country has been criticized for serious human rights violations.

Economy and business

Mauritania's transport network

Mauritania’s transport network is underdeveloped due to long distances, scattered settlement, natural conditions such as migratory sand dunes, etc. The railway between the ore fields in the northwest and the port of Nouadhibou is the only railway in the country.

Half the population is very poor and feeds on simple farming and livestock farming, especially traditional livestock farming. Farmers are found almost only on the Senegal River in the southwest. Among other things, millet, dates, sorghum and rice are grown. The country depends on outside food supplies. The coast is fishy and Naouakchott is the center for fish processing. Agriculture and fisheries make up 23.7 per cent of GDP (2015).

Large quantities of iron ore, as well as copper, phosphate and salt are extracted.

The country has little industry beyond the production of consumer goods, fish processing and oil refining. Fish and iron ore are the most important export products. There are significant oil and gas deposits offshore. Industry accounts for 35.8 per cent of GDP (2015).

The service industries make up 40.5 per cent of GDP (2015).

Much of the foreign debt is deleted. The country depends on foreign aid. In recent years, the economy has stabilized and is growing.

Knowledge and culture

Mauritania's camel routes

9-year compulsory schooling is official. Primary and secondary schools are both 6-years-old. There are 1 university (in Nouakchott) and several colleges as well as 1 institute for Islamic studies in Boutilimit. About half of the population is illiterate.

There is 1 state-owned radio company, Radio de Mauritanie (RM) and 1 state-owned television company (Télévision de Mauritanie).

The country has 2 daily newspapers, both published in Arabic and French. Officially, the press is free but censored.

Ibn Razqa (died 1731) is considered the father of Mauritanian poetry. Ahmad ibn al-Amin al-Shinquiti (1872-1913) wrote a compendium on Mauritania in Arabic and is one of the most famous authors. Modern novelists include Moussa Ould Ebnou (1956–) and Belinda Mohamed (1981–).

The country’s ethnic diversity is reflected in the music scene. Folk instruments include tidbit (a four-stringed lute), ardin (a harp), tbal (a cauldron) and daytime hum (a rattle). The traditional professional musicians (griots, with Moorish iggiw as the best known) were also storytellers who paid tribute to celebrities in epic songs. Three prominent names in modern music are singer Dimi Mint Abba (1958–2011) Malouma Mint El Meidah (1960–) and singer, instrumentalist and composer Noura Mint Seymali.

primary school in Mauritania

Music in Mauritania

The music scene reflects the country’s ethnic diversity and the social structure of society. The traditional professional musicians were both music performers and storytellers, associated with other celebrities, whom they praised in their epic songs for their own accompaniment on lute or harp. They also played for dance and entertainment. Today’s griots, of which the Moorish īggīw are best known, accept playing assignments of all and have modernized the repertoire in line with changing needs. Because of Islam’s traditionally negative attitude to worldly music, these professional musicians still have low social status.

Folk music includes singing and dance accompanied by tbal (pauke) and other percussion instruments, and zawzāya (edge-blown flute) or neffāra (flute). Gambra (one-string lute) and rbāb (one-string fiddle) are used most soloistically. The guitar has gained entry among the younger generation.