Mauritania

For other articles with similar names, see Mauretania (disambiguation).
الجمهورية الإسلامية الموريتانية
Al-Jumhūriyyah al-Islāmiyyah al-Mūrītāniyyah
République Islamique de Mauritanie

Islamic Republic of Mauritania
Flag of Mauritania Coat of arms of Mauritania
Flag Coat of arms
Motto: شرف إخاء عدل   (Arabic)
"Honneur, Fraternité, Justice"  (French)
"Honor, Fraternity, Justice"
Anthem: National Anthem of Mauritania
Location of Mauritania
Capital Nouakchott
Largest city Nouakchott
Official language Arabic (de jure)
also Hassaniya and French
Government Military junta
 - President Ely Ould Mohamed Vall[1]
 - Prime Minister Sidi Mohamed Ould Boubacar
Independence from France 
 - Date November 28 1960 
Area
 - Total 1,030,700 km² (29th)
397,954 sq mi 
 - Water (%) 0.03
Population
 - 2005 estimate 3,069,000 (135th)
 - 1988 census 1,864,236 [1]
 - Density 3.0/km² (221st)
7.8/sq mi
GDP (PPP) 2005 estimate
 - Total $7.159 billion (144th)
 - Per capita $2,402 (132nd)
HDI  (2004) 0.486 (low) (153rd)
Currency Ouguiya (MRO)
Time zone GMT (UTC+0)
 - Summer (DST) not observed (UTC+0)
Internet TLD .mr
Calling code +222

Mauritania (Arabic: موريتانياMūrītāniyā), officially the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, is a country in northwest Africa. It is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean on the west, by Senegal on the south-west, by Mali on the east and south-east, by Algeria on the north-east, and by Moroccan-annexed territory of Western Sahara on the north-west. It is named after the ancient Berber kingdom of Mauretania. The capital and largest city is Nouakchott, located on the Atlantic coast.

Contents

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History

From the fifth to seventh 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. The Bafours were primarily agriculturalist, and among the first Saharan people to abandon their historically nomadic lifestyle. With the gradual desiccation of the Sahara, they headed south. Following them came a migration of not only Central Saharans into West Africa, but in 1076, Islamic warrior monks (Almoravid or Al Murabitun) attacked and conquered the ancient Ghana Empire. Over the next 500 years, Arabs overcame fierce resistance from the local population (Berber and non-Berber alike) and came to dominate Mauritania. The Mauritanian Thirty-Year War (1644-74) was the unsuccessful final effort to repel the Yemeni Maqil Arab invaders led by the Beni Hassan tribe. The descendants of the 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. Many of the Berber tribes claimed Yemeni (and sometimes other Arab) origin: there is little evidence to suggest this, though some studies do make a connection between the two. [2] Hassaniya, a Berber-influenced Arabic dialect that derives its name from the Beni Hassan, became the dominant language among the largely nomadic population.

French colonization at the beginning of the twentieth century brought legal prohibitions against slavery and an end to interclan warfare. During the colonial period, the population remained nomadic, but many sedentary peoples, whose ancestors had been expelled centuries earlier, began to trickle back into Mauritania. As the country gained independence in 1960, the capital city Nouakchott was founded at the site of a small colonial village, the Ksar, while 90% of the population was still nomadic. With independence, larger numbers of indigenous Black African peoples (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. This, occurring as France militarily suppressed the most intransigent hassane tribes of the Moorish north, shifted old balances of power, and created new cause for conflict between the southern populations and Moors. Between these groups stood the Haratin, a very large population of Arabized former slaves, who lived within Moorish society, integrated into in a low-caste social position.

Moors reacted to the change, and to Arab nationalist calls from abroad, by increasing pressure to Arabize many aspects of Mauritanian life, such as law and language. A schism developed between those Moors who consider Mauritania to be an Arab country and those who seek a dominant role for the non-Moorish peoples, with various models for containing the country's cultural diversity suggested, but none implemented successfully. This ethnic discord was evident during intercommunal violence that broke out in April 1989 (the "1989 Events"), but has since subsided. The ethnic tension and the sensitive issue of slavery - past and, in some areas, present - is still a powerful theme in the country's political debate. A significant number from all groups, however, seek a more diverse, pluralistic society.

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Politics

Politics in Mauritania have always been determined by personalities and tribes more than ideologies, with any leader's ability to exercise political power dependent upon control over resources; perceived ability and integrity; and tribal, ethnic, family, and personal considerations. Conflict between white Moor, black Moor (Haratine), and non-Moor ethnic groups (Haal Pulaars, Soninkes, Wolofs and Bambaras), 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 spearheads a system of regional governors and prefects modeled on the French system of local administration. Under this system, Mauritania is divided into thirteen 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.

Mauritania, along with Morocco, illegally annexed the territory of Western Sahara in 1976, with Mauritania taking the lower one-third. After several military losses to Polisario, Mauritania retreated in 1979, and its claims were taken over by Morocco. Due to economic weakness, Mauritania has been a negligible player in the territorial dispute, with its official position being that it wishes for an expedient solution that is mutually agreeable to all parties.

The discovery of oil in 2001 in the offshore Chinguetti deposit will be a test for the current government since, according to human rights activists, it can be a blessing for one of the poorest countries in the world as well as a curse bringing corruption and violence to the country.

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Moktar Ould Daddah

After independence, President Moktar Ould Daddah, originally installed by the French, formalized Mauritania into a one-party state in 1964 with a new constitution, which set up an authoritarian presidential regime. Daddah's own Parti du Peuple Mauritanien (PPM) became the ruling organization in a single-party system. The President justified this decision on the grounds that he considered Mauritania unready for western-style multi-party democracy. Under this one-party constitution, Daddah was reelected in uncontested elections in 1966, 1971 and 1976. He was ousted in a bloodless coup on July 10, 1978.

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Maaouya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya's rule (1984-2005)

The Parti Républicain Démocratique et Social (PRDS), formerly led by President Maaouya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya, dominated Mauritanian politics following 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.

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 was dominated by the PRDS. The opposition participated in municipal elections in January-February 1994 and subsequent Senate elections, most recently in April 2004, gained representation at the local level as well as three seats in the Senate.

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 Maaouya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya won reelection with 67.02% of the popular vote, according to the official figures, with Mohamed Khouna Ould Haidalla finishing second.

Sid'Ahmed Taya recognized Israel (see Foreign relations of Mauritania), which made Mauritania the only Arab country not neighbouring Israel which recognized the latter (Morocco and Qatar have official ties with Israel, but do not fully recognize it). He also started cooperating with the United States in antiterrorism activities, which was criticized by human rights NGOs, who talked of an exaggeration and instrumentation of alleged terrorist activities for geopolitical aims.[3][4]

A group of current and former Army officers launched a bloody but unsuccessful coup attempt on June 8, 2003. The leaders of the attempted coup were never caught.

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August 2005 military coup

In August 2005, a military coup led by Colonel Ely Ould Mohamed Vall ended Maaouya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya's twenty-one years of strong-arm rule.

On August 3, the Mauritanian military, including members of the presidential guard, seized control of key points in the capital of Nouakchott. They took advantage of President Taya's attendance at the funeral of Saudi King Fahd to organize the coup, which took place without loss of life. The officers, calling themselves the Military Council for Justice and Democracy, released the following statement:

The national armed forces and security forces have unanimously decided to put a definitive end to the oppressive activities of the defunct authority, which our people have suffered from during the past years. (BBC)

The Military Council later issued another statement naming Colonel Vall as president and director of the national police force, the Sûreté Nationale. Sixteen other officers were listed as members.

Colonel Vall was once regarded as a firm ally of the now-ousted president Sid'Ahmed Taya, even aiding him in the original coup that brought him to power, and later serving as his security chief.

Applauded by the Mauritanian people, but cautiously watched by the international community, the coup has since been generally accepted, while the military junta has promised to organize elections within two years. In a referendum on June 26, 2006, Mauritanians overwhelmingly (97%) approved a new constitution which limited the duration of a president's stay in office. The leader of the junta, Col. Vall, promised to abide by the referendum and relinquish power peacefully.

Israel's recognition by the Islamic Republic of Mauritania was maintained by the new regime.

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Dispute with Woodside Petroleum

In February 2006, the Mauritanian government denounced amendments to an oil contract made by former leader Maaouiya Ould Taya with Woodside Petroleum, an Australian company. In 2004, Woodside had agreed to invest $US 600 million in developing Mauritania's Chinguetti offshore oil project. The controversial amendments, which Mauritanian authorities declared had been signed "outside the legal framework of normal practice, to the great detriment of our country", could cost Mauritania up to $200 million a year, according to BBC News. Signed by Woodside two weeks after the February 1, 2005 legislation authorizing the four amendments, they provided for a lower state quota in the profit-oil, and reduced taxes by 15 percent in certain zones. They also eased environmental constraints, and extended the length and scope of the exploitation and exploration monopoly, among other measures.

The disputed amendments were signed by former oil minister Zeidane Ould Hmeida in February 2004 and March 2005. Hmeida was arrested in January 2006 on charges of "serious crimes against the country's essential economic interests".

Nouakchott's authorities declared that the government would likely seek international arbitration, which Woodside (which operated for Hardman, BG Group, Premier, ROC Oil, Fusion, Petronas, Dana Petroleum, Energy Africa and the Hydrocarbons Mauritanian Society) also contemplated.

Discovered in 2001, Chinguetti has proven reserves of about 120 million barrels of oil. At the end of December 2005, authorities estimated that in 2006, the oil profits would be 47 billion ouguiyas (about US$180 million) and represent a quarter of the state budget, according to RFI [2].

The Australian Federal Police are currently investigating Woodside for allegations of bribery and corruption in Mauritania (according to the Sydney Morning Herald [5] [6]).

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Administrative divisions

Atar, Mauritania.
Atar, Mauritania.
Chinguetti mosque.
Chinguetti mosque.

Mauritania is divided into twelve regions (régions) and one capital district, which in turn are subdivided into forty-four departments (départements). The regions and capital district (in alphabetical order) and their capitals are:

Region Capital
Adrar Atar
Assaba Kifa
Brakna Aleg
Dakhlet Nouadhibou Nouadhibou
Gorgol Kaédi
Guidimaka Sélibaby
Hodh Ech Chargui Néma
Region Capital
Hodh El Gharbi Ayoun el Atrous
Inchiri Akjoujt
Nouakchott (capital district)
Tagant Tidjikdja
Tiris Zemmour F'dérik
Trarza Rosso
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Geography

Satellite image of Mauritania, generated from raster graphics data supplied by The Map Library
Satellite image of Mauritania, generated from raster graphics data supplied by The Map Library
Traces of the Dakar Rally in Mauritania
Traces of the Dakar Rally in Mauritania
Richat Structure, Mauritania
Richat Structure, Mauritania

At 397,929 mi² (1,030,700 km² [7]), Mauritania is the world's 29th-largest country (after Bolivia). It is comparable in size to Egypt.

Mauritania is generally flat, its 1,030,700 square kilometers (397,850 sq mi) forming vast, arid plains broken by occasional ridges and clifflike outcroppings. A series of scarps face southwest, longitudinally bisecting these plains in the center of the country. The scarps also separate a series of sandstone plateaus, the highest of which is the Adrar Plateau, reaching an elevation of 500 meters (1,640 ft). Spring-fed oases lie at the foot of some of the scarps. Isolated peaks, often rich in minerals, rise above the plateaus; the smaller peaks are called guelbs and the larger ones kedias. The concentric Guelb er Richat (also known as the Richat Structure) is a prominent feature of the north-central region. Kediet Ijill, near the city of Zouîrât, has an elevation of 1,000 meters (3,280 ft) and is the highest peak.

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Economy

A majority of the population still depends on agriculture and livestock for a livelihood, even though most of the nomads and many subsistence farmers were forced into the cities by recurrent droughts in the 1970s and 1980s. Mauritania has extensive deposits of iron ore, which account for almost 50% of total exports. The decline in world demand for this ore, however, has led to cutbacks in production. With the current rises in metal prices, gold and copper mining companies are opening mines in the interior. The nation's coastal waters are among the richest fishing areas in the world, but overexploitation by foreigners threatens this key source of revenue. The country's first deepwater port opened near Nouakchott in 1986. In recent years, drought and economic mismanagement have resulted in a buildup of foreign debt. In March 1999, the government signed an agreement with a joint World Bank-IMF mission on a $54 million enhanced structural adjustment facility (ESAF). The economic objectives have been set for 1999-2002. Privatization remains one of the key issues. Mauritania is unlikely to meet ESAF's annual GDP growth objectives of 4%-5%.

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Demographics

Population  
3,177,388 (July 2006 estimate)[citation needed]
Life expectancy at birth 
53.12 years (2006 estimate)[citation needed]
Ethnic groups 
40% mixed Arab/black; 30% Arab; 30% Black
Religions  
100% Muslim Islam
Languages  
Arabic (official and national; dialects spoken include Hassaniya, Pulaar, Soninke and Wolof)
French
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Culture

Qur'an collection in a library in Chinguetti.
Qur'an collection in a library in Chinguetti.
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See also

Lists
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Notes, references and sources

  1. Named interim leader by the Military Council for Justice and Democracy
  2. "Mauritania and firm row over oil", BBC News, February 6, 2006."Crise ouverte avec la compagnie pétrolière Woodside", Radio France International, February 6, 2006.
  3. Includes the ten largest cities' populations according to the 2000 census.
Sources
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External links

Government
Discussion boards
Slavery
News
Overviews
Directories
History
Tourism
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Locale

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