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Mauritania

MAURITANIA

LOCATION, SIZE, AND EXTENT
TOPOGRAPHY
CLIMATE
FLORA AND FAUNA
ENVIRONMENT
POPULATION
MIGRATION
ETHNIC GROUPS
LANGUAGES
RELIGIONS
TRANSPORTATION
HISTORY
GOVERNMENT
POLITICAL PARTIES
LOCAL GOVERNMENT
JUDICIAL SYSTEM
ARMED FORCES
INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION
ECONOMY
INCOME
LABOR
AGRICULTURE
ANIMAL HUSBANDRY
FISHING
FORESTRY
MINING
ENERGY AND POWER
INDUSTRY
SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
DOMESTIC TRADE
FOREIGN TRADE
BALANCE OF PAYMENTS
BANKING AND SECURITIES
INSURANCE
PUBLIC FINANCE
TAXATION
CUSTOMS AND DUTIES
FOREIGN INVESTMENT
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT
HEALTH
HOUSING
EDUCATION
LIBRARIES AND MUSEUMS
MEDIA
ORGANIZATIONS
TOURISM, TRAVEL, AND RECREATION
FAMOUS MAURITANIANS
DEPENDENCIES
BIBLIOGRAPHY

Mauritanian Islamic Republic

[French] République Islamique de Mauritanie;
[Arabic] Al-Jumhuriyah; al-Islamiyah al-Muritaniyah

CAPITAL: Nouakchott

FLAG: The flag consists of a gold star and crescent on a light green field.

ANTHEM: Mauritania (no words).

MONETARY UNIT: The ouguiya (um), a paper currency of 5 khoums, issued by the Central Bank of Mauritania, replaced the Communauté Financière Africaine franc on 29 June 1973. There are coins of 1 khoum and 1, 5, 10, and 20 ouguiyas, and notes of 100, 200, 500, and 1,000 ouguiyas. um1 = $0.00380 (or $1 = um263.03) as of 2003.

WEIGHTS AND MEASURES: The metric system is the legal standard.

HOLIDAYS: New Year's Day, 1 January; Labor Day, 1 May; African Liberation Day, 25 May; Anniversary of the Proclamation of the Republic, 28 November. Movable religious holidays include Laylat al-Miraj, 'Id al-Fitr, 'Id al-'Adha', 1st of Muharram (Muslim New Year), and Milad an-Nabi.

TIME: GMT.

LOCATION, SIZE, AND EXTENT

Situated in West Africa, Mauritania has an area of 1,030,700 sq km (397,955 sq mi). Mauritania extends 1,515 km (941 mi) nesw and 1,314 km (816 mi) senw. Comparatively, the area occupied by Mauritania is slightly larger than three times the size of the state of New Mexico. It is bordered on the ne by Algeria, on the e and s by Mali, on the sw by Senegal, on the w by the Atlantic Ocean, and on the nw and n by the Western Sahara, with a total estimated boundary length of 5,828 km (3,621 mi), of which 754 km (469 mi) is coastline.

Mauritania's capital city, Nouakchott, is located on the Atlantic Coast.

TOPOGRAPHY

There are three distinct geographic regions in Mauritania: a narrow belt along the Senegal River valley in the south, where soil and climatic conditions permit settled agriculture; north of this valley, a broad eastwest band characterized by vast sand plains and fixed dunes held in place by sparse grass and scrub trees; and a large northern arid region shading into the Sahara, advancing south several kilometers each year, and characterized by shifting sand dunes, rock outcroppings, and rugged mountainous plateaus that in a few places reach elevations of more than 500 m (1,640 ft). The high point, Mount Ijill at about 915 m (3,002 ft), is near Fdérik. The country is generally flat.

CLIMATE

Although conditions are generally desertlike, three climatic regions can be distinguished. Southern Mauritania has a Sahelian climate; there is one rainy season from July to October. Annual rainfall averages 66 cm (26 in) in the far south; at Nouakchott the annual average is 14 cm (5.5 in).

Trade winds moderate the temperature in the coastal region, which is arid. The average maximum temperature at Nouadhibou for January is 26°c (79°f), and for October 32°c (90°f); average minimums are 13°c (55°f) for January and 19°c (66°f) for July.

Most of Mauritania north of Atarabout two-thirds of the countryhas a Saharan climate. Daytime temperatures exceed 38°c (100°f) in most areas for over 6 months of the year, but the nights are cool. Average annual rainfall at Atar is 10 cm (4 in).

FLORA AND FAUNA

In the desert there are some cacti and related species; oases support relatively luxuriant growth, notably date palms. In the south are grasses and trees common to the savanna regions, particularly the baobab tree, but also palms and acacias. The far south, in the Senegal River valley, has willows, jujube, and acacias. Lions, panthers, jackals, crocodiles, hippopotami, hyenas, cheetahs, otters, and monkeys survive in the south; in the north there are antelopes, wild sheep, ostriches and other large birds, and ducks. As of 2002, there were at least 61 species of mammals, 172 species of birds, and over 1,100 species of plants throughout the country.

ENVIRONMENT

Deforestation is a severe problem because of the population's growing need for firewood and construction materials. Slash-and-burn agriculture has contributed to soil erosion, which is aggravated by drought. The expansion of the desert into agricultural lands is accelerated by limited rainfall, deforestation, the consumption of vegetation by livestock, and wind erosion. The expansion of domestic herds onto grazing land formerly restricted to wildlife has also taken a serious toll on the environment, both in erosion and in encroachment on wildlife species. In 2003, only 1.7% of Mauritania's total land area was protected. The nation also has a problem with water pollution, resulting from the leakage of petroleum and industrial waste along with sewage into the nation's ports and rivers. A government-built dam on the Senegal River is expected to alleviate the country's water problems and stimulate agriculture.

According to a 2006 report issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), the number of threatened species included 7 types of mammals, 5 species of birds, 2 types of reptiles, 11 species of fish, and 1 species of invertebrates. Threatened species include the African gerbil, African slender-snouted crocodiles, and barbary sheep. The Sahara oryx has become extinct in the wild.

POPULATION

The population of Mauritania in 2005 was estimated by the United Nations (UN) at 3,069,000, which placed it at number 132 in population among the 193 nations of the world. In 2005, approximately 3% of the population was over 65 years of age, with another 43% of the population under 15 years of age. There were 98 males for every 100 females in the country. According to the UN, the annual population rate of change for 200510 was expected to be 2.7%, a rate the government viewed as satisfactory. The projected population for the year 2025 was 4,973,000. The overall population density was 3 per sq km (8 per sq mi), but varies significantly. More than 90% of the population lives in the southern quarter of the country, including the Senegal River Valley.

The UN estimated that 40% of the population lived in urban areas in 2005, and that urban areas were growing at an annual rate of 4.34%. The capital city, Nouakchott, had a population of 600,000 in that year.

MIGRATION

In seasonal grazing migrations, cattle are moved every year and are led to neighboring Senegal for sale. The droughts of the 1970s and early 1980s led to mass migrations to the towns. The population was 12% nomadic in 1988, compared to 83% in 1963. Some tribesmen of the Senegal River valley go to Dakar in Senegal for seasonal work or to engage in petty trade. A few thousand Mauritanians live in France. In 2000 the number of migrants in the country was 63,000. In 2000 remittances were $2 million, down from $14 million in 1990.

There were 6,148 Mauritanian refugees in Mali as of 2004 and 2,364 Mauritanians applied for asylum in France. In that same year there were also 19,777 Mauritanian refugees in Senegal, all assisted by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Between June 1995 and 1997, 36,000 Malian refugees in Mauritania returned home, with 6,782 Malian refugees still remaining. By the end of 2004, some 3,500 Malians remained in Mauritania, as did 26,000 Western Saharans. In 2004, there were 473 refugees and 117 asylum seekers in Mauritania. In 2005, the net migration rate was an estimated0.04 migrants per 1,000 population. The government views the migration levels as satisfactory.

ETHNIC GROUPS

Moors (Maures), the main ethnic group, are a Caucasoid people of Berber and Arab stock, with some Negroid admixture. The Moors are further divided into ethno-linguistic tribal and clan groups. Other groups, all black, are the Tukulor, Sarakolé, Fulani (Fulbe), Wolof, and Bambara. The black population is found largely in southern Mauritania and in the cities. About 40% of the total population are a Moor/black admixture, 30% are Moors, and 30% are black. There is also small numbers of Europeans, mainly French and Spanish (the latter from the Canary Islands), and a small colony of Lebanese traders. Freed slaves or the descendants of freed slaves are known as haratin.

LANGUAGES

Arabic is the official language. The Arabic spoken in Mauritania is called Hasaniya. Wolof, Peular, and Soninke are spoken in southern Mauritania and recognized as national languages. French is widely used, particularly in business, but its status as an official language was eliminated in the 1991 constitution.

RELIGIONS

The constitution declares Islam to be the religion of both the state and its people. As such, over 99% of the population is Muslim, most of whom are Sunnis. The Qadiriya and the Tijaniya are influential Islamic brotherhoods. The few thousand Christians and a very small number of Jews are mostly foreigners. Though proselytizing is not legally prohibited, it is discouraged, particularly through restrictions on the publishing and distribution of materials that contradict or threaten the tenets of Islam.

TRANSPORTATION

Modern forms of transport are still undeveloped. There are few paved roads, only one freight railroad, two deep-water ports, and two airports that can handle international traffic.

In 2002, of some 7,720 km (4,797 mi) of roads, only 830 km (516 mi) were paved. There were only three paved highways, from Nouakchott north to Akjoujt and south to Rosso, continuing to Saint-Louis, Senegal. A 1,000-km (620-mi) eastwest road between Nouakchott and Néma, started in 1975, was completed in 1985. A track continues north from Akjoujt to Bir Mogreïn, then branches northwest into Western Sahara and northeast into Algeria. Mauritania had about 11,450 passenger cars and 6,850 commercial vehicles in 2003.

As of 2004, Mauritania had 717 km (446-mi) of railway, all of it standard gauge, which linked the iron mines at Zouérate, near Fdérik, with the port at Point-Central, 10 km (6 mi) south of Nouadhibou. A 40-km (24-mi) spur was built in 1981 to accommodate the planned new mine at El-Rhein. There is a wharf at Nouakchott; work on the construction of a deepwater port, financed by China, was completed in 1986. This "Port of Friendship" is the main commercial port and receives about 90% of imported goods. Nouadhibou, also a port, underwent extensive reconstruction, restoration, and equipment renewal in 1991. Other important ports and harbors include Bogue, Kaedi, and Rosso. The Senegal River offers over 220 km (137 mi) of year-round transport.

In 2004, there were an estimated 24 airports, 8 of which had paved runways as of 2005. The only airports that can handle long-distance jets are at Nouakchott and Nouadhibou. There are smaller airports at Ayoûn-el-'Atroûs, Akjoujt, Atar, Fdérik, Kaédi, Kifa, and Néma. Air Mauritanie (60% state owned) provides domestic flights as well as service to the Canary Islands and Senegal. The multinational Air Afrique also operates within Mauritania. In 2003, about 116,000 passengers were carried on scheduled domestic and international airline flights.

HISTORY

Tens of thousands of years ago, the Sahara was both lush and filled with game. Desiccation eventually forced the inhabitants southward, a process that in the 3rd and 4th centuries ad was speeded by the Berbers, who had domesticated the camel. As the Berbers pressed down from the north toward the Senegal River valley, black Africans who lived in the path of the invaders moved further to the south. From the 9th century, a Berber tribe, the Lamtuna, and two other Berber groups cooperated in the control of a thriving caravan trade in gold, slaves, and ivory from the south. They took desert salt and north African goods in exchange.

The Almoravids, a group of fervent Muslim Mauritanian Berbers conquered northwest Africa and much of Spain in the 11th century. They had, in turns, hostile and peaceful trade relations with the black African empire of Ghana. Their authority in the Mauritanian region had declined by the late 11th century. After the Almoravid empire was destroyed in the 12th century, the Mali kingdom, successor to Ghana, extended over southeastern Mauritania and dominated trade in the area. Later Mali was succeeded by the Songhai of Gao, whose empire fell to Moroccan invaders in 1591. Meanwhile, during the 14th and 15th centuries, nomadic Arab tribes of Yemeni extraction, the Banu Maqil, moved into Mauritania. By the 17th century, they had been able to establish complete dominance over the Berbers. They called themselves the Awlad-Banu Hassan. The Arabs and Berbers in Mauritania have since thoroughly intermingled with an Arabized Mauritania.

The Portuguese were the first Europeans to arrive, attracted in the 15th century by the trade in gold and slaves; later, the gum arabic trade became important. Competition for control was keen among Portuguese, French, Dutch, and English traders. The issue was resolved in 1815 when Senegal was awarded to France in the post-Napoleonic war settlement. During the 19th century, the French explored the inland regions and signed treaties with Moorish chieftains. Penetration of the desert zone was accelerated around the turn of the century in attempts to thwart Moorish raids on the Senegal River tribes. A Frenchman, Xavier Coppolani, was responsible for the signing of many treaties, and played a key role in the extension of French influence in the area. By 1903, he was in control of Trarza, the Moors' main base for raids on the river tribes. Coppolani was killed in 1905, but his work was completed by Gen. Henri Gouraud, who gained effective control of the Adrar region by 1909. Mauritania was established as a colony in 1920, but its capital was located at Saint-Louis in Senegal. Mauritania thus became one of the eight territories that constituted the French West Africa federation.

In 1946 a Mauritanian Territorial Assembly was established, with some control over internal affairs. During the next 12 years, political power increasingly passed to local political leaders. Mauritania voted for the constitution of the Fifth French Republic at the referendum of 28 September 1958; it thus became a self-governing member of the French Community. The Islamic Republic of Mauritania was proclaimed in November 1958, while complete independence was attained on 28 November 1960.

Since independence, Mauritania has experienced three successful coups in up to 10 attempts. The grounds for these lay in part in the human and civil rights abuses committed by the government. The black minority, located largely in the south, has staged antidiscrimination protests and campaigned against slavery in Mauritania. Officially, slavery has been banned since 1981; but a law that makes slavery a punishable offence has yet to be implemented. As of 2006, the government had not gone forward with a ceremony at which hundreds of slaves were to be set free under an arrangement supported by international antislavery organizations.

In foreign affairs, the government has turned increasingly toward the Arab world. Mauritania joined the Arab League in 1973 and withdrew from the franc zone during the same year; but ties with Europe, especially France, and the United States remain strong. The disastrous drought that struck Mauritania and the rest of the Sahel region during 196874 elicited substantial aid from the EC, the United States, Spain, France, and the Arab countries.

On 14 November 1975, the governments of Spain, Morocco, and Mauritania reached an agreement whereby Spain agreed to abandon control of the Spanish Sahara by 28 February 1976 and to share administration of the territory until then with Morocco and Mauritania. On 14 April 1976, Morocco and Mauritania announced a border delimitation agreement under which Morocco received more than two-thirds of the region (including the areas with the richest phosphate deposits). Morocco in effect annexed Western Sahara.

Morocco's action drew condemnation from across the world. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia al-Hamra and Río de Oro (generally known as Polisario) even proclaimed Western Sahara as the Saharan Arab Democratic Republic. When Polisario forces, supported by Algeria, launched a war in the region, guerrilla raids on the Mauritanian railway, iron mines, and coastal settlements, including Nouakchott, forced Mauritania to call French and Moroccan troops to its defense. The effects of the war weakened the government both economically and politically, and in July 1978, Moktar Ould Daddah, Mauritania's president since 1961, was overthrown by a military coup. On 5 August 1979, Mauritania formally relinquished its portion of the disputed territory, except for the military base of LaGuera, near Nouadhibou. Morocco also occupied and then annexed that (Mauritania's) portion of the territory. Mauritania thereafter pursued a policy of strict neutrality in the Morocco-Polisario conflict, a policy that strained relations with Morocco.

In the wake of the 1978 coup, the constitution was suspended and the National Assembly and the ruling Mauritanian People's Party (PPM) were dissolved. After a period of political uncertainty, Lt. Col. Khouna Ould Haydalla became chief of state and chairman of the ruling Military Committee for National Salvation as of 4 January 1980. There were unsuccessful attempts to overthrow his government in 1981 and 1982. Amnesty International claimed in 1983 that more than 100 political prisoners, including a former president and former prime minister, were being held in total darkness in underground cells in the desert. These prisoners were freed shortly after a military coup on 12 December 1984 brought Col. Moaouia Ould Sidi Mohamed Taya to power as chief of state.

However, as the economy faltered, racial, ethnic, and class tensions increased and the society became polarized. The lines were drawn between the Maurs or Moorsaristocrats who have dominated governmentand black African slaves or descendents of slaves, who have adopted Moorish culture, but remain second-class citizens on the other. Although the government refuses to release census data, it is estimated that Moors account for 3060% of the population. The black population, which is concentrated along the Senegal River border, has organized an underground Front for the Liberation of Africans in Mauritania (FLAM); grievances were linked with an unsuccessful coup attempt in 1987.

Interethnic hostilities in 1989 exploded when a border dispute with Senegal led to race riots that left several hundred Senegalese dead in Nouackchott. The Moorish trading community in Senegal was targeted for retaliation. Thousands of refugees streamed across the border in both directions. Mass deportation of "Mauritanians of Senegalese origin" fueled charges that Mauritania was trying to eliminate its non-Moorish population. Africa Watch estimated that at least 100,000 black slaves were being held in Mauritania.

Against this backdrop, the military conducted a bloody purge from September 1990 through March 1991 during which some 500 mostly black soldiers were murdered. Taya legalized opposition parties in July 1991, but he also stepped up Arabization policies. Parliament granted the perpetrators of the purge legal immunity in May 1993.

On 26 January 1992, Taya was elected in Mauritania's first multiparty presidential election with 63% of the vote. Ahmed Ould Daddah, the strongest of the four rivals and half-brother of Mauritania's first president, gained 33% of the vote. However, the election was marked by fraud. The legislative elections that followed in March were boycotted by 6 of the 14 opposition parties. Taya's Democratic and Social Republican Party (PRDS) easily won 67 of 79 Assembly seats.

Multiparty municipal elections were held in 1994, and the PRDS won control of 172 of the nation's 208 administrative districts. Presidential elections were held on 12 December 1997. Main opposition parties claimed that campaign conditions favored the reelection of Taya to a second six-year term and called for a boycott of the elections. Kane Amadou Moctar, the first black African ever to run for the presidency, presented himself as a nonaligned candidate with a platform promising to fight slavery, assist the return of Mauritanian refugees from Senegal, and reform the fisheries policy. The elections took place without incident and Taya was declared the winner, taking 90% of the votes. Turnout was estimated at 70%, despite the opposition boycott. Moctar received less than 1% of the vote. Opposition leaders described the poll as a "masquerade," citing reports of widespread irregularities that included children casting ballots and polls remaining open as late as 11 pm.

Elections were held in April 1998 for 18 of the Senate's 56 seats. The PRDS won 17 of the 18 contested seats, with an independent gaining the remaining seat. In January 1999 the PRDS again won most of the 208 districts contested in municipal elections, though it is estimated that only 16% of the registered votes went to the polls.

Despite multiparty elections, Mauritania is far from a free society. Opposition politicians are harassed and arrested. In 1994 and again in 1998, Cheikh Sadibou Camara of the UDP was arrested for suggesting that the slave trade was continuingpublicly stating the suggestion is considered a crime in the country. Anti-Slavery International, based in London, presented an annual antislavery award to Camara in November 1998. The government also harasses journalists and has suspended publication of newspapers and magazines on numerous occasions in recent years. Since 1993, Mauritania has been denied US trade privileges because of its poor human rights record. Ahmed Ould Daddah had continued to confront the Taya regime; he was arrested in April 2000 but was released a few days later without charges. In May 2000 demonstrations by opposition parties in Nouakchott demanded an independent electoral commission.

Despite opposition protests, the PRDS has maintained its monopoly on power in the Senate and in the National Assembly. In Senate elections held 12 April 2002, the PRDS maintained its commanding majority of 54 seats to 1 for the RFD, and 1 for the UNDD. In National Assembly elections held 19 and 26 October 2001 (next to be held 2006), the PRDS garnered 79% of the vote, compared to 3.5% for the RDU, 3.5% for the UDP, 5% for the AC, 4% for the RDF, 3.5% for the UFP, and 1.5% for the FP. The breakdown by number of seats was as follows: PRDS 64, UDP 3, RDU 3, AC 4, RFD 3, UFP 3, and FP 1. The 2001 Assembly elections were generally considered free and fair by outside observers, but were subject to the usual incumbent advantages in sub-Saharan Africa.

In June 2003, the government was dealing with a coup attempt that nearly overthrew Taya. As many as 40 people were injured and six killed in two days of heavy fighting in the capital on 89 June. Sala Ould Henena, who was fired from the army because of his opposition to the government's ties with Israel, was accused of leading former and mid-ranking army officers in the putsch. In response to the coup, the United States sent a 34-member military assessment team to Nouakchott to analyze US Embassy security needs. Analysts suspected that the cabal may have been provoked by a government crackdown earlier in the month against 32 Islamic leaders for their alleged ties to a foreign network of Islamic extremists and to former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

In presidential elections held in 2003, Taya won reelection for a third term with 60.8% of the vote. But the opposition claimed that massive fraud marred the vote. There was little doubt though that Taya had been attracting opposition from among key segments of the population. In 1999, Mauritania became only the third Arab League state to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel. Taya's links to Israel and his pro-Western, pro-US foreign policy had come under increasing criticism in the largely Muslim country. In September 2004, the government alleged yet another coup plotthe third in 15 months. In June 2005, an attack on an army base in the Sahara left 15 soldiers dead; it was blamed on insurgents from Algeria. All this seems to lend credence to allegations that Taya had been insensitive to the desires of Mauritanians, or that he had become too arrogant and too powerful to be bothered by what people thought about his government.

Thus, when Taya was deposed by a military coup on 3 August 2005, there was no public protest in his support. Dancing was reported on the streets of Nouakchott. On the other hand, opposition politicians welcomed the change; but they also vowed to intensify their watchdog function. Col. Ely Ould Mohamed Vall became chief of state and head of the new Military Council for Justice and Democracy. Col. Vall also promised to return to a constitutional order within two years, and vowed that no member of his caretaker administration would seek elective posts. Elections to the National Assembly were scheduled for November 2006, and to the Senate in January 2007. Presidential elections were scheduled for March 2007.

GOVERNMENT

The constitution of 20 May 1961 declared Mauritania to be an Islamic republic. This constitution, which placed effective power in the hands of a president who was also head of the only legal political organization, the Mauritanian People's Party, was suspended in 1978 by the new military regime. Subsequently, executive and legislative powers were vested in the Military Committee for National Salvation. A draft constitution was published in 1980 but later abandoned; like the 1961 document, it called for a popularly elected president and National Assembly.

The July 1991 constitution delegates most powers to the executive. The president is to be elected by universal suffrage for a six-year term. The prime minister is appointed by the president and designated head of government. Parliament is composed of a bicameral legislature. The Senate, or Majlis al-Shuyukh, has 56 seats with 17 up for election every two years. Its members are elected by municipal leaders to serve six-year terms. The National Assembly, or Majlis al-Watani, has 79 seats with members elected by popular vote to serve five-year terms. These institutions pose no serious challenge and, moreover, are controlled by the president's party, although competing political parties were legalized in July 1991.

Since 2005, the military has controlled the levers of power, although in apparent consultation with politicians. On current reckoning, elections due from late 2006 through early 2007 might return politics and government in Mauritania to the democratic path. But a change in the transition time-table cannot be ruled out.

POLITICAL PARTIES

As elsewhere in French West Africa, formal political movements developed in Mauritania only after World War II. Horma Ould Babana, the leader of the first party to be established, the Mauritanian Entente, was elected to the French National Assembly in 1946. His party was considered too radical by the traditional chiefs, who organized a more conservative party, the Mauritanian Progressive Union (UPM). The UPM won 22 of 24 seats in the 1952 elections for the Territorial Assembly. In the 1957 elections, the first under universal adult suffrage, 33 of 34 persons elected to the Territorial Assembly were UPM members. In 1958, the UPM absorbed the weakened Entente into its organization, forming a single party, the Mauritanian Regroupment Party (PRM).

After independence, Prime Minister Moktar Ould Daddah in May 1961 set up a presidential system of government, and in the subsequent presidential election he was the only candidate. In December 1961, a new single party was formed, the Hizb Shab, or Mauritanian People's Party (Parti du Peuple MauritanienPPM). The PPM included minority parties as well as the PRM. By 1965, the single-party system had been established by law. President Ould Daddah was reelected in 1966, 1971, and 1976, but the PPM was dissolved after his ouster in 1978. No political parties functioned openly from 1978 until the 1991 military coup.

The Front for the Liberation of Africans in Mauritania (FLAM) was instrumental in stirring the 1989 unrest that ultimately led to multiparty elections. During this period of partisan organization, Taya formed the Democratic and Social Republican Party (Parti Republicain et Democratique SocialPRDS).

Chief among some 14 opposition parties has been the Union of Democratic Forces (UFD), which supported the runner-up in the January 1992 presidential election and boycotted the March parliamentary election. In May 1992, the UFD changed its name to UFD-New Era. In March 1993, it was weakened by the departure of eight centrist leaders to form a new political grouping. Also active are the Rally for Democratic and National Unity (RDU), the Union for Progress and Democracy (UPD), the Mauritanian Renewal Party (PMR), the People's Progressive Party (PPP), the Socialist and Democratic People's Union (SDPU), the Democratic Center Party (DCP), the Popular Front (FP), and El Har, a 1994 splintering of the UFD-New Era. The technically illegal Islamist party, Ummah, is very popular. The Action for Change (AC) party, which held four seats in the National Assembly following the October 2001 elections, was banned in January 2002.

After Taya won reelection in 2003, the Assembly was overwhelmingly dominated by his party, the PRDS. Since Col. Vall took power, opposition politicians appear to have become more involved, at least indirectly, in public decision making. For many years following 1998, Cheikh El Avia Ould Mohamed Khouna served as prime minister. On 8 August 2005 Sidi Mohamed Ould Boukakar became prime minister.

The Party of Democratic Convergence was banned in October 2005 because it was regarded as having breached Mauritanian law.

LOCAL GOVERNMENT

Mauritania is divided into the city of Nouakchott and 12 regions, each with a governor and a commission. The regions are subdivided into 49 departments. Elections to municipal councils were held in December 1986 and again in 1992. The JanuaryFebruary 1994 municipal elections led to PRDS control of around 170 of the 208 municipalities, a majority retained by the PRDS in 1999.

Local elections were held in 2001. But the polls were marred as much by opposition boycott as by charges of massive fraud. All results for Nouakchott were annulled and a rerun orderedalthough the reasons for such action remained unclear, given the boycott by opposition.

JUDICIAL SYSTEM

The 1991 constitution completely revised the judicial system, which had previously consisted of a lower court in Nouakchott, labor and military courts, a security court, and a Supreme Court in addition to qadi courts, which handled family law cases.

The revised judicial system includes lower, middle, and upper level courts, each with specialized jurisdiction. The security court was abolished, and 43 department-level tribunals now bridge the traditional (qadi ) and modern court systems. These courts are staffed by qadis or traditional magistrates trained in Koranic law. General civil cases are handled by 10 regional courts of first instance. Three regional courts of appeal hear challenges to decisions at the department level. A Supreme Court, headed by a magistrate named by the president to a five-year term, reviews appeals taken from decisions of the regional courts of appeal.

The 1991 constitution also established a six-member constitutional court, three members of which are named by the president, two by the national assembly president, and one by the senate president.

While the judiciary is nominally independent, it is subject to pressure and influence by the executive, which controls the appointment and dismissal of judges. The system is strongly influenced by rulings and settlements of tribal elders based on Shariah and tribal regulations.

The Codes of Civil and Criminal Procedure were revised in 1993 to bring them into line with the guarantees of the 1991 constitution, which provides for due process of law.

ARMED FORCES

In 2005 the active armed forces of Mauritania numbered 15,870. The Army had 15,000 personnel armed with 35 main battle tanks, 70 reconnaissance vehicles, 25 armored personnel carriers, and 194 artillery pieces. The Navy had an estimated 650 active personnel. Major naval units consisted of 10 patrol/coastal vessels. The nation's Air Force had 250 active memembers. The aircraft inventory was limited to 2 reconnaissance, 12 transport, and 4 training aircraft. Paramilitary personnel numbered an estimated 5,000 personnel, with 3,000 in the gendarmerie and 2000 in the National Guard. The defense budget in 2005 totaled $20.1 million.

INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION

Admitted to the United Nations on 27 October 1961, Mauritania is a member of ECA and several nonregional specialized agencies, such as the FAO, IFC, IMF, the World Bank, UNESCO, UNIDO, and the WHO. It is also a member of the ACP Group, the Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa, African Development Bank, the Council of Arab Economic Unity, the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), G-77, the Arab League, the African Union, the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), the Arab Maghreb Union, and the WTO. Mauritania has joined with Senegal and Mali to form the Organization for the Development of the Senegal River (Organisation pour la Mise en Valeur du Fleuve SénégalOMVS). Mauritania is a member of the Nonaligned Movement.

In environmental cooperation, Mauritania is part of the Basel Convention, the Convention on Biological Diversity, Ramsar, CITES, the Montréal Protocol, MARPOL, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and the UN Conventions on the Law of the Sea, Climate Change and Desertification.

The country is also a member with neighboring states of the Interstate Committee to Combat Drought in the Sahel (CILSS).

ECONOMY

While Mauritania is an agricultural country, historically largely dependent on livestock production, its significant iron ore deposits have been the backbone of the export economy in recent years. The droughts of the 1970s and 1980s transformed much of Mauritania, as the herds died off and the population shifted to urban areas. In 1960, 85% of the population lived as nomadic herders. By 1999, that percentage had fallen to 5%, and nearly one-third of the population lives in the district of Nouakchott. Offshore oil reserves have been identified and are estimated at one billion barrels. Substantial oil production and exports were expected to begin in 2006 and were projected to average 75,000 barrels per day for that year. Gold and diamond prospecting hold potential as growth areas.

Most of Mauritania is desert or semiarid. Less than 1% of Mauritania receives sufficient rain for crop production, and that 1% is drought-prone. Leading staple crops are millet, sorghum, rice, corn, sweet potatoes and yams, pulses, and dates. The country is not agriculturally self-sufficient and this situation has been aggravated by increasing urbanization.

In 2006, iron ore sales accounted for approximately 40% of exports. Fish exports account for 60% of foreign earnings. The contribution of livestock herding and agriculture was 25% of GDP and employed about half of the workforce in 2001, but covered only a small percentage of the country's needs. The droughts of the 1970s and 1980s devastated the herds, but the FAO estimates that they had returned to pre-drought numbers by 1991. The recomposition of the Mauritanian herd and the development of water supplies have been a prime objective of the government.

The droughts have led to a buildup of foreign debt leaving the country dependent on financial aid flows from international donors. Mauritania became eligible for debt relief under the IMF/World Bank's Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative in 2000, and debt service relief reached $1.1 billion by 2002, which almost halved Mauritania's debt burden. Foreign assistance accounted for 90% of investment from 19982001. In 2005 the GDP growth rate was estimated at 5.5%.

INCOME

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports that in 2005 Mauritania's gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated at $6.2 billion. The CIA defines GDP as the value of all final goods and services produced within a nation in a given year and computed on the basis of purchasing power parity (PPP) rather than value as measured on the basis of the rate of exchange based on current dollars. The per capita GDP was estimated at $2,000. The annual growth rate of GDP was estimated at 5.5%. The average inflation rate in 2003 was 7%. It was estimated that agriculture accounted for 25% of GDP, industry 29%, and services 46%.

According to the World Bank, in 2003 remittances from citizens working abroad totaled $2 million or about $1 per capita and accounted for approximately 0.2% of GDP. Foreign aid receipts amounted to $243 million or about $85 per capita and accounted for approximately 20.9% of the gross national income (GNI).

The World Bank reports that in 2003 household consumption in Mauritania totaled $852 million or about $299 per capita based on a GDP of $1.2 billion, measured in current dollars rather than PPP. Household consumption includes expenditures of individuals, households, and nongovernmental organizations on goods and services, excluding purchases of dwellings. It was estimated that for the period 1990 to 2003 household consumption grew at an average annual rate of 4.1%. It was estimated that in 2004 about 40% of the population had incomes below the poverty line.

LABOR

The estimated labor force in Mauritania numbered 786,000 in 2001. In that year it was estimated that agriculture provided work for 50% of the labor force, with services accounting for 40% and 10% by industry. In 2004, the estimated unemployment rate was 20%.

Trade unions are grouped into three federations, of which the oldest is the Union of Mauritanian Workers (Union des Travailleurs de Mauritanie), which is affiliated with the ICFTU. The newer ones are the General Confederation of Mauritanian Workers, formed in 1994, and the Free Confederation of Mauritanian Workers. Approximately 90% of the formal segment of the economy is unionized. The right to strike is guaranteed by law. Collective bargaining is also permitted.

Children under the age of 14 are prohibited by law from engaging in nonagricultural work. In practice this regulation is not enforced. The guaranteed minimum workweek for most nonagricultural laborers is 40 hours with guaranteed overtime pay. However, domestic employees may work for up to 56 hours per week. The minimum wage was $38.71 per month in 2002 for adult workers. There are minimum occupational health and safety standards, but they are inadequately enforced due to a lack of government funding.

AGRICULTURE

Settled agriculture is restricted to the strip of land along the Senegal River and to oases in the north; only 0.2% of Mauritania's total land area is classified as arable. In general, landholdings are small. Overall agricultural development has been hampered not only by unfavorable physical conditions but also by a complicated land-tenure system (modified in 1984) that traditionally rested on slavery, inadequate transportation, and the low priority placed on agriculture by most government developmental plans. The country's traditional dependence on food imports has been heightened by drought. Agriculture's share of GDP has been steadily falling; in 2003 it stood at 19%, down from 29% in 1987.

Corn and sorghum production reached 6,000 and 68,000 tons, respectively, in 2004. Other crop production in 2004 included paddy rice, 77,000 tons; and millet, 400 tons. Date production was 24,000 tons in 2004.

The Mauritanian government is encouraging agricultural development of the Senegal River valley. The OMVS began in 1981 to build a dam at Manantali, in Mali, for purposes of river transport, irrigation, and hydroelectric power. In conjunction with this OMVS project, Mauritania initiated an irrigation and development scheme in 1975 for the Gorgol River valley, involving construction of a dam; the scheme would increase arable land by over 3,600 hectares (9,000 acres). This project was to be followed by other dams that together would add 30,000 hectares (74,100 acres) for food production. Another OMVS project, begun in 1981, was designed to block salt water from entering the fertile Senegal River delta. From 1989 to 1991, a series of measures aimed at stimulation and rationalization of agricultural production were initiated, including producer price increases, marketing and distribution liberalization, and streamlining of government-owned agricultural organizations.

ANIMAL HUSBANDRY

Animal husbandry, a major activity in the traditional economy, grew rapidly during the 1960s because of a successful animal health campaign and, prior to 1968, favorable weather conditions. Indeed, cattle herds grew well beyond the number that could be supported by the natural vegetation. Thus, the land was already vulnerable when the drought years of 196874 reduced the cattle population from 2.6 million head in 1970 to 1.6 million in 1973. There were only 1.6 million head in 2005, while sheep and goats numbered 14.5 million and camels 1.3 million.

The Moors tend to regard their cattle as symbols of wealth and prestige; this attitude discourages the herders from selling or slaughtering the animals. Total meat production in 2005 was estimated at 89,349 tons, with mutton accounting for 28% and beef for 26%. Reported figures are incomplete, however, since animal smuggling is common and much trade is unrecorded.

FISHING

With a potential catch of 600,000 tons, fishing employs 1.2% of the labor force and contributes about 5% to GDP. It is estimated that more than $1 billion worth of fish is netted each year within the 320-km (200-mi) exclusive economic zone, but little of this sum benefits the treasury because the government lacks means of control and enforcement.

Since 1980, any foreigners wishing to fish in Mauritanian waters have been required by law to form a joint venture in which Mauritanian citizens or the government holds at least 51% of the capital. All of the catch must be landed in Mauritania for process and export, and each joint venture must establish an onshore processing facility. By 1987, over a dozen fishing companies had been established in Nouadhibou, including public and private interests from Algeria, France, Iraq, the Republic of Korea, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Romania, Spain, and the former USSR. In May 1987, Mauritania signed a three-year fishing agreement with the EC, allowing all EC members to fish in Mauritanian waters; in return, Mauritania received approximately $23 million. Since the mid-1980s, however, depletion of the stocks has made Mauritanian fishing increasingly uneconomical. Mauritania's boats have been in poor condition. In spite of the ship repair service in Nouadhibou, which opened in 1989, only about 50% of the fleet was up and running in 1992.

Traditional fishing is carried out along the Senegal River and traditional sea fishing at Nouakchott and Nouadhibou. The national catch was estimated at 80,000 tons in 2003. Principal species caught included octopus, sardine, squid, and hake. Exports of fish products were valued at $103.4 million in 2003.

FORESTRY

Sizable tree stands found in the southern regions are not fully exploited. The principal forest product is gum arabic, which is extracted from wild acacia trees that grow in the south. Until 1972, private traders collected and exported the gum; since 1972, it has officially been a monopoly of the state trading company, Société Nationale d'Importation et d'Exportation (SONIMEX). Nevertheless, much gum continues to be smuggled across the borders, particularly to Senegal. Roundwood removals were estimated at 1.6 million cu m (56 million cu ft) in 2004, 99% for fuel.

MINING

Iron ore mining and processing accounted for more than 44% of Mauritania's export earnings in 2003, which totaled $388 million. Iron ore output (metal content) was estimated at 6.9 million metric tons in 2003. Iron ore production by gross weight that same year totaled 10.6 million metric tons.

Gypsum output, from some of the greatest reserves in the world, was estimated at 100,000 metric tons in 2003. In 2003, Mauritania also produced cement, salt, crude steel, sand and gravel, and stone. Mauritania was rich in copper; in the 1980s, the mine at Akjoujt was estimated to contain 100 million tons of ore averaging 2.25% copper, with trace amounts of gold. In 1996, gold recovery from tailings at the mine was discontinued because the stockpile was depleted. The nearby Guelb Moghrein Project, which contained resources of 23.7 million tons (144 grams per ton of cobalt, 1.88% copper, and 1.41 grams per ton of gold), continued to be delayed, because of low gold and copper prices, and problems at the pilot plant. Phosphate deposits, and reserves of platinum, palladium, and nickel, have been identified, and prospecting continued for petroleum, tungsten, and uranium. Mineral exploration efforts were focused on diamond (on the Archean Reguibat craton), gold (in the Inchiri region), oil (offshore), and continued evaluation of copper-gold, kaolin, and peat deposits.

ENERGY AND POWER

Mauritania, as of 1 January 2005, had no proven reserves of crude oil, natural gas, coal, or petroleum refining capacity. But this may change in 2006. Mauritania's Chinguetti oilfield, discovered in 2001, is estimated to have reserves of 100 million barrels. In addition, the country has a number of other offshore gas and oil fields that are seen as promising.

In 2002, Mauritania imported and consumed an average of 22,750 barrels per day of refined oil products. There was no recorded demand for coal or natural gas in that same year.

Electric power is the country's primary energy source. In 2002, installed generating capacity was 115,000 kW, of which 56.5% of capacity was dedicated to hydropower, and the rest to conventional thermal sources. In 2002, electric output totaled 174 million kWh, of which almost 85% was generated by conventional thermal plants, with hydroelectric facilities accounting for the remainder. Consumption of electricity in 2002 came to 162 million kWh.

INDUSTRY

Fish processing, the principal industrial activity, is carried out in Nouadhibou. By far the largest fish processor is Mauritanian Fish Industries (IMAPEC), a Spanish company in which the Mauritanian government acquired a 51% share in 1980. IMAPEC has facilities for salting, drying, canning, and freezing fish, and for producing fish flour; virtually all of its output is exported. Overfishing is a problem, however, as is mismanagement of the fishing sector and the lack of an effective governmental fisheries policy. The government is modernizing the fisheries sector, through port extension and the development of warehouses. Other small industries include chemical and plastic plants, food and beverages, metal products, building materials, and cookie factories.

The first desalination plant in Africa was completed at Nouakchott in January 1969, with a capacity of 3,000 cu m (106,000 cu ft) a day. A rolling mill at Nouadhibou, built in 1977, produced small quantities of iron rods and steel. A petroleum refinery in Nouadhibou, with an annual capacity of 1 million tons, opened in 1982, shut down in 1983, and resumed operation in 1987 with help from Algeria. Algeria also helped revitalize a sugar refining plant. Similarly, Kuwaiti and Jordanian interests reopened the steel mill after a shutdown. Each of these operations represents a drain on state revenues, and the government has shifted policy toward the promotion of less ambitious industrial development.

The government has signed exploration contracts with the Canadian Rex Diamond Mining Corporation, the American BHP Minerals and Bab-Co, the French La Source, and the Australian Ashton West Africa Property Limited in order to find gold, oil, phosphate, aluminum, and copper in Mauritania. Mauritania as of 2006 had an estimated one billion barrels of proven oil reserves. A national oil company, GPC, was created in 2004. Mauritania is one of four countries in West Africa with an operating oil refinery.

SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY

A research institute for mining and geology, founded in 1968, is at Nouakchott. The Economic Community of West Africa has an institute in Nouadhibou-Cansado conducting research in the fisheries industry. The Higher Scientific Institute, founded in 1986 at Nouakchott, has departments of mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, geology, computer studies, natural resources, and ecology. In 198797, science and engineering students accounted for 41% of college and university enrollments.

DOMESTIC TRADE

Most trade is done at or near the "Friendship Port" of Nouakchott. The seaport of Nouadhibou is a main center for fishing operations. Most consumer goods are sold through small shops or boutiques, although some medium-sized supermarkets are becoming more common. There are a number of small and medium-sized family-owned retail and wholesale firms. Private exchange offices were created in 1994 and 1995. A new investment code put into place in 2001 is expected to attract foreign investment. Arabic is the official language, but French is the business language. Normal business and banking hours are from 7:30 am to 3 pm, Sunday through Thursday, though it is somewhat common for businesses to open a little later in the morning than scheduled.

FOREIGN TRADE

Iron ore and fish products are the primary exports (98% of export revenue in 2005). The leading imports are foodstuffs, consumer goods, petroleum products, and capital goods. In 2004, Mauritania's principal export partners were: Japan (13.1%), France (11%), Spain (9.7%), Germany (9.7%), Italy (9.6%), Belgium (7.5%), China (6.1%), Russia (4.6%), and Côte d'Ivoire (4.1%). Principal import partners that year were: France (14.1%), the United States

Country Exports Imports Balance
World 347.9 373.5 -25.6
France-Monaco 67.0 106.2 -39.2
Italy-San Marino-Holy See 61.0 29.1 31.9
Spain 53.8 16.4 37.4
Belgium 42.4 29.3 13.1
Japan 31.1 8.7 22.4
Areas nes 27.8 125.3 -97.5
Germany 25.5 23.0 2.5
Nigeria 15.8 15.8
Russia 12.2 12.2
United Kingdom 7.2 7.2
() data not available or not significant.
Current Account 77.2
     Balance on goods 40.0
         Imports -318.7
         Exports 358.6
     Balance on services -118.5
     Balance on income -31.5
     Current transfers 187.5
Capital Account
Financial Account -25.9
     Direct investment abroad
     Direct investment in Mauritania 0.1
     Portfolio investment assets
     Portfolio investment liabilities -0.4
     Financial derivatives
     Other investment assets 190.1
     Other investment liabilities -215.7
Net Errors and Omissions -8.1
Reserves and Related Items -43.2
() data not available or not significant.

(7.6%), China (6.4%), Spain (5.8%), the United Kingdom (4.6%), Germany (4.3%), and Belgium (4.2%).

BALANCE OF PAYMENTS

An external debt of $2.6 billion in 1998 resulted in debt servicing that rose 38.5% from 1997 to 1998, causing a leap in the balance of payments deficit. External trade increased in the late 1990s, due to the creation of private exchange offices and the liberalization of exchange systems. Foreign investment began to resume as well. The country's outstanding foreign debt in 2000 was estimated at 220% of GDP, but due to debt cancellation and rescheduling, debt service payment problems were somewhat alleviated. Mauritania's external debt had declined to $1.6 billion by 2000. In the same year, Mauritania qualified for $1.1 billion in debt service relief from the IMF/World Bank Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative, and in 2001 it received strong support from donor and lending countries. In 2002, Mauritania received $305.7 million in economic aid from donor countries. In 2003, the IMF approved a three-year $8.8 million loan to the country. In 2005, exports were valued at an estimated $784 million, and imports at $1.124 billion.

BANKING AND SECURITIES

At independence, Mauritania became a member of the West African Monetary Union (Union Monétaire Ouest AfricaineUMOA), but withdrew in 1973 to demonstrate its independent economic identity. When it withdrew, the government also relinquished membership in the African Financial Community (Communauté Financière AfricaineCFA), whose currencythe CFA francwas freely convertible to French francs. Mauritania then created its own currency, the ouguiya, and a national bank, the Central Bank of Mauritania (Banque Centrale de Mauritanie), which was established in 1973.

After privatization in 1989, banks in Mauritania included Banque Arbe Libyene-Mauritanienne pour le Commerce Extérieur et le Développement (BALM). BALM, founded in 1990, was 51% owned by Libyans and 49% owned by the state. Other banks included Banque Al-Baraka Mauritanie Islamique (BAMIS), Banque Mauritanie pour le Commerce Internationale (BMCI), and Banque Nationale de Mauritania (BNM). BAMIS, established in 1990, was 50% Saudi owned and 10% BCM owned. BMCI, founded in 1990, was 10% BCM owned, and 90% of the bank was held by private interests. BNM, established in 1988, was 50% state owned.

In 2001, there were seven commercial banks, among them BAMIS, BMCI, BNM, Generale de Banque de Mauritanie (GBM), and the World Bank Representative in Mauritania. There are also three credit agencies and four insurance companies. The Saudi Al-Baraka firm owned 85% of BAMIS and the Belgium Belgolaise bank was the second-largest shareholder in commercial banks. There was also one bank specializing in housing construction and three credit agencies (Credit Maritime, Credit Agricole, and Mauritanie Leasing).

A significant drawback for the Mauritanian economy, partly due to the small number and low income of the population, was a dearth of domestic capital. The poor reputation of the domestic banking system, notwithstanding its recent overhaul, discouraged local savings. In 1997, the government encouraged the creation of popular saving agencies to revitalize the financial sector; and in 1998, the government introduced incentives to encourage fish exporters to keep their assets in the country. The International Monetary Fund reports that in 2001, currency and demand depositsan aggregate commonly known as M1were equal to $108.6 million. In that same year, M2an aggregate equal to M1 plus savings deposits, small time deposits, and money market mutual fundswas $151.4 million.

INSURANCE

Insurance was handled by 13 foreign companies until July 1974 when the Mauritanian government assumed full control of insurance and reinsurance. All insurance business was controlled by the Mauritanian Insurance and Reinsurance Co. There were two insurance companies in 1999.

PUBLIC FINANCE

Mauritania's budget is habitually in deficit. Mismanagement of public enterprises and an abundance of public sector employees led to large deficits in the early 1980s. In 1985, the government began an IMF-sponsored adjustment program to stabilize the economy and diminish the role of the public sector. The overall fiscal cash deficit (excluding debt forgiveness) fell from 12% GDP in 1985 to 5.4% in 1989. From 1989 to 1992, however, due to the Persian Gulf Crisis and turmoil with Senegal, the adjustment effort was set back. In 1994, the government instituted fiscal reform designed to broaden the tax base and reduce exemptions. Goals in 1999 included increasing public revenues, decreasing spending, and increasing the performance of public companies. Privatization continued through the 1990s, and state-owned companies accounted for approximately 20% of GDP at the end of 1997.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimated that in 2002 Mauritania's central government took in revenues of approximately $421 million and had expenditures of $378 million. Revenues minus expenditures totaled approximately $43 million. Total external debt was $2.5 billion.

TAXATION

Mauritania has a corporate income tax rate of 20%, with a 4% minimum rate on turnover. Capital gains are taxed at the corporate rate. However the tax may be deferred if the gains are used to acquire new fixed assets in the country in the following three fiscal years. Dividends are subject to a 10% withholding tax, which can be deducted if the recipient of the dividends is subject to corporate income tax. The major indirect taxes are import duties, a turnover tax on exports and mining companies, a value-added tax (VAT), excise levies on petroleum, tobacco, a service tax, and a tax on vehicles. As of 2005, the standard VAT rate was set at 14%. Wages and salaries are also subject to an income tax.

CUSTOMS AND DUTIES

Along with other members of the West African Economic Community (CEAO), Mauritania imposes a revenue duty (droit fiscal ) and a customs duty (droit de douane d'entrée ) on most imported goods. The average tax rate for imports was 43% in 1999. Customs duties ranged from a minimum of 9% to a maximum of 27% for essential goods or nonluxury goods. Imports are also subject to the 14% VAT. Exports were not restricted, although both imports and exports require a license. The government planned to reduce taxes on imports to an average of 25%, and was considering the creation of free trade zones.

Since 1970, Mauritania has had a trade agreement with Senegal, allowing primary products to be traded between the two countries duty-free. Mauritania is also a member of ECOWAS.

FOREIGN INVESTMENT

With the nationalization of the mining sector in 1974, private foreign investment dropped drastically. Extension of government control over imports and domestic trade further curtailed the activity of foreign capital, as did ethnic clashes in 198991. In 1993, the government started to privatize parastatals, and by 1999, only 17% of GDP was accounted for by state-owned companies; 20% of Mauritanian companies were state-owned, including the telephone and postal services, utilities, transportation, radio and television, and mining production.

An investment code, approved in 1979, provided for tax holidays of up to 12 years on exports, imports of raw materials, and reinvested profits. The 1989 Investment Code guaranteed equal and free movement of capital in and out of Mauritania, in all sectors. It also provided incentives to new enterprises like a temporary tax reduction. Amendments have been made to the code to require hiring of Mauritanians. Tax preferences are offered for using local materials and investing in priority sectors, like agriculture, minerals, and fish processing.

Foreign investment has been small since the ethnic violence of 1989 to 1991. However, in 1999 the government introduced new initiatives to attract foreign investment. From 1997 to 1999, the average annual inflow of foreign direct investment (FDI) was negligible, ranging from $100,000 to $900,000. In 2000, inflows increased to $9.2 million and then, in 2001, to $30 million. Foreign private investors include Mobil Oil of the United States, NAFTAL of Algeria, and Elf Aquitaine of France, in the petroleum sector; MINPROC, IFC of Australia in the gold sector; and CNF of China, the Al-Baraka Group of Saudi Arabia, and IFAFOOD of France, in the fishing sector.

Foreign investment climbed from 200104, particularly in the petroleum, mining, and telecommunications sectors, as well as tourism (especially hotels). In 2003 the government introduced a new investment code, designed to encourage foreign investment as well as local entrepreneurs.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

Until the export earning capacity of Mauritania improves, its economy will remain fragile. External deficit management dominates the public investment horizon. In 1999, Mauritania obtained financing from the IDA, AFESD, and World Bank, for its economic and social development projects. The IDA funded a mining sector capacity building project, with $500,000 cofinancing from the government. The AFESD gave an $11.6 million loan to upgrade and develop small dams. The World Bank approved a $15 million loan to support access to the country's mining sector.

In 2000, Mauritania was approved for $1.1 billion in debt service relief under the International Monetary Fund (IMF)/World Bank Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative. That year, the country withdrew its membership in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and increased commercial ties with Morocco and Tunisia (members of the Arab Maghreb Union), particularly in telecommunications. In 2003, the IMF approved an $8.8 million three-year Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF) Arrangement, to support the government's economic reform policies geared to reduce poverty. The IMF stressed the need for banking and exchange rate reform, and improved governance.

As of 2006, the development of Mauritania's one billion barrels of proved petroleum reserves held promise for the economy. The government emphasized the reduction of poverty, improvement of health and education, and privatization of the economy as policy priorities.

SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT

The National Social Security Fund administers family allowances, industrial accident benefits, insurance against occupational diseases, and old age pensions. Pensions are paid for by 1% contributions from employees and 2% contributions from employers. Employed women are entitled to a cash maternity benefit and payable up to 14 weeks. Workers and their families who are covered under the labor code are entitled to medical benefits. There is also a family allowance and a birth grant.

Opportunities for Mauritanian women are severely limited by social and cultural factors. Although they have the right to vote, women face considerable legal discrimination. According to Shariah law, the testimony in court of two women equals that of one man. The law mandates equal pay for equal work, and in the public sector, this law is respected and applied. Most young girls undergo female genital mutilation by the age of six months, although the incidence is decreasing among the urban population. Education is not compulsory and dire financial circumstances force many children to work. Laws prohibiting child labor are rarely enforced.

Slavery was abolished many times in Mauritania, the most recent law having been passed in 1980. Despite this, as of 2004 there are still slaves in the rural areas where a barter economy thrives. Some human rights abuses are reported including the use of excessive force to disperse demonstrators and inadequate prison conditions.

HEALTH

Mauritania's public health system consists of administrative units and health facilities organized in pyramid style. Total health care expenditure was estimated at 4.8% of GDP. In 2004, there were an estimated 14 physicians, 62 nurses, 2 dentists, 4 pharmacists, and 10 midwives per 100,000 people. In the mid-1990s, there were approximately 300 basic health units at the village level, about 130 health posts, and some 50 health centers. The health system is mostly public, but liberalization of private practice in the past several years has led to marked increase in the number of practitioners in the private sector. Mauritania's only major hospital is in Nouakchott. Only about 63% of the population had access to health care services. Private participation in the pharmaceutical sector has increased since 1987. Public facilities receive stocks from the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs. Drugs are distributed to patients at public facilities at no cost, but only 40% of demand can be met. Importation of narcotics is prohibited. Approximately 37% of the population had access to safe drinking water and 33% had adequate sanitation.

The main health problems include malaria, tuberculosis, measles, dysentery, and influenza. Guinea worm remains a major problem. Pregnancy complications are common due to unhygienic conditions and lack of medical care. In nondrought years, the staple diet of milk and millet is nutritionally adequate, if somewhat deficient in vitamin C. Immunization rates for children up to one year old were: tuberculosis, 93%; diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus, 50%; polio, 50%; and measles, 53%. The rates for DPT and measles were, respectively, 40% and 62%. Forty-four percent of children under five were malnourished. The goiter rate was 31 per 100 school-age children.

The average life expectancy is among the lowest in the worldan estimated 52.73 years in 2005. The fertility rate was 5.7 in 2000. Only 3% of married women aged 1549 were using some form of contraceptive. As of 2002, the crude birth rate and overall mortality rate were estimated at, respectively, 42.54 and 13.34 per 1,000 people. The infant mortality rate was 70.89 per 1,000 live births in 2005. The maternal mortality rate was 550 per 100,000 live births. Twenty-five percent of women underwent female genital mutilation and no specific law has been issued against it.

As of 2004, there were approximately 9,500 people living with HIV/AIDS in the country. The HIV/AIDS prevalence was 0.60 per 100 adults in 2003.

HOUSING

Construction accounts for a small fraction of GDP. The chief construction company, the Building Society of Mauritania, is hampered by inadequate manpower and capitalization. To encourage housing development, the government introduced new regulations in 1975 to encourage builders and to compel civil servants to purchase their own property and thus relieve the demand for public housing. The phenomenal growth of Nouakchott and the effects of rural migration, impelled by drought, have strained housing resources. In 1998, over 25% of residents in Nouakchott lived in substandard housing, such as tents, huts, or shacks, as did about 35% of Kiffa residents and 44% of Aioun residents.

EDUCATION

Six years of basic education are compulsory. A three-year lower secondary (college) program offers general education. Following this stage, students may choose to attend a three-year senior secondary school (lycee ) or a technical school program of three or five years. The lycee programs offer specializations in arts and literature; natural sciences; mathematics, physics, and chemistry; or Koran (Quran) and Arabic studies. The academic year runs from October to June.

Primary school enrollment in 2003 was estimated at about 68% of age-eligible students. In 2001, secondary school enrollment was about 14.5% of age-eligible students. It is estimated that about 42.9% of all students complete their primary education. The student-teacher ratio for primary school was at about 42:1 in 2000; the ratio for secondary school was about 26:1.

The National Institute of Higher Islamic Studies was established in Boutilimit in 1961 and the National School of Administration was founded in 1966 at Nouakchott. The University of Nouakchott, founded in 1981, has a faculty of letters and human sciences and a faculty of law and economics. In 2003, about 4% of the tertiary age population were enrolled in some type of higher education program. The adult literacy rate for 2004 was estimated at about 51.2%, with 59.5% for men and 43.4% for women.

As of 2003, public expenditure on education was estimated at 4.1% of GDP, or 16.6% of total government expenditures.

LIBRARIES AND MUSEUMS

The National Library at Nouakchott (10,000 volumes) and the National Archives (3,000) were both founded in 1955. The National Library is the depository for all the country's publications. There is a small library at the University of Nouakchott in the capital, as well as a French cultural center. The National Museum is also located in Nouakchott and has archaeology and ethnography collections. There are several Arab libraries in the major towns.

MEDIA

Many of Mauritania's post offices have telephone or telegraph services. There are direct telephone communications from Nouakchott to Paris. Administrative contact within the country is maintained by radiotelephone. Two earth-satellite stations came into service in 198586. In 2003, there were an estimated 14 mainline telephones for every 1,000 people. The same year, there were approximately 128 mobile phones in use for every 1,000 people.

The government operates all national radio and television networks, broadcasting in French, Arabic, and several African languages. In 2001 there were 1 AM and 14 FM radio stations, with 1 television station reported in 2002. Residents with satellite receivers and dish antennas receive television broadcasts from France and other Arab countries. Telecasts are in French and Arabic. In 2003, there were an estimated 148 radios and 44 television sets for every 1,000 people. The same year, there were 10.8 personal computers for every 1,000 people and 4 of every 1,000 people had access to the Internet.

In 2004 there were about 25 privately owned newspapers with a regular publication schedule, usually weekly. A government-operated daily, Ach Chabb, is published in French and Arabic. Horizon, another government daily, is published in French.

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press; however, by law copies of every newspaper must be submitted to the Ministries of Interior and Justice for approval before distribution.

ORGANIZATIONS

The Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Agriculture, and Ranching is in Nouakchott. Youth organizations include the National Union of Students and Pupils of Mauritania and the Association of Scouts and Guides of Mauritania. Several sports associations are active within the country. The Lion's Club has active programs. The International Association of French-Speaking Women has a base in the country. The World Conservation Union has an office within the country. The Red Crescent Society and Caritas are active as well.

TOURISM, TRAVEL, AND RECREATION

Tourists are attracted to Atar, the ancient capital of the Almoravid kingdom, and Chinguetti, with houses and mosques dating back to the 13th century. Popular sports are rugby, surf fishing, tennis, football (soccer), basketball, and swimming.

There are few facilities for tourists, except in the capital, and travel is difficult outside of Nouakchott. Most visitors need a valid passport and visa; the visa requirement is waived for French and Italian nationals. A certificate of vaccination against yellow fever may be required if traveling from an infected area. Precautions against typhoid are recommended.

In 2005, the US Department of State estimated the daily cost of staying in Nouakchott at $202.

FAMOUS MAURITANIANS

Abu Bakr ibn Omar (Boubakar), paramount chief of the Lemtouna, defeated Ghana in 1076. His lieutenant and cousin, Yusuf ibn Tashfin, conquered Morocco in 1082 and most of Spain in 1091. The best-known contemporary Mauritanian is Moktar Ould Daddah (19242003), president from 1961 until 1978; after being ousted, he was eventually allowed to go to France. Lt. Col. Khouna Ould Haydalla (b.Spanish Sahara, 1940) became prime minister and chief of staff of the armed forces in 1978 and assumed the presidency in 1980. Col. Maaouya Ould Sid Ahmed Taya (b.1941), who had been prime minister (198184), was president from 1984 to 2005. Col. Ely Ould Mohamed Vall (c.1950) became the new military leader of Mauritania in 2005.

DEPENDENCIES

Since relinquishing its claim to Western Sahara, Mauritania has no territories or colonies.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bales, Kevin. Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy. Rev. ed. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004.

Calderini, Simonetta. Mauritania. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Clio Press, 1992.

Cotton, Samuel. Silent Terror: A Journey into Contemporary African Slavery. New York: Harlem Rivers Press, 1998.

Handloff, Robert E. (ed.). Mauritania, a Country Study. 2nd ed. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1990.

Pazzanita, Anthony G. Historical Dictionary of Mauritania. 2nd. ed. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 1996.

Robinson, David. Paths of Accommodation: Muslim Societies and French Colonial Authorities in Senegal and Mauritania, 18801920. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 2000.

Zeilig, Leo and David Seddon. A Political and Economic Dictionary of Africa. Philadelphia: Routledge/Taylor and Francis, 2005.

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Mauritania

MAURITANIA

Islamic Republic of Mauritania

Major City:
Nouakchott

Other Cities:
Atar, Boutilimit, Chinguetti, Kaédi, Nouadhibou, Ouadane, Rosso, Zouérate

EDITOR'S NOTE

This chapter was adapted from the Department of State Post Report dated June 1997. Supplemental material has been added to increase coverage of minor cities, facts have been updated, and some material has been condensed. Readers are encouraged to visit the Department of State's web site at http://travel.state.gov/ for the most recent information available on travel to this country.

INTRODUCTION

The Islamic Republic of MAURITANIA has been a recognized political entity with defined borders for just over 30 years. From the beginning of this century until independence was achieved in 1960, it was a part of the larger region known as French West Africa; prior to that time, portions of the present-day republic were included in political systems based in northwest Africa and in the Niger Basin.

One of the few truly exotic places left in the world, Mauritania is the traditional homeland of the Moors, nomadic herdsmen and warriors who, for centuries, roamed the desert and semi-desert areas of Algeria, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, and the Western Sahara. The country is distinct from the ancient African province of Mauritania, which existed in Roman times.

MAJOR CITY

Nouakchott

Nouakchott was a small village of mud brick houses on the edge of the Sahara in 1957. It was selected that year as the future site of the capital of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania over larger, historically more important towns because of its relatively moderate climate and central, coastal location. Nouakchott's name derives from the Berber expression "place of the winds."

After rapid and unplanned growth, some 694,000 people now live in Nouakchott and its surrounding tent and shanty suburbs. Most of this growth is the result of prolonged drought, which has forced masses of nomadic people to abandon their way of life and move to the city for food and the slim hope of finding work.

The city, covering some 10 square miles, is bounded on three sides by desert, and on the fourth by the Atlantic coastline, approximately 3 miles from town. Maximum daytime temperatures average in the low 90's (F), with average minimum temperatures in the high 60's (F). Precipitation in Nouakchott is less than three inches annually. The city's water supply is piped some 40 miles from the nearest reliable aquifer.

The airport is located near the older section of town, known as Ksar.

Food

Many of the food products that Americans are accustomed to are expensive on the local market. Almost all such food is imported, including fresh fruits and vegetables such as apples, oranges, and potatoes. Availability, quality, and variety fluctuate widely. Locally produced, good quality, vegetables are always available in winter. During the summer, fresh produce is scarce, and even meat, butter, and cheese can be in short supply due to fewer imports as foreign residents depart. Nouakchott is blessed with delicious fresh, locally caught fish, shrimp, and rock lobster in season at reasonable prices. Beef and lamb, chickens, eggs, and a few vegetables (lettuce, tomatoes, tubers, mint, and parsley) are produced locally at costs about 30 to 50 percent higher than U.S. prices. There are many imported fruit juices available at about twice the price of comparable U.S.-made products. Items such as lunch meat, cheese, ice cream, and turkey are imported either from neighboring countries or Europe and are correspondingly expensive.

Supermarkets, butcher shops, numerous smaller shops, several open-air markets, several bakeries producing good baguettes, door-to-door vendors, and the fish market are the local sources of supply for groceries in Nouakchott. Shopping frequently, stocking up on sometimes scarce items, scouring the vegetable stands for fresh items, advance planning (but flexibility in menu planning), and befriending certain vendors enables foreign residents of Nouakchott to live adequately, albeit expensively, on the local market.

Clothing

The weather in Nouakchott ranges from cool to very hot, so warm weather clothing is needed. Cotton clothing is best. Some cool-weather clothing such as sweaters and long-sleeved shirts are needed during the winter, when evening and nighttime temperatures can drop as low as 45 °F. Sweatshirts or light windbreakers are useful for the beach in the evening. Bring washable clothing, since there is only one quality dry-cleaning establishment in Nouakchott.

Men: Normal office attire for men includes slacks, short-sleeved shirt, with or without tie, and occasionally, a sports jacket or blazer. Men who like lightweight, short-sleeved safari suits or jackets find these comfortable for day and evening. Jeans and shorts are worn on the beach and for recreational activities.

Women: Office attire for women is a simple cotton dress or blouse and skirt. Out of respect for Islamic custom, skirt length is conservative, and shorts are not worn on the street. Bare arms and sundresses are acceptable for foreign women. Local tailors can make dresses and skirts from local tie-dyed or batik fabric. A long-sleeved dress and shawl or dressy jacket are useful for outdoor receptions on chilly evenings. Stockings are rarely worn outside the cool season.

Children: Boys and girls wear shorts or jeans and shirts to school. For the few occasions when they must dress up, boys need a nice polo shirt and cotton pants and girls need a simple dress. Children wear tennis or running shoes, best brought, and "flip-flops," which may be purchased here. The local selection of shoes for children is extremely limited and expensive.

Men and women use sandals for casual wear, and women wear them to the office. All shoes wear out quickly in Mauritania's sandy streets and yards. Bring all sports shoes. Tennis shoes wear out quickly on hard-surfaced courts. Softball cleats may not be necessary in sand, but cleats help rugby and soccer players.

Comfortable clothing for any type of sport or recreational activity in Nouakchott should be brought in quantity. Swimwear, tennis, jogging, basketball, soccer, rugby, and aerobics clothing all wear out much more quickly here from excessive perspiration and dust, and consequent tough washing. Hats and caps are necessary for any outdoor activity. Sweatbands and plenty of cotton socks are helpful.

Supplies and Services

Supplies: Few American products are sold on the local market. Some French products are available, but the prices are high, and the selection is limited. Among French products are some toiletries, patent medicines and drugs, common household items, insect sprays, paper products, hardware, and some cleaning equipment.

Basic Services: Most shops are open from 8:30 am to 12:30 pm, and 4 pm to 7 pm, Saturday through Thursday. Services including basic tailoring and dressmaking, and simple electrical and automotive repairs are also available, but the quality of workmanship varies. Most Americans patronize two unisex hairdressers. Massages, facials, manicures, or haircuts are available as home services. Specialty shops carrying items such as pet supplies and English-language books or magazines do not exist. Private veterinarians are available to attend to the needs of American pets. (Ticks and fleas can plague animals during certain seasons and are difficult to control.)

Religious Activities

Islam is the state religion in Mauritania. Non-Mauritanians may attend the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St. Joseph. Mass is in French. Protestant services (in English) are held on Fridays in the Parish Hall on the Cathedral compound.

Education

The American International School of Nouakchott (AISN) is an accredited, nonprofit, private, coeducational school, which provides an American educational program for pre-kindergarten through grade 8, depending on enrollment. The school was founded in 1978 and moved into a new facility in 1981. Current American texts are used. The school year runs from Labor Day until mid-June. Classes are held from 7:30 am to 1:30 pm, Sunday through Thursday. Preschool is offered for 3-and 4-year-olds if there is sufficient enrollment. In addition, ninth grade can sometimes be offered by using correspondence courses.

All kindergarten through grade 8 teachers are certified, either in the U.S. or another country. The school is accredited in the U.S. through the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools.

Students in grades kindergarten through grade 8 are grouped as follows: K-1, 2-3, 4-5-6, and 7-8.

Sports

Outdoor recreation centers around the Atlantic beaches and the soft-ball/soccer/rugby fields (in season). The unspoiled beaches are the greatest benefit to Nouakchott. The white sand beach is 3 miles from town by paved road.

With four-wheel-drive vehicles, many Americans drive up the beach at low tide or cross dunes to reach private spots north or south of town for fishing, camping, and picnics. The Atlantic often has high surf, strong currents, and undertows, so vigilance and caution when swimming are necessary. Jogging, shell collecting, motorcycling, and surf fishing are also popular.

Mauritania enjoys good surf fishing year round, along the entire coast. Among the fish in these rich waters are tuna, sea bass, sole, parrot fish, squid, and lobster. Surf fishing rod, reel, tackle, and line all should be brought, as when available; they are expensive, and a fair amount of tackle may be lost to rocks and tenacious fish. Fishing licenses are not required, but a permit is required to fish from a commercial wharf.

The community softball team is organized loosely according to season and interest, and all participation is eagerly welcomed. The team sometimes travels to other capitals of the Sahel for tournaments.

Touring and Outdoor Activities

Travel outside of Nouakchott is interesting and enriching but requires thorough preparation and proper equipment. Four-wheel-drive vehicles are necessary in any direction outside the city. A good selection of spare parts, tools, sand ladders, extra fuel, water, and food must be carried for travel off the main roads.

Camping is possible both on the beach and in the desert. One popular trip involves driving up the beach at low tide along the water's edge toward Cap Timiris. Others enjoy camping in the desert or along ancient caravan routes, searching for archaeological artifacts and exploring ancient towns.

Accommodations for travelers in the interior of the country are rudimentary, if available. Travelers to all but a few cities usually take camping gear or stay with Mauritanian families. Most regional capitals have government rest houses ("gites d'etapes") and a few have tourist hotels. Travel and accommodations require considerable advance planning.

In this country of vast open space, the population is as sparse as the vegetation. Wherever one camps, there are few signs of people. You can enjoy sleeping in the open during favorable seasons, but a tent is useful as protection against wind and sandstorms and as a sunscreen.

The following cities and towns of Mauritania make interesting destinations:

Akjoujt, 3 hours from Nouakchott, is the site of a former copper mining industry.

Atar, 4 hours beyond Akjoujt, was one of the ancient capitals of the Almoravid Kingdom and a caravan base for the trans-Saharan salt trade.

Chinguetti, the seventh holy city of Islam, lies some 72 miles east of Atar. Some of the houses and mosques in its fascinating stone-built quarter date back to the 13th century.

Nouadhibou, accessible from Nouakchott by air or a 2-day drive up the beach at low tide, is a fishing and commercial port, and the terminus of the railroad from the Zouerate iron mines. Air Afrique operates a fishing camp nearby.

Boutilimit, some 2 hours by paved road from Nouakchott, is one of the religious centers of the country and the site of an Islamic institute. The ruins of a French military post are visible atop a dune near town.

Kiffa is 10 hours east of Nouakchott, and an important regional trading center and crossroads. The oases and escarpments around Kiffa offer an interesting change of scenery.

Aioun is 3 hours east of Kiffa, with houses of beautiful blocks of local stone. The interesting rock formations to the south are reminiscent of the American southwest.

Oulata, located in the southeast near the Malian border, was a famous religious center, and is known for its unique style of decorated houses and courtyards. UNESCO is interested in undertaking historical preservation programs in Oulata, Tichitt, Chinguetti, and Ouadane.

Rosso is a border town on the Senegalese River, reflecting the ambience of Senegal, some 3 hours from Nouakchott.

Keur-Massene is a hunting and fishing camp operated by Air Afrique 60 kilometers west of Rosso, in the delta area of the Senegal River, near the Banc de Diawling National Park, a large bird refuge on the Atlantic coast.

The Banc D'Arguin National Park, a 4-5 hour drive north of Nouakchott along the beach at low tide, is large natural estuary rich in bird and animal life. The park is reputed to be one of Africa's best for watching migratory birds.

Other places of interest easily accessible from Nouakchott include the Canary Islands, several different islands, each with its own character. The largest of these resort islands, Gran Canaria, is only a short flight from Nouakchott and features duty-free shopping, international resorts, and Spanish culture. The other islands can be reached by local Spanish airlines or boat.

Senegal offers alluring destinations for residents of Mauritania, including:

Saint Louis, the administrative capital for Mauritania during the colonial period, is a 4-5 drive from Nouakchott. This picturesque island town was one of the earliest French settlements in Africa. The former slave trading port near the mouth of the Senegal River today offers comfortable hotels and good dining.

Dakar, the capital of Senegal and former capital of French West Africa, is a cosmopolitan city with good shopping, beaches, hotels, restaurants, and night life. Frequent 1-hour flights or an 8-hour drive make this seaport city a popular destination from Nouakchott.

Entertainment

Few commercial forms of entertainment are found in Nouakchott. The French cultural center offers occasional live productions, exhibitions, and films all in French. A few but growing number of local restaurants offer varying quality in food and service. A large sports stadium, built by the Chinese Government, hosts sports events featuring Mauritanian, African, and European sports teams. Occasional art shows or musical concerts take place and are widely attended.

Social Activities

The American community in Nouakchott includes personnel of the U.S. Mission, Peace Corps volunteers, and other resident Americans, most of whom are affiliated with religious or international organizations. AERAN is the focal point for many American community activities, with dining service and bar and grill. Social life is relaxed and usually casual, centered around dinners at the Club, and an occasional tennis or volleyball tournament.

Many opportunities exist to develop friendships with members of the international and Mauritanian communities, but French proficiency is essential. The French Racing Club offers evening dinners and dancing as well as tennis tournaments. Entertaining in the international community is similar in style to the American community.

OTHER CITIES

ATAR , one of the ancient capitals of the Almoravid Kingdom about 300 miles northeast of Nouakchott, was a caravan base for the trans-Saharan salt trade. The town is an oasis that produces dates and grains and supports cattle, sheep, and goat grazing. Atar is also known for its rugs.

BOUTILIMIT is the religious capital of the country and the site of an Islamic Institute. It is about 100 miles southeast of Nouakchott.

CHINGUETTI , in west central Mauritania, is the seventh holy city of Islam, and has houses and mosques dating back to the 13th century.

KAÉDI , capital city of the Gorgol administrative region, is situated on the Senegal River in southern Mauritania. The city exports the skins and hides of cattle, goats, and sheep. Its population is about 21,000.

NOUADHIBOU (formerly called Port-Étienne) is a seaport town in the northwest corner of Mauritania, 225 miles north of Nouakchott. Warm currents make this area an ideal breeding zone for valuable fish species. About a dozen fishing companies operate here. However, Nouadhibou lacks the infrastructure to enable it to compete with other fishing ports in the area. Nouadhibou is the site of Mauritania's largest international airport.

OUADANE , just northeast of Chinguetti, is an old caravan center, and the site of several oases.

ROSSO , with a population of about 16,500, lies on the Senegal River in southwestern Mauritania, 110 miles south of Nouakchott. The city produces melons, beans, corn, millet, gum arabic and livestock.

ZOUÉRATE (also spelled Zouîrât) is located in north central Mauritania. As the country's iron-mining center, the city accounts for most of Mauritania's export income. Zouérate is linked by rail to the port city of Nouadhibou and has a population of over 25,000.

COUNTRY PROFILE

Geography and Climate

The Islamic Republic of Mauritania is situated on the Atlantic Ocean in northwest Africa. It is bounded on the northeast by Algeria, on the east by Mali, and on the south by Senegal. Mauritania shares its long northern border with the former Spanish Sahara. Spain relinquished control of this area in 1975, but its political status is still unresolved. A UN-sponsored mandate to decide whether residents prefer independence or annexation by Morocco is still being negotiated.

Mauritania has three distinct geographic regions in its surface area of 419,000 square miles. The riverine zone, a narrow belt of rich, well-watered alluvial soil stretching along the Senegal River Valley in the south, is the sole center of settled agriculture. Rainfall averages 10-25 inches annually.

The Sahelian Zone is a broader east-west band that extends from the riverine zone to just north of Nouakchott. Until recently, annual rainfall has averaged some 4-18 inches, enough to support savannah grasslands suitable for nomadic cattle and sheep herding. However, diminished rainfall, in recent years, has resulted in scantier vegetation, forcing many inhabitants to move south or migrate to larger towns. What rain there is occurs mainly in heavy, localized thunderstorms. Nouakchott, at the northern extreme of this zone, experiences such storms several times each year.

The Saharan Zone comprises the northern two-thirds of Mauritania. This vast, sparsely populated region is characterized by beautiful shifting dunes, rock outcroppings, and rugged mountain plateaus with elevations higher than 1,500 feet. Irregular, scant rainfall permits little vegetation, although date palms are cultivated around larger oases and on some of the higher plateaus in the east. Herds of camels, goats, and sheep, which formerly ranged in this area were depleted during successive droughts in the 1970s and 1980s. With only a brief respite, pre-drought conditions have returned in the mid-1990s.

Modifying these conditions is the Atlantic coastal area, which includes Nouakchott. The ocean breezes provide periodic relief from the heat, although desert winds may bring flies, locusts, and sand-storms with consequent discomfort and annoyance. The Sahara is a young, growing desert. The severe droughts of the Sahel in the 1970s-80s have accelerated desertification. Thus, the southern edges of the Saharan and Sahelian Zones creep inexorably southward.

Mauritania's climate is hot and arid, except in the far south, which has higher humidity. In Nouakchott, daytime temperatures reach 85°F in the winter, although at night sweaters and blankets are needed. Summer temperatures regularly reach over 100°F during the day, but because it is a dry heat, they are more bearable than the same temperatures at high humidity. Summer evenings can be considerably cooler.

The area's fine sand makes beach-going one of the highlights of a tour in Nouakchott; however, winds can also stir this sand into enervating sandstorms that last from a few hours to several days. These sand-storms can occur throughout the year, although they are less frequent during the summer and fall.

Population

Mauritania's population of some 2.7 million is unevenly distributed. It ranges from an average of 91 persons per square mile in certain sections of the Senegal River Valley to an average of 19 persons per square mile in the Sahelian Zone and less than one person for every 4 square miles in the Saharan Zone.

Although Mauritania is a country of cultural and ethnic diversity, its many ethnic groups have co-existed essentially peacefully for centuries. Arabic-speaking Moors comprise the largest group, about 70 percent of the population. Among Moors there are two major subgroups, the Bidan, or White Moors, who are mainly Arab-Berber herders, traders, and oasis farmers and the Haratin, mainly descendants of tributary (slave) black groups who practice extensive dryland agriculture and herding. As a result of centuries of intermarriage, the terms black and white Moor now indicate patrilineal ancestry rather than racial characteristics. The Moors have been traditionally nomadic, roaming the deserts of Mali, Algeria, Morocco, western Sahara, and Senegal. Today, the majority live in sedentary agricultural communities or in larger towns and cities. They remain highly mobile, with more than 20 percent of the adult male population away from their settlements at any given time either trading or herding.

The remaining 30 percent of the population live primarily as sedentary farmers and herders in the Senegal River Valley, though their numbers are rising in urban areas. Their major ethnic groups include the Haalpulaar, the largest; the Soninke (Sarakolle); the Peulh (Fulbe, Fula, Fulani); and the Wolof. The French are the largest foreign national group, numbering more than 2,000. Most of the Americans who reside in Nouakchott work for the U.S. Government or for relief and development organizations.

Arabic is the official language for government and, with French, is a working language for commerce. Hassaniya, the local Arabic dialect, is spoken to some degree by 75 percent of the population; however, each ethnic group speaks its own language. The national literacy rate is about 47 percent but rising, now that 80 percent of the school-age population receives a basic primary school education.

Mauritanians are Muslim. Dietary restrictions common to Muslims, such as prohibitions against consumption of alcoholic beverages and pork, are observed strictly. No alcohol is sold in Mauritania; however, imported pork is occasionally available at local shops. Social restrictions, particularly for women, are less noticeable here than in the most conservative of Arab countries, e.g., Saudi Arabia. Mauritanian women cover their hair but rarely their faces in public, and many are active in business and some in government.

Mauritania has been a recognized political entity with defined borders since independence in 1960. From early in this century until independence, it was part of the larger region known as French West Africa. Prior to that, some of present-day Mauritania was included in political systems based in northwest Africa and in the Niger River basin.

The southward migration of the Senhadja Berber confederation of tribes first brought the Islamic faith to what is now Mauritania in the seventh century. By the 11th century, indigenous black African people had been driven south to the Senegal River or enslaved by the nomadic Senhadja. Southern Mauritania was overrun in about 1040 by Islamic warrior monks (Almoravid or Al Murabitun) who, subsequently extended their empire northward into Morocco and into much of southern Spain.

As the Almoravid Empire eroded, the Arabs overcame fierce Berber resistance to dominate Mauritania. Several groups of Yemeni Bedouin Arabs occupied north Africa and spread into what is today Mauritania. Their disruption of trans-Saharan caravan trade caused an eastward shift in the routes, resulting in a decline of Mauritanian trading towns. By the end of the 17th century, the Beni Hassan group dominated much of what is now Mauritania. The last effort by native Berbers to oust the Arab invaders was the unsuccessful Mauritanian Thirty Year War (1644-74).

The social structure established as a result of that war has been maintained intact to the present day. The descendants of the Beni Hassan warriors became the upper stratum of Moorish society, and Arabic gradually replaced Berber dialects. Many of the Berber groups, however, remained social equals, even as they became political vassals. They turned to clericalism and produced most of the region's Marabouts: the men who serve as repositories and teachers of Islamic tradition. At the bottom of the social hierarchy were the Zenaga (the poor Moor tributaries), the Haratin, often called Black Moors, and the Abid (slaves).

The country's other ethnic groups do not share the tribal structure of the Moors, but are organized as clans, extended families, or villages. Their traditional hierarchical structure, however, is very similar.

Under French colonial rule the population was obliged to give up slave trading and warfare, although armed clashes between French soldiers and Beni Hassan warriors continued through the 1930s. Also during the colonial period, sedentary black African peoples began to trickle back into southern Mauritania from which they had been expelled in earlier years by aggressive Moorish nomads.

This influx of non-Arabic-speaking black peoples from the south has caused a major modification of the social structure in this century. Many Haalpulaar, Soninke, and Wolof moved into the area north of the Senegal River at the time of independence. Educated in the French language and customs, large numbers became clerks, soldiers, and administrators in the new state.

Moors reacted to this change by increasing pressure to Arabize many aspects of Mauritanian life (law, language, etc.). A schism resulted between those who consider Mauritania to be an Arab country (mainly Moors) and those who seek a dominant role for the ethnic sub-Saharan peoples. The tension between these two visions remains a feature of the political dialogue. A significant number from both groups, however, seek a more diverse, pluralistic society. The discord between these two conflicting visions of Mauritanian society was evident in language disputes of the 1960s and during the intercommunal violence that broke out in April 1989.

Public Institutions

Mauritania became self-governing as the Islamic Republic of Mauritania in November 1958, and shortly thereafter began the process of transferring its administrative services from St. Louis, Senegal to the new capital at Nouakchott. Mauritania became independent on November 28, 1960. The constitution, adopted in 1961, replaced the former parliamentary type of government with a presidential system. Moktar ould Daddah, elected the first President in 1961, was reelected in 1966, 1971, and 1976.

On July 10, 1978, ould Daddah was overthrown in a bloodless coup d'etat; power was then assumed by the Military Committee for National Recovery (CMRN). For the next 2 years, power shifted among various members of the military group, culminating in January 1980 with the newly formed Military Committee of National Salvation (CMSN). In December 1980, a civilian prime minister, who formed a government of civilian ministers, was appointed, but the military committee retained policy oversight. This government was dissolved in April 1981 when the military reestablished itself as the sole ruling body of the nation.

In 1984, Colonel Maaouiya ould Sid'ahmed Taya led a successful, bloodless coup and declared himself Chief of State. He soon called for gradual movement toward a democratic system. A constitution was approved in a general plebiscite in 1991, and presidential elections were held in 1992. Taya was elected to office for a 6-year term, then reelected in 1998.

Mauritania is divided into 12 regions and the district of Nouakchott, each administered by a governor responsible to the president. Municipal elections were first held in 1986-88. Second municipal elections in 1994 were the first that saw multi-party participation in races for municipal councils and mayors. In 1995, the government, with support from international and bilateral donors, began seeking to decentralize authority by giving more responsibility to municipalities.

Although the constitution provides for the independence of the judiciary, the executive branch exercises significant pressure on the courts through its ability to appoint and to influence judges. The system includes lower, middle, and upper level courts, each with its own jurisdiction. A dual system of courts, one based on modern law and one based on Shari'a, has been replaced by a single system as the country moves to a modernized legal system that is in conformity with the principles of the Shari'a.

Arts, Science, and Education

Mauritania, a nomadic society until independence, lacked large market centers or sedentary populations that help generate traditional arts and crafts. Limited basic raw materials and restraints on possessions associated with mobility contributed to only a limited crafts tradition focused on utilitarian goods such as decorated leather pillows, woven leather and straw mats, and silver jewelry (which doubled as a portable savings account).

In recent decades, woven rugs, gold and inlaid jewelry, and decorated teapots (so ubiquitous as to be nearly a national symbol), have been developed as crafts. Workmanship varies and vigorous bargaining is necessary to attain a reasonable price. Two types of rugs are available: the "Boutilimit rug," made of camel, goat, and sheep hair, adapted from traditional wool tent weaving methods; and new, tight, hand-knotted carpets with traditional motifs. Both are made at the Artisanat de Mauritanie in Nouakchott.

Nomadic life is not conducive to the establishment of institutions of higher education and science. From ancient times, however, traditional Koranic schools were founded in special encampments as well as religious caravan centers such as Chinguetti, Tichit, and Oualata. In addition to religion and language, these schools taught rhetoric, law, mathematics, and medicine. Curriculum was based largely on Greco-Roman scholarship. Some traditional schools still exist, but that system now coexists with public schools, including the University of Nouakchott with its faculties of letters, law, economics, and science.

Research facilities and programs remain in a formative stage. The Mauritanian Institute of Scientific Research in Nouakchott is a gathering place for a limited number of scholars interested in history, poetry, or archeology. It supervises the National Museum which has two large public rooms, including a small standing exhibit of traditional life in Mauritania, displays of archeological materials found in the country, and some interesting visiting shows. The National Health Center, the National Center for Agricultural Research and Development, and the National Center for Livestock and Veterinary Research perform limited studies, all generally dependent on foreign support.

Commerce and Industry

Many Mauritanians are engaged in subsistence farming or nomadic herding. Settled agriculture is confined mainly to the Senegal River Valley, where millet, sorghum, and smaller quantities of other cereals and rice are the main crops. Some 13,000 tons of dates are produced annually from date palms cultivated in the mountainous regions of Adrar, Tagant, and Assaba, and at the larger desert oases. Most agricultural produce is consumed locally, and Mauritania is a net importer of foodstuffs.

The most important sector of the economy is based on the rich fishing waters that lie off the Atlantic coast. The government levies fees on foreign fleets that fish in Mauritanian waters and requires that a percentage of the catch be processed in Nouadhibou. In 1994, the country exported more than 306,000 metric tons of frozen and canned seafood products worth about $223 million. Fishing by foreign companies, however, threatens this important source of income.

Mauritania's other major income-producing sector is mining. High-grade iron ore is found in the Zouerate region in the northwest. Iron ore exports in 1994 totaled over 10 million metric tons with a value of approximately $160 million. In recent years, however, a decline in demand has led to production cutbacks. The slag heaps of mined copper near Akjoujt, about 135 miles northeast of Nouakchott were reprocessed to extract remaining gold in the early 1990s.

The Societè Nationale Industrielle et Miniére (SNIM), a parastatal corporation established in 1972 when the French mining company was nationalized, controls the country's iron mines (copper and gold mining are private sector efforts). The government also oversees gypsum mining and the administration of the industrial explosives factory at Nouadhibou. More recently, SNIM has been studying the feasibility of sulphur and phosphate exploitation.

Other income sources for Mauritania include traditional exports of salt and gum arabic, still often carried over ancient camel caravan routes into Morocco, Algeria, and Mali. There is no current ongoing exploration for oil in the country, although such sources may exist. Exploration has begun in the diamond and petroleum markets.

Mauritania has been a member of the U.N. since 1961 and of the League of Arab States since 1973. In 1972, Mauritania, Senegal, and Mali formed the joint Senegal River Development Organization (OMVS) to develop the agricultural and hydroelectric potential of the Senegal River and to foster economic cooperation among the three countries. Mauritania also belonged to the 16-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) until the country withdrew in 2000. Mauritania is a signatory of the Lome Convention. In 1989, Mauritania joined Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Morocco to form the Arab Maghreb Union.

Transportation

Local

Limited bus service is available in Nouakchott and local point-to-point taxis are plentiful, but the vehicles are dilapidated, overcrowded, and rarely used by Americans. Irregular, long-distance taxi service, "taxi-brousse," is available between Nouakchott and many regional capitals. This is a colorful, if slow, way to experience the local scene.

Regional

Travel within Mauritania is via a small network of roads, air, or over the beach at low tide to coastal destinations. The only railroad, from the port of Nouadhibou to Zouerate, is used primarily to transport iron ore to the coast. Travel by boat along the Senegal River is possible during the rainy season. No passenger service by ship exists along the Atlantic coast.

Mauritania's road network includes the main north-south trunk line, which passes from Bir Moghrein through Atar and Akjoujt, and then south through Nouakchott to Rosso, on the Senegal border.

Another paved road extends east from Nouakchott to Nema, close to the Malian border, but large sections of the roadway have badly deteriorated. Other paved roads go into Boghe and Kaedi along the river. The rest of Mauritania's roads are unpaved. Because of deep, drifting sand, interior roads (both paved and unpaved) are only regularly passable in four-wheel-drive vehicles. Even paved roads may be in such poor condition that four-wheel-drive vehicles forge parallel tracks over the desert. Many roads in the south along the Senegal River are flooded during the July-September rainy season, when normally dry watercourses, called marigots, often flood and impede travel. No road connects Nouakchott with Mauritania's business capital and port, Nouadhibou, but four-wheel-drive vehicles and heavy trucks ply the beach between the two cities during low tide.

Vehicular border crossings to Senegal can be made via the ferry at Rosso and by land over the Diama Dam to St. Louis, Senegal. Other crossing points at N'Diago, Diana, Jerd El Mohguen, Tekane, Lekseiba, Boghe, M'Bagne, Kaedi, Tifounde Cive, Maghama, and Goraye are made in pirogues, small boats plying the river, but not capable of taking cars. During the rainy season, the dam is not recommended, as heavy mud makes the road impassable.

The government-owned airline, Air Mauritania, provides weekly service to most regional capitals; twice daily service to Nouadhibou; twice weekly flights to Dakar; and weekly flights to Las Palmas, Grand Canaries, and Casablanca. Air Afrique, Air France, and Sabena Airlines fly direct between Paris or Brussels and Nouakchott four times weekly, and Nouakchott usually has frequent direct flights to Dakar, only 1 hour away. Air Afrique has direct flights five times weekly from Dakar to New York. During sand-storms, the Nouakchott airport occasionally closes, and certain airlines decline to land.

Communications

Telephone and Telegraph

Telephone service exists between Nouakchott and most regional capitals, and Nouakchott has direct-dial international long-distance service. However, it is not possible to contact the international access numbers for commercial operators such as AT&T, Sprint, or MCI. It is also not possible to dial 800 numbers directly from Mauritania. It is less expensive to call Nouakchott from the U.S. than vice-versa. Telephone and telex facilities operate 24 hours daily.

Radio and TV

The radio station in Nouakchott broadcasts music, news, and commentary, mostly in Arabic, but also in French, and several African languages. Separate government-run radio stations exist in Boghe and Nouadhibou. Radio France International (RFI) broadcasts 24 hours a day and is available on the FM band. Shortwave reception is usually good.

Mauritanian TV service is limited to evening hours and includes news in French and Arabic, a few imported TV series dubbed in Arabic and French, as well as some Arabic music programs. On clear nights, Senegalese TV can be picked up in Nouakchott. Both Senegal and Mauritania use the SECAM (European) system, which is incompatible with U.S. system sets.

Newspapers, Magazines, and Technical Journals

The Government of Mauritania publishes a daily newspaper in French and Arabic editions. French paperbacks, newspapers, and periodicals are available from vendors and in shops. There are about a dozen independent weekly Mauritanian papers published in French and Arabic.

Health and Medicine

Medical Facilities

Local medical facilities are limited. The single government-run hospital in Nouakchott, staffed by Mauritanian and expatriate physicians, is used only in the case of life-threatening emergencies. Nursing care and hygiene do not meet U.S. standards. A few Mauritanian and expatriate physicians have private practices or clinics.

Bring prescription medicines taken regularly (such as those for high blood pressure, skin problems, hormone replacement, etc.). Although many pharmacies stock French drugs, supplies are not reliable, and exact duplicates of American prescriptions are unobtainable.

Home pharmaceutical items such as cold remedies, home first-aid kit items, digestive aids, eye washes, sunscreens, and insect repellents should be brought in ample supply.

A local ophthalmologist has modern equipment, and an optician is available, but bring extra pairs of prescription glasses. Many people have trouble with contact lenses in Nouakchott because of dust and the dry climate. Several pairs of sunglasses are also recommended.

Dental facilities are limited. Expatriates rarely use a local dentist, and the most exceptional cases are referred to Dakar or Europe. However, a very well-trained dentist just opened a practice in Nouakchott and has been judged reliable and safe. Complete all routine dental work before arrival. Orthodontia is available in Dakar, but the French system used by orthodontists there is not compatible with U.S. practices.

Community Health

Public health measures in Nouakchott are limited. Personal hygienic standards are low, and household trash often is thrown in the streets and vacant lots. Most illnesses are related to bacteria spread by Mauritania's prodigious fly population, contaminated tap-water, or improper food handling. The desert climate of Nouakchott is healthier than that of tropical regions, but polio, typhoid fever, hepatitis, tuberculosis, malaria, meningitis, and a variety of parasitic illnesses are endemic.

Preventive Measures

Because medical facilities are limited, those assigned to Nouakchott must place a high priority on the prevention of illness and maintenance of good health. Health promotion measures include keeping immunizations current; proper treatment of food, water, and personal environment; maintaining good nutrition; and paying close attention to your need for exercise, rest, and relaxation.

NOTES FOR TRAVELERS

An entry visa is required for all Americans traveling to Mauritania. Proof of current vaccination, or a stamp in your World Health Organization (WHO) card, for cholera and yellow fever also are needed. Arriving travelers not holding diplomatic passports should fill out a currency declaration form at the entry port and retain this form until time of departure in order to facilitate exit formalities.

Rabies is prevalent in Mauritania. All dogs and cats must have a valid health certificate showing current rabies inoculation.

The local currency is the ouguiya (UM), valued in December 2000 at about 251=$1.00. Mauritania uses the metric system of weights and measures.

LOCAL HOLIDAYS

Jan. 1 New Year's Day

May 1 Labor Day

May 25 Africa Day

Nov. 28 Mauritanian Independence Day

Hijra New Year*

Id al-Adah/Tabaski*

Ramadan*

Id al-Fitr/Korite*

Mawlid an Nabi*

Lailat al Kadr*

*variable, based on the Islamic calendar

RECOMMENDED READING

These titles are provided as a general indication of the material published on this country. The Department of State does not endorse unofficial publications.

American University. Area Handbook for Mauritania. U.S. Government Printing Office: Washington, D.C., 1973.

Baduel, Pierre Robert. Mauritanie, entre arabite et africanite. 1990.

Bouill, E.W. The Golden Trade of the Moors. Oxford University Press: London, 1978.

Clarke, Thurston. The Last Caravan. G.P. Putnam's sons, 1978.

Gerteiny, Alfred G. Historical Dictionary of Mauritania. African Historical Dictionaries Series, no. 32. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1981.

. Mauritania. Frederick A. Praeger: New York, 1967.

Goudie, A. and J. Wilkinson. The Warm Desert Environment. University Press: Cambridge, 1977.

Handloff, Robert E. Mauritania! A Country Study. 2nd ed. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1990.

Huddson, Thomas. Travels in Mauritania. 1988.

Kritzeck, J. and W. Lewis. Islam in Africa. Van Nostrand-Reinhold Co.: 1969.

La Mauritania: un Tournant Democratique? Politique Africaine no. 55, pages 2-109. October 1994.

Mauritania. Department of State in Country Reports of Human Rights Practice for 1991: February 1992.

Mauritania's Campaign of Terror: State-Sponsored Repression of Black Africans. Human Rights Watch/Africa: April 1994.

Mohamed Mahmoud ould Mohamed Salah. Droit des Contrats en Mauritanie: Tome 1 Theorie Generale du Contrat. L' Ordre National des Avocats: Mauritania, May 1996.

Mohammad-Mahmoud Mohamedou. Societal Transition to Democracy in Mauritania. 1995.

Norris, H.T. Shinguiti Folk Literature and Song. Oxford University Press: Oxford, 1968.

Pitte, Jean Robert. Nouakchott: Capitale de la Mauritanie. Paris, 1977.

Renaudeau, Michel. La Republique Islamique de Mauritanie. Editions Delroisse: Paris.

Rezette, Robert. The Western Sahara and the Frontiers of Morocco. Nouvelles Editions Latines: Paris, 1975.

Trimingham J.S. Islam in West Africa. Oxford University Press: 1959.

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Mauritania

MAURITANIA

Mauritanian Islamic Republic
Al-Jumhuriyah al-Islamiyah al-Muritaniyah
République Islamique de Mauritanie

COUNTRY OVERVIEW

LOCATION AND SIZE.

Located in northwestern Africa, bordered by Western Sahara (occupied by Morocco) and Algeria on the north, by Mali on the east and south, by Senegal on the southwest, and by the Atlantic Ocean on the west, the country has an area of 1,030,700 square kilometers (398,000 square miles), making it slightly larger than 3 times the size of New Mexico. Its total estimated boundary length is 5,828 kilometers (3,622 miles), including 754 kilometers (469 miles) of coast on the Atlantic Ocean. The capital, Nouakchott, is situated on the Atlantic coast in the southwest.

POPULATION.

The population of Mauritania was 2,667,859 in 2000. Its average population density was 2 inhabitants per square kilometer (5.18 per square mile) in 1994, or the third lowest in the world. Deserts occupy 90 percent of the territory; 90 percent of the population lives in the south, along the Senegal River and the Atlantic Ocean. In 2000, the birth rate was 43.36 per 1,000 population, while the death rate equaled 13.97 per 1,000. With a fertility rate of 6.29 children born per woman, the population growth rate was 2.94 percent. The rapidly growing population is very youthful, with 46 percent below the age of 15 and 2 percent 65 or older.

Arabic-speaking Moors of Arab and Berber ancestry form 30 percent of the population, Arabic-speaking descendants of former slaves of mixed Moor and black African stock comprise 40 percent, and black Africans of the Wolof, Toucouleur (Peul), and Soninke groups constitute 30 percent. While the Moors are traditionally nomadic herders, the black Africans are engaged mostly in agriculture along the Senegal River. Communities are organized in some 150 distinct clans or tribes. Virtually all Mauritanians are Sunni Muslims. Arabic is the official language, though French and several African languages are also widely spoken. Sixty percent of the people lived in urban areas in 2000. The population of Nouakchott, the capital, was 1,070,000 in 1999; other major cities include Nouadhibou, Zouérat, and Kaédi.

OVERVIEW OF ECONOMY

Mauritania is among the world's poorest developing countries with a gross domestic product (GDP) per capita of just $478 in 1998, according to the United Nations Development Program . Since attaining independence from French colonial rule in 1960, primitive and low-productivity subsistence farming and herding continue to provide livelihood for the majority of the people. However, most nomads and many farmers have fled to the cities since the 1970s due to the spreading desertification of the land, caused by water depletion and locust attacks. Mauritania has deposits of iron ore, which contribute nearly half of its exports, and also copper ore, gypsum, and phosphates. The decline in demand for those products, however, has led to a decline in mining output and income in the 1990s. The coastal Atlantic has a rich fishing area but it is exploited by foreign interests.

Over the 1990s, drought, mismanagement, and waste of resources have contributed to the amassing of a large foreign debt (US$2.5 billion in 1997, or 226 percent of 1996 GDP) and the country remains dependent on foreign aid (US$227.9 million in 1995) and assistance. Debt service is a heavy burden; Mauritania has been qualified by the international community for debt relief as a heavily indebted poor country and seeks cancellation of US$620 million of its debt. Foreign investment is scarce; France and Arab countries (mainly Algeria) are its largest sources. Since 1998, the government has pursued a reform initiative to cut budgetary costs, reduce the waste of resources, and reform the tax system. In 1999, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved a US$57 million enhanced structural adjustment loan to support its program.

POLITICS, GOVERNMENT, AND TAXATION

Mauritania won independence from France in 1960, and is now ruled under a republican constitution of 1991 which resembles that of France, with elements of Islamic sharia law. The constitution legalized opposition parties, but the 2 presidential elections since 1991 were flawed. Mauritania remains under an authoritarian, single-party regime. The president (Colonel Maaouya Ould Sid Ahmed Taya, in office since 1984, and reelected in 1997), is elected by popular vote for a renewable 6-year term. He appoints the prime minister and Council of Ministers (cabinet), who are subject to control by a bicameral parliament. The parliament consists of a 56-seat Senate, or Majlis al-Shuyukh, whose members are elected by municipal leaders to 6-year terms, and a National Assembly, or Majlis al-Watani, whose 79 members are elected by popular vote to 5-year terms.

The ruling party, the nationalist and formerly socialist Democratic and Social Republican Party (PRDS) of President Taya, controls 71 of the 79 seats in the National Assembly (as of early 2001), and 8 deputies represent other parties. The Union of Progressive Forces (UFP) is the most important opposition group but domestic politics is still tribally based. Mauritania experiences tensions between its black African minority and the Arabic-speaking Moor majority and has a generally ambivalent attitude towards neighboring black Africa.

The government's role in the economy is significant; economic growth and poverty reduction are key objectives of its policy, including privatization and reform in the banking sector, liberalization of the exchange rate , and reduction of trade and investment barriers. Since 1998, the government has also stressed market liberalization, sustainable development, poverty alleviation, education, and health improvement. It plans to modernize the administration, attract foreign investments, increase exports, and develop agriculture, mining, and fishing. Some state-owned companies (such as fish export marketing, petroleum, and insurance) have been privatized, and private initiative has been encouraged. Corruption is still a major problem, particularly in taxation, bank loans, government procurement , project management, traffic and vehicle control, and administrative services.

Given the poverty of the population, taxes on businesses form the bulk of the government's revenue. Since 1999, the number of taxes has been reduced from 5 to 4, with the introduction of a law that replaced 2 existing taxes that applied to imports. Customs formalities have been simplified, but the tax system is reckoned business-unfriendly. The import tax rate varies between 9 percent and 43 percent, and imports value-added tax (VAT) rates are from 5 percent to 14 percent. Importers consider import taxes high in comparison to other countries.

INFRASTRUCTURE, POWER, AND COMMUNICATIONS

Mauritania's infrastructure is poor compared to its neighbors. The roads are dilapidated, particularly in the countryside; long distances and the difficult desert climate make their maintenance difficult. There are about 7,660 kilometers (4,760 miles) of roadways, 866 kilometers (538 miles) of which are paved, and 704 kilometers (460 miles) of railroad line for carrying iron ore from Zouérat to Nouadhibou. Several roads are under construction, and land conversion and road construction are a top priority for the government.

Communications
Country Newspapers Radios TV Sets a Cable subscribers a Mobile Phones a Fax Machines a Personal Computers a Internet Hosts b Internet Users b
1996 1997 1998 1998 1998 1998 1998 1999 1999
Mauritania 0 151 91 N/A 0 1.7 5.5 0.00 13
United States 215 2,146 847 244.3 256 78.4 458.6 1,508.77 74,100
Nigeria 24 223 66 N/A 0 N/A 5.7 0.00 100
Morocco 26 241 160 N/A 4 0.7 2.5 0.28 50
aData are from International Telecommunication Union, World Telecommunication Development Report 1999 and are per 1,000 people.
bData are from the Internet Software Consortium (http://www.isc.org) and are per 10,000 people.
SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.

The Chinese-built seaport in Nouakchott receives 85 percent of the country's imported goods. The second seaport in the northern center of Nouadhibou serves fish and iron exports. Other ports include Bogué, Kaédi, and Rosso on the Senegal River; there is ferry traffic on the Senegal River.

The air transport company, state-run Air Mauritanie, provides domestic and international services between Nouakchott, Casablanca, Dakar, Las Palmas, Bamako, and Banjul. With international airports in Nouakchott, Nouadhibou, and Néma, Mauritania is served by Air France, Air Afrique, Moroccan, Tunisian, Algerian, and Senegalese carriers.

Electricity production was 152 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) a year in 1998, with 80 percent coming from thermal plants and 20 percent from hydropower installations. Most companies have their own generators. Electricity consumption is 141 million kWh (1998). Public-sector energy output increased 25 percent between 1993 and 1997 to meet demand in Nouakchott and Nouadhibou. Mauritania relies on imports of fuel; alternative energy production, such as solar, is limited but growing. It receives 15 percent of electricity output from the Manantali dam on the Senegal river. The Societe Nationale d'Eau et d'Electricite, the state-run electricity and water monopoly , is improving its management, and the government plans to privatize it and has hired a consortium headed by the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation to prepare the process. Power projects under construction include the extension of the Nouakchott electricity grid. Firewood fulfills one-half of household fuel demand but the European Union (EU) is promoting the distribution of gas bottles and burners to encourage people to convert to gas. To satisfy its demand for potable water, the government plans to renovate the sanitation network, encourage new well drilling in the countryside, and increase of Nouadhibou and Nouakchott's reservoir capacity.

Mauritania has a poor telecommunications system with only 9,000 main lines in use in 1995, but it has undergone considerable expansion in the late 1990s. The first GSM wireless telephone system with 50,000 lines covering the Nouakchott and Nouadhibou areas was launched in 2000. The system operator, Mauritela joint venture between the Tunisian Telecommunications Company and local companieswon the $28 million license in competition with France Telecom and Spanish Starcelle. Privatization of the former state monopoly OPT (postal and telecommunications company) was launched in 1999 with the intention to create 3 separate units run by private operators. The Canadian company Sogema has been hired to reorganize telecommunications, and French Alcatel has captured market share with the installation of a new 10,000-line phone exchange in Nouakchott worth US$4.5 million. In 2000, the World Bank approved a US$10.8 million loan to the government for assistance in privatization and expanding access to communications.

ECONOMIC SECTORS

Mauritania's GDP composition by sector in 1997 was as follows: agriculture, 25 percent; industry, 31 percent; and services, 44 percent. The relative stability of the various sectors over the years, however, disguises significant changes within those sectors. In agriculture, for instance, there was a 30 percent rise in crop output between 1993 and 1997, while livestock and fishing declined by 40 percent. Mining production peaked in 1994 and has since dropped back to the 1993 level. Mining and fisheries contribute for 99.7 percent of the exports. The low population density does not support a diversified manufacturing sector, and industrial activities are located almost solely in Nouakchott and Nouadhibou, where the production growth rate was 7.2 percent in 1994. Growth in commerce, transport, and communications in the late 1990s compensated for declines in public sector services.

AGRICULTURE

Agriculture and herding employ 47 percent of the workforce, although its contribution to GDP is 25 percent due to its inefficiency. Most farmers are engaged in subsistence agriculture and never buy food outside their households. Farms produce dates, millet, sorghum, and root crops, while herders raise cattle and sheep. Fishing is the second largest foreign revenue source after mining. Along its 754 kilometer (469 mile) Atlantic coast, Mauritania has some of the richest fishing grounds in the world. The sector, however, is harmed by the lack of effective government policy, mismanagement, and limited technical ability to monitor and control the resources. In 1997, the government launched a reform to strengthen its control, increase the fishing areas, and encourage joint ventures with foreign companies.

There is very little arable land in Mauritania, while permanent pastures occupy 38 percent of the territory and forests and woodland cover just 4 percent. Mauritania's cereal production covers 35 percent of the country's needs (527,297 metric tons) and the food situation in 1999 called for massive imports and donor aid. The Senegal River valley has attracted local investors to regional dam projects relevant also to navigation, power generation, and distribution. The World Bank supports an irrigation program aimed at rehabilitating 11,000 hectares along the Senegal River and diversifying the crops. In 1998, the government adopted a long-term development strategy to guarantee food security and conserve natural resources by promoting private investment and introducing irrigation.

INDUSTRY

The mining of iron ore and gypsum and fish processing form the backbone of Mauritanian industry. In 1998, mining exports equaled $214 million, or 56 percent of total exports, a 23 percent increase from 1997, making the state-run mining company the largest foreign exchange generator. Mining is of greatest interest to foreign investors, and suppliers of mining equipment and services. Mauritania is trying to develop new natural resources, notably gold and oil. In 1998 and 1999, research contracts were signed with Canadian Rex Diamond Mining Corporation and Australian Ashton West Africa Property. Researchers have confirmed the presence of gold, phosphate, aluminum, and copper in several regions, and Australian Woodside Petroleum has reported positive results at its offshore drilling in Mauritanian waters.

The domestic market's lack of scale, skilled labor, and infrastructure, and its high utility costs and poor credit make Mauritania unattractive for foreign manufacturers. Manufacturing and handicrafts accounted for 4.4 percent of GDP in 1998 and are concentrated in Nouakchott and Nouadhibou. They include food processing, chemicals and plastics, building materials, and paper and packaging materials. Six companies account for 57 percent of investment and 40 percent of the 1,100 jobs in the sector. Of the 10 companies established in the 1980s in fish processing, 8 have failed due to high water and electricity costs, skilled labor shortages, poor infrastructure, and low hygiene standards.

SERVICES

Mauritania's financial sector is underdeveloped, although it has been restructured and privatized over the 1990s. It includes the Banque centrale de Mauritanie (the central bank, which issues currency and oversees monetary policy ), and 5 commercial banks, the Banque nationale de Mauritanie, the Banque mauritanienne pour le commerce et l'industrie, the Banque al baraka mauritanienne Islamique, Chinguetti Bank, and the Generale de banque de Mauritanie. All banks are burdened by bad (irrecoverable) loans in the struggling fishing sector. The Saudi Al-Baraka firm, owning 85 percent of Al-Baraka Bank, and Belgium's Belgolaise bank, holding a stake at Generale, are the largest foreign shareholders in local banks. Government participation in the other banks is significant, but 2 of them are negotiating partnerships with foreign investors. There is 1 bank specialized in housing construction, 3 credit Agencies (Credit Maritime, Credit Agricole, and Mauritanie Leasing), and 2 private insurance companies. Since 1997, the government has encouraged popular saving agencies to diversify the sector and mobilize small savers' assets to promote investment.

Mauritania's retail trade is mostly traditional, represented by small family enterprises. It has a good tourist potential as the Banc d'Arguin reserve and ancient towns such as Chinguetti were declared World Heritage Sites by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. There are, however, very few facilities and the only international hotels are in Nouakchott.

Trade (expressed in billions of US$): Mauritania
Exports Imports
1975 .176 .161
1980 .194 .286
1985 .374 .234
1990 .447 .220
1995 N/A N/A
1998 N/A N/A
SOURCE: International Monetary Fund. International Financial Statistics Yearbook 1999.

INTERNATIONAL TRADE

Mauritania imports food, fuel, vehicles and spare parts, building materials, and clothes, and exports mainly iron ore, fish, and some gold. Its exports amounted to US$425 million in 1997, and are shipped mostly to Japan (24 percent), Italy (17 percent), France (14 percent), and Spain (8 percent). Imports in 1997 worth US$444 million, mostly machinery and equipment, petroleum products, capital goods , foodstuffs, and consumer goods , were purchased from France (26 percent), Spain (8 percent), Germany (7 percent), and the Benelux countries (7 percent). Mauritania's economic ties to black Western African countries have lost relative importance over the 1990s compared to those with the Arab countries of Northern Africa.

Mauritanians benefitted in the 1990s from the abolition of import monopolies on rice, wheat, flour, sugar, tea, and powdered milk, which improved the accessibility of food throughout the country. Credit restrictions, import taxes, and interest rates still hinder most importers. Mauritania is trying to promote trade, particularly with Arab countries. A trade deficit of 6.6 billion ouguiyas is growing, however, and reflects not only the weakness of the domestic economy but also increased debt repayments and the decrease in money transfers from Mauritanian workers abroad.

MONEY

Banking supervision has been strengthened during the 1990s to encourage bank solvency and the stability of local currency (with the support of the World Bank and the IMF) but interest rates have discouraged private investment. The government pursues price stability through fiscal and monetary restraint, promotes private credit agencies and institutional reform, encourages domestic and foreign investment, and encourages poverty reduction through higher wages. The foreign exchange system was liberalized in the 1990s and currencies can be obtained freely, but the central bank fixes exchange

Exchange rates: Mauritania
ouguiyas (UM) per US$1
Dec 2000 250.870
2000 238.923
1999 209.514
1998 188.476
1997 151.853
1996 137.222
SOURCE: CIA World Factbook 2001 [ONLINE].

rates through a basket of currencies of the principal trading partners. In 1998, the central bank introduced incentives to encourage fish exporters to bring back their foreign currency and change them for ouguiyas, increasing the availability of foreign currencies, mainly U.S. dollars and French francs, in the market.

POVERTY AND WEALTH

Mauritania ranks among the least developed countries in the world with widespread chronic poverty among the nomadic herders, subsistence farmers, and the unemployed urban masses. Poverty is manifested not only in low income but also in limited access to basic services such as safe water, health care, and education. In 1990, it was estimated that 57 percent of the population lived below the poverty line and the country's Gini index (measuring economic equality, with 0 standing for perfect equality and 100 for perfect inequality) was close to 39, lower than the one in the United States but higher than in Europe. With the lowest 10 percent of earners responsible for 0.7 percent of the consumption and the highest 10 percent for 30.4 percent in 1988, Mauritania is still more equal than many of its African neighbors. The inflation rate was 9.8 percent in 1998. The country is heavily dependent on foreign aid and poverty reduction programs while corruption creates some large illicit fortunes. Economic inequality adds to interethnic and intertribal tension to

GDP per Capita (US$)
Country 1975 1980 1985 1990 1998
Mauritania 549 557 511 438 478
United States 19,364 21,529 23,200 25,363 29,683
Nigeria 301 314 230 258 256
Morocco 956 1,114 1,173 1,310 1,388
SOURCE: United Nations. Human Development Report 2000; Trends in human development and per capita income.
Distribution of Income or Consumption by Percentage Share: Mauritania
Lowest 10% 2.3
Lowest 20% 6.2
Second 20% 10.8
Third 20% 15.4
Fourth 20% 22.0
Highest 20% 45.6
Highest 10% 29.9
Survey year: 1995
Note: This information refers to expenditure shares by percentiles of the population and is ranked by per capita expenditure.
SOURCE: 2000 World Development Indicators [CD-ROM].

produce a very low level of human development, according to United Nations sources.

WORKING CONDITIONS

The labor force was estimated at 465,000 in 1981, but only 45,000 wage earners were reported in 1980, indicating that a vast number of people are employed in subsistence agriculture. By occupation, agriculture employed 47 percent, services 39 percent, industry 14 percent. Mass exodus to cities, low economic growth, and a growing uneducated young population are generating unemployment while there is a shortage of skilled workers, technicians, and managers in most sectors. The unemployment rate was officially 23 percent in 1995. But fully 50 percent of high school and university graduates are unemployed due to government hiring restraints and the stagnating private sector .

Workers have the right to associate and strike, but strikes are rare. There are 3 union confederations, Union of Mauritanian Workers (UTM), General Confederation of Mauritanian Workers (CGTM), and Confederation of Free Mauritanian Workers (CLTM). An employer-employee agreement, the 1974 Collective Labor Convention, establishes many employee benefits, including paid maternity leave. The workweek is 40 hours and the minimum wage is revised periodically by the unions, the employers, and the government. In 1998, the minimum wage was US$54 per month but in the private sector it was US$81.

COUNTRY HISTORY AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

c. 1-1000 A.D. Berber nomads conquer the indigenous black population, dominating trade with the African kingdom of Ghana across the trans-Saharan trade routes.

c. 1100-1674. Almoravid Dynasty controls the trade in gold, slaves, and salt.

1674. Muslim Arabs conquer the country, becoming the upper class of society. Arabic becomes the official language.

1905. Mauritania becomes a French protectorate and later colony; slavery is legally abolished.

1958. The Islamic Republic of Mauritania is proclaimed.

1960. Mauritania gains independence from France; M. Ould Daddah is elected president.

1960s-70s. The economy expands thanks to newly discovered iron and copper deposits.

1975. Spain cedes the Western Sahara to Morocco and Mauritania, sparking a continuing conflict over the status of the region.

1978. President Daddah is toppled in a coup, and in 1979 Mauritania withdraws from the Western Sahara. Prime minister, later president, Mohamed Ould Haidalla institutes strict enforcement of Islamic law.

1984. Haidalla is deposed by Colonel Taya.

1989. Mauritania joins the Union of the Arab Maghreb, a North African political and economic union whose members include Morocco, Libya, Tunisia, and Algeria.

1989. Tensions with Senegal over agricultural rights along their border result in the repatriation of 100,000 Mauritanians from Senegal and the expulsion of 125,000 Senegalese from Mauritania.

1991. A new constitution is adopted, and opposition parties are legalized.

1997. President Taya is reelected president in a landslide election victory.

FUTURE TRENDS

Improving economic management is expected to gradually bring about positive developments in the economy, the infrastructure, and in the alleviation of poverty. The ruling PRDS party will likely win the October 2001 parliamentary elections and real GDP is expected to grow in 2001 at an annual rate of 6 percent. Mauritania's economic ties will be further redirected from West Africa to the Union of the Arab Maghreb (Algeria, Libya, Morocco, and Tunisia). Economic policies oriented toward liberalization and additional bank reforms are expected to improve the investment climate. The success of the telecom privatization is expected to attract new private funds and new businesses. Good relations with the IMF and the World Bank will continue to bring in international funds for poverty reduction and development projects and strengthen the economy.

Prospects for increased mining output capacity, along with an increase in iron ore prices and the development of new mineral resources, may bring steady growth in mineral exports. The health of the fisheries industry depends to a large extent on market conditions in East Asia, particularly Japan, and may suffer from economic recession in that country. Domestic food production may benefit from occasional good seasons of rains but is still in jeopardy due to active desertification processes and will require extensive international aid. Environmental degradation, poor water supply and health services, unemployment, and a lack of basic education will continue to pose the most serious problems to the government in the foreseeable future.

DEPENDENCIES

Mauritania has no territories or colonies.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Economist Intelligence Unit. Country Profile: Mauritania. London: Economist Intelligence Unit, 2001.

Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. <http://www.isa-africa.com/amb-mauritanie/index1.htm>. Accessed August 2001.

Handloff, Robert E. Mauritania: A Country Study. 2nd ed.Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1996.

"Mauritania." MBendi: Information for Africa. <http://www.mbendi.co.za/land/af/mu/p0005.htm>. Accessed August 2001.

United Nations Development Program. Human Development Report, Mauritania. New York, 2000.

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. World Factbook 2000. <http://www.odci.gov/cia/publications/factbook/index.html>. Accessed August 2001.

U.S. Department of State. Country Commercial Guides for FY2000: Mauritania. <http://www.state.gov/www/about_state/business/com_guides/2000/africa/mauritania00_02.html>. Accessed August 2001.

Valentin Hadjiyski

CAPITAL:

Nouakchott.

MONETARY UNIT:

Ouguiya (UM). One ouguiya equals 5 khoums. There are coins of 1 khoum and 1, 5, 10, and 20 ouguiyas, and notes of 100, 200, 500, and 1,000 ouguiyas.

CHIEF EXPORTS:

Fish and fish products, iron ore, gold.

CHIEF IMPORTS:

Machinery and equipment, petroleum products, capital goods, foodstuffs, consumer goods.

GROSS DOMESTIC PRODUCT:

US$4.9 billion (purchasing power parity, 1999 est.).

BALANCE OF TRADE:

Exports: US$425 million (f.o.b., 1997). Imports: US$444 million (f.o.b., 1997).

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Mauritania

Mauritania

Basic Data

Official Country Name: Islamic Republic of Mauritania
Region (Map name): Africa
Population: 2,667,859
Language(s): Hasaniya Arabic, Pular, Soninke, Wolof, French
Literacy rate: 37.7%

Background & General Characteristics

Mauritania is a primarily desert country in northwest Africa, situated south of the Western Sahara, southwest of Algeria, west and north of Mali, and north of Senegal. The country's western border is the Atlantic Ocean. The capital of Mauritania is Noakchott. A country of 2.5 million people, Mauritania's population is composed of Arab Berbers in the north and darker-skinned Africans in the south. Many of the people are nomads. The language groups in the country include Arabic (the official language), French, and local languages. Most Mauritanians practice Islam.

Maaouiya Ould Sid Ahmed Taya is the president of Mauritania, a highly centralized, constitutional Islamic republic with a strong presidency. Although the 1991 constitution provided for a civilian government with an executive branch, senate, and national assembly, President Taya exerts considerable political power over the rest of the government. He came to power in 1984 as the leader of a military junta and was officially elected president of the republic in 1992 during the country's first multi-party election under the new constitution. Taya was reelected in 1997 by 90 percent of the vote, winning out over four other candidates in an election boycotted by a five-party coalition, the Opposition Front. General and local elections held in October 2001 were won by the president's Republican Democratic Party, enabling President Taya to keep firm control over Mauritanian politics and governance.

Newspapers in Mauritania are tightly controlled by the state, which reviews all copy to be published two or three days in advance of the publication date. Five copies of all newspaper issues must be presented to the Ministries of Justice and of the Interior for this pre-publication review. Material deemed insulting to Islam or a risk to national security cannot be published. All newspapers must be registered with the Ministry of the Interior.

The principal newspapers in the country are in French and Arabic, and a wide variety of newspapers exists. Over three hundred newspapers and journals are registered with the government but only about a third of these publish on a regular basis; some have never published an issue. Only about twenty-five private newspapers publish regularly, most of them weeklies printing a maximum of three thousand copies for any one edition.

Key newspapers include Al'Sha'b, a government-owned paper published in Arabic; Horizon, also government owned, but published in French; Journal Officiel, the official gazette published in French; Le Calame, appearing in both Arabic and French; l'Eveil-Hebdo, a French bi-weekly; and Rajoul Echaree, published in Arabic and French.

Those campaigning to end the practice of slavery in Mauritania, which was officially stopped in 1981 but purported to still exist, despite government denials, have sometimes found it difficult to publicize their cause and their campaign activities via the media. As Amnesty International stated in their 2002 annual report, "Human rights organizations, including those campaigning against slavery, remained illegal, and freedom of expression remained limited." In September 2001 the European Parliament passed a resolution calling for improvements in specific human rights situations in Mauritania, including an end to slavery and greater guarantees for freedom of expression. In November 2001 independent journalist Gilles Ammar and his cameraman were expelled from Mauritania, allegedly for attempting to produce a report on slavery.

Economic Framework

Mauritania's economy is based on fishing and mining. The principal exports are fish and fish products, iron ore, and gold. The average per capita annual income is only about US$370.

Certain financial benefits apply to those who publish mass media. Publishers and printers of newspapers, journals, and privately printed books do not have to pay government taxes on the materials they use to produce their publications.

Press Laws

The Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and of the press. However, government control of the media involves pre-publication censorship made possible by Article 11 of the Constitution, which states that content and media can be banned if they threaten national sovereignty, security, or unity or the territorial integrity of Mauritania or if they insult Islam or foreign heads of state.

Censorship

Censorship is a problem for journalists in Mauritania, though conditions for the press appeared somewhat better in 2001 than in the previous year, based on the annual report of Reporters Without Borders. Papers produced by non-governmental organizations and by the private press are more open in their criticism of government officials and policies and of the opposition parties than are the state-owned papers. As the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor expressed it in their annual report for January through December 2001, "Antigovernment tracts, newsletters, and petitions circulated widely in Nouakchott and other towns."

The U.S. State Department reported that in December 2000 one weekly newspaper, Al Alam, was banned. In 2001 seven issues of various journals were seized by the authorities as objectionable material under the censorship laws. In July 2002 an issue of Le Renovateur, one of the country's bi-monthly newspapers, was seized by the Ministry of the Interior, Posts and Telecommunications despite the fact that the issue had been properly registered. The seizure was likely related to an article it contained on rising prices of essential goods and on foreign exchange, according to the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) in Accra, Ghana. MFWA issued an alert on August 9, 2002, requesting that letters be sent to Mauritania's president and the Minister of the Interior to protest frequent seizures of newspapers in the country.

State-Press Relations

Besides the requirement that newspapers must all register with the government, all journalists must carry government-issued press cards to participate in official press events.

The general atmosphere surrounding the press in Mauritania appears to be cautiously positive but restrictive, particularly in terms of the continuing prohibition of private radio broadcasting licenses. Moreover, state-controlled media voice views that favor the government, so it cannot be said that Mauritania enjoys a very large measure of press freedom.

One example of government interference with journalistic reporting was the detention and questioning in July 2001 of reporter Mohammed Lemine Ould Mahmoudi, a contributor to the weekly Le Calame and managing editor of the weekly Hasad Al-Ousbou'é. Mahmoudi was arrested due to suspicions that he knew something about who had produced anti-government graffiti and who had committed acts of sabotage during an official visit to one of the country's regions. After a few hours of questioning, Mahmoudi was released.

Attitude toward Foreign Media

Mauritanian correspondents for foreign broadcasters have occasionally had problems with government repression. For example, in April 2001 the Minister of Communications temporarily banned journalist Mohammed Lemine Ould Bah, Mauritania's correspondent for Radio France International and Radio Monte Carlo, from practicing journalism and working with these broadcasters after Bah reported on conflict between Mauritania and its southwestern neighbor, Senegal.

Mauritanians can access foreign television programs from France and Arab countries through satellite receivers and dish antennae. Although the government had interfered with certain broadcasts of Radio France International and the Qatar-based Arabic television station, Al-Jazeera, due to programs of theirs that had been critical of the Mauritanian government, no such interference reportedly occurred in 2001, according to the U.S. State Department's report on human rights practices.

News Agencies

Mauritania's official news agency is the Mauritanian News Agency.

Broadcast Media

The state owns all domestic television and radio broadcasting services, whose coverage typically provides a favorable picture of the government. The political opposition has limited access to radio broadcasting, although during the last election the opposition candidates were allowed much greater access to the media than at other times. Foreign broadcasts from France, Arab countries, and other locations, such as Africa No. 1 from Gabon can be received via FM in the country. However, private radio stations within Mauritania are unable to obtain broadcast licenses. Domestic rebroadcasting on FM stations of Radio France International programs is permitted, enabling listeners in Mauritania to hear news of the opposition parties.

The national broadcasting network is the Office de Radiodiffusion-Television de Mauritanie (ORTM). Mauritanian TV broadcasts throughout the country on one channel but can be picked up by satellite in eleven regional capitals. Its programs are produced in Arabic, French, and various local languages. Radio programs by the national broadcaster are transmitted on FM and short wave and by Arabsat 2B satellite. Radio France International is transmitted on FM in Nouakchott, the capital city. No domestic radio stations exist, due to government refusal to grant licenses to private radio broadcasters within the country. However, radio is the most popular form of media in the country.

Electronic News Media

About 300 persons accessed the Internet regularly in 1999. Five domestic Internet service providers operate in Mauritania, unrestricted by the government. Internet connections were improved in 1999 to make Internet access available in Nouadhibou, the country's principal commercial city. The Internet is now available there and in five regional capitals. Internet sites are maintained by some of the privately owned newspapers in the country, and in 2001 these sites were able to operate without government censorship.

Summary

Although Mauritania has a ways to come before its press can be called free, some positive conditions appear to exist in the relations between the press and the state, such as permissiveness regarding Internet service provision and the reception of foreign television and radio broadcasts in the country. However, the amount of media control exerted by the government, particularly in terms of government bans on private radio broadcasting and the required government pre-publication reviews of press materials, is restrictive compared with basic international standards for free expression and public debate and dissent. Hopefully, a reduction in government tensions over border disputes with Senegal involving the use of the Senegal River, mixed with domestic and international efforts to promote more multi-party democratic political activity, will eventually change this situation and make Mauritania a more positive environment for journalistic practice.

Significant Dates

  • 1997: President Taya reelected with 90 percent of the vote.
  • 1999: Internet access made available in Nouadhibou, the country's principal commercial city.
  • December 2000: Al Alam, a weekly newspaper, is banned and stops publishing.
  • April 2001: The Minister of Communications temporarily bans journalist Mohammed Lemine Ould Bah, Mauritania's correspondent for Radio France International and Radio Monte Carlo, from practicing journalism in the country.
  • September 2001: The European Parliament passes a resolution calling for improved human rights in Mauritania, including an end to slavery and better guarantees for freedom of expression.
  • October 2001: General and local elections won by Republican Democratic Party, President Taya's party, allowing him to stay in firm control of politics and the government in Mauritania.
  • November 2001: Independent journalist Gilles Ammar and his cameraman are expelled from Mauritania, allegedly for attempting to produce a report on slavery.
  • August 2002: The Media Foundation for West Africa issues an alert on August 9, 2002, requesting that letters be sent to Mauritania's president and the Minister of the Interior to protest frequent seizures of newspapers.

Bibliography

Amnesty International. "Mauritania." Amnesty International Report 2002. London: Amnesty International, 2002. Available from web.amnesty.org/.

BBC Monitoring. "Country profile: Mauritania." Reading, UK: British Broadcasting Corporation, 2002. Available from www.news.bbc.co.uk.

Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. Department of State. "Mauritania." Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2001. Washington, DC: Bureau of Public Affairs, U.S. Department of State, 2002. Available from www.state.gov/.

Committee to Protect Journalists. "Mauritania." Attacks on the Press in 2001: Africa 2001. New York, NY: CPJ, 2002. Available from www.cpj.org/attacks01/mideast01/mauritania.html.

Media Foundation for West Africa. "Another Newspaper Publication Seized." Press release. Accra, Ghana, August 9, 2002. Available from www.allafrica.com/stories/.

Reporters Without Borders. "Mauritania." Africa Annual Report 2002. Paris, France: Reporters sans frontiéres, 2002. Available from www.rsf.org/.

Barbara A. Lakeberg-Dridi

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Mauritania

Mauritania (môrĬtā´nēə), officially Islamic Republic of Mauritania, republic (2005 est. pop. 3,087,000), 397,953 sq mi (1,030,700 sq km), NW Africa. It borders on the Atlantic Ocean in the west, on Western Sahara in the northwest and north, on Algeria in the northeast, on Mali in the east and southeast, and on Senegal in the southwest. Nouakchott is the capital and largest town. Other towns include Atar and Kaédi.

Land and People

Most of Mauritania is made up of low-lying desert, which comprises part of the Sahara. Along the Senegal River (which forms the border with Senegal and is Mauritania's only perennial river) in the southwest is the semiarid Sahel with some fertile alluvial soil. A wide sandstone plateau (rising to c.1,500 ft/460 m) runs through the center of the country from north to south. In the southeast is the Hodh, a large basin in the desert.

The majority of the population is of Berber, Arab, Tuareg, and Fulani descent, and many still live a nomadic or seminomadic existence. Those of Berber, Arab, and mixed Berber-Arab background are sometimes called Moors, Maurs, or Maures. The remainder of the population mostly belong to the Tukolor, Soninke, Bambara, and Wolof ethnic groups and live as sedentary agriculturalists near the Senegal River. Recurrent droughts in the late 20th cent. forced many nomads from the countryside into the urban area of Nouakchott.

Virtually all the inhabitants of the country are Muslim, and many belong to the Qadiriyya brotherhood. The great majority of Mauritanians use Hasaniya Arabic, which, along with Wolof, is an official language. Other indigenous languages such as Pular and Soninke are also widely spoken. The country has a complex social caste system, with light-skinned Moors usually in positions of power and black Africans often at the bottom of the social ladder. In 1981, Mauritania became the world's last nation to officially ban slavery. Nonetheless, the United Nations and other groups report that slavery persists, with thousands of Haratines, the Arabicized Africans known as black Moors, held in involuntary servitude. In 2007 legislation was enacted that, for the first time, provided for criminal penalties for keeping slaves.

Economy

Mauritania's economy is sharply divided between a traditional agricultural sector and a modern mining industry that was developed in the 1960s. About half of the country's workers depend on either raising crops or pasturing livestock for their livelihood and are unaffected by the mining industry. The principal agricultural products, produced chiefly near the Senegal River and in scattered oases, are dates, millet, sorghum, rice, and corn. In times of drought food production levels can drop dangerously low. Cattle, sheep, goats, and camels are raised. There is an important fishing industry based in the Atlantic and on the Senegal River. Since 1980, all foreign commercial fishing in Mauitanian territorial waters must be carried out jointly with Mauritania; this policy has increased export earnings, but overfishing now threatens this source of revenue.

A large deposit of high-grade iron ore was discovered in N Mauritania in the late 1950s, and production for export began in 1963. Foreign sales of iron ore account for about 40% of the country's export earnings. Gypsum, gold, copper, and salt are also mined. The difficult mining conditions with respect to the country's large copper ore reserves and low world commodity prices at times lead to occasional mine closures. There are also offshore oil deposits, which the country began exploiting in 2006. Fish processing is also important, and there is light manufacturing. The Trans-Mauritania highway connects the capital with the southeast regions. There is a deepwater port at Nouakchott.

The chief exports, in addition to iron ore, are fish and fish products, gold, and cattle (the latter sent mainly to Senegal); the leading imports are machinery and equipment, petroleum products, capital and consumer goods, and food. The principal trade partners are France, Belgium, Japan, and Spain. Mauritania has a large foreign debt.

Government

Mauritania is governed under the constitution of 2006. The executive branch is headed by a president, who is popularly elected for a five-year term and is eligible for a second term. The prime minister is appointed by the president. The bicameral parliament consists of the 56-seat Senate, whose members are indirectly elected for six-year terms, and the 95-seat National Assembly, whose members are popularly elected for five-year terms. Administratively, the country is divided into 12 regions and the capital district.

History

Early History through Colonialism

By the beginning of the 1st millennium AD 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. The opposition also boycotted the June, 2014, presidential election, in which Aziz was easily reelected.

Bibliography

See R. N. Westebbe, The Economy of Mauritania (1971); A. G. Gerteiny, Historical Dictionary of Mauritania (1981).

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Mauritania

Mauritania

Basic Data
Official Country Name: Islamic Republic of Mauritania
Region: Africa
Population: 2,667,859
Language(s): Hasaniya Arabic, Pular, Soninke, Wolof, French
Literacy Rate: 37.7%



History & Background

Early public schools in Mauritania were established when the west African nation was colonized by the French. A particularly nomadic people, the Mauritanians quite often ignored these new schools and continued to send their children to the existing Islamic schools, which favored religious instruction based on the teaching of the Koran. Boys typically received seven years of education, beginning at age eight, while girls remained in school for a much shorter duration.

When World War II ended in 1945, the French colonial administration began setting up mobile "tent" schools as a means of reaching these nomadic communities. However, in the mid-1960s, only 14 percent of all school-age children had enrolled in the public schools. It wasn't until the Mauritanians themselves began to view traditional religious education as inadequate to prepare their children for the future that enrollment levels at secular schools began to climb, reaching roughly 35 percent by the mid-1980s. At that time, 878 primary schoolsemploying 2,900 teachersand 44 secondary schoolsemploying 1,563 teachers, more than one-fourth of whom were from other countrieswere in operation.


Constitutional & Legal Foundations

After achieving independence in the mid-1960s, Mauritania began experimenting with ways to mold its educational system to the specific needs of its students. In 1966 the government passed legislation that mandated schools to offer instruction in both the French and the Arabic languages. A similar bill passed early in the 1980s required that instruction be offered in the languages of Pulaar, Azayr, and Wolof. A plan conceived in the late 1970s to completely eliminate French in the schools was dissolved by the end of the following decade after vehement resistance by Mauritanians who already spoke French.


Educational System

Education in Mauritania is mandatory from ages 6 to 16. The school year runs from October to June. Primary and secondary education is divided into three quarters, the first one lasting 11 weeks and the remaining two lasting 13 weeks. Higher education is split into two six-month periods. The languages of instruction are both Arabic and French.


Preprimary & Primary Education

Primary education begins at age six and lasts for six years. General studies include arithmetic, science, and language. Upon successful graduation from Ecole Fondamentale, students are awarded a Certificat d'Etudes Primaires. Despite efforts to make primary education more accessible to girls, large disparities still remain among the sexes. Primary school enrollment reached 61 percent for males and 53 percent for females in 1997.


Secondary Education

Secondary education consists of three years of basic studies at a college. Students must pass a final examination to receive the Brevet d'Etudes du Premier Cycle (BEPC) certificate. Those wishing to continue their studies may enroll in a lycée to take an additional three years of courses to earn the Baccalaureat de l'Enseignement du Second Degre with a focus in either mathematics, arts and literature, chemical and physical sciences, natural sciences, or Koran and Arabic. Students may also opt for three years of technical education, which culminates in either the Brevet d'Enseignement Professionnel (BEP) degree or the Brevet de Technicien degree.


Higher Education

The University of Nouakchott, established in 1981, offers higher education degrees in economics and law, arts and humanities, and science and technology. It employs 254 instructors and serves more than 8,500 students. Other institutions include the National College of Administration and the National College of Sciencesboth founded in 1982and various teaching and technical academies, such as Ecole Normale Superieure and Centre Superieur d'Enseignement Technique, which offers mechanical and electrical engineering programs. Students who successfully complete a two-year higher education program are awarded the Diplome d'Etudes. After an additional two years of study, students receive the Maitrise. Those wishing to pursue postgraduate work must do so outside of Mauritania.


Administration, Finance, & Educational Research

The Ministry of Education, based in Nouakchott, oversees the educational policies and procedures of Mauritania. In 1993 roughly 7 percent of the national budget was allocated to education. In both 1994 and 1995, this was reduced to 4 percent, forcing the schools to stretch their limited dollars even further. Education officials spent most of the 1990s working on developing a data processing system for the nation's educational system.


Nonformal Education

Literacy rates in 1985among the lowest in Sub-Saharan Africa at roughly 20 percentprompted the government to examine ways to establish a more educated base of workers. As a result, Mauritania established the State Secretariat of Culture, Information, and Telecommunications (SSCIT) to oversee the nation's largest adult literacy campaign to date. By increasing the number of classes offered, as well as the expanding the areas in which they were offered, the SSCIT saw literacy rates increase to 52 percent for adult males (older than the age of 15) and 31 percent for adult females in 1997.


Teaching Profession

Primary school teachers are required to hold a Diplome de Fin d'Etudes. To earn this degree, candidates with a BECP must gain entrance to a teaching academy and complete three years of courses, while those with a Baccalaureat need only complete one year of teaching classes. Those who wish to teach in a college must complete a one-year program at Ecole Normale Superieure. Lycée teachers are required to pass an external examination and complete a two-year program at Ecole Normale Superieure; students who opt to take an internal examination must complete a four-year program there.

Summary

A major issue facing Mauritanian education officials in the twenty-first century is the debate over the relevance of curriculum; many education officials in the late 1990s were calling for expanding basic studies to cover such topics as family education, nutrition, the arts, and manual labor. Other areas of concern are inadequate funding, coupled with the need for additional infrastructure, and the disparities in the educational level of boys and girls and among the various regions of the nation.


Bibliography

U.S. Library of Congress. "MauritaniaA Country Study." Prepared by the Federal Research Division. Washington, DC: 1990. Available from http://rs6.loc.gov.

World Data on Education. "Education Profiles: Mauritania." Prepared by the International Bureau of Education, June 2000. Available from http://www.ibe.unesco.org.

World Higher Education Database 2000. "MauritaniaEducation System." Paris: International Association of Universities/UNESCO International Centre on Higher Education, 1998-1999. Available from http://www.usc.edu.


AnnaMarie L. Sheldon

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Mauritania

Mauritania

Official name: Islamic Republic of Mauritania

Area: 1,030,700 square kilometers (397,953 square miles)

Highest point on mainland: Mount Ijill (915 meters/3,002 feet)

Lowest point on land: Sebkha de Ndrhamcha (3 meters/10 feet below sea level)

Hemispheres: Northern and Eastern

Time zone: Noon = noon GMT

Longest distances: 1,515 kilometers (941 miles) from northeast to southwest; 1,314 kilometers (816 miles) from northwest to southeast

Land boundaries: 5,074 kilometers (3,153 miles) total boundary length; Algeria 463 kilometers (288 miles); Mali 2,237 kilometers (1,390 miles); Senegal 813 kilometers (505 miles); Western Sahara 1,561 kilometers (970 miles)

Coastline: 754 kilometers (469 miles)

Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)

1 LOCATION AND SIZE

Mauritania is an arid country in western Africa. It forms a transitional zone between the Islamic, Arab-sh2aking countries of North Africa's Maghreb region and the sub-Saharan countries to the south. With an area of 1,030,700 square kilometers (397,953 square miles), it is more than three times the size of the state of New Mexico.

2 TERRITORIES AND DEPENDENCIES

Mauritania has no territories or dependencies.

3 CLIMATE

The northern two-thirds of the country has an extremely hot, arid, Saharan climate. After-noon high temperatures in the hottest months average 38°C (100°F), and often exceed 46°C (115°F) in the interior. The southern part of the country has a semidesert, Sahelian climate. Average summer temperatures at Kifa, in this region, are around 26°C (79°F). The coastal region, although still arid, has the most moderate temperatures due to trade winds blowing in from the Atlantic Ocean. The average temperature in the coastal city of Nouakchott is around 24°C (75°F) during September, which is the hottest month in this region.

Northeasterly winds and the harmattan wind from the east keep Mauritania's climate dry, especially in the north. Rainfall increases gradually from north to south as the rainy season becomes longer. Average annual rainfall at Nouadhibou is between 1 and 2 inches, and rain falls only between September and November. (Farther north and east, rainfall is too rare and sparse to be measured.) At the opposite end of the scale, Sélibaby in the southern Senegal Valley region averages about 64 centimeters (25 inches) of rainfall annually, with a rainy season that lasts from June to October.

4 TOPOGRAPHIC REGIONS

Approximately one-third of the Sahara Desert is in Mauritania. The Saharan region, a generally flat plain with occasional ridges and rocky outcroppings, covers roughly the northern two-thirds of the country. It includes a series of sandstone plateaus spanning the center of Mauritania from north to south. The southern third of the country and the coastal plain to the west are mostly semidesert, and there is a narrow strip of fertile land on the plain of the Senegal River in the southwest.

5 OCEANS AND SEAS

Mauritania borders the North Atlantic Ocean.

Seacoast and Undersea Features

The waters off the coast of Mauritania are among the richest fishing areas in the world.

Sea Inlets and Straits

The Baie de Lévrier lies between Cap Timiris and the long peninsula of Cap Blanc, bordering the northern third of Mauritania's coast. This bay is one of the largest natural harbors on the west coast of Africa.

Islands and Archipelagos

The major island is Île Tidra, which lies close to shore in the Baie de Lévrier.

Coastal Features

Mauritania's Atlantic coast is sandy, flat, and dotted with the saltwater pools known as sebkhas. The coastline is smooth south of Cap Timiris, the only significant promontory. Cap Blanc is the northernmost point on the coast.

6 INLAND LAKES

Lake D'Aleg, Lake Rkiz, and a few other salt-water lakes are scattered throughout Mauritania. None are of considerable size, and due to recurrent droughts in recent decades they are even smaller than they once were.

7 RIVERS AND WATERFALLS

Most of Mauritania has little or no drainage to the sea. The Senegal River, which forms the boundary between Mauritania and Senegal, is the only permanent river between southern Morocco and central Senegal. Rising in Guinea, it flows north and west to the sea at Saint-Louis in Senegal. Its tributaries drain the fertile southwestern corner of Mauritania.

8 DESERTS

The northern two-thirds of Mauritania is true Saharan desert, with vegetation other than cacti found only in oases. Sand dunes cover about half of Mauritania. Many are arranged in long ridges extending from northeast to southwest, with heights of up to 91 meters (300 feet). In the far eastern part of the country, known as El Djouf, the terrain encompasses both rocky and sandy desert.

9 FLAT AND ROLLING TERRAIN

The Banc d'Arguin National Park, Mauritania's only national park, is a wetlands reserve on the coastline bordering the Baie de Lévrier. It is known for the wide array of migratory birds that winter there. Variously known as the Che-mama or the Pre-Sahel is the Senegal River Valley zone on the country's southwestern border. This region consists of a narrow, fertile belt of land which is 400 kilometers (250 miles) long and extends from 16 to 32 kilometers (10 to 20 miles) north of the Senegal River. The Affollé Hills mark the south-central region of Mauritania along the border with Mali.

10 MOUNTAINS AND VOLCANOES

Mauritania is largely flat, but in places its rocky plateaus attain heights of over 457 meters (1,500 feet). Its highest point is an enormous block of hematite (a red mineral), Mount Ijill in the northwest, topping out at 915 meters (3,002 feet).

11 CANYONS AND CAVES

Cave paintings have been found near Chinguetti, in central Mauritania.

12 PLATEAUS AND MONOLITHS

Mauritania is nearly bisected by the sandstone plateaus that extend down the center of the country on a northsouth axis, rising to elevations of over 300 meters (1,000 feet).

13 MAN-MADE FEATURES

The Manantali Dam on the Bafing River was constructed in the 1980s for irrigation, navigation, and electric power generation. It is 1,460 meters (4,790 feet) long and 65 meters (213 feet) high.

DID YOU KNOW?

The nineteenth-century shipwreck of the frigate Meduse, immortalized in a famous painting by Théodore Géricault, occurred off the coast of Mauritania. Many of those who did not die aboard the fragile life raft built by the passengers perished onshore during a futile trek across the desert.

14 FURTHER READING

Books

Celati, Gianni. Adventures in Africa. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.

Hudson, Peter. Travels in Mauritania. London: Virgin, 1990.

Morocco Handbook with Mauritania. Footprint Handbooks. Lincolnwood, IL: Passport Books, 1997.

Web Sites

Lonely Planet World Guide: Destination Mauritania. www.lonelyplanet.com/destinations/africa/mauritania/ (accessed April 24, 2003).

Miftah Shamali Mauritania. http://i-cias.com/meters.s/mauritan/ (accessed April 24, 2003).

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Mauritania

MAURITANIA

constitutional republic located in northwest africa.

The Islamic Republic of Mauritania covers an area of 398,000 square miles and is bordered by Western Sahara and Algeria on the north, Mali on the east, Mali and Senegal on the south, and the Atlantic Ocean on the west. The population in 2002 was about 2.6 million people (United Nations estimate). Nouakchott, the capital and largest city, has more than 800,000 people. The second largest city is Nouadhibou, a maritime commercial center in the northwest, with a population of about 100,000. Mauritania has twelve administrative regions plus the district of Nouakchott.


Climate and Resources

Mauritania has three major geographic and climatic areas. The northern Sahara region is more than 65 percent of the country. Covered by arid plains, plateaus, and sand dunes, it receives almost no rainfall and is subject to severe fluctuations in temperature. To its south is the Sahel, a wide area consisting of steppes and meadows. On Mauritania's southern border is the Senegal River region, a narrow strip of cooler temperatures and higher rainfall that supports considerable plant life.

The national economy has suffered from a lack of natural resources. Climatic conditions limit agriculture to the Senegal River region, where millet, sorghum, rice, and dates are grown. In the Sahel, livestock raising supports much of the rural population. Oil was discovered in 2001 56 miles southwest off the coast of Nouakchott, and although findings were modest, Mauritania's economy can expect a large boost when it acquires the means to extract and export its oil.

To date, however, iron ore, gypsum, and copper constitute the only major mineral exports. Mauritanian waters are considered to be among the richest fishing areas in the world. In the 1980s offshore fishing grew rapidly, making fish the country's chief export. The small manufacturing sector is based largely on fish processing. Food and capital goods account for the bulk of imports.


Population and Culture

Mauritania boasts a unique mixture of North African and West African culture, and it struggles to unite them. Approximately 66 percent of the population are Maures of Arab, Berber, and black African descent who speak Hassaniya, a dialect of Arabic and one of the two official languages of Mauritania. The remaining population is ethnically black African, composed of Halpulaar, Fulbe, Soninké, and Wolof (speakers of Pulaar, Soninké, and Wolof). French is the other official language of Mauritania, spoken in the marketplace as a common second language. Almost all Mauritanians are Sunni Muslims.


History

In the early 1800s amirs and Islamic religious leaders controlled the area that is now Mauritania. France gradually expanded its military and economic presence from Senegal into Maure areas. Between 1901 and 1912 France gained control of all major regions of Mauritania and declared it a protectorate, ruling indirectly through traditional leaders. After World War II, nationalist parties became active. Under the leadership of Mokhtar Ould Daddah and his Mauritanian Regroupment Party, Mauritania declared its independence from France in 1960. Since independence, Mauritania has faced severe problems with national unity, desertification (enlargement of desert areas), and economic stability. In 2000 the Heavily Indebted Poor Country Initiative qualified Mauritania for debt relief programs. In 2002 Mauritanians wrestled with a severe drought that led to food shortages and the slaughtering of livestock.


Mauritania also faced disputes with its neighbors to the north and south at the end of the twentieth century. In August 1976 the armed POLISARIO Front of Western Sahara invaded Mauritania and forced it to give up its claims to one-third of Western Saharan territory. Morocco quickly took over the land as Mauritanian forces withdrew.

A conflict between Senegal and Mauritania in 1989 intensified to a near-war situation as tens of thousands of Senegalese in Mauritania were expelled or killed, and more than 200,000 white Mauritanians in Senegal were forced to return to Mauritania. In 1991 Senegal and Mauritania resolved their differences and resumed their diplomatic relationship.


In 2000 Mauritania withdrew from ECOWAS (the Economic Community of West Africa) and aligned itself more with the Arab Maghreb Union.


Based on the 1991 constitution, the government is headed by a president elected by universal suffrage, who appoints a prime minister and a constitutional council. The legislature is composed of the National Assembly with seventy-nine members and the Senate with fifty-six members. The constitution guarantees the right of political parties to form. The government is controlled by the Parti Républicain Démocratique et Social (PRDS), whose leader Maaouya Ould Sid Ahmed Taya has been the president since his self-appointment in 1984. Amid claims of election fraud Taya was elected to the presidency in 1992 and again in 1997. Mauritania's 2001 legislative elections were internationally recognized as free and open.

see also arab maghreb union; daddah, mokhtar ould; ould sidʾahmed taya, maʿouiya; polisario; western sahara war.


Bibliography


U.S. Library of Congress Federal Research Division. Mauritania: A Country Study, 2d edition, edited by Robert E. Handloff. Washington, DC: Author, 1990.

bradford dillman
updated by naomi zeff

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Mauritania

Mauritania

area:

1,025,520sq km (395,953sq mi) 2,548,157

capital (population):

Nouakchott (611,883)

government:

Multi-party Islamic republic

ethnic groups:

Moor (Arab-Berber) 70%, Wolof 7%, Tukulor 5%, Soninke 3%, Fulani 1%

languages:

Arabic (official)

religions:

Sunni Muslim 99%

currency:

Ouguiya = 5 khoums

Republic in nw Africa; the capital is Nouakchott. The low-lying Sahara Desert covers most of Mauritania. A sandstone plateau runs n to s through the centre of Mauritania. In the se lies the Hodh basin. The majority of Mauritanians live in the semi-arid sw region of Sahel. Tropical savanna covers much of the rainier south.

History and Politics

Berbers migrated to the region in the first millennium ad. The Hodh basin lay at the heart of the ancient Ghana Empire (700–1200), and towns grew up along the trans-Saharan caravan routes. Mauritania was the cradle of the Almoravid dynasty, which spread Islam among the Saharan tribes. In the 14th and 15th century, the region formed part of the ancient Mali Empire. Portuguese mariners explored the coast in the 1440s, but European colonialism did not begin until the 17th century, when trade in gum arabic became important. Britain, France, and the Netherlands were all interested in this trade, and France set up a protectorate in 1903. In 1920, the region became a separate colony within French West Africa. In 1958, Mauritania became a self-governing territory in the French Union. It achieved full independence in 1960, and Mokhtar Ould Daddah was elected president. He was re-elected in 1966 and 1971. Mauritania became a one-party state. Devastating drought increased dissatisfaction with Ould Daddah's regime. In 1973, Mauritania withdrew from the franc zone and joined the Arab League. In 1976, Spain withdrew from Spanish Sahara: Morocco occupied the n 66% of the territory, while Mauritania took the rest. Nationalists, led by the guerrillas of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saharan Territories (POLISARIO), began an armed struggle for independence that drained Mauritania's resources. In 1978, an army coup overthrew Ould Daddah, and a military committee assumed control. In 1979, Mauritania withdrew from Western Sahara, and Morocco assumed sole authority (for political developments, see Western Sahara). In 1984, recognition of Western Sahara's independence provoked civil unrest, and Ould Taya came to power. A new constitution was adopted in 1991, and Ould Taya became president in 1992 multi-party elections. He was re-elected in 1997 after a boycott by opposition parties. Tension continues between the black African minority in s Mauritania and Arabs and Berbers in the n.

Economy

Mauritania is a low-income developing country (2000 GDP per capita, US$2000). The chief resource and export is iron ore. Agriculture employs 69% of the workforce. Droughts forced many nomadic herdsmen to migrate to the urban areas. Farmers in the se grow crops such as beans, dates, millet, rice, and sorghum.

Political map

Physical map

Websites

http://www.ambarim-dc.org

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Mauritania

Mauritania

Culture Name

Mauritanian

Orientation

Identification. The name of the country is derived from the Latin Mauretania, meaning "west," which corresponds to the Arab name of North Africa, Maghreb. The Romans referred to the Berber people as Maures.

The French occupied the country in 1860 in close cooperation with Maur religious leaders. Mauritania became a nation after the destruction of the kingdoms of Fouta Toro and Walo Walo and the Arab-Berber emirats of Trarza, Brakna, Taganet, and Adrar. As a result, the country has two main ethnic groups: black Africans and Arab-Berbers. The black African group includes the Fulani, Soninke, and Bambara. The Maurs include the Arab-Berbers (Beydan) and the black Maurs known as Haratin. The Haratins are black Africans who were enslaved by white Maurs. White and black Maurs consider themselves Arab, whereas black Arabs see themselves as African. The most important common denominator is Sunni Islam.

Location and Geography. Mauritania encompasses 400,385 square miles (1,037,000 square kilometers), more than three quarters of which is made up of the Sahara desert and the semiarid Sahelian zone. The remaining portion lies along the Senegal River Valley in the extreme south and southeast. The terrain consists of a plateau with vast sand dunes. The climate is hot and dry with frequent sandstorms. The country borders Senegal to the south, Mali to the southeast, Algeria to the northeast, and the Western Sahara to the north. In the southern region, most people engage in agriculture and livestock raising. The people in the south are settled black African farmers, whereas in the north the people have a nomadic lifestyle.

The capital, Nouakchott, is on the on the Atlantic coast. It was chosen a year before independence in 1960. Because the French wanted to transfer power to their Arab-Berber allies, the idea of having a major cities such as Rosso or Kaedi as the capital was ruled out.

Demography. As a result of ethnic clashes between pro-arabization groups and black Africans, the authorities have banned discussion of population issues to maintain the myth that Mauritania is the land of the Maurs with a tiny minority of black Africans. The most recent estimate of the population is 2.5 million. Because population growth in the black African communities in the south is much higher, white Arab-Berbers have become a minority. According to the latest estimates of ethnic distribution, the Haratin community accounts for 40 to 45 percent of the total population, while the white Arab-Berbers account for 25 percent and black Africans 30 percent.

Linguistic Affiliation. There are four national languages. Hassaniya is a mixture of Arabic and Berber and is the language of the white Maurs and the Haratin. Pulaar (Fulani) is spoken on the Atlantic coast and across the sahel-savannah zone. Soninke (Sarakolle) is spoken on the borders with Mali and Senegal. Wolof is widely spoken. Bambara is spoken in the southeast. At independence, French became the official language and, in 1965, the Arab-Berber regime made Arabic compulsory in primary and secondary education. This resulted in ethnic confrontation over the national language. The clashes intensified until 1999, when Colonel Maaouiya Ould Sid Ahmed Taya decided to resurrect French and downgrade Arabic. Black Africans' determination to resist Arabization resulted in the official recognition of Fulani, Soninke, and Wolof as national languages in 1980 and the creation of a national institute to teach those languages in public schools. That experiment was sabotaged by a palace coup in 1984.

Symbolism. All Mauritanians self-identify themselves as Sunni Muslims of the Malkite rite and believe that their society is the most Islamic in Africa. Mauritania is an Islamic republic whose basic law is the sharia, and the flag (green with a yellow crescent and stars) symbolizes Islam. Mauritanians believe that they have a mission to promote Islam and Islamic values throughout black Africa, and most symbols are linked to Islam.

Religious leaders and people from immigrant families symbolize power, intelligence, respect, and holiness. There are three important religious brotherhoods and subsects whose leaders symbolize supernatural knowledge and insight: the Tjjaniya, Qadriya, and Hamaliya. The founders of these brotherhoods are venerated. Ancestors are honored, and cemeteries are respected and feared. There are no national monuments, museums, secular national heroes, poets, or artists. Only the few people who are educated know what the national flag, national anthem, and national day symbolize. Some black intellectuals want the national day to be observed as a day of mourning for the martyrs of ethnic cleansing in 1990 and 1991.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. Mauritania did not exist as an independent political unit before 1960. The country was created by colonial France in close alliance with the Arab-Berber theocracy in the Trarza region. The motives for creating the country was to build a bridge between French black West African colonies and Algeria and block the expansionist aspirations of proponents of a greater Morocco.

National Identity. Ethnic conflict has sharpened ethnic, tribal, and caste identities. Because the French conspired to keep political power exclusively in the hands of the Arab-Berber aristocracy, a sense of national identity has not developed.

Ethnic Relations. In the past, ethnic relations were characterized by conflicts, shifting alliances, and some cooperation. The more settled black Africans dominated in the south, whereas the nomadic Arab-Berbers controlled the desert north. The different communities were able to function without contact with each other. Gradually, drought and the ensuing environmental degradation pushed the nomads toward the south, and conflicts over decreasing resources arose. With the creation of the state, competition over political power and access to public funds, jobs, and privileges aggravated this situation. In 1989, when ethnic conflict reached a violent level, West African and black citizens became the target of government pogroms. Mauritania then was drawn into the ethnic conflict between the government in Mali and the Maur and Tuareg tribes. Thus, while Mauritania was deporting its black citizens to Mali and Senegal, it was welcoming Maur and Tuareg refugees from Mali. The main political groups and parties are divided along cultural and ethnic lines. The Arab population is sponsored by Iraq, Libya, and Saudi Arabia, and FLAM, the black political party, is based in Senegal.

Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space

Without coherent national planning policies, construction in modern towns and cities is anarchic. Thus, architecture in Nouakchott is a mixture of traditional French concrete building with Spanish and Asian influences. Because of the fragile and sandy terrain, buildings are low.

As a result of drought and the attraction of urban centers, most residents have become totally or party urbanized. Colonization, rapid urbanization, modern education, technology, and mass communication have led to the emergence of two cultures. The modern elite live in Western-style houses, which have replaced thatched-roof houses and tents. Houses are used to shelter extended families and guests. Even in modern houses, there is little furniture and few wall decorations. Many houses have colorful traditional pillows and mats, teapots, trays, and carpets. Mattresses are placed along the walls with traditional pillows. Houses are crowded because of strong family bonds. An urban house normally is open to relatives and friends.

Apart from mosques, government buildings follow Western styles. Some Arab-Berbers put up tents in the courtyards of their villas. Normally, there are no plants inside the house.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. Food has important social and psychological functions. People eat together in groups from a large bowl or calabash, using the right hand. People eat first and then drink cold water or sour milk mixed with cold water, juice from the hibiscus flower, or baobab juice. After lunch and dinner, it is customary to drink small glasses of green tea with sugar and mint. The tea is served by younger persons, women, and slaves.

The diet consists mostly of meat, millet, rice, fish, and sweet potatoes and potatoes. The main meal is lunch among black Africans, whereas Arab-Berbers have the main meal in the evening. Breakfast consists of milk and cereal with French bread and butter. People use a lot of oil in cooking and sugar in drinks. Eating almost always takes place at home. It is not acceptable to eat with or in the presence of one's in-laws, and eating with the left hand is forbidden.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. People are expected to slaughter an animal according to the number of wives and the wealth of the husband. At the end of Ramadan and at the sacrificial feast that ends the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, a married man is expected to offer a lamb. The meat must be eaten up within three days or it is thrown away. It is customary to offer an animal in connection with name-giving, initiation, marriage, and funeral ceremonies and when people return from Mecca or other important places. Only circumcised adult men are allowed to slaughter animals.

Basic Economy. While the public and private sectors depend on foreign sources such as development aid and the exportation of iron ore and fish, the vast majority of citizens engage in traditional subsistence agriculture. The informal economic sector is increasing in importance. People do not expect much from the government and rarely pay taxes. Mauritania is one of the largest recipients of foreign aid in the world and is deeply in debt. Despite abundant livestock, one of the world's richest fishing zones, and a huge agriculture potential, the country is not self-sufficient in food and other basic necessities.

Land Tenure and Property. Traditionally, individuals could not own land, which was owned collectively by the community. The head of the clan or community was responsible for the allocation and leasing of communal land. In a society organized according to hierarchical caste, land was controlled by the aristocracy, and the lower classes rented, borrowed, or worked the land according to a sharecropping system. A land ordinance of 1983 stipulated that land belongs to the state and abolished traditional ownership. Black citizens were quick to label the ordinance racist.

Commercial Activities. Animals, meat, and hides are exported to neighboring countries, and iron ore, copper, gypsum, and fish are sent to the European Union nations and Japan. White residents dominate retail trade with the West, and black Africans trade with Central Africa.

Major Industries. Mauritania is one of the least industrialized countries in the world. The few industries involve the production and partial processing of iron ore. There is a fish processing plant and an oil refinery in Nouadhibou and a sugar refinery in Nouakchott as well as a meat processing factory in Kaedi. Traditional crafts are produced in Nouakchott. There is a textile factory in Rosso.

Trade. Iron ore, copper, and fish are sent to the European Union and Japan, and animals are sold to Senegal. Imports consist of food, machinery, and weapons. There is much informal trade with neighboring African countries. Gum arabic and salt also are sold abroad.

Division of Labor. Most people work as farmers, cattle herders, and traders. Regulations regarding child labor are not enforced, and most school-age children work.

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes. Society is organized along strict ethnic lines, with a rigid system of castes; every caste has its own internal hierarchy. In both ethnic groups, the division of labor is clear. At the top are the religious and warrior caste, followed by the skilled caste, which consists of smiths, carpenters, weavers, fisherfolk, and leather workers. Historians or court bards, musicians, and court advisers form a lower caste, followed by the theoretically freed slaves and current slaves at the bottom of the social order.

Symbols of Social Stratification. Dress style, comportment, and speech are dictated by the climate and ethnic heritage. Putting on one's best clothing is important in black African communities to express one's social status. Women decorate themselves with gold, silver, and amber to display their wealth and change clothes several times during a party. People in the higher castes to tend to be quiet and generous toward those below them, whereas the lower castes tend to be talkative, outgoing, and "greedy," with less concern about shame. Generally people are kind and hospitable to foreigners.

Political Life

Government. Mauritania is an Islamic republic with a highly centralized government in which power is vested in the executive president as head of state, aided by a prime minister who acts as the head of government and a council of ministers. Since 1992, direct presidential elections have been scheduled every six years. Universal suffrage occurs at age eighteen years. The legal system is derived from Islamic sharia law and modern Western law. The legislative branch includes a bicameral legislature consisting of the fifty-six-seat Senate elected by municipal mayors for six-year terms and a seventy-nine-seat National Assembly elected by popular vote for five-year terms. The judicial branch has lower courts, appeals courts, and a supreme court. Administratively, the country is divided into twelve regions.

A multiparty system functioned from independence until 1965, followed by a one-party civilian regime that was overthrown by the army in 1978. Between 1978 and 1991, the country was ruled by decree, with no citizen participation. With the end of the Cold War and after Mauritania's alliance with Iraq in the Gulf War, the government was forced to transform the military committee into a political party.

There are twenty-two political parties, including the Democratic and Social Republican Party (PRDS), the Union of Democratic ForcesNew Era (UFD/EN), and Action for Change (AC). The PRDS is a continuation of the military committee. Parties are tribal and personal rather than ideological. Action for Change is closely linked with the antislavery movement El Hor. Forces de Liberation Africain des Mauritania (FLAM) is illegal and operates from exile in Senegal. Founded in 1983, FLAM works for ethnic equality, social justice, democracy, and development. It has called for federalism and regional autonomy.

Leadership and Political Officials. Ethnicity and caste membership have caused political positions to be monopolized by religious warrior upper-caste clans and families. Gender, age, wealth, and region also are important factors in attaining and maintaining power. No ruling party has ever lost power to the opposition. Individuals are expected to vote for leaders from their ethnic group, clan, family, and region. Ideology and political programs have minimal relevance and people who cross ethnic and tribal lines are considered traitors. People are afraid of government representatives, especially those in uniform.

Social Problems and Control. Apart from Arab-Berber slave raids, Mauritania was relatively free of crime. With the creation of a neocolonial state, formal mechanisms for dealing with crime have been based on the violent colonial system. Crime management is now provided by repressive police forces in the cities and towns and a gendarmerie in the countryside and a national guard in remote areas. People fear men in uniform, who harass, rape, confiscate cattle, and terrorize the population. Informal social control mechanisms are effective because of strong family and kinship ties and the collective shame associated with committing a crime; people tend to punish criminals on the spot. In the past, the most common crimes were kidnapping children from the south for slavery in the north, stealing cattle, and illegal grazing. Today the most common crimes are official corruption, stealing, political murder, and rape.

Military Activity. The military has become a prestigious institution. The army is huge relative to the population and the nation's poverty. The armed forces number 18,500 men divided into an infantry, a navy, an air force, paramilitary forces, border guards, and auxiliary troops of the Interior Ministry. At independence, the army had fewer than one hundred black officers who had served in the colonial army. Arab-Berbers were exempted from military service by the French, who considered them superior to black Africans. After the Saharan war the army mushroomed in size, staffed mainly by black Africans and Harantin abandoned by their white masters, but most of the commanders were white. After the 1978 coup, ethnic and tribal competition plagued the armed forces. A campaign of ethnic purging of black armed personnel, whom the regime accused of belonging to FLAM and plotting a coup began in 1986. The government then passed a blanket amnesty for the armed forces for any crimes committed in the period 19891993. As a result, the national army has become an ethnic army of racist repression.

Social Welfare and Change Programs

Social welfare is provided for within the family and kinship system. Government-supported welfare is nearly nonexistent because of a lack of funds, nepotism, and corruption.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations

A few nongovernment organizations (NGOs) work on human rights issues. One of the most important is the Association Mauritanienne des Droits de l'Homme (AMDH), which was created in 1991 after a government massacre of more than five hundred black army officers and civilians in custody. Comité de Solidarité avec les Victimes de la Répression en Mauritanie (Solidarity Committee of with Victims of Repression in Mauritania, or CSVRM) was created by the widows, mothers, and sisters of victims of racist extrajudicial killings in 1990 and 1991.

SOS-Esclaves (SOS Slaves) was founded in 1992 by a former slave. SOS fights for the emancipation of the nearly one million former and current slaves of the ruling white Maurs. Ligue Mauritanienne des Droits de l'Homme (Mauritanian Human Rights League, or LMDH) was created when political parties and NGOs were not allowed in the country after the campaign of terror against black intellectuals in 1986. It is considered a front for the government.

Gender Roles and Statuses

Division of Labor by Gender. Culturally, women's importance is recognized, but men dominate in the economic, political, social, and religious spheres. In the south, men provide for the family and women process and cook food and take care of children. In the Arab-Berber north, women are not supposed to perform physical work, which is seen as degrading. Work there is the domain of slave women.

The Relative Status of Women and Men. Although people honor and obey their mothers, women suffer on the account of their gender. In Islamic-run courts two women count as one witness, polygamy is widespread in the black communities, and female circumcision is practiced by all the ethnic groups except the Wolof. Women inherit half the share that their brothers receive. Children take the father's clan name. When women marry, they tend to join the husband's household. Many marriages are forced or arranged. During racial pogroms, women are targets for rape and terror. There is more illiteracy and unemployment among women than men. Female slaves are sexually exploited. Forced feeding to fatten young girls for marriage is common among the Maurs and Haratin.

Marriage, Family, and Kinship

Marriage. Marriages usually are arranged, especially the first marriage. Illiterate rural individuals have less choice than do people with a modern education. People tend to marry for the sake of their parents and community and usually marry within their community and clan. There is a lot of marriage between cousins, but it is not permissible to marry someone with whom a person has shared breast milk. When it is discovered that a husband and wife shared milk earlier in life, they are obliged to divorce even if they have children. Muslim women are not allowed to marry non-Muslim men, but Muslim men can marry Christian or Jewish women. Polygyny is allowed, but polyandry is forbidden. According to the prevailing value system, all adults must marry and have many children but it is not unusual to find unmarried women, particularly among the white Maurs.

Economic aspects of marriage are very important. Men are responsible for the economic sustenance of their wives and for brideprice, along with lavish gifts to the parents, relatives, friends, and associates of their wives. Divorce is not common, especially in the black communities. Couples are allowed to divorce twice, and the third divorce is final. If divorce is the fault of the man, the wife keeps the brideprice. According to tradition, children follow the father, but small ones remain with the mother and the husband is obliged to support her and the children until they grow up.

Domestic Unit. The basic household unit consists of a husband and his wife or wives plus their children and the family of the husband, but household units in urban centers are getting more compact. The man has authority in the household because the couple lives with his kin and he is normally older and richer than the wife. Even though the household is an extended family, tasks are sharply divided according to gender and age.

Inheritance. Inheritance is based on Islamic law and local "economic calculation." When male and female relatives are equally close to the deceased, the male relatives gets a double portion. Because the woman joins her husband's family, she often is pressured to renounce her inheritance, especially if it consists of land. All kinds of property including slaves are inheritable by relatives. Sometimes a man inherits the wife or wives of his brother because the family wants to keep the children and property within the household.

Kin Groups. In this extremely traditional society, belonging to a group is very important, and the larger the group, the better. People use clan names rather than family names. When the climate and economic conditions allow it, larger kin groups form a village or neighborhood. Clan members interact by sharing land and engaging in interclan marriage. The male leader, normally the oldest and "most competent" man, manages communal property and affairs.

Socialization

Infant Care. Child care is provided by the older members of an extended family and the first born child is looked after by the grandmother and aunts. Women, including older sisters and cousins, take care of children, and men come into the picture as a child grows up. Infants are not separated from adults and are nearly always carried.

Child Rearing and Education. Education is based on a combination of three overlapping philosophies: indigenous, Islamic, and Western. In the first system, the objective is to prepare the young to be useful members of the local community. Education is thus inward-oriented and functional and is provided by parents, elder siblings, peers, and specialized traditional teachers. The key values are belief in God, honor, respect, and service to the community, generosity, hospitality, endurance, and patience, Islamic teaching prepares Muslims to serve Allah and the community of believers by learning the Koran and practicing the five pillars of Islam. The most important qualities in a "good" child are respect and service to the parents and the community, truthfulness, learning, prayer, and politeness. Parents believe that children are what they inherit and learn from their parents. If the mother is of good character, her children will be good.

Higher Education. Before independence, there were few schools and illiteracy was close to 100 percent. Sons of the black aristocracy were sent to a special school established by the French in Senegal. After power was transferred to the Arab-Berbers, the new rulers built schools in their areas and neglected the south.

Etiquette

The upper castes give, and the lower castes serve and obey. Maur women do not shake hands with foreign men, and people do not eat in front of their in-laws or address older persons by name. People stare at passing strangers and greet each other with a handshake and ask about a person's health and wealth. People stand very close to each other.

Religion

Religious Beliefs. Mauritania is 100 percent Muslim. The people are Sunni Muslims who belong to the Khadria and Thiyania brotherhoods. Religion is a mixture of Islam and local African beliefs. People believe in supernatural spirits, feeling that every thing and being has life and presents potential danger. Taboos are observed, and charms and amulets are used for protection.

Religious Practitioners. Each brotherhood has a founder who acts as a spiritual medium and is venerated and considered to have healing powers. People can receive a blessing through spiritual contact with these spiritual leaders. The founders' power increases with their age. Traditional spiritual medicine men and women have an authority based on the local experience and value system.

Rituals and Holy Places. Rituals often are linked to Islamic prayers. Tombs and graveyards are seen as holy places. People avoid going to those places during certain times of the day and avoid cutting wood near a graveyard. Certain forests and trees are considered holy, and people use them for healing. Daily religious ceremonies take place in a mosque or in open fields. For more important weekly ceremonies, prayers take place in open fields or in the larger mosques in urban centers.

Death and the Afterlife. People believe that after death they will be judged and go to hell or to paradise. Old people are buried directly in the ground without coffins. Only those who die from a contagious disease are cremated. Among the nomadic Arab-Berbers, only the graves of holy people are marked. After a burial, Berbers leave the area for fear of bad spirits. Black people have fixed graves and venerate the burying places of their ancestors. Funerals often are occasions for celebrations and family reunions. Because of the climate, the deceased are buried almost immediately. Bodies are washed seven times and then wrapped in white cloth and carried to the graveyard. The deceased is placed in a grave facing Mecca. Only men attend funerals. After the burial, the guests do not turn back toward the graveyard. Normally, the personal belongings of the deceased are given to the poor.

Medicine and Health Care

People believe that disease is caused by destiny, bad magic, or breaking taboos and seek help from traditional and Islamic healers who combine modern medicine with traditional methods. Very few people have access to medical care, which is concentrated in the urban centers. The rudimentary public health care has crumbled, and the rich have set up private health units and pharmacies.

There are many tropical diseases, but there is a low incidence of psychological disorders, and AIDS is almost nonexistent. Life expectancy is low, and infant mortality is high, partly because of a lack of clean water.

Modern doctors are treated as important personalities, especially if they are white. Traditional practitioners are respected and feared. Traditional medicine men and women use herbs and touching as well as healing words.

Secular Celebrations

There are very few secular celebrations with the exception of the national day on 28 November and Constitution Day on 12 July. Some of the Westernized elites celebrate Christmas and the New Year. Farmers celebrate the harvest and marry at that time. Herders' dispersed families gather and celebrate the rainy season with sumptuous meals. The returns of family members from abroad is celebrated.

The Arts and Humanities

Support for the Arts. There is little appreciation of and support for artists. The little support that is given is ethnically biased and oriented toward entertainment. The arts are functional and cannot be distinguished from crafts.

Literature. The oral tradition includes epics, storytelling, riddles, puzzles, and Islamic poetry and prose.

Graphic Arts. Wall drawings, paintings, some sculpture, textiles, and pottery are produced. Artists are thought to have a secret knowledge that they hand down from generation to generation.

Performance Arts. People attend popular and democratic performances held in the open air.

The State of the Physical and Social Sciences

The state of the physical and social science is deplorable because of the lack of interest among the authorities. A university established in 1981 teaches law, literature, and economics. There are fewer than three thousand students, and the university lacks qualified teachers and researchers, books, facilities, and buildings.

Bibliography

Ba, Oumar. Le Fouto Toro au Carrefour des Cultures, 1976.

Baduel, Pierre Robert. Mauritanie entre Arabitéet Africanité, 1989.

Boye, Alassane Harouna. J'Etai a Oualata, 1999.

Centre d'Etudes d'Afrique Noire. Introduction a la Mauritanie, 1979.

Cotton, Samuel. Silent Terror, A Journey to Modern Day African Slavery, 1998.

Daure-Setfaty, Christine. La Mauritanie, 1993.

FLAM. Radioscopie d'un Apartheid Méconnu, 1990

Garba, Diallo. Maritania: The Other Apartheid, 1993.

. Mauritania: Neither Arab nor African, 2000.

Human Rights Watch/Africa. Mauritania's Campaign of Terror: Repression of Black Africans, 1994.

Leservoisier Olivier. La Gestion Fonciere en Mauritanie: Terres et Pouvoir dans le Region du Gorgol, 1995.

Marchesin, Philippe. Tribus, Ethnies et Pouvoir en Mauritanie, 1992

Okwudiba, Nnoli, ed. Ethnic Conflicts in Africa, 1998.

Oumar, Moussa Ba. Noirs et Beydanes Mauritaniens, l'Ecole, Creuset de la nation? 1993.

Pazzanita, Anthony G. Historical Dictionary of Mauritania, 2nd ed., 1996.

Robinson, David. "France as Muslim Power." In Africa Today 46 (3/5), 1999.

Garba Diallo

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Mauritania

Mauritania

MAURITANIANS 1

The people of Mauritania are called Mauritanians. Members of the main ethnic group, the Maures (also called Moors or Maurs), speak Hassaniyya Arabic (a dialect of Arabic). They make up about 70 percent of the population.

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Mauritania

MauritaniaCampania, Catania, pannier •apnoea •Oceania, Tanya, Titania •biennia, denier, quadrennia, quinquennia, septennia, triennia •Albania, balletomania, bibliomania, crania, dipsomania, egomania, erotomania, kleptomania, Lithuania, Lusitania, mania, Mauritania, megalomania, miscellanea, monomania, nymphomania, Pennsylvania, Pomerania, pyromania, Rainier, Romania, Ruritania, Tasmania, Transylvania, Urania •Armenia, bergenia, gardenia, neurasthenia, proscenia, schizophrenia, senior, SloveniaAbyssinia, Bithynia, curvilinear, Gdynia, gloxinia, interlinear, Lavinia, linear, rectilinear, Sardinia, triclinia, Virginia, zinnia •insignia • Sonia • insomnia • Bosnia •California, cornea •Amazonia, ammonia, Antonia, Babylonia, begonia, bonier, Catalonia, catatonia, Cephalonia, Estonia, Ionia, Laconia, Livonia, Macedonia, mahonia, Patagonia, pneumonia, Rondônia, sinfonia, Snowdonia, valonia, zirconia •junior, petunia •hernia, journeyer

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Mauritania

Mauritania

PROFILE
HISTORY
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
U.S.-MAURITANIAN RELATIONS
TRAVEL

Compiled from the January 2008 Background Note and supplemented with additional information from the State Department and the editors of this volume. See the introduction to this set for explanatory notes.

Official Name:

Islamic Republic of Mauritania

PROFILE

Geography

Area: 1,030,070 sq. km. (419,212 sq. mi.); slightly larger than Texas and New Mexico combined.

Cities: (2004) Capital—Nouakchott (pop. 708,000). Other cities—Noua-dhibou (72,000), Rosso (50,000), Kaedi (34,000), Zouerate (34,000), Kiffa (33,000), Atar (24,000).

Terrain: Northern four-fifths barren desert; southern 20% mainly Sahelian with small-scale irrigated and rain-fed agriculture in the Senegal River basin.

Climate: Predominantly hot and dry.

People

Nationality: Noun and adjective—Mauritanian(s).

Population: (2005) 2,906,000.

Annual growth rate: 2.7%.

Ethnic groups: Arab-Berber (White Moor), Arab-Berber-Negroid (Black Moor), Haalpulaar, Soninke, Wolof (Black African Mauritanians).

Religions: Islam.

Languages: Arabic (official), Hassaniya (Arabic dialect), French, Pulaar Wolof and Soninke.

Education: Years compulsory—six. Attendance (student population enrolled in primary school)—82%. Adult literacy (% of population age 15+)—59%.

Health: Infant mortality rate—77/ 1,000. Life expectancy—51 yrs.

Work force: Agriculture and fisheries—50%. Services and commerce—20%. Government—20%. Industry and transportation—10%.

Government

Type: Republic.

Independence: November 28, 1960.

Constitution: Approved 1991. Original constitution promulgated 1961.

Government branches: Executive—president (head of state). Legislative—bicameral national assembly, directly elected lower house (81 members), and upper house (56 members) chosen indirectly by municipal councilors. Judicial—a supreme court and lower courts are nominally independent but subject to control of executive branch; judicial decisions are rendered mainly on the basis of Shari'a (Islamic law) for social/family matters and a western style legal code, applied in commercial and some criminal cases.

Political parties: 21.

Suffrage: Universal at 18.

National day: November 28, Independence Day.

Economy

GDP: (2006) $1.6 billion.

Annual growth rate: (2006) 11.4%.

Per capita income: (2006) $630.

Natural resources: petroleum, fish, iron ore, gypsum, copper, gum Arabic, phosphates, salt and gold.

Agriculture: (22.3% of GDP 2005) Products—livestock, traditional fisheries, millet, maize, wheat, dates, rice.

Industry: (19% of GDP 2005) Types—iron mining, commercial fishing.

Services: (58.7% of GDP 2005).

Trade: Exports (f.o.b.)—$623 million (2006). Export partners—Italy 18.9%, France 17.4%, Germany 13.8%, Belgium 13%, Japan 12.6%, Spain 11.7%, China 2.1% (2006). Imports—$1,083 million (2006) foodstuffs, machinery, tools, petroleum products, and consumer goods. Import partners—France 15%, Brazil 5.9%, China 5.5%, U.S. 5.5%, Belgium 4.8%, Spain 3.4% (2006).

Currency: Ouguiya (UM).

USAID: Total FY 2007 USAID development and security assistance to Mauritania—$23,715,300.

HISTORY

From the 3rd to 7th centuries, the migration of Berber tribes from North Africa displaced the Bafours, the original inhabitants of present-day Mauritania and the ancestors of the Soninke. Continued Arab-Berber migration drove indigenous black Africans south to the Senegal River or enslaved them. By 1076, Islamic warrior monks (Almoravid or Al Murabitun) completed the conquest of southern Mauritania, defeating the ancient Ghana empire. Over the next 500 years, Arabs overcame fierce Berber resistance to dominate Mauritania. The Mauritanian Thirty-Year War (1644-74) was the unsuccessful final Berber effort to repel the Maqil Arab invaders led by the Beni Hassan tribe. The descendants of Beni Hassan warriors became the upper stratum of Moorish society. Berbers retained influence by producing the majority of the region's Marabouts—those who preserve and teach Islamic tradition. Hassaniya, a mainly oral, Berber-influenced Arabic dialect that derives its name from the Beni Hassan tribe, became the dominant language among the largely nomadic population. Within Moorish society, aristocratic and servant classes developed, yielding “white” (aristocracy) and “black”Moors (the enslaved indigenous class).

French colonization at the beginning of the 20th century brought legal prohibitions against slavery and an end to interclan warfare. During the colonial period, the population remained nomadic, but sedentary black Africans, whose ancestors had been expelled centuries earlier by the Moors, began to trickle back into southern Mauritania. As the country gained independence in 1960, the capital city of Nouakchott was founded at the site of a small colonial village. Ninety percent of the population was still nomadic. With independence, larger numbers of ethnic Sub-Saharan Africans (Haalpulaar, Soninke, and Wolof) entered Mauritania, moving into the area north of the Senegal River. Educated in French, many of these recent arrivals became clerks, soldiers, and administrators in the new state.

Moors reacted to this change by trying to Arabicize much of Mauritanian life, such as law and language. A schism developed between those who considered Mauritania to be an Arab country (mainly Moors) and those who sought a dominant role for the Sub-Saharan peoples. The discord between these two conflicting visions of Mauritanian society was evident during intercommunal violence that broke out in April 1989 (the “1989 Events”).

The country's first president, Moktar Ould Daddah, served from independence until ousted in a bloodless coup on July 10, 1978. Mauritania was under military rule from 1978 to 1992, when the country's first multiparty elections were held following the July 1991 approval by referendum of a constitution.

The Democratic and Social Republican Party (PRDS), led by President Maaouiya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya, dominated Mauritanian politics from April 1992 until he was overthrown in August 2005. 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 that governed Mauritania from July 1978 to April 1992. A group of current and former Army officers launched a bloody but unsuccessful coup attempt on June 8, 2003.

On November 7, 2003, Mauritania's third presidential election since adopting the democratic process in 1992 took place. Incumbent President Taya was reelected. Several opposition groups alleged that the government had used fraudulent means to win the elections, but did not elect to pursue their grievances via available legal channels. The elections incorporated safeguards first adopted in 2001 municipal elections—published voter lists and hard-to-falsify voter identification cards.

On August 3, 2005, President Taya was deposed in a bloodless coup. Military commanders, led by Colonel Ely Ould Mohammed Fal (alternative spelling: Vall) seized power while President Taya was attending the funeral of Saudi Arabia's King Fahd. Colonel Fal established the ruling Military Council for Justice and Democracy to run the country. The council dissolved the Parliament and appointed a transitional government. The Transitional Government quickly established a timetable for the establishment of democratic rule within two years’ time that led to successful parliamentary elections in November 2006 and presidential elections in March 2007. A new democratically elected government under President Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi was inaugurated on April 19, 2007.

GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS

Mauritania held series of elections that began in November 2006 with a parliamentary vote and culminated March 25, 2007 with the second round of the presidential election. Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdellahi was elected President.

The government bureaucracy is composed of ministries, special agencies, and parastatal companies. The Ministry of Interior controls 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 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 among White Moor, Black Moor, and Black African Mauritanian groups, centering on language, land tenure, and other issues, continues to be a major challenge to national unity. Political parties, illegal during the military period, were legalized again in 1991.

Principal Government Officials

Last Updated: 2/1/2008

Pres.: Sidi Ould Cheikh ABDELLAHI

Prime Min.: Zeine Ould ZEIDANE

Min. of Agriculture & Animal Resources: Correra ISSAGHA

Min. of Commerce & Industry: Sid Ahmed Ould RAISS

Min. of Culture & Communication: Mohamed Vail Ould CHEIKH

Min. of Decentralization & Land Development: Yahya Ould KEBD

Min. of Economy & Finance: Abderrahmane Ould HAMMA VEZZAZ

Min. of Equipment, Urban Development & Housing: Mohamed Ould BILAL

Min. of Fisheries: Assane SOUMARE

Min. of Foreign Affairs & Cooperation: Mohamed Saleck Mohamed LEMINE

Min. of Handicrafts & Tourism: Ba MADINE

Min. of Health: Mohamed Lemine Ould RAGHANTI

Min. of Islamic Affairs & Original Education: Ahmed Vail Ould SALEH

Min. of Interior: Yall ZAKARIA

Min. of Justice: Limam Ould TEGUEDI

Min. of Labor, Integration, & Vocational Training: Cheikh El Kebir Ould CHBIB

Min. of National Defense: Mohamed Mahmoud Ould MOHAMED LEMINE

Min. of National Education: Nebghouha Bint Mohamed VALL

Min. of Oil & Mines: Mohamed El Moktar Ould Mohamed EL HACEN

Min. and Sec. Gen. of the Presidency: Yahia Ould Ahmed EL OUAKEF

Min. of Public Civil Service & Modernization of Administration: Aziz Ould DAHI

Min. of Transport: Ahmed Ould MOHAMEDEN

Min. of Water Resources, Energy, & Technologies: Oumar Ould YALI

Min. in Charge of Relations With Parliament & Civil Society: Mohamed Mahmoud Ould BRAHIM KHLIL

Min. in Charge of Women's, Childhood, & Family Development: Fatimetou Mint KHATTRI

Min. in Charge of Youth & Sport: Mohamed Ould Ahmed Ould YERG

Min.-Del. to the Prime Min., in Charge of Environment: Aicha Mint SIDI BOUNA

Min.-Del. to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Cooperation, in Charge of Arab Maghreb: Mohamed El Hafedh Ould ISMAEL

Sec. Gen. of Govt.: Abdellahi Ould LIMAN MALECK

Commissioner in Charge of Social Security: Mohamed Ould MOHAMEDOU

Gen. Commissioner for Promotion of Private Investment: Mohamed Abdellahi Ould YAHA

Ambassador to the US: Ibrahima DIA

Permanent Representative to the UN, New York: Mohamed Ould TOLBA

Mauritania maintains an embassy in the United States at 2129 Leroy Place NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202-232-5700, fax 202-232-5701) and a Permanent Mission to the United Nations at 211 East 43rd Street, Suite 2000, New York, NY 10017 (tel. 212-986-7963, fax 212-986-8419).

U.S.-MAURITANIAN RELATIONS

The U.S. Government fully supports Mauritania's transition to democracy, and congratulates Mauritania on the successful series of 2006-2007 parliamentary and presidential elections. The U.S. condemned the August 2005 coup and the unconstitutional assumption of power by the Military Council for Justice and Democracy, and called for a return to a constitutional government through free and fair elections as soon as possible. The United States provided election-related assistance for voter education, political party training, and democracy building. The U.S. now aims to work with the Mauritanian Government to expand bilateral cooperation in the areas of food security, health, education, security, strengthening democratic institutions, and counterterrorism.

Before the 2005 coup, U.S.-Mauritania relations were excellent, but underwent several transformations since Mauritania gained independence. From 1960 to 1967, the United States maintained cordial relations with Mauritania and provided a small amount of economic assistance. During the June 1967 Middle East war, Mauritania broke diplomatic and consular relations with the United States but restored ties 2 years later and maintained relatively friendly relations until the late 1980s, despite disagreement over the Arab-Israeli issue. Since 1981, the United States has provided about $130 million in economic and food assistance.

The 1989 rupture between Mauritania and Senegal (the “1989 Events”) that resulted in Mauritania's deportation of tens of thousands of its own citizens to Senegal, negatively affected U.S.-Mauritanian relations. Moreover, Mauritania's perceived support of Iraq prior to and during the 1991 Gulf war further weakened the strained ties.

Relations between the U.S. and Mauritania reached a low in the spring of 1991, as details of the Mauritanian military's role in widespread human rights abuses surfaced. The U.S. responded by formally halting USAID operations and all military assistance to Mauritania. Relations also suffered in the 1990s as a result of repeated reports that slavery continued in some parts of Mauritania despite legal proscriptions.

By the late 1990s, the Mauritanian Government: adopted policies facilitating the return of those expelled or who fled during the 1989 Events; turned away from Iraq and toward the West; and initiated a poverty reduction strategy while securing debt relief under the Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative. Improved relations with the United States, including the return of military cooperation and training programs, accompanied these changes. Mauritania formally opened diplomatic relations with Israel in 2000 and remains one of only three Arab League member-nations to have done so.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials

Last Updated: 2/19/2008

NOUAKCHOTT (E) Rue Abdallaye, 222-525-2660, Fax 222-525-1592, INMARSAT Tel 8816 214 57838 or 8816 214 57839, Workweek: Sun-Wed 8:00-5:30, Thu 8:00-12:00, Website: http://mauritania.usembassy.gov.

DCM OMS:Regina Wiener
AMB OMS:Michelle Donnelly
ECO/COM:Lindsay Kiefer
HRO:Mira Hankins
MGT:Jeannette C. Pina
AMB:Mark M. Boulware
CON:Lindsay Kiefer
DCM:Dennis Hankins
PAO:Vacant
GSO:Susan Carl
RSO:Anthony Lew
CLO:Victoria Hougaard
DAO:MAJ Charles Collins
FIN:Magida Safaoui
ICASS:Chair Margaret L. Heiser
IMO:Eddie H. Martin
IPO:David S. Yeager
IRS:Kathy J. Beck (Resident In Paris)
ISSO:Eddie H. Martin
POL:Robert Lester
State ICASS:Margaret L. Heiser

TRAVEL

Consular Information Sheet

September 21, 2007

Country Description: Mauritania is a developing country in northwestern Africa. Arabic is the official language, but French is widely used and several local languages are also spoken. Tourist facilities in the capital, Nouakchott, are adequate, but limited or non-existent elsewhere.

Entry Requirements: A passport and a visa are required, as is evidence of a yellow fever vaccination. For the most current visa information, contact the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, 2129 Leroy Place NW, Washington, DC 20008, tel. (202) 232-5700, or the Mauritanian Permanent Mission to the UN, 211 East 43rd Street, Suite 2000, New York, NY 10017, telephone (212) 986-7963 or 8189, or e-mail [email protected] Overseas, inquiries should be made at the nearest Mauritanian embassy or consulate.

Safety and Security: On June 4, 2005, members of the terrorist group GSPC attacked a military outpost based at Lemgheity in the extreme northeastern part of the country near the Algerian and Malian borders and killed or wounded about 35 soldiers. This terrorist group, now known as Al-Qaeda in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb, is still active in North Africa. American citizens are urged to avoid travel in areas along Mauritania's northern (north of F’Derik) and eastern borders with neighboring countries.

Travel is otherwise generally safe within most of Mauritania, a vast, scenic, and fascinating country. However, all travelers must exercise prudence and caution. Travelers should not venture into the Sahara unless accompanied by an experienced guide and even then only if equipped with sturdy vehicles and ample provisions. The U.S. Embassy in Nouakchott has received reports of banditry in the more remote parts of Mauritania. Landmines also remain a danger along the border with the Western Sahara. Travelers planning overland trips from Mauritania to Morocco, Algeria, Senegal or Mali should check with the U.S. Embassy in Nouakchott before setting out. For more information about travel in Mauritania, please see the section “Traffic Safety and Road Conditions” below.

In Nouakchott and other major cities in Mauritania, police routinely conduct road blocks at which they may ask for proof of identify and drivers’ licenses. Americans visiting Mauritania should be prepared for such inquiries and carry their identification cards at all times. It is best to drive cautiously and be prepared to stop at short notice.

Political gatherings and street demonstrations occur periodically. During periods of political unrest, demonstrators have been known to throw rocks at passing cars. An increased police presence and additional vehicle controls may also be expected. U.S. citizens should avoid large crowds and maintain security awareness at all times.

Although U.S. citizens are generally welcomed in Mauritania, there were reports of anti-American incidents such as threats and stoning of vehicles, following the 1998 U.S. and British-led intervention in Iraq, and demonstrations outside the Embassy during the 2003 U.S. intervention in Iraq. Some Muslim extremists have occasionally perceived Christian nongovernmental organizations as a threat. However, local authorities closely monitor political violence and religious extremist groups.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affair's Internet site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, including the Worldwide Caution Travel Alert, can be found. Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada or, for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444.

Crime: Crime in Mauritania is moderate but steadily increasing. Most incidents occur in the cities and larger towns, and are petty crimes such as pick pocketing and the theft of improperly secured and openly visible valuables left in vehicles. Most criminal activity occurs at night and walking alone at night is not advisable. Residential burglaries and robberies, particularly at the beaches in Nouakchott, are not uncommon. In Nouakchott, you should avoid the beach at night. During the day, beach-goers should travel in large groups or stay in popular areas because of the increase in the number of thefts and robberies, some involving injury to victims, reported there in the past several years. Violent crimes and crimes involving the use of weapons are rare, but increasing. Rapes and assaults have occurred and, in some instances, involved the American community. Foreign tourists, including Americans, might be targeted for kidnapping in Mauritania.

Information for Victims of Crime: The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you in finding appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends, and explain how funds can be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

Medical Facilities and Health Information: Medical facilities in Mauritania are limited. There are few modern clinics or hospitals beyond the capital and a few major towns. At local pharmacies, some medicines are difficult to obtain; travelers are advised to bring their own supplies.

Malaria is a serious and sometimes fatal disease. Chloroquine-resistant P. falciparum malaria is a severe form of the disease that is found in many parts of western Africa, including Mauritania. Because travelers to Mauritania are at high risk for contracting malaria they should take one of the following anti-malarial drugs: mefloquine (Lariam), doxycycline, or atovaquone/proguanil (Malarone). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have determined that a traveler who is on an appropriate anti-malarial drug has a greatly reduced chance of contracting the disease. In addition, other personal protective measures, such as the use of insect repellents, may help to reduce malaria risk. Travelers who become ill with a fever or flu-like illness while traveling in a malaria-risk area and up to one year after returning home should seek prompt medical attention and tell the physician their travel history and what anti-malarial drugs they have been taking. For additional information on malaria, protection from insect bites, and antimalarial drugs, please visit the CDC travelers’ health web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC's Internet site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization's (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith.

Medical Insurance: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.

Traffic Safety and Road Conditions: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Mauritania is provided for general reference only and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Public transportation is not very safe and road conditions in Mauritania are generally poor, particularly in the interior. Overland travel is difficult and roadside assistance is almost nonexistent. The country's size and harsh climate make road maintenance and repair especially problematic. Mauritania has only about 2,070 km (1,286 miles) of surfaced roads, 710 km (441 miles) of unsurfaced roads, and 5,140 km (3,194 miles) of unimproved tracks. Drivers should not offer rides to hitchhikers, nor should visitors to Mauritania take rides offered by strangers.

The traditional route to Nouadhibou, prior to the completion of a paved road, had been along the beach during low tide. Some travelers continue to use this route, as do visitors to coastal fishing villages and other points of interest, and smugglers and others who try to avoid the security checkpoints that are often established along the asphalt roads. Pedestrian visitors to the beach should exercise caution because of the beach's use as a route for motorized vehicles.

U.S. citizens traveling overland for long distances in Mauritania should be sure to have a suitable four-wheel drive vehicle, a local guide, an adequate supply of water, and a second fuel reservoir. A second vehicle is recommended in case of breakdown. A Global Position Satellite (GPS) receiver and satellite phone are essential when traveling in remote areas. Visitors are urged not to travel alone into the desert.

Driving in Mauritania is treacherous, and we encourage you to hire a trained local driver. Traffic patterns differ considerably from American-style “rules of the road,” and many Mauritanians drive without regard to traffic signs or rules. Roadway obstructions and hazards caused by drifting sand, animals, and poor roads often plague motorists; when combined with the number of untrained drivers and poorly maintained vehicles, heightened caution is imperative at all times. Drivers should be alert to conditions and always wear their seat belts. Motorcycle and bicycle riders should wear helmets and protective clothing. Nighttime driving is discouraged.

The telecommunications infrastructure is limited and cellular telephone coverage is not wide spread. For those traveling outside the major urban areas, it is recommended to have a satellite telephone readily available.

Aviation Safety Oversight: As there is no direct commercial air service between the United States and Mauritania, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Mauritania's Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA's internet website at http://www.faa.gov.

Special Circumstances: Mauritanian customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning the temporary import or export of items such as firearms, narcotics, alcoholic drinks and pork products. You should contact the Embassy of Mauritania in Washington, DC for specific information regarding customs regulations.

The local currency is the ouguiya, and it may not be imported or exported. Credit cards can be used only at a few hotels in the capital, Nouakchott, and the northwestern city of Nouadhibou. ATM machines are not available. Major foreign currencies are changeable in banks and numerous currency exchanges; however, this service is not always available without advanced notice or prior arrangement. There is a risk of getting fraudulent bank notes even from banks which often do not have the security means to detect fake bank notes. Furthermore, credit card fraud is a problem, so it is strongly advisable to pay hotel bills in cash.

Islamic ideals and beliefs in the country encourage conservative dress. Sleeved garments and below-the-knee skirts are recommended, and people should avoid wearing shorts.

Criminal Penalties: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Mauritania's laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Mauritania are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.

Children's Issues: For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, see the Office of Children's Issues website at http://travel.state.gov/family.

Registration and Embassy Locations: Americans living or traveling in Mauritania are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department's travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Mauritania. Americans with-out Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy is located between the Presidency building and the Spanish Embassy on Rue Abdallaye. The postal address is B.P. 222, Nouakchott, telephone (222) 525-2660/2663, 525-1141/45, or 525-3038 (ext. 5441), and fax (222) 525-1592. You may contact the Consular Section by e-mail at [email protected]

International Adoption

July 2007

The information in this section has been edited from a report of the State Department Bureau of Consular Affairs, Office of Overseas Citizens Services. For more information, please read the International Adoption section of this book and review current reports online at http://travel.state.gov/family.

Disclaimer: The information in this flyer relating to the legal requirements of specific foreign countries is based on public sources and current understanding. Questions involving foreign and U.S. immigration laws and legal interpretation should be addressed respectively to qualified foreign or U.S. legal counsel.

Please Note: As a Muslim country that adheres to a strict interpretation of Islamic law, Mauritania does not allow full adoptions as these are understood in the West. It is sometimes possible for Mauritanian courts to grant guardianship (establishing a level of relationship short of adoption). Persons seeking guardianship of Mauritanian children must be relatives of the children and also either Muslim or living in a Muslim environment. Guardianship arrangements involving prospective U.S. guardians are further complicated by the fact that Mauritanian law prohibits non-family members from removing children from Mauritania. Prospective American Guardians may want to review our Shari’a Adoption flyer on Guardianship in Muslim Countries.

Patterns Of Immigration: No Mauritanian orphans have received U.S. immigrant visas within the past five years.

Guardianship Authority In Mauritania: Ministry of Justice (MOJ).

This Ministry has no specialized office for Family or Children Issues. The office of the Minister or his Chargé de Mission can be contacted for such matters at (222) 525-8204 or (222) 525-7002.

Eligibility Requirements For Prospective Guardians: To qualify as a guardian one must be a blood-relative who is either Muslim or lives in a Muslim environment.

Residency Requirements: Since MOJ officials made it clear that no foreigner would be permitted to remove a child from the country, there is no information on guardianship-related residency requirements.

Time Frame: As there are no provisions for child emigration from Mauritania through guardianship, there is no information on how long it takes to complete guardianship requirements.

Adoption Agencies and Attorneys: Because adoption as it is understood in the U.S. does not exist in Mauritania, there is no local role for adoption agencies. If U.S. citizens considering pursuing guardianship of a Mauritanian child want to engage the services of a U.S.-based agency to guide them through the overall process, including the U.S. immigration procedures, that is still possible. In such cases, prospective guardians should fully research any adoption agency or facilitator they plan to use for adoption services.

Adoption Fees: No fees are involved in obtaining a guardianship.

Adoption Procedures: Mauritanian law does not allow adoption. Mauritanian courts may, however, appoint a legal guardian for the child. The Mauritanian judicial system and adoption laws are found in the Family Code and use Sharia law as a basis. The Family Code states in the event of the inability of a parent to care for his/her, the Family Code gives a strict sequence of eligible blood relatives for guardianship. However, in Mauritania, it is up to the discretion of a judge to determine who is most eligible for the guardianship of a child. In 2002 the Mauritanian Ministry of Justice published a booklet, The Family Code, which includes sections on guardianship and custody. The Family Code does not cover scenarios in which a parent or legal guardian can pass guardianship to a foreigner. The law prohibits non-family members from removing children from Mauritanian soil.

Documents Required For Guardianship: Individual judges hearing petitions for guardianship may require different types of documentation including the proof of blood relationship to the child. There are no established guidelines, and prospective guardians should be prepared to present whatever documents the judge requests.

Embassy of the Republic of Mauritania
2129 Leroy Place N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20008
Tel. (202) 232-5700
Fax: (202) 319-2623

U.S. Immigration Requirements :Prospective adopting parents are strongly encouraged to consult USCIS publication M-249, The Immigration of Adopted and Prospective Adoptive Children, as well as the Department of State publication, International Adoptions. Please see the International Adoption section of this book for more details and review current reports online at http://travel.state.gov/family.

U.S. Embassy
288. rue 42-100 (rue Abdallaye),
Nouakchott Mauritania. (Between
the Presidency and Spanish Embassy)
Phone: (222) 525-2660 or 2663, ext. 4551
Fax: (222) 525-3945
Email: [email protected]

Additional Information: Specific questions about intercountry adoption in Mauritania may be addressed to the U.S. Embassy in Nouakchott. For more information about the immigration process please e-mail the U.S. Embassy in Dakar at [email protected] General questions regarding intercountry adoption may be addressed to the Office of Children's Issues, U.S. Department of State, CA/OCS/CI, SA-29, 4th Floor, 2201 C Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20520-4818, toll-free Tel: 1-888-407-4747.

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Mauritania

MAURITANIA

Compiled from the September 2005 Background Note and supplemented with additional information from the State Department and the editors of this volume. See the introduction to this set for explanatory notes.

Official Name:
Islamic Republic of Mauritania


PROFILE

Geography

Area:

1,030,070 sq. km. (419,212 sq. mi.); slightly larger than Texas and New Mexico combined.

Cities (2004):

Capital—Nouakchott (pop. 708,000). Other cities—Nouadhibou (72,000), Rosso (50,000), Kaedi (34,000), Zouerate (34,000), Kiffa (33,000), Atar (24,000).

Terrain:

Northern four-fifths barren desert; southern 20% mainly Sahelian with small-scale irrigated and rain-fed agriculture in the Senegal River basin.

Climate:

Predominantly hot and dry.

People

Nationality:

Noun and adjective—Mauritanian(s).

Population (2005):

2,906,000.

Annual growth rate:

2.7%.

Ethnic groups:

Arab-Berber (White Moor), Arab-Berber-Negroid (Black Moor), Haalpulaar, Soninke, Wolof (Black African Mauritanians).

Religion:

Islam.

Language:

Arabic (official), Hassaniya (Arabic dialect), French, Pulaar, Wolof, and Soninke.

Education:

Years compulsory—six. Attendance (student population enrolled in primary school)—82%. Adult literacy (% of population age 15+)—59%.

Health:

Infant mortality rate—77/1,000. Life expectancy—51 yrs.

Work force:

Agriculture and fisheries—50%. Services and commerce—20%. Government—20%. Industry and transportation—10%.

Government

Note: On August 3, 2005, President Maaouiya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya was deposed in a bloodless coup. Military commanders, led by Colonel Ely Ould Mohammed Fal (alternative spelling: Vall) seized power while President Taya was attending the funeral of Saudi Arabia's King Fahd. Colonel Fal established the ruling Military Council for Justice and Democracy to run the country. The council dissolved the Parliament and appointed a transitional government. The United States calls for a return to a constitutional government through free and fair elections as soon as possible.

Type:

Republic.

Independence:

November 28, 1960.

Constitution:

Approved 1991. Military rule 1978-1992. Original constitution promulgated 1961.

Branches:

Executive—president (chief of state). Legislative—bicameral national assembly, directly elected lower house (81 members), and upper house (56 members) chosen indirectly by municipal councilors. Judicial—a supreme court and lower courts are nominally independent but subject to control of executive branch; judicial decisions are rendered mainly on the basis of Shari'a (Islamic law) for social/family matters and a western style legal code, applied in commercial and some criminal cases.

Political parties:

21.

Suffrage:

Universal at 18.

National day:

November 28, Independence Day.

Economy

GDP (2003):

$1.1 billion.

Annual growth rate (2003):

2.7%.

Per capita income (2003):

$430.

Natural resources:

petroleum, fish, iron ore, gypsum, copper, phosphates, salt.

Agriculture (19.3% of GDP 2003):

Products—livestock, traditional fisheries, millet, maize, wheat, dates, rice.

Industry (30% of GDP 2003):

Types—iron mining, fishing. Services (50.8% of GDP 2003).

Trade:

Exports (f.o.b.)—$388 million (2003). Export partners—Japan 13%, France 10.9%, Spain 9.6%, Italy 9.5%, Germany 8.7%, Belgium 7.4%, China 5.8%, Russia 4.8% (2004). Imports—$418 million (2002): foodstuffs, machinery, tools, petroleum products, and consumer goods. Import partners—France 14.5%, U.S. 7.7%, China 7.4%, Spain 5.9%, Belgium 4.3%, U.K. 4.3% (2004).

Currency:

Ouguiya (UM).

USAID:

Total FY 2005 USAID assistance to Mauritania—$14,160,300.


HISTORY

From the 3rd to 7th centuries, the migration of Berber tribes from North Africa displaced the Bafours, the original inhabitants of present-day Mauritania and the ancestors of the Soninke. Continued Arab-Berber migration drove indigenous black Africans south to the Senegal River or enslaved them. By 1076, Islamic warrior monks (Almoravid or Al Murabitun) completed the conquest of southern Mauritania, defeating the ancient Ghana empire. Over the next 500 years, Arabs overcame fierce Berber resistance to dominate Mauritania. The Mauritanian Thirty-Year War (1644-74) was the unsuccessful final Berber effort to repel the Maqil Arab invaders led by the Beni Hassan tribe. The descendants of Beni Hassan warriors became the upper stratum of Moorish society. Berbers retained influence by producing the majority of the region's Marabouts—those who preserve and teach Islamic tradition. Hassaniya, a mainly oral, Berber-influenced Arabic dialect that derives its name from the Beni Hassan tribe, became the dominant language among the largely nomadic population. Within Moorish society, aristocratic and servant classes developed, yielding "white" (aristocracy) and "black" Moors (the enslaved indigenous class).

French colonization at the beginning of the 20th century brought legal prohibitions against slavery and an end to interclan warfare. During the colonial period, the population remained nomadic, but sedentary black Africans, whose ancestors had been expelled centuries earlier by the Moors, began to trickle back into southern Mauritania. As the country gained independence in 1960, the capital city of Nouakchott was founded at the site of a small colonial village. Ninety percent of the population was still nomadic. With independence, larger numbers of ethnic Sub-Saharan Africans (Haalpulaar, Soninke, and Wolof) entered Mauritania, moving into the area north of the Senegal River. Educated in French, many of these recent arrivals became clerks, soldiers, and administrators in the new state.

Moors reacted to this change by trying to Arabicize much of Mauritanian life, such as law and language. A schism developed between those who considered Mauritania to be an Arab country (mainly Moors) and those who sought a dominant role for the Sub-Saharan peoples. The discord between these two conflicting visions of Mauritanian society was evident during intercommunal violence that broke out in April 1989 (the "1989 Events"). It has since subsided. However, the tension between these two visions remains. A significant number from both groups, however, seeks a more diverse, pluralistic society.


GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS

Mauritania's last presidential election, its third 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 Maaouiya Sid'Ahmed Taya won reelection with 67.02% of the popular vote, according to official figures, with second-place finisher Mohamed Haidallah earning just under 20%. Several opposition groups alleged that the government had used fraudulent means to win the elections, but did not elect to pursue their grievances via available legal channels. The elections incorporated safeguards first adopted in the 2001 municipal elections—published voter lists and hard-to-falsify voter identification cards—and took place amid a generally calm atmosphere. However, main opposition candidate Mohamed Haidallah was arrested prior to Election Day on charges of planning a coup, released the same day, and rearrested after Election Day. He received a suspension of civil rights and a five-year suspended prison sentence for his alleged coup plotting.

The PRDS, led by President Maaouiya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya, dominated Mauritanian politics from the country's first multi-party elections in April 1992—following the approval by referendum of the current constitution in July 1991—until he was overthrown in August 2005. 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 that governed Mauritania from July 1978 to April 1992. The country's first president, Moktar Ould Daddah, served from independence until ousted in a bloodless coup on July 10, 1978. A group of current and former Army officers launched a bloody but unsuccessful coup attempt on June 8, 2003.

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 among White Moor, Black Moor, and Black African Mauritanian groups, centering on language, land tenure, and other issues, continues to be a major challenge to national unity.

The government bureaucracy is composed of ministries, special agencies, and parastatal companies. The Ministry of Interior controls 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.

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 political 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 January-February 1994 and subsequent Senate elections, most recently in April 2004, gaining representation at the local level as well as three seats in the Senate. The Parliament was dissolved by the Military Council in August 2005. Currently, 21 political parties are recognized, and several other parties have applied to the transitional government for recognition.

Principal Government Officials

(installed by the Military Council for Justice and Democracy)

Last Updated: 8/26/2005

Chairman, Military Council for Democracy & Justice: Ely Ould Mohamed VALL, Col.
President:
Prime Minister: Sidi Mohamed Ould BOUBAKAR
Min. of Commerce, Artisanal Manufacturing, & Tourism: Ba ABDERRAHMANE
Min. of Communication: Cheikh Ould ABBA
Min. of Culture, Youth, & Sport: Mehla Mint AHMED
Min. of Defense: Ely Ould Mohamed VALL, Col.
Min. of Economic Affairs & Development: Hammada Ould ABED
Min. of Equipment & Transportation: Ba Ibrahima DEMBA
Min. of Finance: Abdellahi Ould Cheikh SIDIYA
Min. of Fishing & Marine Economy: Sidi Mohamed Ould SIDINA
Min. of Foreign Affairs & Cooperation: Ahmed Ould SID AHMED
Min. of Health & Social Affairs: Qsaadna Ould BAHAIDA
Min. of Higher Education & Scientific Research: Naji Ould Mohamed MAHMOUD
Min. of Interior, Post, & Telecommunications: Mohamed Ahmed Ould Mohamed LEMINE
Min. of Justice: Maafoudh Ould BETTAH
Min. of Literacy, Islamic Affairs, & Original Education: Yahya O. Sid'el MOUSTAPH
Min. of Mines & Industry: Mohamed Ismael Ould ABEIDNA
Min. of Petroleum & Energy: Mohamed Aly Ould Sidi MOHAMED
Min. of Primary & Secondary Education: Cheikh Ould SID'AHMED
Min. of Public Function (Civil Service): Mohamed Ould DJIGUQ
Min. of Rural Development & Environment: Gandega SILLY
Min. of Water: Ely Ould AHMED
Min. of Womens Affairs: Nebghouha Mint TLAMID
Sec. of State for Civil Registry: Abdi O. HORMA
Sec. of State for the Maghreb Arab Union: Bissmillah Elih Ould AHMED
Sec. of State to the Prime Minister for New Technologies: Manyana Sow DEINA
Sec. Gen. of Government: Ba Saidou MOUSSA
Sec. Gen. to the Presidency: Habib Ould HEMMET
Ambassador to the US: Ahmed Ben Khalifa BEN JIDOU
Permanent Representative to the UN, New York:

Mauritania maintains an embassy in the United States at 2129 Leroy Place NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202-232-5700, fax 202-232-5701) and a Permanent Mission to the United Nations at 211 East 43rd Street, Suite 2000, New York, NY 10017 (tel. 212-986-7963, fax 212-986-8419).


U.S.-MAURITANIAN RELATIONS

The United States Government has condemned the August 2005 coup and the unconstitutional assumption of power by the Military Council for Justice and Democracy, and has called for a return to a constitutional government through free and fair elections as soon as possible.

Before the coup, U.S.-Mauritania relations were excellent, but underwent several transformations since Mauritania gained independence. From 1960 to 1967, the United States maintained cordial relations with Mauritania and provided a small amount of economic assistance. During the June 1967 Middle East war, Mauritania broke diplomatic and consular relations with the United States but restored ties 2 years later and maintained relatively friendly relations until the late 1980s, despite disagreement over the Arab-Israeli issue. Since 1981, the United States has provided about $130 million in economic and food assistance.

The 1989 rupture between Mauritania and Senegal (the "1989 Events") that resulted in Mauritania's deportation to Senegal of tens of thousands of its own citizens, negatively affected U.S.-Mauritanian relations. Moreover, Mauritania's perceived support of Iraq prior to and during the 1991 Gulf war further weakened the strained ties.

Relations between the U.S. and Mauritania reached a low in the spring of 1991, as details of the Mauritanian military's role in widespread human rights abuses surfaced. The U.S. responded by formally halting USAID operations and all military assistance to Mauritania. Relations also suffered in the 1990s as a result of repeated reports that slavery continued in some parts of Mauritania despite legal proscriptions.

By the late 1990s, the Mauritanian Government adopted policies facilitating the return of those expelled or who fled during the 1989 Events; turned away from Iraq and toward the West; and initiated a poverty reduction strategy while securing debt relief under the Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative. (See also Fact Sheet.) Improved relations with the United States, including the return of military cooperation and training programs, accompanied these changes. Mauritania is eligible for U.S. trade benefits under the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), but did not export any products to the US under these benefits during the first half of 2003 (last available data). Mauritania formally opened diplomatic relations with Israel in 2000 and remains one of only three Arab League member-nations to have done so.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials

NOUAKCHOTT (E) Address: Rue Abdallaye; Phone: 222-525-2660; Fax: 222-525-1592; INMARSAT Tel: 874-7612-49155; Workweek: Mon-Thu 8:00-5:30, Fri 8:00 - 12:00; Website: http://www.state.gov/mauritania.

AMB:Joseph LeBaron
AMB OMS:Kathleen Donahue
DCM:Steven Koutsis
POL:Joshua Morris
CON:Anita Ghildyal
MGT:John K. Madden
CLO:Elizabeth H. Hilliard
DAO:James P. Sweeney
ECO/COM:Anita Ghildyal
FIN:Magida Safaoui
GSO:Michael Lampel
ICASS Chair:David Wyche
IMO:Eddie H. Martin
ISSO:Eddie H. Martin
PAO:David Wyche
RSO:David Groccia
State ICASS:David Wyche
Last Updated: 1/4/2006

TRAVEL

Consular Information Sheet

July 18, 2005

Country Description:

Mauritania is a developing country in northwestern Africa. Arabic is the official language, but French is widely used and several local languages are also spoken. Tourist facilities in the capital, Nouakchott, are adequate, but limited or non-existent elsewhere.

Entry/Exit Requirements:

A passport and a visa are required, as is evidence of a yellow fever vaccination. For the most current visa information, contact the Embassy of the Republic of Mauritania, 2129 Leroy Place N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008, tel. (202) 232-5700, website: http://embassy.org/embassies/mr.html, or the Mauritanian Permanent Mission to the U.N., 211 East 43rd Street, Suite 2000, New York, N.Y. 10017, telephone (212) 986-7963 or 8189, and e-mail [email protected] Overseas, inquiries should be made at the nearest Mauritanian embassy or consulate.

Safety and Security:

On June 4, 2005, members of the terrorist group GSPC attacked a military outpost based at Lemgheitty in the extreme northeastern part of the country near the Algerian and Malian borders and killed or wounded about 35 soldiers. American citizens are urged to avoid travel in areas along Mauritania's border with Algeria, and its northern border with Mali.

Travel is otherwise generally safe within most of Mauritania, a vast, scenic, and fascinating country. However, all travelers must exercise prudence and caution. Travelers should not venture into the Sahara unless accompanied by an experienced guide and even then only if equipped with sturdy vehicles and ample provisions. The U.S. Embassy in Nouakchott continues to receive reports of banditry along the borders between the Western Sahara and Mali. Landmines also remain a danger along the border with the Western Sahara. Travelers planning overland trips from Mauritania to Morocco, Algeria, Senegal or Mali should check with the U.S. Embassy in Nouakchott before setting out.

In Nouakchott and other major cities in Mauritania, police routinely conduct road blocks at which they may ask for proof of identify and drivers' licenses. Americans visiting Mauritania should be prepared for such inquiries and carry their identification cards at all times. It is best to drive cautiously and be prepared to stop at short notice.

Political gatherings and street demonstrations occur periodically. During periods of political unrest, demonstrators have been known to throw rocks at passing cars. An increased police presence and additional vehicle controls may also be expected. U.S. citizens should avoid large crowds and maintain security awareness at all times.

Although U.S. citizens are generally welcomed in Mauritania, there were reports of anti-American incidents such as threats and stoning of vehicles, following the 1998 U.S. and British-led intervention in Iraq, and demonstrations outside the Embassy during the 2003 U.S. intervention in Iraq. Some Muslim extremists have occasionally perceived Christian nongovernmental organizations as a threat. However, local authorities closely monitor political violence and religious extremist groups.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Internet web site at http://travel.state.gov where the current Worldwide Caution Public Announcement, Travel Warnings and Public Announcements can be found. Up-to-date information of safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S., or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

Crime:

Crime in Mauritania is moderate but steadily increasing. Most incidents are in the cities and larger towns, and are petty crimes such as pick pocketing and the theft of improperly secured and openly visible valuables left in vehicles. There are some residential burglaries, robberies, rapes, and assaults, but they have rarely involved the American community. Most criminal activity occurs at night, and walking alone at night is not advisable. Violent crimes and crimes involving the use of weapons are also rare, but increasing. In Nouakchott, you should avoid the beach at night. During the day, beach-goers should travel in large groups or stay in popular areas, since there have been a number of thefts and violent incidents reported there in the past several years.

Information for Victims of Crime:

The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, to contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

Medical Facilities and Health Information:

Medical facilities in Mauritania are limited. There are few modern clinics or hospitals beyond the capital and a few major towns. At local pharmacies, some medicines are difficult to obtain; travelers are advised to bring their own supplies.

Malaria is a serious and sometimes fatal disease. Chloroquine-resistant P. falciparum malaria is a severe form of the disease that is found in many parts of western Africa, including Mauritania. Because travelers to Mauritania are at high risk for contracting malaria they should take one of the following anti-malarial drugs: mefloquine (Lariamtm), doxycycline, or atovaquone/proguanil (Malarone – tm). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have determined that a traveler who is on an appropriate anti-malarial drug has a greatly reduced chance of contracting the disease. In addition, other personal protective measures, such as the use of insect repellents, may help to reduce malaria risk. Travelers who become ill with a fever or flu-like illness while traveling in a malaria-risk area and up to one year after returning home should seek prompt medical attention and tell the physician their travel history and what anti-malarial drugs they have been taking.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC's Internet site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization's (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith.

Medical Insurance:

The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.

Traffic Safety and Road Conditions:

While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Mauritania is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Public transportation is not very safe, and road conditions in Mauritania are generally poor, particularly in the interior. Overland travel is difficult and roadside assistance is almost nonexistent. The country's size and harsh climate make road maintenance and repair especially problematic. Mauritania has only about 2,070 km (1,286 miles) of surfaced roads, 710 km (441 miles) of unsurfaced roads and 5,140 km (3,194 miles) of unimproved tracks. There are four major roads, linking Nouakchott to Akjoujt and Atar to the north; Rosso to the south; Aleg, Kaedi, and Boghe to the southeast, and eastward to Nema (the "Road of Hope"). A new highway between Nouakchott to Nouadhibou is under construction.

The traditional route to Nouadibou has been along the beach during low tide, and some travelers may continue to use this route until the new highway is opened. Visitors to coastal fishing villages and other points of interest use the beach, as well as smugglers and others who try to avoid the security checkpoints that are often erected along the asphalt roads. Visitors to the beach should exercise caution: with the noise of the surf, pedestrians might not hear oncoming vehicles and could be in danger.

U.S. citizens traveling overland for long distances in Mauritania should be sure to have a suitable four-wheel drive vehicle, a local guide, an adequate supply of water, and a second fuel reservoir. A second vehicle is recommended in case of breakdown. Visitors are urged not to travel alone into the desert.

Driving in Mauritania is treacherous, and we encourage you to hire a trained local driver. Traffic patterns differ considerably from American-style "rules of the road," and many Mauritanians drive without regard to traffic signs or rules. Roadway obstructions and hazards caused by drifting sand, animals, and poor roads often plague motorists; when combined with the number of untrained drivers and poorly maintained vehicles, heightened caution is imperative at all times. Drivers and passengers should drive defensively and always wear their seat belts. Motorcycle and bicycle riders should wear helmets and protective clothing. Nighttime driving is discouraged.

For additional information about road travel in Mauritania, see the Department of State, Bureau of Administration's Post Report on Mauritania at http://foia.state.gov/MMS/postrpt/pr_view_all.asp? CntryID=96.

Aviation Safety Oversight:

As there is no direct commercial air service between the U.S. and Mauritania, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not formally assessed Mauritania's Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with ICAO international aviation safety standards. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA's Internet web site at www.faa.gov/avr/iasa/index.cfm.

Special Circumstances:

Mauritanian customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning the temporary import or export of items such as firearms, narcotics, alcoholic drinks and pork products. You should contact the Embassy of Mauritania in Washington, DC for specific information regarding customs regulations.

The local currency is the ouguiya, and it may not be imported or exported. Credit cards can be used only at a few hotels in the capital, Nouakchott, and the northwestern city of Nouadhibou. ATMs are very rare, even in Nouakchott. Major foreign currencies are easily changeable in banks and numerous currency exchanges. Credit card fraud is a problem, so it is advisable to pay hotel bills in cash.

Islamic ideals and beliefs in the country encourage conservative dress. Sleeved garments and below-the-knee skirts are recommended, and people should avoid wearing shorts.

Criminal Penalties:

While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offences. Persons violating Mauritanian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Mauritania are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in illicit sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.

Children's Issues:

For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, see the Office of Children's Issues website at http://travel.state.gov/family/family_1732.html.

Registration/Embassy Location:

Americans living or traveling in Mauritania are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department's travel registration website, https://travelregistration.state.gov, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Mauritania. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy is located between the Presidency building and the Spanish Embassy on Rue Abdallaye. The postal address is B.P. 222, Nouakchott, telephone (222) 525-2660/2663, 525-1141/45, or 525-3038 (ext. 5441), and fax (222) 525-1592. You may contact the Consular Section by e-mail at [email protected]

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Mauritania

Mauritania

1 Location and Size

2 Topography

3 Climate

4 Plants and Animals

5 Environment

6 Population

7 Migration

8 Ethnic Groups

9 Languages

10 Religions

11 Transportation

12 History

13 Government

14 Political Parties

15 Judicial System

16 Armed Forces

17 Economy

18 Income

19 Industry

20 Labor

21 Agriculture

22 Domesticated Animals

23 Fishing

24 Forestry

25 Mining

26 Foreign Trade

27 Energy and Power

28 Social Development

29 Health

30 Housing

31 Education

32 Media

33 Tourism and Recreation

34 Famous Mauritanians

35 Bibliography

Mauritanian Islamic Republic

[French] République Islamique de Mauritanie;

[Arabic]Al-Jumhuriyah; al-Islamiyah al-Muritaniyah

CAPITAL: Nouakchott

FLAG: The flag consists of a gold star and crescent on a light green field.

ANTHEM: Mauritania (no words).

MONETARY UNIT: The ouguiya (UM), a paper currency of 5 khoums, issued by the Central Bank of Mauritania, replaced the Communauté Financière Africaine franc on 29 June 1973. There are coins of 1 khoum and 1, 5, 10, and 20 ouguiyas, and notes of 100, 200, 500, and 1,000 ouguiyas. UM1 = $0.00380 (or $1 = UM263.03) as of 2003.

WEIGHTS AND MEASURES: The metric system is the legal standard.

HOLIDAYS: New Year’s Day, 1 January; Labor Day, 1 May; African Liberation Day, 25 May; Anniversary of the Proclamation of the Republic, 28 November. Movable religious holidays include Laylat al-Miraj, ‘Id al-Fitr, ‘Id al-’Adha’, 1st of Muharram (Muslim New Year), and Milad an-Nabi.

TIME: GMT.

1 Location and Size

Located in West Africa, Mauritania has an area of 1,030,700 square kilometers (397,953 square miles), slightly larger than three times the size of the state of New Mexico. The country has a total estimated land boundary length of 5,828 kilometers (3,621 miles) and a coastline (Atlantic Ocean) of 754 kilometers (468 miles). The capital city, Nouakchott, is located on the Atlantic Coast.

2 Topography

The country is mostly flat, with sandstone plateaus extending through the center of the country. The country is generally divided into two regions, the northern Saharan region and the southern semidesert coastal plain. The highest point is Kediet ej Jill (Mount Ijill), a block of hematite in the northwest that rises to 915 meters (3,002 feet). The lowest point is Sebkha de Ndrhamcha, which dips to 5 meters (16 feet) below sea level. The Senegal River, which traces the southwest border, is the only permanent river and the longest, with a total length of 1,663 kilometers (1,015 miles). There are a few saltwater lakes scattered throughout the country, but none is of considerable size.

GEOGRAPHICAL PROFILE

Geographic Features

Area: 1,030,700 sq km (397,953 sq mi)

Size ranking: 28 of 194

Highest elevation: 915 meters (3,002 feet) at Kediet ej Jill

Lowest elevation: -5 meters (-16 feet) at Sebkha de Ndrhamcha

Land Use*

Arable land: 1%

Permanent crops: 0%

Other: 99%

Weather**

Average annual precipitation: (Nouakchott): 14 centimeters (5.5 inches)

Average temperature in January: (Nouakchott): 14–29°c (57–84°f)

Average temperature in July: (Nouakchott): 23–32°c (73–90°f)

* Arable Land: Land used for temporary crops, like meadows for mowing or pasture, gardens, and greenhouses.

Permanent crops: Land cultivated with crops that occupy its use for long periods, such as cocoa, coffee, rubber, fruit and nut orchards, and vineyards.

Other: Any land not specified, including built-on areas, roads, and barren land.

** The measurements for precipitation and average temperatures were taken at weather stations closest to the country’s largest city.

Precipitation and average temperature can vary significantly within a country, due to factors such as latitude, altitude, coastal proximity, and wind patterns.

3 Climate

Although conditions are generally desert-like, three climatic regions can be distinguished. Southern Mauritania has one rainy season from July to October. Annual rainfall averages 66 centimeters (26 inches) in the far south; at Nouakchott the annual average is 14 centimeters (5.5 inches). The coastal region is arid, with an average maximum temperature for October of 32°c (90°f) and an average minimum of 13°c (55°f) for January. Most of Mauritania north of Atar has a desert climate with daytime temperatures exceeding 38°c (100°f) in most areas for more than six months of the year.

4 Plants and Animals

In the desert there are some cacti and related species; oases have relatively luxuriant growth, notably date palms. In the south are the baobab tree, palms, and acacias. The far south, in the Senegal River valley, has willows, jujube, and acacias. Lions, panthers, jackals, crocodiles, hippopotami, hyenas, cheetahs, otters, and monkeys survive in the south; in the north there are antelopes, wild sheep, ostriches and other large birds, and ducks.

5 Environment

Deforestation is a severe problem because of the population’s growing need for firewood and construction materials. The expansion of the desert into agricultural lands is accelerated by limited rainfall, deforestation, overgrazing, and wind erosion. The nation also has a problem with water pollution, resulting from the leakage of petroleum and industrial waste along with sewage into the nation’s ports and rivers.

As of 2001, only 1.7% of Mauritania’s total land area was protected. In 2006, the number of threatened species included 7 types of mammals,

5 species of birds, 2 types of reptiles, 11 species of fish, and 1 species of invertebrates. Threatened species include the African gerbil, African slender-snouted crocodile, and barbary sheep. The Sahara oryx has become extinct in the wild.

6 Population

The total population in 2005 was estimated at 3.069 million. The projection for 2025 is 4.973 million. The overall population density was three persons per square kilometer (eight per square mile). More than 40% of the population lived in urban areas in 2005. Nouakchott, the capital, had a population of 600,000 in that year.

7 Migration

In seasonal grazing migrations, herders move with their cattle every year. The population was 12% nomadic in 1988. Some tribesmen of the Senegal River valley go to Dakar in Senegal for seasonal work or to engage in petty trade. A few thousand Mauritanians live in France. There were 6,148 Mauritanian refugees in Mali as of 2004.

In 2000, the number of migrants in the country was 63,000. In 2003, the estimated net migration rate was -0.04 per 1,000 population.

8 Ethnic Groups

The Moors (Maurs) make up the main ethnic group among Mauritanians. The Moors are a Caucasoid people of Berber and Arab stock, with some African characteristics. Other groups, all black, are the Tukulor, Sarakolé, Fulani (Fulbe), Wolof, and Bambara. About 40% of the total population are of mixed Moor/black descent, 30% are Moors, and 30% are black. There are also small numbers of Europeans, mainly French and Spanish (the latter from the Canary Islands), and a small colony of Lebanese traders. Freed slaves or the descendants of freed slaves are known as haratin.

9 Languages

Arabic is the official language. The Arabic spoken in Mauritania is called Hasaniya. Wolof, Peular, and Soninke are spoken in southern Mauritania and recognized as national languages. Wolof is also recognized as an official language. French is widely used, particularly in business, but its status as an official language was eliminated in the 1991 constitution.

10 Religions

The constitution declares Islam to be the religion of both the state and its people. As such, more than 99% of the population is Muslim, most of whom are Sunnis. The Qadiriya and the Tijaniya are influential Islamic brotherhoods. The few thousand Christians and a very small number of Jews are mostly foreigners.

11 Transportation

In 2002, of some 7,720 kilometers (4,797 miles) of roads, 830 kilometers (516 miles) were paved; there were only three paved highways, from Nouakchott north to Akjoujt and south to Rosso, continuing to Saint-Louis, Senegal. Mauritania had about 11,450 passenger cars and 6,850 commercial vehicles in 2003.

The 717-kilometer (446-mile) railway links the iron mines at Zouérat, near Fdérik, with the port at Point-Central, 10 kilometers (6 miles) south of Nouadhibou. There is a wharf at Nouakchott. The only airports that can handle long-distance jets are at Nouakchott and Nouadhibou. In 2003, 116,000 passengers were carried on scheduled domestic and international airline flights.

12 History

The Portuguese were the first Europeans to arrive in Mauritania, attracted in the 15th century by the trade in gold and slaves, and later by the gum arabic trade. Competition for control was keen among Portuguese, French, Dutch, and English traders. In 1815, Senegal, Mauritania’s neighbor to the south, was awarded to France in the post-Napoleonic war settlement. During the 19th century, the French explored the inland regions of West Africa and signed treaties with Moorish chieftains. Mauritania was established as a colony in 1920, becoming one of the eight territories that constituted French West Africa.

In 1946, a Mauritanian Territorial Assembly was established, with some control over internal affairs. Complete independence was attained on 28 November 1960. Since independence, the government of Mauritania has enjoyed considerable stability. Two problems that have dominated internal politics are conflicts between regions and trade union pressures for pro-labor policies and higher wages. Mauritania joined the Arab League in 1973, but ties with Europe, especially France and the United States, remain strong. The disastrous drought that struck Mauritania and the rest of the region during 1968 and 1974 elicited substantial aid from the European Community (EC), the United States, Spain, France, and the Arab countries.

Saharan War and Military Rule In 1976, forces supported by Algeria launched a war in neighboring Western Sahara following the end of Spanish control over the region. Guerrilla raids on the Mauritanian railway, iron mines, and coastal settlements forced Mauritania to call French and Moroccan troops to its defense. The effects of the war weakened the government both economically and politically, and in July 1978, Moktar Ould Daddah, Mauritania’s president since 1961, was overthrown by a military coup. Lieutenant-Colonel Khouna Ould Haydalla became chief of state in January 1980. A military coup on 12 December 1982 brought Colonel Maaouya Ould Sid Ahmad Taya to power.

BIOGRAPHICAL PROFILE

Name: Maaouya Ould Sid Ahmed Taya

Position: President of a republic, deposed in a coup on 3 August 2005

Took Office: 12 December 1984

Birthplace: Atar, Mauritania

Birthdate: 1943

Religion: Islam

Of interest: Colonel Ely Ould Mohamed Vall was acting as president after the Military Council for Justice and Democracy, which he leads, deposed Maaouya Ould Sid Ahmed Taya in 2005.

Many problems, including an unsuccessful coup attempt in 1987, are linked to ethnic conflict. It is estimated that Moors account for between 30 and 60% of the population. The remainder of the population is black, concentrated along the Senegal River border. Mass deportations of blacks have fueled charges that Mauritania is trying to eliminate its non-Moorish population.

The president (chief of state) as of August 2005 was Colonel Ely Ould Mohamed Vall, who displaced Colonel Maaouya Ould Sid Ahmed Taya in a military coup. Taya had come to power himself through a military coup in 1982. The head of government in 2005 was Prime Minister Sidi Mohamed Ould Boukakar.

In June 2006, voters approved a referendum to change the constitution to limit the president to two five-year terms.

13 Government

The July 1991 constitution delegates most powers to the executive branch. The president is to be elected by universal suffrage (vote) for a six-year term. The prime minister is appointed by the president and designated as head of government. Parliament, composed of a directly elected 79-member National Assembly and an indirectly elected 56-member Senate, is controlled by the president’s party. Competing political parties were legalized in July 1991.

Mauritania is divided into the city of Nouakchott and 12 regions, each with a governor and a commission. The regions are subdivided into 49 departments.

14 Political Parties

The Front for the Liberation of Africans in Mauritania (FLAM) played a major role in stirring the 1989 unrest that led to multiparty elections in 1993. Coup leader Colonel Maaouya Ould Sid Ahmed Taya formed the Democratic and Social Republican Party (Parti Republicain et Democratique Social—PRDS). Chief among some 14 opposition parties has been the Union of Democratic Forces (UFD). In May 1992, the UFD changed its name to UFD-New Era.

Also active are the Rally for Democratic and National Unity (RDU), the Union for Progress and Democracy (UPD), Rally of Democratic Forces (RFD); the Mauritanian Renewal Party (PMR), the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), the Socialist and Democratic People’s Union (SDPU), the Democratic Center Party (DCP), United Forces of Progress (UFP), Popular Progressive Alliance (APP), the Popular Front (FP), Mauritanian Party for Unity and Change (HATEM-PMUC), Democratic Renewal (RD), Union of Democratic Centre (UDC), and El Har, a 1994 splintering of the UFD-New Era. The technically illegal Islamist party Ummah is very popular. The assembly under Colonel Taya was dominated by his party, the PRDS. Since Colonel Vall took power in August 2005, opposition politicians appear to have become more involved, at least indirectly, in public decision-making. Following the November and December 2006 elections, 41 of the national assembly seats were held by Coalition for Forces for Democratic Change or CFCD, a coalition of political parties (including RFD with 16 seats, UFP with 9, APP with 5, Islamists with 5, HATEM-PMUC with 3, RD with 2, and FP with 1); 38 were held by RNI, a coalition of independent candidates; 3 were held by UDP; 3 were held by RDU, and 3 were held by others.

15 Judicial System

The 1991 Constitution completely revised the judicial system. The revised judicial system includes lower-, middle-, and upper-level courts, each with specialized jurisdiction. Department-level tribunals now bridge the traditional (qadi) and modern court systems. These courts are staffed by qadis, traditional magistrates trained in Koranic law. General civil cases are handled by 10 regional courts. Three regional courts of appeal hear challenges to decisions at the department level. A Supreme Court reviews appeals taken from decisions of the regional courts of appeal.

16 Armed Forces

In 2005, the active armed forces of Mauritania numbered approximately 15,870. The army had 15,000 personnel, the navy numbered 650, and the air force consisted of 250 personnel. Paramilitary personnel numbered 5,000, with 3,000 in the gendarmerie and a national guard of 2,000. Defense expenditures were $20.1 million in 2005.

17 Economy

While Mauritania is an agricultural country dependent on livestock production, its signifi-cant iron ore deposits have been the backbone

Yearly Growth Rate

This economic indicator tells by what percent the economy has increased or decreased when compared with the previous year.

of the export economy in recent years. The droughts of the 1970s and 1980s transformed much of Mauritania, as the herds died off and the population shifted to urban areas. Droughts have led to a buildup of foreign debt, leaving the country dependent on financial aid from international donors. The country depends heavily on foreign assistance.

18 Income

In 2005, Mauritania’s GDP was $6.2 billion, or about $2,000 per person. In 2001, the average annual growth of the GDP was 4%. From 2002 to 2005, annual growth varied, with the economy growing at a rate of about 5.4% in 2005. The average annual inflation rate was 5.5%.

19 Industry

Fish processing, the principal industrial activity, is carried out in Nouadhibou. A rolling mill at Nouadhibou produces small quantities of iron rods and steel. A petroleum refinery with an annual capacity of 1 million tons resumed operation in 1987 with help from Algeria. Other small industries in 2006 included chemical and plastic plants, food and beverages, metal products, building materials, and cookie factories.

20 Labor

The estimated labor force numbered 786,000 in 2001. In that year agriculture provided work for 50% of the labor force, with services accounting for 40% and the remaining 10% in industry. In 2004, the estimated unemployment rate was 20%. Approximately 90% of workers formally employed are unionized.

Children under the age of 14 are prohibited by law from engaging in non-agricultural work. In practice this regulation is not enforced. The minimum wage was $38.71 per month in 2002 for adult workers.

21 Agriculture

Only about 1% of Mauritania’s land is arable. In 2003, agriculture accounted for about 19% of the GDP. In 2004, millet production reached 400 tons and sorghum production was at 68,000 tons. Other crop production that year included 77,000 tons of paddy rice, 6,000 tons of corn, and 24,000 tons of dates.

22 Domesticated Animals

In 2005, the livestock population included 1.6 million head of cattle, 14.5 million sheep and goats, and 1.3 million camels. The Moors tend to regard their cattle as symbols of wealth and prestige. This attitude discourages the herders from selling or slaughtering the animals. Total meat production in 2005 was estimated at 89,349 tons, with mutton accounting for 28% and beef for 26%.

23 Fishing

Since the mid-1980s, depletion of fish stocks has made Mauritanian fishing increasingly uneconomical. Mauritania’s boats have also been in poor condition. Traditional fishing is carried out along the Senegal River, and traditional sea fishing at Nouakchott and Nouadhibou. The national catch was estimated at 80,000 tons in 2003. Principal species caught included octopus, meagre, sardine, squid, and grouper. Exports of fish products were valued at $103.4 million in 2003.

24 Forestry

The principal forest product is gum arabic, which is extracted from wild acacia trees that grow in the south and is used to manufacture adhesives, medicines, inks, and candies. Much of the gum is smuggled across the borders, particularly to Senegal. In 2004, roundwood removals were estimated at 1.6 million cubic meters (56 million cubic feet), with 99% used for fuel.

25 Mining

In 2003, iron ore output (metal content) was 6.9 million tons and gypsum output, from some of the greatest reserves in the world, was 100,000 tons. The same year, Mauritania also produced cement, petroleum refinery products, crude steel, salt, sand, and gravel. Copper and gold are also available.

Yearly Balance of Trade

The balance of trade is the difference between what a country sells to other countries (its exports) and what it buys (its imports). If a country imports more than it exports, it has a negative balance of trade (a trade deficit). If exports exceed imports there is a positive balance of trade (a trade surplus).

26 Foreign Trade

Iron ore and fish products are the primary exports (98% of export revenue in 2005). Mauritania’s main export markets in 2004 were Japan, France, Spain, Germany, and Italy. Principal import partners are France, the United States, China, Spain, and the United Kingdom. The main imports are foodstuffs, consumer goods, petroleum products, and capital goods.

27 Energy and Power

National installed electrical power capacity was 105,000 kilowatts in 2002. Production increased from 49.9 million kilowatt hours in 1969 to 174 million kilowatt hours in 2002. Mauritania as of 1 January 2005 had no proven reserves of crude oil, natural gas, coal, or petroleum refining

Selected Social Indicators

The statistics below are the most recent estimates available as of 2006. For comparison purposes, data for the United States and averages for low-income countries and high-income countries are also given. About 15% of the world’s 6.5 billion people live in high-income countries, while 37% live in low-income countries.

IndicatorMauritania Low-income countriesHigh-income countriesUnited States
sources: World Bank. World Development Indicators. Washington, D.C.: The World Bank, 2006; Central Intelligence Agency. The World Factbook. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 2006; World Resources Institute, Washington, D.C.
Per capita gross national income (GNI)*$2,050 $2,258$31,009$39,820
Population growth rate2.7% 2%0.8%1.2%
People per square kilometer of land3 803032
Life expectancy in years: male52 587675
female55 608280
Number of physicians per 1,000 people0.1 0.43.72.3
Number of pupils per teacher (primary school)45 431615
Literacy rate (15 years and older)51.2% 65%>95%99%
Television sets per 1,000 people44 84735938
Internet users per 1,000 people5 28538630
Energy consumed per capita (kg of oil equivalent)n.a. 5015,4107,843
CO2 emissions per capita (metric tons)1.12 0.8512.9719.92
* The GNI is the total of all goods and services produced by the residents of a country in a year. The per capita GNI is calculated by dividing a country’s GNI by its population and adjusting for relative purchasing power.
n.a.: data not available >: greater than <: less than

capacity. However, Mauritania’s Chinguetti oilfield, discovered in 2001, is estimated to have reserves of 100 million barrels. In addition, the country has a number of other offshore gas and oil fields that are seen as promising.

28 Social Development

Family allowances, industrial accident benefits, insurance against work diseases, and old age pensions are provided.

Slavery has been abolished several times in Mauritania, most recently in 1980. Despite this, as of 2004 there were still slaves in the rural areas where a barter economy thrives. Slavery is based on race, with lighter-skinned Moors from the north enslaving darker-skinned farmers from the south.

Rights for women are limited by both religious and cultural factors. Although they have the right to vote, women face considerable legal discrimination. According to Shariah (Islamic) law, the testimony in court of two women equals that of one man. Most young girls undergo female genital mutilation by the age of six months, although the incidence is decreasing among the urban population.

29 Health

In 2004, there were an estimated 14 physicians, 62 nurses, 2 dentists, 4 pharmacists, and 10 mid-wives per 100,000 people. In the mid-1990s, there were approximately 300 basic health units at the village level. Mauritania’s only major hospital is in Nouakchott. Only about 63% of the population had access to health care services. The main health problems include malaria, tuberculosis, measles, and influenza. Forty-four percent of children under five were malnourished. The average life expectancy is among the lowest in the world—an estimated 52 years for men and 55 years for women in 2005. As of 2004, the number of people living with human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS) was estimated at 9,500.

The phenomenal growth of Nouakchott and the effects of rural migration, caused by drought, have strained housing resources. In 1998, more than 25% of residents in Nouakchott lived in substandard housing, such as tents, huts, or shacks.

31 Education

Six years of basic education are compulsory. A three-year lower secondary (college) program offers general education. Following this stage, students may choose to attend a three-year senior secondary school (lycee) or a technical school program of three or five years. Primary school enrollment in 2003 was estimated at about 68% of age-eligible students. In 2001, secondary school enrollment was about 14.5% of age-eligible students. It is estimated that about 42.9% of all students complete their primary education. The student to teacher ratio for primary school was at about 45 to 1 in 2005; the ratio for secondary school was about 26 to 1.

The National Institute of Higher Islamic Studies was established in Boutilimit in 1961. The National School of Administration was founded in 1966 at Nouakchott. The University of Nouakchott was founded in 1981. In 2003, approximately 4% of the post-secondary school age population was enrolled in some type of higher education. As of 2004, the adult literacy rate was estimated at 51.2% (males, 59.5%; females, 43.4%).

32 Media

By 2003, there were about 14 mainline telephones in use for every 1,000 people, and about 128 cellular phones in use for every 1,000 people. In 2001 there were 1 AM and 14 FM radio stations. There was 1 television station reported in 2002. In 2003, there were about 148 radios and 44 televisions for every 1,000 people. That same year, there were 10.8 personal computers for every 1,000 people; in 2004, an estimated 5 out of every 1,000 people had access to the Internet.

In 2004 there were about 25 privately owned newspapers with a regular publication schedule, usually weekly. A government-operated daily, Ach Chabb, is published in French and Arabic.

33 Tourism and Recreation

There are few facilities for tourists, except in the capital, and travel outside it is difficult. Tourists are attracted to Atar, the ancient capital of the Almoravid kingdom, and Chinguetti, with houses and mosques dating back to the thirteenth century.

34 Famous Mauritanians

Abu Bakr ibn Omar (Boubakar), paramount chief of the Lemtouna, defeated Ghana in 1076. His lieutenant and cousin, Yusuf ibn Tashfin, conquered Morocco in 1082 and most of Spain in 1091. The best-known contemporary Mauritanian is Moktar Ould Daddah (1924–2003), president from 1961 until 1978. Col. Maaouya Ould Sid Ahmed Taya (1943–), who had been prime minister (1981–1984), was president from 1984 to 2005. Col. Ely Ould Mohamed Vall (1950–) became the new military leader of Mauritania in 2005.

35 Bibliography

BOOKS

Calderini, Simonetta. Mauritania. Santa Barbara, CA: Clio Press, 1992.

Cotton, Samuel. Silent Terror: A Journey into Contemporary African Slavery. New York: Harlem Rivers Press, 1998.

Goodsmith, Lauren. The Children of Mauritania: Days in the Desert and by the River Shore. Minneapolis: Carolrhoda Books, 1993.

Morrow, James. Mauritania. Philadelphia: Mason Crest Publishers, 2004.

Pazzanita, Anthony G. Historical Dictionary of Mauritania. 2nd ed. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 1996.

WEB SITES

Country Pages. www.state.gov/p/af/ci/mr/. (accessed on January 15, 2007).

Government Home Page. www.ambarim-dc.org/newsite/index.htm. (accessed on January 15, 2007).

World Heritage List. whc.unesco.org/en/statesparties/mr. (accessed on January 15, 2007).

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Mauritania

Mauritania

Compiled from the December 2006 Background Note and supplemented with additional information from the State Department and the editors of this volume. See the introduction to this set for explanatory notes.

Official Name:
Islamic Republic of Mauritania

PROFILE

HISTORY

GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS

U.S.-MAURITANIAN RELATIONS

TRAVEL

PROFILE

Geography

Area: 1,030,070 sq. km. (419,212 sq. mi.); slightly larger than Texas and New Mexico combined.

Cities: (2004) Capital—Nouakchott (pop. 708,000). Other cities—Nouadhibou (72,000), Rosso (50,000), Kaedi (34,000), Zouerate (34,000), Kiffa (33,000), Atar (24,000).

Terrain: Northern four-fifths barren desert; southern 20% mainly Sahelian with small-scale irrigated and rain-fed agriculture in the Senegal River basin.

Climate: Predominantly hot and dry.

People

Nationality: Noun and adjective—Mauritanian(s).

Population: (2005) 2,906,000.

Annual growth rate: 2.7%.

Ethnic groups: Arab-Berber (White Moor), Arab-Berber-Negroid (Black Moor), Haalpulaar, Soninke, Wolof (Black African Mauritanians).

Religion: Islam.

Languages: Arabic (official), Hassaniya (Arabic dialect), French, Pulaar, Wolof, and Soninke.

Education: Years compulsory—six. Attendance (student population enrolled in primary school)—82%. Adult literacy (% of population age 15+)—59%.

Health: Infant mortality rate—77/1,000. Life expectancy—51 yrs.

Work force: Agriculture and fisheries—50%. Services and commerce—20%. Government—20%. Industry and transportation—10%.

Government

Note: On August 3, 2005, President Maaouiya Ould Sid’Ahmed Taya was deposed in a bloodless coup. Military commanders, led by Colonel Ely Ould Mohammed Fal (alternative spelling: Vall) seized power while President Taya was attending the funeral of Saudi Arabia’s King Fahd. Colonel Fal established the ruling Military Council for Justice and Democracy to run the country. The council dissolved the Parliament and appointed a transitional government. The United States called for a return to a constitutional government through free and fair elections as soon as possible. Elections are being held in late 2006 and early 2007.

Type: Republic.

Independence: November 28, 1960.

Constitution: Approved 1991. Military rule 1978-1992. Original constitution promulgated 1961.

Government branches: Executive—president (chief of state). Legislative—bicameral national assembly, directly elected lower house (81 members), and upper house (56 members) chosen indirectly by municipal councilors. Judicial—a supreme court and lower courts are nominally independent but subject to control of executive branch; judicial decisions are rendered mainly on the basis of Shari’a (Islamic law) for social/family matters and a western style legal code, applied in commercial and some criminal cases.

Political parties: 21.

Suffrage: Universal at 18.

National day: November 28, Independence Day.

Economy

GDP: (2003) $1.1 billion.

Annual growth rate: (2003) 2.7%.

Per capita income: (2003) $430.

Natural resources: petroleum, fish, iron ore, gypsum, copper, phosphates, salt.

Agriculture: (19.3% of GDP 2003) Products—livestock, traditional fish-eries, millet, maize, wheat, dates, rice.

Industry: (30% of GDP 2003) Types—iron mining, fishing.

Services: (50.8% of GDP 2003).

Trade: Exports (f.o.b.)—$388 million (2003). Export partners—Japan 13%, France 10.9%, Spain 9.6%, Italy 9.5%, Germany 8.7%, Belgium 7.4%, China 5.8%, Russia 4.8% (2004). Imports—$418 million: (2002) foodstuffs, machinery, tools, petroleum products, and consumer goods. Import partners—France 14.5%, U.S. 7.7%, China 7.4%, Spain 5.9%, Belgium 4.3%, U.K. 4.3% (2004).

Currency: Ouguiya (UM).

USAID: Total FY 2005 USAID assistance to Mauritania—$14,160,300.

HISTORY

From the 3rd to 7th centuries, the migration of Berber tribes from North Africa displaced the Bafours, the original inhabitants of present-day Mauritania and the ancestors of the Soninke. Continued Arab-Berber migration drove indigenous black Africans south to the Senegal River or enslaved them. By 1076, Islamic warrior monks (Almoravid or Al Murabitun) completed the conquest of southern Mauritania, defeating the ancient Ghana empire. Over the next 500 years, Arabs overcame fierce Berber resistance to dominate Mauritania. The Mauritanian Thirty-Year War (1644-74) was the unsuccessful final Berber effort to repel the Maqil Arab invaders led by the Beni Hassan tribe. The descendants of Beni Hassan warriors became the upper stratum of Moorish society. Berbers retained influence by producing the majority of the region’s Marabouts—those who preserve and teach Islamic tradition. Hassaniya, a mainly oral, Berber-influenced Arabic dialect that derives its name from the Beni Hassan tribe, became the dominant language among the largely nomadic population. Within Moorish society, aristocratic and servant classes developed, yielding “white” (aristocracy) and “black” Moors (the enslaved indigenous class).

French colonization at the beginning of the 20th century brought legal prohibitions against slavery and an end to interclan warfare. During the colonial period, the population remained nomadic, but sedentary black Africans, whose ancestors had been expelled centuries earlier by the Moors, began to trickle back into southern Mauritania. As the country gained independence in 1960, the capital city of Nouakchott was founded at the site of a small colonial village. Ninety percent of the population was still nomadic. With independence, larger numbers of ethnic SubSaharan Africans (Haalpulaar, Soninke, and Wolof) entered Mauritania, moving into the area north of the Senegal River. Educated in French, many of these recent arrivals became clerks, soldiers, and administrators in the new state.

Moors reacted to this change by trying to Arabicize much of Mauritanian life, such as law and language. A schism developed between those who considered Mauritania to be an Arab country (mainly Moors) and those who sought a dominant role for the Sub-Saharan peoples. The discord between these two conflicting visions of Mauritanian society was evident during intercommunal violence that broke out in April 1989 (the “1989 Events”). It has since subsided. However, the tension between these two visions remains. A significant number from both groups, however, seeks a more diverse, pluralistic society.

GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS

Mauritania’s last presidential election, its third 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 Maaouiya Sid’Ahmed Taya won reelection with 67.02% of the popular vote, according to official figures, with second-place finisher Mohamed Haidallah earning just under 20%. Several opposition groups alleged that the government had used fraudulent means to win the elections, but did not elect to pursue their grievances via available legal channels. The elections incorporated safeguards first adopted in the 2001 municipal elections—published voter lists and hard-to-falsify voter identification cards—and took place amid a generally calm atmosphere. However, main opposition candidate Mohamed Haidallah was arrested prior to Election Day on charges of planning a coup, released the same day, and rearrested after Election Day. He received a suspension of civil rights and a five-year suspended prison sentence for his alleged coup plotting.

The PRDS, led by President Maaouiya Ould Sid’Ahmed Taya, dominated Mauritanian politics from the country’s first multi-party elections in April 1992—following the approval by referendum of the current constitution in July 1991—until he was overthrown in August 2005. 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 that governed Mauritania from July 1978 to April 1992. The country’s first president, Moktar Ould Daddah, served from independence until ousted in a bloodless coup on July 10, 1978. A group of current and former Army officers launched a bloody but unsuccessful coup attempt on June 8, 2003.

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 among White Moor, Black Moor, and Black African Mauritanian groups, centering on language, land tenure, and other issues, continues to be a major challenge to national unity.

The government bureaucracy is composed of ministries, special agencies, and parastatal companies. The Ministry of Interior controls 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.

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 political 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 January-February 1994 and subsequent Senate elections, most recently in April 2004, gaining representation at the local level as well as three seats in the Senate. The Parliament was dissolved by the Military Council in August 2005. Currently, 21 political parties are recognized, and several other parties have applied to the transitional government for recognition.

Principal Government Officials

Last Updated: 8/12/2006

Chairman, Military Council for Democracy & Justice: Ely Ould Mohamed VALL, Col.

President:

Prime Minister: Sidi Mohamed Ould BOUBAKAR

Min. of Commerce, Artisanal Manufacturing, & Tourism: Ba ABDERRAHMANE

Min. of Communication: Cheikh Ould EBBE

Min. of Culture, Youth, & Sport: Mehle Mint AHMED

Min. of Defense: Ely Ould Mohamed VALL, Col.

Min. of Economic Affairs & Development: Mohamed Ould ABED

Min. of Equipment & Transportation: Ibrahima Demba BA

Min. of Finance: Abdellahi Ould Souleymane Ould Cheikh SIDIYA

Min. of Fishing & Marine Economy: Sidi Mohamed Ould SIDINA

Min. of Foreign Affairs & Cooperation: Ahmed Ould SID’AHMED

Min. of Health & Social Affairs: Saadna Ould BAHAIDA

Min. of Higher Education & Scientific Research: Naji Ould Mohamed MAHMOUD

Min. of Interior, Post, & Telecommunications: Mohamed Lemine Ould MOHAMED AHMED

Min. of Justice: Mahfoud BETTAH

Min. of Literacy, Islamic Affairs, & Original Education: Yahya Ould Sid’el MOUSTAPH

Min. of Mines & Industry: Mohamed Ould Ismael Ould ABEIDNA

Min. of Petroleum & Energy: Mohamed Ould Sidi Mohamed ALY

Min. of Primary & Secondary Education: Cheikh Ahmed Ould SID’AHMED

Min. of Public Function (Civil Service): Mohamed Ould DJEGUE

Min. of Rural Development & Environment: Sylli GANDEGA

Min. of Water: Ely Ould AHMEDOU

Min. of Women’s Affairs: Nebghouha Mint TLAMID

Sec. of State for Civil Registry: Abdi Ould HORMA

Sec. of State for the Maghreb Arab Union: Bissmillah Elih Ould AHMED

Sec. of State to the Prime Min. for New Technologies: Manyana SOW DEINA

Sec. Gen. of Government: Saidou Moussa

Sec. Gen. to the Presidency: Habib Ould HEMMET

Ambassador to the US: Tijani Ould Mohamed EL KERIM

Permanent Representative to the UN, New York: Mohamed Ould TOLBA

Mauritania maintains an embassy in the United States at 2129 Leroy Place NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202-232-5700, fax 202-232-5701) and a Permanent Mission to the United Nations at 211 East 43rd Street, Suite 2000, New York, NY 10017 (tel. 212-986-7963, fax 212-986-8419).

U.S.-MAURITANIAN RELATIONS

The U.S. Government fully supports Mauritania’s transition to democracy, and hopes the success of the November 2006 elections will be repeated in the second round of legislative and municipal elections, and in the March 2007 presidential elections. The U.S. condemned the August 2005 coup and the unconstitutional assumption of power by the Military Council for Justice and Democracy, and called for a return to a constitutional government through free and fair elections as soon as possible.

Before the coup, U.S.-Mauritania relations were excellent, but underwent several transformations since Mauritania gained independence. From 1960 to 1967, the United States maintained cordial relations with Mauritania and provided a small amount of economic assistance. During the June 1967 Middle East war, Mauritania broke diplomatic and consular relations with the United States but restored ties 2 years later and maintained relatively friendly relations until the late 1980s, despite disagreement over the Arab-Israeli issue. Since 1981, the United States has provided about $130 million in economic and food assistance.

The 1989 rupture between Mauritania and Senegal (the “1989 Events”) that resulted in Mauritania’s deportation to Senegal of tens of thousands of its own citizens, negatively affected U.S.-Mauritanian relations. Moreover, Mauritania’s perceived support of Iraq prior to and during the 1991 Gulf war further weakened the strained ties.

Relations between the U.S. and Mauritania reached a low in the spring of 1991, as details of the Mauritanian military’s role in widespread human rights abuses surfaced. The U.S. responded by formally halting USAID operations and all military assistance to Mauritania. Relations also suffered in the 1990s as a result of repeated reports that slavery continued in some parts of Mauritania despite legal proscriptions.

By the late 1990s, the Mauritanian Government: adopted policies facilitating the return of those expelled or who fled during the 1989 Events; turned away from Iraq and toward the West; and initiated a poverty reduction strategy while securing debt relief under the Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative. Improved relations with the United States, including the return of military cooperation and training programs, accompanied these changes. Mauritania formally opened diplomatic relations with Israel in 2000 and remains one of only three Arab League member-nations to have done so.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials

NOUAKCHOTT (E) Address: Rue Abdallaye; Phone: 222-525-2660; Fax: 222-525-1592; INMARSAT Tel: 8816 214 57838 or 8816 214 57839; Workweek: Mon-Thu 8:00-5:30, Fri 8:00– 12:00; Website: http://www.state.gov/mauritania.

DCM:Steven Koutsis
DCM OMS:Regina Wiener
POL:Joshua Morris
CON:Anita Ghildyal
MGT:John K. Madden
CLO:Victoria Hoogard
DAO:James P. Sweeney
ECO/COM:Anita Ghildyal
FIN:Magida Safaoui
GSO:Susan Carl
ICASS Chair:David Wyche
IMO:Eddie H. Martin
IRS:Kathy J. Beck (resident in Paris)
ISSO:Eddie H. Martin
PAO:David Wyche
RSO:Anthony Lew
State ICASS:David Wyche

Last Updated: 11/9/2006

TRAVEL

Consular Information Sheet : November 20, 2006

Country Description: Mauritania is a developing country in northwestern Africa. Arabic is the official language, but French is widely used and several local languages are also spoken. Tourist facilities in the capital, Nouakchott, are adequate, but limited or non-existent elsewhere.

Entry/Exit Requirements: A passport and a visa are required, as is evidence of a yellow fever vaccination. For the most current visa information, contact the Embassy of the Republic of Mauritania, 2129 Leroy Place N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008, tel. (202) 232-5700, or the Mauritanian Permanent Mission to the U.N., 211 East 43rd Street, Suite 2000, New York, N.Y. 10017, telephone (212) 986-7963 or 8189, and email [email protected] Overseas, inquiries should be made at the nearest Mauritanian embassy or consulate.

Safety and Security: Political stability remains a problem in Mauritania, with a handful of unsuccessful coups attempted between 2003 and 2005. On August 3, 2005, a successful and bloodless coup unseated the elected president. Military commanders seized power and established a ruling Military Council for Justice and Democracy to run the country. The council dissolved the parliament, appointed a transitional government, and established a timeline for a transition to democratic, civilian rule. Municipal and legislative elections are scheduled for November 2006, with presidential elections set for March 2007. The military council has said it will hand power back over to the elected government by May 2007.

On June 4, 2005, members of the terrorist group GSPC attacked a military outpost based at Lemgheitty in the extreme northeastern part of the country near the Algerian and Malian borders and killed or wounded about 35 soldiers. American citizens are urged to avoid travel in areas along Mauritania’s border with Algeria, and its northern border with Mali.

Travel is otherwise generally safe within most of Mauritania, a vast, scenic, and fascinating country. However, all travelers must exercise prudence and caution. Travelers should not venture into the Sahara unless accompanied by an experienced guide and even then only if equipped with sturdy vehicles and ample provisions. The U.S. Embassy in Nouakchott continues to receive reports of banditry along the borders between the Western Sahara and Mali. Landmines also remain a danger along the border with the Western Sahara. Travelers planning overland trips from Mauritania to Morocco, Algeria, Senegal or Mali should check with the U.S. Embassy in Nouakchott before setting out. For more information about travel in Mauritania, please see the section “Traffic Safety and Road Conditions,” below.

In Nouakchott and other major cities in Mauritania, police routinely conduct road blocks at which they may ask for proof of identify and drivers’ licenses. Americans visiting Mauritania should be prepared for such inquiries and carry their identification cards at all times. It is best to drive cautiously and be prepared to stop at short notice.

Political gatherings and street demonstrations occur periodically. During periods of political unrest, demonstrators have been known to throw rocks at passing cars. An increased police presence and additional vehicle controls may also be expected. U.S. citizens should avoid large crowds and maintain security awareness at all times.

Although U.S. citizens are generally welcomed in Mauritania, there were reports of anti-American incidents such as threats and stoning of vehicles, following the 1998 U.S. and British-led intervention in Iraq, and demonstrations outside the Embassy during the 2003 U.S. intervention in Iraq. Some Muslim extremists have occasionally perceived Christian nongovernmental organizations as a threat. However, local authorities closely monitor political violence and religious extremist groups.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department’s Internet web site, where the current Worldwide Caution Public Announcement, Travel Warnings and Public Announcements can be found. Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

Crime: Crime in Mauritania is moderate but steadily increasing. Most incidents are in the cities and larger towns, and are petty crimes such as pick pocketing and the theft of improperly secured and openly visible valuables left in vehicles. There are some residential burglaries, robberies, rapes, and assaults, in some instances involving the American community. Most criminal activity occurs at night, and walking alone at night is not advisable. Violent crimes and crimes involving the use of weapons are also rare, but increasing. Foreign tourists, including Americans, might be targeted for kidnapping in Mauritania. In Nouakchott, you should avoid the beach at night. During the day, beach-goers should travel in large groups or stay in popular areas, since there have been a number of thefts and violent incidents reported there in the past several years.

Information for Victims of Crime: The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

Medical Facilities and Health Information: Medical facilities in Mauritania are limited. There are few modern clinics or hospitals beyond the capital and a few major towns. At local pharmacies, some medicines are difficult to obtain; travelers are advised to bring their own supplies.

Malaria is a serious and sometimes fatal disease. Chloroquine-resistant P. falciparum malaria is a severe form of the disease that is found in many parts of western Africa, including Mauritania. Because travelers to Mauritania are at high risk for contracting malaria they should take one of the following anti-malarial drugs: mefloquine (Lariam—tm), doxycycline, or atovaquone/proguanil (Malarone – tm). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have determined that a traveler who is on an appropriate anti-malarial drug has a greatly reduced chance of contracting the disease. In addition, other personal protective measures, such as the use of insect repellents, may help to reduce malaria risk. Travelers who become ill with a fever or flu-like illness while traveling in a malaria-risk area and up to one year after returning home should seek prompt medical attention and tell the physician their travel history and what anti-malarial drugs they have been taking. For additional information on malaria, protection from insect bites, and antimalarial drugs, please visit the CDC Travelers’ Health web site at http://www.cdc.gov/malaria/.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s internet site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) website at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith.

Medical Insurance: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.

Traffic Safety and Road Conditions: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Mauritania is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Public transportation is not very safe, and road conditions in Mauritania are generally poor, particularly in the interior. Overland travel is difficult and roadside assistance is almost nonexistent. The country’s size and harsh climate make road maintenance and repair especially problematic. Mauritania has only about 2,070 km (1,286 miles) of surfaced roads, 710 km (441 miles) of unsurfaced roads and 5,140 km (3,194 miles) of unimproved tracks. There are four major roads, linking Nouakchott to Akjoujt and Atar to the north; Rosso to the south; Aleg, Kaedi, and Boghe to the southeast, and eastward to Nema (the “Road of Hope”). Construction on a new highway between Nouakchott to Nouadhibou has recently been completed; however, caution should be used since maintenance on this road continues and travelers should pay particular attention to drifting sands that occasionally obstruct passage.

The traditional route to Nouadhibou has been along the beach during low tide, and some travelers may continue to use this route. Visitors to coastal fishing villages and other points of interest use the beach, as well as smugglers and others who try to avoid the security checkpoints that are often erected along the asphalt roads. Visitors to the beach should exercise caution: with the noise of the surf, pedestrians might not hear oncoming vehicles and could be in danger.

U.S. citizens traveling overland for long distances in Mauritania should be sure to have a suitable four-wheel drive vehicle, a local guide, an adequate supply of water, and a second fuel reservoir. A second vehicle is recommended in case of breakdown. Visitors are urged not to travel alone into the desert.

Driving in Mauritania is treacherous, and we encourage you to hire a trained local driver. Traffic patterns differ considerably from American-style “rules of the road,” and many Mauritanians drive without regard to traffic signs or rules. Roadway obstructions and hazards caused by drifting sand, animals, and poor roads often plague motorists; when combined with the number of untrained drivers and poorly maintained vehicles, heightened caution is imperative at all times. Drivers and passengers should drive defensively and always wear their seat belts. Motorcycle and bicycle riders should wear helmets and protective clothing. Nighttime driving is discouraged.

The telecommunications infrastructure is limited and cellular telephone coverage is not wide spread. For those traveling outside the major urban areas, it is recommended to have a satellite telephone readily available.

Aviation Safety Oversight: As there is no direct commercial air service between the United States and Mauritania, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Mauritania’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s internet website at http://www.faa.gov.

Special Circumstances: Mauritanian customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning the temporary import or export of items such as firearms, narcotics, alcoholic drinks and pork products. You should contact the Embassy of Mauritania in Washington, DC for specific information regarding customs regulations.

The local currency is the ouguiya, and it may not be imported or exported. Credit cards can be used only at a few hotels in the capital, Nouakchott, and the northwestern city of Nouadhibou. ATMs are very rare, even in Nouakchott. Major foreign currencies are easily changeable in banks and numerous currency exchanges. Credit card fraud is a problem, so it is advisable to pay hotel bills in cash.

Islamic ideals and beliefs in the country encourage conservative dress. Sleeved garments and below-the-knee skirts are recommended, and people should avoid wearing shorts.

Criminal Penalties: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country’s laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Mauritania’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Mauritania are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.

Children’s Issues: For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, see the Office of Children’s Issues website at http://travel.state.gov/family/family_1732.html.

Registration/Embassy Location: Americans living or traveling in Mauritania are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration website so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Mauritania. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy is located between the Presidency building and the Spanish Embassy on Rue Abdallaye. The postal address is B.P. 222, Nouakchott, telephone (222) 525-2660/2663, 525-1141/45, or 525-3038 (ext. 5441), and fax (222) 525-1592. You may contact the Consular Section by email at [email protected] state.gov.

International Adoption : May 2006

The information below has been edited from a report of the State Department Bureau of Consular Affairs, Office of Overseas Citizens Services. For more information, please read the International n Adoption section of this book and review current reports online at www.travel.state.gov/family.

Disclaimer: The information in this flyer relating to the legal requirements of specific foreign countries is based on public sources and current understanding. Questions involving foreign and U.S. immigration laws and legal interpretation should be addressed respectively to qualified foreign or U.S. legal counsel.

Please Note: As a Muslim country that adheres to a strict interpretation of Islamic law, Mauritania does not allow full adoptions as these are understood in the West. It is sometimes possible for Mauritanian courts to grant guardianship (establishing a level of relationship short of adoption). Persons seeking guardianship of Mauritanian children must be relatives of the children and also either Muslim or living in a Muslim environment. Guardianship arrangements involving prospective U.S. guardians are further complicated by the fact that Mauritanian law prohibits non-family members from removing children from Mauritania.

Patterns of Immigration: No Mauritanian orphans have received U.S. immigrant visas within the past five years.

Guardianship Authority in Mauritania: Ministry of Justice (MOJ). This Ministry has no specialized office for Family or Children Issues. The office of the Minister or his Chargé de Mission can be contacted for such matters at (222) 525-8204 or (222) 525-7002.

Eligibility Requirements for Prospective Guardians: To qualify as a guardian one must be a blood-relative who is either Muslim or lives in a Muslim environment.

Residency Requirements: Since MOJ officials made it clear that no foreigner would be permitted to remove a child from the country, there is no information on guardianship-related residency requirements.

Time Frame: As there are no provisions for child emigration from Mauritania through guardianship, there is no information on how long it takes to complete guardianship requirements.

Adoption Agencies and Attorneys: Because adoption as it is understood in the U.S. does not exist in Mauritania, there is no local role for adoption agencies. If U.S. citizens considering pursuing guardianship of a Mauritanian child want to engage the services of a U.S.-based agency to guide them through the overall process, including the U.S. immigration procedures, that is still possible. In such cases, prospective guardians should fully research any adoption agency or facilitator they plan to use for adoption services. Please see Important Notice Regarding Adoption Agents and Facilitators at the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs web site, travel.state.gov.

Adoption Fees: No fees are involved in obtaining a guardianship.

Adoption Procedures: Mauritanian law does not allow adoption. Mauritanian courts may, however, appoint a legal guardian for the child. The Mauritanian judicial system and adoption laws are found in the Family Code and use Sharia law as a basis.

The Family Code states in the event of the inability of a parent to care for his/her, the Family Code gives a strict sequence of eligible blood relatives for guardianship. However, in Mauritania, it is up to the discretion of a judge to determine who is most eligible for the guardianship of a child.

In 2002 the Mauritanian Ministry of Justice published a booklet, The Family Code, which includes sections on guardianship and custody. The Family Code does not cover scenarios in which a parent or legal guardian can pass guardianship to a foreigner. The law prohibits non-family members from removing children from Mauritanian soil.

Documentary Requirements: Individual judges hearing petitions for guardianship may require different types of documentation including the proof of blood relationship to the child. There are no established guidelines, and prospective guardians should be prepared to present whatever documents the judge requests.

Embassy of the Republic of Mauritania:
2129 Leroy Place N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20008
Tel. (202) 232-5700
Fax: (202) 319-2623

U.S. Immigration Requirements: Prospective adopting parents are strongly encouraged to consult U.S. CIS publication M-249, The Immigration of Adopted and Prospective Adopting Children, as well as the Department of State publication, International Adoptions. Please see the International Adoption section of this book for more details and review current reports online at www.travel.state.gov/family.

U.S. Embassy in Mauritania:
288. rue 42-100 (rue Abdallaye)
Nouakchott Mauritania. (Between the Presidency and Spanish Embassy)
Phone: (222) 525-2660
or 2663, ext. 4551 Fax: (222) 525-3945 Email: [email protected]

Additional Information: Specific questions about intercountry adoption in Mauritania may be addressed to the U.S. Embassy in Nouakchott. For more information about the immigration process please email the U.S. Embassy in Dakar at [email protected] General questions regarding intercountry adoption may be addressed to the Office of Children’s Issues, U.S. Department of State, CA/OCS/CI, SA-29, 4th Floor, 2201 C Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20520-4818, toll-free Tel: 1-888-407-4747.

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Mauritania

Mauritania

  • Area: 397,955 sq mi (1,030,807 sq km) / World Rank: 30
  • Location: Northern and Western Hemispheres, in western Africa, bordering Algeria to the northeast, Mali to the east and southeast, Senegal to the southwest, the Atlantic Ocean to the west, and Western Sahara to the northwest.
  • Coordinates: 20°00′N, 12°00′W
  • Borders: 3,153 mi (5,074 km) / Algeria, 288 mi (463 km); Mali, 1,390 mi (2,237 km); Senegal, 505 mi (813 km); Western Sahara, 970 mi (1,561 km)
  • Coastline: 469 mi (754 km)
  • Territorial Seas: 12 NM
  • Highest Point: Mount Ijill, 3,002 ft (915 m)
  • Lowest Point: Sebkha de Ndrhamcha, 10 ft (3 m) below sea level
  • Longest Distances: 941 mi (1,515 km) NE-SW; 816 mi (1,314 km) SE-NW
  • Longest River: Senegal River, 1,015 mi (1,663 km)
  • Natural Hazards: Sirocco winds and drought
  • Population: 2,747,312 (July 2001 est.) / World Rank: 133
  • Capital City: Nouakchott, western Mauritania on the Atlantic Ocean
  • Largest City: Nouakchott, population 694,000 (2000 est.)

OVERVIEW

Mauritania is an arid country on the African Tectonic Plate in western Africa. It forms a transitional zone between the Islamic, Arabic-speaking countries of North Africa's Maghreb region and the sub-Saharan countries to the south. Mauritania's terrain is generally a flat plain with occasional ridges and cliff-like outcroppings. The country can be roughly divided into two regions: the Saharan region, which is desert and covers the northern two-thirds, and the southern third of the country, which is mostly semidesert and coastal plain.

MOUNTAINS AND HILLS

Mauritania is largely flat, but in places its rocky plateau lands attain heights of over 1,500 ft (457 m). Its highest point is an enormous block of hematite, Mount Ijill in the northwest, topping out at 3,002 ft (915 m). Mauritania is nearly bisected by the sandstone plateaus that extend down the center of the country on a north-south axis, rising to elevations of over 1,000 ft (300 m). The Affollé Hills mark the south-central region of Mauritania on the border with Mali.

INLAND WATERWAYS

Lakes

Lake D'Aleg, Lake Rkiz, and a few other saltwater lakes are scattered throughout Mauritania. None are of considerable size, and due to recurrent droughts in recent decades they are even smaller than they once were.

Rivers

Most of Mauritania has little or no drainage to the sea. The Senegal River, which forms the boundary between Mauritania and Senegal, is the only permanent river between southern Morocco and central Senegal. Rising in Guinea, it flows north and west to the sea at Saint Louis in Senegal. Tributaries of the Senegal River drain the fertile southwestern corner of Mauritania.

Wetlands

The Banc d'Arguin National Park, Mauritania's only national park, is a nature reserve on the coastline bordering the Baie de Lévrier. It consists of a narrow strip of coastal wetlands, some small islands, and the sand dunes of the adjacent desert area. The reserve is known for the wide array of migratory birds that winter there.

THE COAST, ISLANDS, AND THE OCEAN

Oceans and Seas

Mauritania borders the North Atlantic Ocean. The waters off the coast of Mauritania are among the richest fishing areas in the world. Mauritania's claim to the continental shelf extends to 200 nautical miles or to the edge of the continental margin.

MAJOR ISLANDS

The largest island belonging to Mauritania is Île Tidra, which lies close to shore in the Baie de Lévrier, between the cities of Tanoudert and Nouamrhar.

THE COAST AND BEACHES

Mauritania's Atlantic coast is sandy, flat, and dotted with the saltwater pools known as sebkhas. Battering surf and shifting sand banks mark the entire length of the shoreline. From its southernmost point at the marshy Senegal River delta, the coastline remains smooth for somewhat more than half its length, marked only by an occasional high dune until reaching Cap Timiris, the only significant promontory. North of this point it is indented to form the Baie de Lévrier, which lies between Cap Timiris and the long peninsula of Cap Blanc, the northernmost point on the coast. This bay, one of the largest natural harbors on the west coast of Africa, measures 27 mi (43 km) long by 20 mi (32 km) wide at its broadest point. Jutting southward, Cap Blanc is 30 mi (48 km) long and 8 mi (13 km) wide and is divided between Western Sahara and Mauritania, with the Mauritanian city, only port, and rail terminus of Nouadhibou located on its eastern shore.

CLIMATE AND VEGETATION

Temperature

An area encompassing roughly the northern twothirds of the country has an extremely hot, arid, Saharan climate, with afternoon high temperatures in the hottest months averaging 100°F (38°C) and often exceeding 115°F (46°C) in the interior areas. The southern part of the country has a semidesert, Sahelian climate. Summer is generally from June to September, and average summer temperatures at Kiffa, in the southern region, are around 79°F (26°C). The coastal region, although still arid, has the most moderate temperatures due to trade winds off the Atlantic. The average temperature in the coastal city of Nouakchott is around 75°F (24°C) during September, which is the hottest month in this region.

Rainfall

Northeasterly winds and the harmattan wind from the east keep Mauritania's climate dry, especially in the north where rain often does not fall for years or more at a time. Rainfall increases gradually from north to south as the rainy season becomes longer. Average annual rainfall at Nouadhibou is between 1 and 2 in (3 and 5 cm) and falls only between September and November. Farther north and east, rainfall is too rare and sparse to be measured. At the opposite end of the scale, Sélibaby in the far southern Senegal Valley region averages about 25 in (64 cm) of rainfall annually, within a rainy season that lasts from June to October. Annual variations in rainfall are also an important factor. The centrally located town of Atar went five years without any rain in the 1980s, but received almost 10 in (25 cm) in 1927.

Grasslands

Thin grass, scrubland, and savannah characterize the semidesert basins in the southern third of the country, which include the low-lying plains of Brakna and Trarza as well as the Hodh el Gharbi basin in the southeast. Among tree species of this region are the baobob and the acacia, which is harvested for gum.

Variously known as the Chemama or the Pre-Sahel, the Senegal River Valley zone on the country's southwestern border consists of a narrow, fertile belt of land 250 mi (400 km) long and extending 10 to 20 mi (16 to 32 km) north of the Senegal River. Completely dominated by the seasonal cycle of the river, the valley supplies more than 80 percent of the country's agricultural production. In addition to acacias, willow and jujube trees grow in this region.

Deserts

The northern two-thirds of Mauritania is true Saharan desert, with vegetation other than cacti—such as date palms—found only in oases. Sand dunes cover about half of Mauritania, often arranged in long ridges with a northeast-southwest orientation and heights of up to 300 ft (91 m). In the far eastern part of the country, known as El Djouf, the terrain encompasses both rocky and sandy desert.

HUMAN POPULATION

Population in the arid northern part of the country is very sparse, with more than 90 percent of Mauritania's population concentrated in the semidesert region that comprises the southern one-third of the country. The overall population density is about 5 inhabitants per square mile (2 per sq km), but this figure varies from 0.26 per sq mi (0.1 per sq km) in Tiris Zemrnour to 47.9 per sq mi (18.5 per sq km) in the Gorgol region, a roughly triangular area between Nouakchott and the Senegal River in the southwestern corner of the country. Forty-six percent of the total population lives in rural areas.

NATURAL RESOURCES

Mauritania's coastal waters are an abundant source of fish, one of the best in the world. Fish and fish products are among the most important exports, however supplies are dwindling due to overexploitation. The country's rich deposits of iron ore, copper, and gypsum are also integral to the economy. Iron ore alone comprises half of Mauritania's total exports. Other mineral resources beginning to be mined in Mauritania include gold, diamonds, and phosphate.

FURTHER READINGS

Arepo Solutions Ltd. Geography—Mauritania, Worldsuface.com. http://www.worldsurface.com/browse/static.asp?staticpageid=156 (Accessed May 31, 2002).

Celati, Gianni. Adventures in Africa. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.

Edwards, Ted. Beyond the Last Oasis: A Solo Walk in the Western Sahara. Salem, N.H.: Salem House, 1985.

Handloff, Robert E. Mauritania, A Country Study. Federal Research Division, Library of Congress. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1990.

Hudson, Peter. Travels in Mauritania. London: Virgin, 1990.

Lonely Planet World Guide. Mauritania. www.lonelyplanet.com/destinations/africa/mauritania/ (Accessed May 7, 2002).

"Morocco Handbook with Mauritania." Footprint Handbooks. Lincolnwood, Ill.: Passport Books, 1997.

GEO-FACT

The nineteenth-century shipwreck of the frigate Meduse, immortalized in a famous painting by Théodore Géricault, occurred off the coast of Mauritania. Many of those who did not die aboard the illfated raft crafted by the passengers perished ashore in a futile trek across the desert.

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Mauritania

Mauritania

At a Glance

Official Name: Islamic Republic of Mauritania

Continent: Africa

Area: 397,953 square miles (1,030,700 sq km)

Population: 2,747,312

Capital City: Nouakchott

Largest City: Nouakchott (480,000)

Unit of Money: Ouguiya

Major Languages: Arabic (official), French

Literacy: 38%

Land Use: 38% pasture, 4% forests, 58% other

Natural Resources: Iron ore, gypsum, fish

Government: Republic

Defense: 37 million

The Place

Located in northwest Africa, Mauritania is divided into two main land regions. Northern Mauritania is mostly covered by the Sahara Desert and a few rocky plateaus. This area measures 930 miles (1,500 km) from north to south and 680 miles (1095 km) from east to west. Southern Mauritania has two fertile areas—a narrow plain along the Senegal River and a savanna in the southeast. Farmers raise many crops, such as millet and rice, on the plain.

The country's coastal plains are lower than 150 feet (45 meters) above sea level. Higher, interior plains range from 600 to 750 feet (183 to 229 meters). Mauritania's highest point is Mount Kediet Ijill at 3,002 feet (915 meters).

Mauritania has a hot climate with varying temperatures. Desert temperatures can rise as high as 100° F (38° C) during the day and fall to 45° F (7° C) at night. Northern Mauritania sees very little rain, however southern Mauritania averages more than 20 inches (51 cm) of rain a year. Few plants or animals are found in northern Mauritania due to its dry climate. Acacia trees grow in the south.

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The People

About 70% of Mauritania's people are Maurs—descendants of Arabs and Berbers. The Maurs are divided into two main groups—white Maurs and black Maurs. These two terms refer to social status rather than skin color. The white Maurs, the higher class, are divided into two groups—the warriors and the marabout (saintly). About 30% of the people are black Africans belonging to several different ethnic groups, including the Toucouleur, the Fulbe, the Soninke, the Wolof, and the Banbara. Mauritania's major religion is Muslim.

About 80% of the country's total population lives in the south. Approximately 20% of the people are nomads. Life expectancy is 44 years for women and 47 years for men. The population grows at an annual rate of 2.52%

The country's economy is based on agriculture, with 63% of the people working as farmers and livestock herders. Mining is another important industry. Iron ore accounts for 50% of the country's exports. Mauritania has an unemployment rate of 23%. About 10% of Mauritania's children attend elementary school. Fewer attend secondary school.

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Mauritania

MAURITANIA

Compiled from the October 2003 Background Note and supplemented with additional information from the State Department and the editors of this volume. See the introduction to this set for explanatory notes.


Official Name:
Islamic Republic of Mauritania


PROFILE
HISTORY
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
U.S.-MAURITANIAN RELATIONS
TRAVEL


PROFILE


Geography

Area: 1,030,070 sq. km. (419,212 sq. mi.); slightly larger than Texas and New Mexico combined.

Cities: (2001) Capital—Nouakchott (pop. 612,000). Other cities—Nouadhibou (76,000), Selibaby (107,000), Kaedi (91,000), Kiffa (77,000), Rosso (63,000), Zouerate (36,000).

Terrain: Northern four-fifths barren desert; southern 20% mainly Sahelian with smallscale irrigated and rain-fed agriculture in the Senegal River basin.

Climate: Predominantly hot and dry.


People

Nationality: Noun and adjective—Mauritanian(s).

Population: (2003) 2.9 million.

Annual growth rate: 2.91%.

Ethnic groups: Arab-Berber (White Moor or Beydane), Arab-Berber-Negroid (Black Moor or Haratine), Haalpulaar, Soninke, Wolof.

Religion: Islam.

Languages: Arabic (official), Hassaniya, French, Pulaar, Wolof, and Soninke.

Education: Years compulsory—six. Attendance—student population enrolled in primary school 89%. Adult literacy—42%.

Health: Infant mortality rate—74/1,000. Life expectancy—52 yrs.

Work force: Agriculture and fisheries—50%. Services and commerce—20%. Government—20%. Industry and transportation—10%.


Government

Type: Republic.

Independence: November 28, 1960.

Constitution: Approved 1991. Military rule 1978-1992. Original constitution promulgated 1961.

Branches: Executive—president (chief of state). Leg islative—bicameral national assembly, directly elected lower house (81 members), and upper house (56 members) chosen indirectly by municipal councilors. Judicial—a supreme court and lower courts are nominally independent but subject to control of executive branch; judicial decisions are rendered mainly on the basis of Shari'a (Islamic law) for social/family matters and a western style legal code, applied in commercial and some criminal cases.

Political parties: 11 (November 2003 presidential elections).

Suffrage: Universal at 18.

National day: November 28, Independence Day.

Flag: Green with a yellow five-pointed star above a yellow, horizontal crescent; the closed side of the crescent is down.

Economy

GDP: (2002)$980 million.

Annual growth rate: 4.8%.

Per capita income: $377.

Natural resources: Fish, iron ore, gypsum, copper, phosphates, salt.

Agriculture: (25% of GDP) Products—livestock, traditional fisheries, millet, maize, wheat, dates, rice.

Industry (27% of GDP): Types—iron mining, fishing.

Trade: (40% of GDP) Exports—$348 million (2001). Major markets—France 22%; Spain 13%; Belgium 13%; Italy 12%; Japan 11%. Imports—$360 million (2001) foodstuffs, machinery, tools, petroleum products, and consumer goods. Major suppliers—France 31%; U.S. 11%; Germany 6%; Spain 5%; Belgium/Luxembourg 4%; Unspecified 22%.

Currency: Ouguiya (UM).




HISTORY

From the 3rd to 7th centuries, the migration of Berber tribes from North Africa displaced the Bafours, the original inhabitants of presentday Mauritania and the ancestors of the Soninke. Continued Arab-Berber migration drove indigenous black Africans south to the Senegal River or enslaved them. By 1076, Islamic warrior monks (Almoravid or Al Murabitun) completed the conquest of southern Mauritania, defeating the ancient Ghana empire. Over the next 500 years, Arabs overcame fierce Berber resistance to dominate Mauritania. The Mauritanian Thirty-Year War (1644-74) was the unsuccessful final Berber effort to repel the Maqil Arab invaders led by the Beni Hassan tribe. The descendants of Beni Hassan warriors became the upper stratum of Moorish society. Berbers retained influence by producing the majority of the region's Marabouts — those who preserve and teach Islamic tradition. Hassaniya, a mainly oral, Berber-influenced Arabic dialect that derives its name from the Beni Hassan tribe, became the dominant language among the largely nomadic population. Aristocrat and servant castes developed, yielding "white" (aristocracy) and "black" Moors (the enslaved indigenous class).


French colonization at the beginning of the 20th century brought legal prohibitions against slavery and an end to interclan warfare. During the colonial period, the population remained nomadic, but sedentary black Africans, whose ancestors had been expelled centuries earlier by the Moors, began to trickle back into southern Mauritania. As the country gained independence in 1960, the capital city Nouakchott was founded at the site of a small colonial village, the Ksar, and 90% of the population was still nomadic. With independence, larger numbers of ethnic SubSaharan Africans (Haalpulaar, Soninke, and Wolof) entered Mauritania, moving into the area north of the Senegal River. Educated in French language and customs, many of these recent arrivals became clerks, soldiers, and administrators in the new state.


Moors reacted to this change by increasing pressure to Arabicize many aspects of Mauritanian life, such as law and language. A schism developed between those who consider Mauritania to be an Arab country (mainly Moors) and those who seek a dominant role for the SubSaharan peoples. The discord between these two conflicting visions of Mauritanian society was evident during intercommunal violence that broke out in April 1989 (the "1989 Events"), but has since subsided. The tension between these two visions remains a feature of the political dialogue. A significant number from both groups, however, seek a more diverse, pluralistic society. A group of current and former Army officers launched a bloody but unsuccessful coup attempt on June 8, 2003. The ringleaders remain at large, and their exact motives remain unclear.




GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS

In October 2001, Mauritania held its third legislative and fifth municipal elections since the opening of multiparty politics under the 1991 constitution. In an effort to overcome widespread accusations of fraud and manipulation in previous elections, the government introduced new safeguards, including published voter lists and a hard-to-falsify voter identification card. Reversing a trend of election boycotts, 15 opposition parties nominated candidates for more than 3,000 municipal posts and the 81-member National Assembly. Four opposition parties won a combined 11 seats in the National Assembly and took 15% of the municipal posts. The ruling Republican, Democratic, and Social Party (PRDS), in conjunction with two coalition parties, won the remaining contests. Presidential elections are slated for 2003.


The PRDS, led by President Maaouyaould Sid'Ahmed Taya, has dominated Mauritanian politics since the country's first multi-party elections in April 1992 following the approval by referendum of the current constitution in July 1991. 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 that governed Mauritania from July 1978 to April 1992. The country's first president, Moktar ould Daddah, served from independence until ousted in a bloodless coup on July 10, 1978.

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.


The government bureaucracy is composed of traditional ministries, special agencies, and parastatal companies. The Ministry of Interior controls 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.


Political parties, illegal during the military period, were legalized again in 1991. By April 1992, as civilian rule returned, 15 major political parties had been recognized; 11 major political parties existed in 2003. As of October 2003, three major opposition candidates were running for president in the November elections. The candidates and their parties are Mohamed ould Haidallah (no declared political party), Ahmed ould Daddah (RFD, or Rally of Democratic Forces), and Messaoud Boulkheir (APP, or Popular Progressive Alliance). 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 January-February 1994 and subsequent Senate elections, gaining representation at the local level as well as one seat in the Senate. Noting procedural changes and opposition gains in municipal and legislative contests, most local observers considered the October 2001 elections open and transparent.

Principal Government Officials
Last Updated: 11/25/03


President: Taya, Maaouya Ould Sid Ahmed

Prime Minister: Mbareck, Sghair Ould

Min. of Commerce, Handicrafts, & Tourism: Khattry, Mohamed Lemine Ould

Min. of Communications & Relations With Parliament: Abdi, Hammoud Ould

Min. of Culture, Youth & Athletics: Mohamed, Hamoud Ould

Min. of Defense: Sidi, Baba Ould

Min. of Economic & Development Affairs: Sidya, Abdellahi Ould

Min. of Equipment & Transportation: Soule, Ba Boucar

Min. of Finance: Ali, Mafoud Ould Mohamed

Min. of Fisheries & Maritime Economy: Mbare, Ba Mamadou

Min. of Foreign Affairs: Bellal, Mohammed Vall Ould

Min. of Health & Social Affairs: Kader, Isselmou Ould

Min. of Hydraulics & Energy: Camara, Cheikh Saad Bouh

Min. of Interior, Post, & Telecommunications: Elewa, Kaba Ould

Min. of Justice: Bakary, Diabira

Min. of Labor & Public Works: Bilal, Salka Mint

Min. of Literacy & Islamic Orientation: Boye, Mohamed Mahmoud Ould

Min. of Mines & Industry: Hmeyda, Zeidane Ould

Min. of National Education: Mohamed, Alhacen Ould

Min. of Rural Development & Environment: Ahmedou, Ahmedou Ould

Sec. of State in Charge of the Government: Moussa, Diallo Abou

Sec. of State in Charge of Maghreb Issues: Mohamed, Abdel Kader Ould

Sec. of State in Charge of Women's Affairs: Naha, Zeinabout Mint Mohammed Ould

Sec. of State Delegate to the Prime Minister in Charge of New Technologies: Saleck, Fatimetou Mint Mohamed

Ambassador to the US: Ben Jidou, Ahmed Ben Khalifa

Permanent Representative to the UN, New York: Deddach, Mahfoudh Ould

Mauritania maintains an embassy in the United States at 2129 Leroy Place NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202-232-5700, fax. 202-232-5701) and a Permanent Mission to the United Nations at 211 East 43rd Street, Suite 2000, New York, NY 10017 (tel. 212-986-7963, fax.212-986-8419).




U.S.-MAURITANIAN RELATIONS

U.S.-Mauritania relations are excellent, but have undergone several transformations since Mauritania gained independence. From 1960 to 1967, the United States maintained cordial relations with Mauritania and provided a small amount of economic assistance. During the June 1967 Middle East war, Mauritania broke diplomatic and consular relations with the United States but restored ties 2 years later and maintained relatively friendly relations until the late 1980s, despite disagreement over the Arab-Israeli issue. Since 1981, the United States has provided about $100 million in economic and food assistance.


The 1989 rupture between Mauritania and Senegal (the "1989 Events") that resulted in Mauritania's deportation to Senegal of tens of thousands of its own citizens negatively affected U.S.-Mauritanian relations. Moreover, Mauritania's perceived support of Iraq prior to and during the 1991 Gulf war further weakened the strained ties.


Relations between the U.S. and Mauritania reached a low in the spring of 1991, as details of the Mauritanian military's role in widespread human rights abuses surfaced. The United States responded by formally halting USAID operations and all military assistance to Mauritania. Relations also suffered in the 1990s as a result of repeated reports that slavery continued in some parts of Mauritania despite legal proscriptions.

By the late 1990s, the Mauritanian Government adopted policies facilitating the return of those expelled or who fled during the 1989 Events, turned away from Iraq and toward the West, and initiated a poverty reduction strategy while securing debt relief under the Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative. (See also Fact Sheet). Improved relations with the United States, including the return of military cooperation and training programs, accompanied these changes. In October 2000, Mauritania was among the initial group of countries named eligible for U.S. trade benefits under the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act. Mauritania formally opened diplomatic relations with Israel in 2000 and remains one of only three Arab League member-nations to have done so.


Principal U.S. Embassy Officials

Nouakchott (E), rue Abdallaye, Nouakchott, B.P. 222, Tel (222) 525-2660/63, 525-1141/45, 525-3038; Fax 525-1592; after-hours Tel 525-3288; STU III & classified Fax 525-3604, Workweek:Sun–Thurs. E-mail: [email protected]

AMB: Joseph E. LeBaron
AMB OMS: Kathleen Donahue
DCM: David E. Brown
ECO/CON: Kay Moseley
MGT: John Madden
RSO: David Groccia
RMO: Dr. Nancy Manahan (res. Dakar)
IPO: Rydell C. Fletcher
DAO: LTC Paul Simoneau, USMC (res. Dakar)
FAA: Edward L. Jones (res. Dakar)
IRS: Frederick D. Pablo (res. Paris)
DEA: Andre Kellum (res. Lagos)

Last Modified: Friday, October 24, 2003


TRAVEL


Consular Information Sheet
April 17, 2003


Country Description: Mauritania is a developing country in northwestern Africa. Arabic is the official language, but French and other local languages are also spoken. Tourist facilities in the capital, Nouakchott, are limited, and elsewhere, are rudimentary or non-existent.


Entry Requirements: A passport and a visa are required, as is evidence of a yellow fever vaccination. For further information on entry requirements, contact the Embassy of the Republic of Mauritania, 2129 Leroy Place N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008, tel. (202) 232-5700, website: http://www.mauritaniembassy-usa.org; or from the Mauritanian Permanent Mission to the U.N., 211 East 43rd Street, Suite 2000, New York, N.Y. 10017, telephone (212) 986-7963 or 8189, and e-mail: [email protected] Overseas, inquiries should be made at the nearest Mauritanian embassy or consulate.


In an effort to prevent international child abduction, many governments have initiated procedures at entry/exit points. These often include requiring documentary evidence of relationship and permission for the child's travel from the parent(s) or legal guardian not present. Having such documentation on hand, even if not required, may facilitate entry/departure.


Safety and Security: As a result of a past border conflict between Morocco and Western Sahara, there are reports of unexploded landmines in areas of Mauritania adjacent to Western Sahara. There are occasional reports of exploding mines that have caused death and injury. In addition, groups of tourists have been held up and robbed along the borders with Morocco (Western Sahara) and Algeria. Surface travel between Mali and Mauritania can be dangerous, as the border region has historically been plagued by banditry. In 1999, thirteen Mauritanians and Malians were killed in a border clash, prompting the establishment of a special Mauritanian-Malian-Senegalese police coordination program force to provide greater border security. Groups traveling to the Moroccan, Algerian, or Malian borders should check with the U.S. Embassy in Nouakchott and/or local authorities to inform them of their itineraries and check the advisability of the planned trip routes.

Political gatherings and street demonstrations have been known to occur periodically. During periods of political unrest, students frequently throw rocks at passing cars. Due to the potential for violence, U.S. citizens should avoid crowds, political rallies and marches, as well as the University and other schools.


Surface travel between Mauritania and Senegal is restricted to various designated border crossing-points: N'Diago, Diama, Rosso, Jerd El Mohguen, Tekane, Lekseiba, Boghe, M'Bagne, Kaedi, Tifounde Cive, Maghama, and Goraye.


Crime: Crime in Mauritania is on the rise. Most incidents involve petty crime, such as pick-pocketing and crimes of opportunity that often result from improperly secured valuables left in plain sight inside a vehicle. Residential burglaries, robberies, and assaults also occur. Violent crimes and crimes involving the use of weapons are rare, but increasing. In remote areas, renting a vehicle and hiring a driver is advisable. When renting a vehicle, keep all doors and windows closed and locked while driving.


The beach area around Nouakchott should be avoided at night. During the day, beach-goers should travel in large groups or stay in popular areas, as there have been a number of incidents of theft and violence in the past two years.


Although U.S. citizens are generally welcomed in Mauritania, there were reports of anti-American incidents (threats and stoning of vehicles) following the 1998 U.S. and British-led intervention in Iraq. Some Muslim extremists have occasionally perceived Christian non-governmental organizations as a threat. However, political violence and religious extremist groups are closely monitored by local authorities and, to date, have not posed a direct threat to U.S. interests in Mauritania.

The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, to contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.


U.S. citizens may refer to the Department of State's pamphlets, "A Safe Trip Abroad" and "Tips for Travelers to Sub-Saharan Africa," for ways to promote a trouble-free journey. The pamphlet is available by mail from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402, via the Internet at http://www.gpoaccess.gov/index.html, or via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov.


Medical Facilities: Medical facilities in Mauritania are limited. At local pharmacies, some medicines are difficult to obtain; travelers are advised to bring their own supplies.


Medical Insurance: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as medical evacuation. U.S. medical insurance plans seldom cover health costs incurred outside the United States unless supplemental coverage is purchased. Further, U.S. Medicare and Medicaid programs do not provide payment for medical services outside the United States. However, many travel agents and private companies offer insurance plans that will cover health care expenses incurred overseas including emergency services such as medical evacuations.


When making a decision regarding health insurance, Americans should consider that many foreign doctors and hospitals require payment in cash prior to providing service and that a medical evacuation to the U.S. may cost well in excess of 50,000 dollars (US). Uninsured travelers who require medical care overseas often face extreme difficulties. When consulting with your insurer prior to your trip, ascertain whether payment will be made to the overseas healthcare provider or whether you will be reimbursed later for expenses you incur. Some insurance policies also include coverage for psychiatric treatment and for disposition of remains in the event of death.


Useful information on medical emergencies abroad, including overseas insurance programs, is provided in the Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs brochure, "Medical Information for Americans Traveling Abroad," available via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page or autofax: (202) 647-3000.


Other Health Information: Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747), fax 1-888-CDC-FAXX (1-888-232-3299), or via the CDC's Internet site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization's website at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith.

Malaria is a serious and sometimes fatal disease. Chloroquine resistant P. falciparum malaria is a severe form of the disease that is found in many parts of western Africa, including Mauritania. Because travelers to Mauritania are at high risk for contracting malaria they should take one of the following antimalarial drugs: mefloquine (Lariam), doxycycline, or Malarone. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have determined that a traveler who is on an appropriate antimalarial drug has a greatly reduced chance of contracting the disease. In addition, other personal protective measures, such as the use of insect repellents, help to reduce malaria risk. Travelers who become ill with a fever or flu-like illness while traveling in a malaria-risk area and up to one year after returning home should seek prompt medical attention and tell the physician their travel history and what antimalarials they have been taking. For additional information on malaria, protection from insect bites, and antimalarials, visit the CDC Travelers' Health website at: http://www.cdc.gov/travel/malinfo.htm.


Traffic Safety and Road Conditions: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Mauritania is provided for general reference only and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance:


Safety of Public Transportation: Poor
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Fair to Poor
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor to Nonexistent
Availability of Roadside Assistance: Poor to Nonexistent


Road conditions in Mauritania are generally poor, particularly in the interior, and overland travel is difficult. The country's size and harsh climate make road maintenance and repair especially problematic. Mauritania possesses only about 2,070 km (1,286 miles) of surfaced roads, 710 km (441 miles) of unsurfaced roads and 5,140 km (3,194 miles) of unimproved tracks. There are four major roads, each of which links important cities in Mauritania: Nouakchott and Rosso; Nouakchott and Akjoujt; Aleg Boghe and Kaedi; and Nouakchott and Nema (the Road of Hope). Americans traveling overland for long distances in Mauritania should be sure to have a suitable four-wheel drive vehicle, a local guide, an adequate supply of water, and a second fuel reservoir. A second vehicle is recommended in case of breakdown. Visitors are urged not to travel alone into the desert.

Traffic patterns differ considerably from American-style "rules of the road" and many Mauritanians drive without any regard to traffic signs or rules. Drivers and passengers should exercise great caution and wear seat belts at all times. Motorcycle and bicycle riders should wear helmets and protective clothing.


For additional information about road travel in Mauritania, see the Embassy of Mauritania's website at: http://www.mauritaniembassy-usa.org. For additional general information about road safety, including links to foreign government sites, see the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov/road_safety.html.


Aviation Safety Oversight: As there is no direct commercial air service at present, or economic authority to operate such service, between the U.S. and Mauritania, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Mauritania's Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with international aviation safety standards for oversight of Mauritania's air carrier operations.


For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the U.S. at 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA's Internet website at http://www.faa.gov/avr/iasa. The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign air carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact DOD at (618) 229-4801.


Criminal Penalties: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Mauritanian law, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Mauritania are strict, and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines.

Currency: Local currency may not be imported or exported. Credit cards can only be used at a few hotels in the capital, Nouakchott, and the northwestern city of Nouadhibou. ATMs (cash machines) are rare, even in Nouakchott.


DRESS: Islamic ideals and beliefs in the country encourage conservative dress; sleeved garments are recommended and people should avoid wearing shorts.


Children's Issues: For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, please refer to our Internet site at http://travel.state.gov/children's_html or telephone (202) 736-7000.

Registration/Embassy Location: U.S. citizens living in or visiting Mauritania are encouraged to register at the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Mauritania and obtain updated information on travel and security within Mauritania. The U.S. Embassy Nouakchott is located between the Presidency building and the Spanish Embassy. The postal address is B.P. 222, Nouakchott, telephone (222) 25-26-60, 25-26-63, 25-11-41, or 25-11-45, and fax (222) 25-15-92.

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Mauritania

Mauritania

POPULATION 2,828,858
MUSLIM 100 percent

Country Overview

INTRODUCTION

The Islamic Republic of Mauritania lies on the West African coast. Largely arid and flat, the country is bordered to the west by the Atlantic Ocean, to the northwest and north by the Moroccan-occupied territory of the Western Sahara, to the northeast by Algeria, to the east by Mali, and to the south by Mali and Senegal. Because of Mauritania's location at the ancient meeting point between Arab and Berber North African and black West African cultures, it was relatively easy for Islam to spread throughout the region with the advance of the Almoravids, the confederation of Berber tribes that built its empire in northwestern Africa and Muslim Spain in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Like many North African countries, Mauritania continues to stand astride two worlds, Arab and African. The religions of its people cannot be fully separated from their historical and cultural contexts, and there is a dynamic cross-fertilization between Islam and the country's traditional African cultures.

RELIGIOUS TOLERANCE

Because of the high degree of religious homogeneity, freedom of worship is not a major issue in Mauritania, which is surrounded by countries that are also overwhelmingly Muslim. The Mauritanian constitution states that "Islam shall be the religion of the people and of the State." Foreigners are allowed to practice their faiths freely.

Major Religion

ISLAM

DATE OF ORIGIN Eleventh century c.e.
NUMBER OF FOLLOWERS More than 2.8 million

HISTORY

Since its introduction by the Almoravids in the eleventh century, Islam has been a unifying force and the base for political and social life in Mauritania. Islam provided the guiding principles for various political and anticolonial movements during the Charr Bubba wars (1644–74) against the Bani Hassan Arabs. It was also the ideological foundation for the Islamic state of Fouta-Toro in the eighteenth century and for the holy wars against French colonizers led by Al Hajji Oumar Tall (1794–1864) in the mid-nineteenth century. In addition Islam was used to support the later conflict between the French and Shaikh Hamullah, who refused to cooperate with the French and whom French authorities exiled several times between 1925 and 1941 on suspicion of fomenting anticolonial actions. Islam was also fundamental to the Al Falah educational movement initiated by Alhajji Mamoudou Ba (1908–78) of Diowol in the 1950s. Finally, the implementation of the Shariah (Islamic law) in 1980 served as the high-water mark of Islam's importance and influence in Mauritania.

EARLY AND MODERN LEADERS

Mauritania has been home to many Islamic leaders and saints representing the different Sufi orders. As there is no clear separation between religion and politics or the state and the mosque, many of Mauritania's saints and scholars have also been political leaders. These have included Shaikh Nasir Al Din, who led the Charr Bubba wars; Suliman Ball, who founded the Fouta-Toro Almamate, which was governed by an imam (Muslim religious leader), in the 1770s; Abdoul Kader Kane, who mounted the fiercest resistance against the colonization of Fouta-Toro in the nineteenth century; and Abdoul Boukar Kane (1853–1891), who used Islam as an ideology to mobilize the people of Fouta-Toro against French colonial occupation. The scholar Shaikh Sidi Al Moukhtar (died in 1811) was well known for his criticism of military campaigns. Shaikh Saad Bou (died in 1917), the head of the Qadiriyya Sufi order in Trarza, was famous for issuing a fatwa in 1903 advocating submission to French colonial rule. In contrast, Saad Bou's brother Mal Ainin (died in 1910) took up arms against French rule in the Western Sahara. Cerno Amadou Mukhtar Sakho (1864–1934) was the best-known and longest-serving supreme judge (1905–1934) of Boghe in southern Mauritania.

The ranks of contemporary religious leaders in Mauritania are filled mainly by descendants of those named in the previous paragraph. They include the active ulamas Bouddah Ould Bousseïri (born in 1930), for decades the grand imam of Nouakchott; Mohamed Salem Ould Addoud; Bah Ould Abdallahi; Hamden Ould Tah (born in 1931); Amadou Nene; Amadou Boukar; Abdoulaye Dia; Tidiane Ly; and Shaikh Siddiya.

MAJOR THEOLOGIANS AND AUTHORS

Mauritanian theologians and authors have included Sidiyya Baba (died in 1924) of the Trarza; Suliman Ball; Abdoul Boukar Kane; Amadou Boukar (1900–80); and Amadou Nene (born in 1914), who established religious schools in Ngijilon, Ganguel, Boki Diawe, Thilon, Boghe, Diatar, and Kaedi. The scholar and Islamic historian Shaikh Musa Kamara (1864–1945) is known for his ethnographic work Zuhur al-Basatin, ou Histoire des noirs musulmans. Other theologians have included Yaqouba Sylla (died in 1988), the head of the Hamalists (the followers of Shaikh Hamullah) in Kaedi; Alhajji Mamoudou Ba; Shaikh Saad Bou; Harun Ould Al Shaikh Sidiyya (1919–1977), who wrote an account of his family's history, Kitab al-akhbar; and Abdallah Ould Sidiyya, who founded the Islamic Institute at Boutilimit.

HOUSES OF WORSHIP AND HOLY PLACES

There are important mosques and religious centers throughout Mauritania. In the 1970s oil-rich Arab countries provided funds for the construction of huge mosques in the capital, Nouakchott. There are historical mosques in Kaedi, Boghe, Chinguti, Boutilimit, Tijikhza, Walata, Tichit, and Mederdra. In addition to worshiping in mosques, Mauritanians also use public fields for communal prayers.

WHAT IS SACRED?

The Koran and the hadith are among the religious sources considered sacred by Mauritanians. The saints of the various Sufi orders are revered as holy men because of their claim to be sharifs, or descendants of the Prophet Muhammad. Parents and older people are deferred to as sources of blessing and—potentially—serious curses. As a result of the thorough blending of Islam with local traditions, Mauritanian Muslims also believe in the power of ancestor spirits and consider certain locations, trees, and animals sacred.

HOLIDAYS AND FESTIVALS

There are no Muslim holidays or festivals that are distinctive to Mauritania. But the use of music and dance during traditional Islamic feasts and the mingling of men and women are unique to African Islam.

MODE OF DRESS

Mauritanian men and women dress modestly, as their religion requires. Both married black and Arab-Berber women cover their heads for religious reasons and to show respect for their in-laws. Men of all ethnic groups wear the West African boubou over pants, as well as a headdress, to protect them from the dry winds and recurrent sandstorms. During prayers and religious occasions, people wear their best clothes. Brides typically wear black. When people die, their bodies are washed and wrapped in white clothes before being placed directly in the grave.

DIETARY PRACTICES

The Mauritanian diet consists of millet, sorghum, maize, milk products, rice, meat, fish, and fruits and vegetables. Meat comes primarily from such livestock as oxen, cows, goats, sheep, and camels and from gazelles and chickens and other birds. These must be slaughtered by an adult male in accordance with Islamic dietary principles. Meat from animals that have front teeth—such as pigs, horses, mules, donkeys, cats, and dogs—is prohibited. The consumption of alcohol or recreational drugs is also forbidden by Islamic law.

RITUALS

Common Islamic rituals include the five daily prayers, ablution, and, for members of the Tijaniyya Sufi order, the recitation of a wird after prayers and especially on Friday evenings. Performed twice daily, wirds involve the repetition of specific sets of prayers and formulas. Other rituals include naming ceremonies for babies, which take place seven days after birth; the washing of hands before eating; bathing after sexual intercourse; fasting during the holy month of Ramadan; Friday prayers and the communal prayers that accompany such major annual festivals as the Id al-Fitr, which is celebrated at the end of Ramadan, the Id al-Adha, which takes place at the end of the pilgrimage to Mecca, and Mawlud, the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad; giving blessings during communal prayers; and burial ceremonies. Elaborate greetings containing religious elements—"peace be upon you" and "God be with you," for example—are common among Mauritanians.

RITES OF PASSAGE

The first rite of passage is the naming ceremony for a newborn child. For boys the next turning point in life is marked by circumcision, which should take place before the age of 18. Men typically marry after their 18th birthday, but most young women marry at a much younger age. Other important rites of passage include initiation into the Tijaniyya Sufi order, during which the initiate receives the wird, and the obligatory pilgrimage to Mecca, after which a man is given the title hajji and a woman the title hajja.

MEMBERSHIP

Like all Muslims, Mauritanians believe in the universal nature of Islam and actively try to spread their religion throughout the rest of Africa. The Almoravids in the eleventh century and the followers of Oumar Tall in the nineteenth century used force to convert people to Islam. Contemporary methods used to attract converts include trade; marriage to non-Muslim women, whose children will automatically become Muslims; mixing religion and magic in such practices as using verses copied from the Koran as amulets; and claiming to be a sharif. Mauritanian Sufis compete in the recruitment of members to the Qadiriyya and Tijaniyya orders.

SOCIAL JUSTICE

Hospitality and generosity toward family members, neighbors, guests, fellow Muslims, and strangers are highly valued among all Mauritanian ethnic groups. Those who are better off are expected to be commensurately more generous to the poor and the less fortunate. As a result, individual destitution and isolation are uncommon in Mauritania, despite widespread material poverty.

SOCIAL ASPECTS

In a society that has embraced Islam and blended it with indigenous West African and Berber traditions and beliefs, an adult life can not be complete without marriage. Even poor and disabled Mauritanians are expected to marry and have children. Unmarried women are often pressured to find a man with whom to pray—the expectation being that marriage will follow. When a person marries, people say he or she has joined the mosque, as though marriage were a precondition for being a good Muslim. Some Muslim social practices in Mauritania discriminate against women, especially those relating to polygamy, divorce, freedom of movement, child custody, inheritance, and witness testimony in a court of law.

POLITICAL IMPACT

Although the constitution of Mauritania decrees that Islam shall be the religion of both the state and the citizens, the ruling elites have made it illegal to found political parties based in Islam. Islam is so pervasive, however, that politicians try to co-opt religious leaders for their political ends. The implementation of Islamic law in 1980 affected the political situation in Mauritania. Even though the formation of Islamic political parties is forbidden, the Mauritanian government itself has taken advantage of strict Islamic law to justify its actions. The controversial abolition of slavery in 1980, for example, was widely perceived to have been diluted by Islamic law, according to which the government found white Maur slave owners eligible for compensation for setting their black slaves free.

CONTROVERSIAL ISSUES

The most vexing issues in Mauritanian society are collectively referred to locally as "la question nationale" ("the national question"), which primarily has to do with the continued coexistence of white and black Mauritanians. These issues focus on the sharing of political power, wealth, and employment and educational opportunities and the equal treatment of African languages and culture alongside those of the politically dominant Arab-Berber population. The military regime's imposition of strict Islamic law in 1980 was seen by the black community as another attempt by the Arab-Berbers to maintain their political monopoly by justifying human rights violations—including the compensation paid from public funds to former slave owners for freed slaves—through Islam. Islam has also been used to justify the imposition of Arabic as the country's sole official language, at the expense of the indigenous Pulaar, Soninke, Wolof, and Bambara languages.

CULTURAL IMPACT

Whereas Mauritanian dance, music, and crafts are typically West African, the country's architecture, literature, and painting have been deeply influenced by Islam. In both the northern and southern regions of the country, people use African musical instruments to accompany songs the lyrics of which have Islamic and oriental characteristics. Mauritanian architecture—especially that of the mosques and some modern houses—and furniture design are closely derived from Islamic artistic traditions of the Middle East.

Other Religions

Officially there are no other religions in Mauritania besides Islam. Mauritanian Islam, however, represents a thorough blending of Islam with African and Berber spiritualism and traditional beliefs. The Christian community in Mauritania is extremely small and is made up entirely of European expatriates. There are a few Christian churches in Nouakchott, Rosso, Nouadhibou, Zouerat, and Atar. Christians may practice their faith freely as long as they keep a low profile, do not try to convert Muslims, and do not trade or consume alcohol in public.

Garba Diallo

See Also Vol. 1: Islam

Bibliography

Bâ, Amadou Hampaté. Vie et enseignement de Tierno Bokar: le sage de Bandiagara. Paris: Seuil, 1980.

Ba, Oumar. Le Foûta Tôro au carrefour des cultures. Paris: L'Harmattan, 1977.

Cotton, Samuel. Silent Terror: A Journey into Contemporary African Slavery. New York: Harlem Rivers Press, 1998.

Diallo, Garba. Mauritania, the Other Apartheid? Uppsala: Nordiska Afrikainstitutet, 1993.

Kane, Ousmane, and Jean-Louis Triaud. Islam et islamismes au sud du Sahara. Paris: Karthala, 1999.

Robinson, David. Paths of Accommodation: Muslim Societies and French Colonial Authorities in Senegal and Mauritania, 1890–1920. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 2000.

Robinson, David, and Jean-Louis Triaud, eds. Le temps des marabouts: itineacute;raires et stratégies islamiques en Afrique occidentale française v. 1880–1960. Paris: Karthala, 1997.

Sall, Ibrahima Abou. Assassinat du Jaagorgal Abdul Bookar Kan. Paris: n.p., n.d.

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Mauritania

MAURITANIA

Compiled from the January 2005 Background Note and supplemented with additional information from the State Department and the editors of this volume. See the introduction to this set for explanatory notes.

Official Name:
Islamic Republic of Mauritania


PROFILE

Geography

Area: 1,030,070 sq. km. (419,212 sq. mi.); slightly larger than Texas and New Mexico combined.

Cities: (2002) Capital—Nouakchott (pop. 559,000). Other cities—Nouadhibou (72,000), Rosso (49,000), Kaedi (34,000), Zouerate (34,000), Kiffa (32,000), Atar (24,000).

Terrain: Northern four-fifths barren desert; southern 20% mainly Sahelian with small-scale irrigated and rain-fed agriculture in the Senegal River basin.

Climate: Predominantly hot and dry.

People

Nationality: Noun and adjective—Mauritanian(s).

Population: (2002) 2.8 million.

Annual growth rate: 2.5%.

Ethnic groups: Arab-Berber (White Moor or Beydane), Arab-Berber-Negroid (Black Moor or Haratine), Haalpulaar, Soninke, Wolof.

Religions: Islam.

Languages: Arabic (official), Hassaniya, French, Pulaar, Wolof, and Soninke.

Education: Years compulsory—six. Attendance—student population enrolled in primary school 89%. Adult literacy—41%.

Health: Infant mortality rate—108/1,000. Life expectancy—51 yrs.

Work force: Agriculture and fisheries—50%. Services and commerce—20%. Government—20%. Industry and transportation—10%.

Government

Type: Republic.

Independence: November 28, 1960.

Constitution: Approved 1991. Military rule 1978-1992. Original constitution promulgated 1961.

Branches: Executive—president (chief of state). Legislative—bicameral national assembly, directly elected lower house (81 members), and upper house (56 members) chosen indirectly by municipal councilors. Judicial—a supreme court and lower courts are nominally independent but subject to control of executive branch; judicial decisions are rendered mainly on the basis of Shari'ah (Islamic law) for social/family matters and a western style legal code, applied in commercial and some criminal cases.

Political parties: 12 active.

Suffrage: Universal at 18.

National day: November 28, Independence Day.

Flag: Green with a yellow five-pointed star above a yellow, horizontal crescent; the closed side of the crescent is down.

Economy

GDP: (2002) $968.8 million.

Annual growth rate: (2002) 3.3%.

Per capita income: (2002) $340.

Natural resources: petroleum, fish, iron ore, gypsum, copper, phosphates, salt.

Agriculture: (21.4% of GDP) Products—livestock, traditional fisheries, millet, maize, wheat, dates, rice.

Industry: (31% of GDP) Types—iron mining, fishing.

Services: (47.6% of GDP) Exports—$330 million (2002).

Major markets: Italy 14.8%; France 14.4%; Africa 13.8%; Spain 12.1%; Germany 10.8%; Asia 9.9%. Imports—$418 million: (2002) foodstuffs, machinery, tools, petroleum products, and consumer goods.

Major suppliers: France 20.8%; Asia: 18.1%; Africa: 11%; Belgium: 8.8%; U.S. 3.5%.

Currency: Ouguiya (UM).


HISTORY

From the 3rd to 7th centuries, the migration of Berber tribes from North Africa displaced the Bafours, the original inhabitants of present-day Mauritania and the ancestors of the Soninke. Continued Arab-Berber migration drove indigenous black Africans south to the Senegal River or enslaved them. By 1076, Islamic warrior monks (Almoravid or Al Murabitun) completed the conquest of southern Mauritania, defeating the ancient Ghana empire. Over the next 500 years, Arabs overcame fierce Berber resistance to dominate Mauritania. The Mauritanian Thirty-Year War (1644-74) was the unsuccessful final Berber effort to repel the Maqil Arab invaders led by the Beni Hassan tribe. The descendants of Beni Hassan warriors became the upper stratum of Moorish society. Berbers retained influence by producing the majority of the region's Marabouts—those who preserve and teach Islamic tradition. Hassaniya, a mainly oral, Berber-influenced Arabic dialect that derives its name from the Beni Hassan tribe, became the dominant language among the largely nomadic population. Aristocrat and servant castes developed, yielding "white" (aristocracy) and "black" Moors (the enslaved indigenous class).

French colonization at the beginning of the 20th century brought legal prohibitions against slavery and an end to interclan warfare. During the colonial period, the population remained nomadic, but sedentary black Africans, whose ancestors had been expelled centuries earlier by the Moors, began to trickle back into southern Mauritania. As the country gained independence in 1960, the capital city Nouakchott was founded at the site of a small colonial village, the Ksar, and 90% of the population was still nomadic. With independence, larger numbers of ethnic Sub-Saharan Africans (Haalpulaar, Soninke, and Wolof) entered Mauritania, moving into the area north of the Senegal River. Educated in French language and customs, many of these recent arrivals became clerks, soldiers, and administrators in the new state.

Moors reacted to this change by increasing pressure to Arabicize many aspects of Mauritanian life, such as law and language. A schism developed between those who consider Mauritania to be an Arab country (mainly Moors) and those who seek a dominant role for the Sub-Saharan peoples. The discord between these two conflicting visions of Mauritanian society was evident during intercommunal violence that broke out in April 1989 (the "1989 Events"), but has since subsided. The tension between these two visions remains a feature of the political dialogue. A significant number from both groups, however, seek a more diverse, pluralistic society.


GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS

Mauritania's presidential election, its third 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 Maaouiya Sid'Ahmed Taya won reelection with 67.02% of the popular vote, according official figures, with second-place finisher Mohamed Haidallah earning just under 20%. Several opposition groups alleged that the government had used fraudulent means to win the elections, but did not elect to pursue their grievances via available legal channels. The elections incorporated safeguards first adopted in the 2001 municipal elections—published voter lists and hard-to-falsify voter identification cards -, and took place amid a generally calm atmosphere. However, main opposition candidate Mohamed Haidallah was arrested prior to Election Day on charges of planning a coup, released the same day, and rearrested after Election Day. He received a suspension of civil rights and a five-year suspended prison sentence for his alleged coup plotting.

The PRDS, led by President Maaouiya ould Sid'Ahmed Taya, has dominated Mauritanian politics since the country's first multi-party elections in April 1992 following the approval by referendum of the current constitution in July 1991. 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 that governed Mauritania from July 1978 to April 1992. The country's first president, Moktar ould Daddah, served from independence until ousted in a bloodless coup on July 10, 1978. A group of current and former Army officers launched a bloody but unsuccessful coup attempt on June 8, 2003. The ringleaders remain at large, and their exact motives remain unclear.

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.

The government bureaucracy is composed of traditional ministries, special agencies, and parastatal companies. The Ministry of Interior controls 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.

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 political 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 January-February 1994 and subsequent Senate elections, most recently in April 2004, gaining representation at the local level as well as three seats in the Senate.

Principal Government Officials

Last Updated: 8/4/04

President: Taya , Maaouya Ould Sid Ahmed
Prime Minister: Mbareck , Sghair Ould
Min. of Commerce, Handicrafts, & Tourism: Khattry , Mohamed Lemine Ould
Min. of Communications & Relations With Parliament: Abdi , Hammoud Ould
Min. of Culture, Youth & Athletics: Mohamed , Hamoud Ould
Min. of Defense: Sidi , Baba Ould
Min. of Economic & Development Affairs: Sidya , Abdellahi Ould
Min. of Equipment & Transportation: Soule , Ba Boucar
Min. of Finance: Ali , Mafoud Ould Mohamed
Min. of Fisheries & Maritime Economy: Mbare , Ba Mamadou
Min. of Foreign Affairs: Bellal , Mohammed Vall Ould
Min. of Health & Social Affairs: Kader , Isselmou Ould
Min. of Hydraulics & Energy: Camara , Cheikh Saad Bouh
Min. of Interior, Post, & Telecommunications: Elewa , Kaba Ould
Min. of Justice: Bakary , Diabira
Min. of Labor & Public Works: Bilal , Salka Mint
Min. of Literacy & Islamic Orientation: Boye , Mohamed Mahmoud Ould
Min. of Mines & Industry: Hmeyda , Zeidane Ould
Min. of National Education: Mohamed , Alhacen Ould
Min. of Rural Development & Environment: Ahmedou , Ahmedou Ould
Sec. of State in Charge of the Government: Moussa , Diallo Abou
Sec. of State in Charge of Maghreb Issues: Mohamed , Abdel Kader Ould
Sec. of State in Charge of Women's Affairs: Naha , Zeinabout Mint Mohammed Ould
Sec. of State Delegate to the Prime Minister in Charge of New Technologies: Saleck , Fatimetou Mint Mohamed
Ambassador to the US: Ben Jidou , Ahmed Ben Khalifa
Permanent Representative to the UN, New York:

Mauritania maintains an embassy in the United States at 2129 Leroy Place NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202-232-5700, fax. 202-232-5701) and a Permanent Mission to the United Nations at 211 East 43rd Street, Suite 2000, New York, NY 10017 (tel. 212-986-7963, fax. 212-986-8419).


U.S.-MAURITANIAN RELATIONS

U.S.-Mauritania relations are excellent, but have undergone several transformations since Mauritania gained independence. From 1960 to 1967, the United States maintained cordial relations with Mauritania and provided a small amount of economic assistance. During the June 1967 Middle East war, Mauritania broke diplomatic and consular relations with the United States but restored ties 2 years later and maintained relatively friendly relations until the late 1980s, despite disagreement over the Arab-Israeli issue. Since 1981, the United States has provided about $130 million in economic and food assistance.

The 1989 rupture between Mauritania and Senegal (the "1989 Events") that resulted in Mauritania's deportation to Senegal of tens of thousands of its own citizens, negatively affected U.S.-Mauritanian relations. Moreover, Mauritania's perceived support of Iraq prior to and during the 1991 Gulf war further weakened the strained ties.

Relations between the U.S. and Mauritania reached a low in the spring of 1991, as details of the Mauritanian military's role in widespread human rights abuses surfaced. The U.S. responded by formally halting USAID operations and all military assistance to Mauritania. Relations also suffered in the 1990s as a result of repeated reports that slavery continued in some parts of Mauritania despite legal proscriptions.

By the late 1990s, the Mauritanian Government: adopted policies facilitating the return of those expelled or who fled during the 1989 Events; turned away from Iraq and toward the West; and initiated a poverty reduction strategy while securing debt relief under the Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative. (See also Fact Sheet.) Improved relations with the United States, including the return of military cooperation and training programs, accompanied these changes. Mauritania is eligible for U.S. trade benefits under the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), but did not export any products to the US under these benefits during the first half of 2003 (last available data). Mauritania formally opened diplomatic relations with Israel in 2000 and remains one of only three Arab League member-nations to have done so.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials

NOUAKCHOTT (E) Address: Rue Abdallaye; Phone: 222-525-2660; Fax: 222-525-1592; INMARSAT Tel: 874-7612-49155; Workweek: Sun-Thu, 8:00a-4:30p; Website: http://www.state.gov/mauritania

AMB:Joseph LeBaron
AMB OMS:Kathleen Donahue
DCM:David E. Brown
POL:Justin Crevier
CON:Kay Moseley
MGT:John K. Madden
CLO:vacant
DAO:CW3 Rachael Smith
ECO/COM:Kay Moseley
FIN:Magida Safaoui
GSO:Michael Lampel
ICASS Chair:Christine Campbell
IMO:vacant
RSO:David Groccia
State ICASS:Christine Campbell
Last Updated: 9/15/2004

TRAVEL

Consular Information Sheet

October 7, 2004

Country Description: Mauritania is a developing country in northwestern Africa. Arabic is the official language, but French is widely used and several local languages are also spoken. Tourist facilities in the capital, Nouakchott, are adequate, but limited or non-existent elsewhere.

Entry/Exit Requirements: A passport and a visa are required, as well as evidence of a yellow fever vaccination. For the most current visa information, contact the Embassy of the Republic of Mauritania, 2129 Leroy Place N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008, tel. (202) 232-5700, website: http://www.ambarim-dc.org, or the Mauritanian Permanent Mission to the U.N., 211 East 43rd Street, Suite 2000, New York, N.Y. 10017, telephone (212) 986-7963 or 8189, and e-mail http://[email protected] Over-seas, inquiries should be made at the nearest Mauritanian embassy or consulate. See our Foreign Entry Requirements brochure for more information on Mauritania and other countries.

Safety and Security: Travel is generally safe within most of Mauritania. However, all travelers must exercise prudence and caution. Travelers should not venture into the Sahara unless accompanied by an experienced guide and even then only if equipped with sturdy vehicles and ample provisions. Moreover, the U.S. Embassy in Nouakchott continues to receive reports of banditry along the borders between the Western Sahara and Mali. Landmines also remain a danger along the border with the Western Sahara. Travelers planning surface trips from Mauritania to Morocco, Algeria, Senegal or Mali should check with the U.S. Embassy in Nouakchott before setting out.

In Nouakchott and other major cities in Mauritania, police routinely conduct road blocks at which they may ask for proof of identify and drivers' licenses. Americans visiting Mauritania should be prepared for such inquiries and carry their identification cards at all times. Americans are advised to drive cautiously and be prepared to stop at short notice.

Political gatherings and street demonstrations occur periodically. During periods of political unrest, demonstrators frequently throw rocks at passing cars. An increased police presence and additional vehicle controls may also occur. U.S. citizens should avoid large crowds and maintain security awareness at all times.

Although U.S. citizens are generally welcomed in Mauritania, there were reports of anti-American incidents such as threats and stoning of vehicles, following the 1998 U.S. and British-led intervention in Iraq, and demonstrations outside the Embassy during the 2003 U.S. intervention in Iraq. Some Muslim extremists have occasionally perceived Christian nongovernmental organizations as a threat. However, local authorities closely monitor political violence and religious extremist groups.

Crime: Crime in Mauritania is moderate but steadily increasing. Most incidents are in the cities and larger towns, and are petty crimes such as pickpocketing and the theft of improperly secured and openly visible valuables left in vehicles. Residential burglaries, robberies, rapes, and assaults do occur, but they have rarely involved the American community. Most criminal activity occurs at night, and walking alone at night is not advisable. Violent crimes and crimes involving the use of weapons are also rare, but increasing. In Nouakchott, Americans should avoid the beach at night. During the day, beach-goers should travel in large groups or stay in popular areas, since a number of thefts and violent incidents have been reported there in the past several years.

Information for Victims of Crime: The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while over-seas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, to contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed. See our information on Victims of Crime at http://travel.state.gov/travel/brochure_victim_assistance.html.

Medical Facilities and Health Information: Medical facilities in Mauritania are limited. There are few modern clinics or hospitals beyond the capital and a few major towns. At local pharmacies, some medicines are difficult to obtain; travelers are advised to bring their own supplies.

Malaria is a serious and sometimes fatal disease. Chloroquine-resistant P. falciparum malaria is a severe form of the disease that is found in many parts of western Africa, including Mauritania. Because travelers to Mauritania are at high risk for contracting malaria they should take one of the following antimalarial drugs: mefloquine (Lariamtm), doxycycline, or atovaquone/proguanil (Malarone – tm). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have determined that a traveler who is on an appropriate antimalarial drug has a greatly reduced chance of contracting the disease. In addition, other personal protective measures, such as the use of insect repellents, help to reduce malaria risk. Travelers who become ill with a fever or flu-like illness while traveling in a malaria-risk area and up to one year after returning home should seek prompt medical attention and tell the physician their travel history and what antimalarials they have been taking.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747); fax 1-888-CDC-FAXX (1-888-232-3299), or via the CDC's Internet site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization's (WHO) web-site at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith.

Medical Insurance: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.

Traffic Safety and Road Conditions: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Mauritania is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Road conditions in Mauritania are generally poor, particularly in the interior, and overland travel is difficult. The country's size and harsh climate make road maintenance and repair especially problematic. Mauritania possesses only about 2,070 km (1,286 miles) of surfaced roads, 710 km

(441 miles) of unsurfaced roads and 5,140 km (3,194 miles) of unimproved tracks. There are four major roads, linking Nouakchott to Akjoujt and Atar to the north; Rosso to the south; Aleg, Kaedi, and Boghe to the southeast; and eastward to Nema (the "Road of Hope"). A new highway between Nouakchott to Nouadhibou is under construction.

U.S. citizens traveling overland for long distances in Mauritania should be sure to have a suitable four-wheel drive vehicle, a local guide, an adequate supply of water, and a second fuel reservoir. A second vehicle is recommended in case of breakdown. Visitors are urged not to travel alone into the desert.

Driving in Mauritania is treacherous, and hiring a trained local driver is encouraged. Traffic patterns differ considerably from American-style "rules of the road," and many Mauritanians drive without regard to traffic signs or rules. Roadway obstructions and hazards caused by drifting sand, animals, and poor roads often plague motorists; when combined with the number of untrained drivers and poorly maintained vehicles, heightened caution is imperative at all times. Drivers and passengers should drive defensively and wear seat belts at all times. Motorcycle and bicycle riders should wear helmets and protective clothing. Nighttime driving is discouraged.

Special Circumstances: As there is no direct commercial air service at present between the U.S. and Mauritania, nor the economic authority to operate such service, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Mauritania's civil aviation authority for compliance with international aviation safety standards for oversight of Mauritania's air carrier operations. For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the U.S. at 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA International website at http://www.faa.gov/avr/iasa/index.cfm. official providers of air services.

Customs Regulations: Mauritanian customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary import or export of items such as firearms, narcotics, alcoholic drinks and pork products. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Mauritania in Washington, DC for specific information regarding customs regulations.

Currency: The local currency is the ouguiya, and it may not be imported or exported. Credit cards can only be used at a few hotels in the capital, Nouakchott, and the northwestern city of Nouadhibou. ATMs (cash machines) are very rare, even in Nouakchott. Major foreign currencies are otherwise easily changeable in banks and numerous bureaux de change. Credit card fraud is a problem, so it is advisable to pay hotel bills in cash.

Dress: Islamic ideals and beliefs in the country encourage conservative dress. Sleeved garments and below-the-knee skirts are recommended, and people should avoid wearing shorts.

Criminal Penalties: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offences. Persons violating Mauritanian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Mauritania are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in illicit sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.

Children's Issues: For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, see the Office of Children's Issues website at http://travel.state.gov/family/index.html.

Registration/Embassy Location: Americans living or traveling in Mauritania are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department's travel registration website, https://travelregistration.state.gov, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Mauritania. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy is located between the Presidency building and the Spanish Embassy on Rue Abdallaye. The postal address is B.P. 222, Nouakchott, telephone (222) 525-2660/2663, 525-1141/45, or 525-3038 (ext. 5441), and fax (222) 525-1592. The Consular Section can also be reached by e-mail at Consular-No[email protected]

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Mauritania

Mauritania

Mauritania is located in West Africa and shares its frontiers with Senegal, Mali, Algeria, and Western Sahara. Its population of under 2.3 million inhabitants is an ethnic mosaic because of the country's situation between North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa. The Maur (Arab-Berber or "Moorish") community and the black African communities (Haalpulaaren, Soninke, and Wolof) were gathered together by the French colonial administration. There is a controversy as to which group is dominant, and there is no data available after the 1958 census which estimated that black Africans represent only 20 percent. The demographic weight of this latter community is now stronger, and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency estimated that 30 percent of the population is Maur, 30 percent black African, and 40 percent mixed black-Maur.

Moktar Ould Daddah (1924–2003), a Maur, led the country to independence November 28, 1960. He founded a dominant single party, the Parti du Peuple Mauritanien, in 1964 and was overthrown by a military coup in July 1978. Mauritania has since had a succession of military leaders. Colonel Maaouya Sid'Ahmed Ould Taya (b. 1943), army chief and prime minister from April 1981 to March 1984, seized power December 12, 1984. The political situation had then dramatically deteriorated: Ethnic conflicts intensified because of the increasing influence of the pan-Arabists movements that favored a pro-Arab

state. A part of the African community decided to organize itself and created the Forces de Libération Africaines de Mauritanie (FLAM) to claim greater political and social rights.

FLAM's clandestine activism caused the government, influenced by baathists and Nasserists, to react through a wave of arrests and imprisonments of the African activists and the execution of three African officers. Later, the 1989 conflict with Senegal led to mass deportation of African Mauritanians declared to be Senegalese. Subsequently, the international pressure due to this conflict and the country's support to Iraq during the first Gulf Crisis forced Ould Taya to begin a democratization process in 1991.

On April 12, 1991, a new constitution was adopted. The executive is dual: The president is elected for six years and appoints the prime minister and his ministers. The president holds the power to make regulations, promulgate law, sign and ratify treaties, organize a referendum, and dissolve the National Assembly.

The legislature is composed of a National Assembly and a Senate. The deputies are elected for five years by universal suffrage. Senators are elected for six-year terms via indirect suffrage. The Constitutional Council is composed of six members, each of whom serves for nine years. Islam is, in principle, the unique source of right.

Since 1992 the ruling party has been the Parti Républicain Démocratique et Social (PRDS), which is led by Ould Taya, who was elected in 1992 and then twice reelected, on December 12, 1997 and November 7, 2003. The opposition parties are in disarray and suffer seriously from repression. The elections are not really free and fair, the press is often censured, torture is used against opponents, and racial discrimination and slavery still remain, especially in the Moorish community. Former slaves and Mauritanian human rights associations fight the lack of human and political freedom and lead campaigns to denounce the regime inaction in Europe and in the United States.

See also: Colonies and Colonialism; Shari'a.

bibliography

Amnesty International. "Mauritania: A Future Free from Slavery?" Press release, November 7, 2002. http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGAFR380052002?open&of=ENGMRT.

"Mauritania." CIA World Factbook. Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency, 2005. <http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/mr.html>.

Marty, Marianne, "Mauritania: Political Parties, Neo-patrimonialism and Democracy," Democratization, vol. 9, no. 3, (autumn 2002):92–108.

Pazzanita, Anthony G., Historical Dictionary of Mauritania. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 1996.

Pazzanita, Anthony G., "Political Transition in Mauritania: Problems and Prospects." Middle East Journal, vol. 53, no. 1, (winter 1999):44–58.

U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. Mauritania: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2003. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, 2003. <http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2003/29677.htm>.

Marianne Marty

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