Mauritania. African country, home to vast deserts


The Anthem of Mauritania

Mauritania is a country in West Africa, washed by the Atlantic Ocean from the west. The country has an area of 1,030,700 km². Until 1960 Mauritania was a French possession. The official language is Arabic. The administrative-territorial division: 12 regions and one autonomous metropolitan area.

Most of the country is occupied by sandy and stony deserts of Western Sahara. The relief is dominated by vast lowland plains and low plateaus (732 m above sea level). The only river with a permanent watercourse is the border Senegal.

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General Information

The current population of Mauritania (about 4.3 million) is ethnically mixed: three quarters of the population are Arabs and Berbers, cattle farmers and in the south the Negro-African peoples of Toukler, Fulani, Wolof and others who lead a mainly sedentary lifestyle. Islam is proclaimed the state religion. Unlike some other countries of North and West Africa, Mauritania did not experience the flowering of the medieval civilization, but the urban settlements of Chinguetti, Tichit, Walata, which have survived from that period, testify to their former prosperity and the fine art of decorating the facades of buildings. The library of Shingetti contains 2 thousand manuscripts of Arabic scholars. There is a variety of music, singing, dancing arts of the Mauritanian people. Nouakchott, the capital and largest city, was built only 30-40 years ago. The second largest and most important city is the port of Nouadhibou.

In the 4th – mid 11th centuries, the southern part of Mauritania was part of the medieval states of West Africa (Ghana, Tekrour, etc.) and in the northern part there were state formations of the Berber-Sanhage. In the middle of the XI-XII centuries. In the XIII-XIV centuries, southern part of Mauritania was part of the medieval state of Mali. European penetration from the 15th century onwards culminated in Mauritania becoming a French colony (1920). Mauritania was an “overseas territory” since 1946 and a self-determined republic within the French Community since 1958. On November 28, 1960, Mauritania was proclaimed an independent republic.

Climate, flora and fauna

The climate is tropical desert, with average monthly temperatures ranging from 16-20°C in January to 30-32°C in July. Rainfall in most of the country is less than 100 mm per year, except in the south – in the Sahel zone – 200-400 mm.

The vegetation of Mauritania has a corresponding character: sparse shrubs and isolated trees in the south, while in the rest of the territory the scarce greenery appears only for a short time after the rains.

Among the big animals in Mauritania are the oryx and addax antelope, the mountain goat, and among the small predators are the jackal and the fenek fox. Snakes and lizards are numerous, as well as insects and spiders.


The Berbers from North Africa settled in what is now Mauritania in 200 BC. They moved southward in search of pasture, often imposing tribute on local Negro farmers, and pushing those who resisted back to the Senegal River. The emergence of camels from North Africa in this area in the later period of the Roman Empire initiated the caravan trade between the Mediterranean coast and the Niger River basin, which benefited the Berber Sanhaja tribal group. Having seized the important point of the caravan trade Audagost in eastern Mauritania on the way to the salt mines of Sijilmasa to the north, the Berbers came into conflict with the empire of Ghana, which at that time was expanding its borders in the northern direction. The state of Ghana was founded in the 3rd century A.D. and part of its territory was in the modern areas of Auqar, Hod el Gharbi, and Hod el Sharqi of southeastern Mauritania. In 990 Ghana invaded Audagost, forcing the Lemtun and Goddal tribes, which were part of the defeated Sanhaja, to unite in a confederation for self-defense. In the 10th-11th centuries some Sanhaj chiefs converted to Islam and soon became Sunni sympathizers. The descendants of the Islamized Berber nobility, the Almoravids, spread their religious beliefs among ordinary Berbers, created a religious and political movement, and captured the capital of Ghana in 1076. Although the confrontation among the victors again divided the Berber tribes, Ghana was dealt a blow from which it never recovered. In significantly narrowed borders, it survived until 1240.

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In the 11th-12th centuries, the Berbers felt the effects of the Arab conquests in North Africa. In the 15th-17th centuries, after several centuries of relatively peaceful penetration into Mauritanian territory, the Bedouin Hasan tribe subjugated the local Berbers and, mingling with them, began the ethnic group of the Moors (Arab-Berbers). Although some Berbers, such as the Tuareg ancestors, did not want to fall under Arab rule and retreated into the desert, Arabic became the native language for most, and Islam became the new religion. Many black Africans who had been sedentary farmers in the southern parts of the country were subjugated by Berbers during the 11th-16th centuries and became subjects of the new Arab emirates of Trarza, Brakna, and Tagant.

The Portuguese, who appeared off the Atlantic coast in the 15th century, founded a trading fort on Argen Island in 1461. At various times during the 17th-18th centuries, they were replaced by Dutch, English and, finally, French traders. European merchants sought to establish control over the trade of gum arabic from the Sahel.

In the early 19th century, French traders who settled in Senegal repeatedly came into conflict with the Arab emirs, who tried to control and tax the gum arabic trade. In 1855-1858 the governor of Senegal, Louis Federbe, led a French campaign against the Emirate of Trarza. In the 19th century, French officers moved north from Senegal to explore the interior of the desert. In the early 1900s, a detachment of French under the command of Xavier Coppolani invaded these areas to protect the interests of French traders and began to govern them as part of the French colony of Senegal. In 1904 these territories were withdrawn from Senegal and in 1920 were incorporated into French West Africa. However, until 1957 their capital was still Saint-Louis in Senegal. The French had great difficulty in managing a nomadic population whose tribal strife and Arab-Berber rivalry continued. Administrative difficulties were also exacerbated by tensions between the nomadic and sedentary populations. Even after World War II, some areas continued to be administered by the military administration.

In 1946 Mauritania was granted the right to form a territorial assembly and to be represented in the French parliament. The first political organizations began to emerge, but they were not yet widespread. In 1958, Mauritania became part of the French Community under the name of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, and on November 28, 1960, became an independent state. Moktar Ould Daddah became Mauritania’s first prime minister and then president. Relying initially on traditional elites and France, he modeled the radical regime of Guinea by creating a mass political party and eventually concentrating all power in his hands. Moktar Ould Daddah took Mauritania out of the franc zone and proclaimed Arabic as the state language, which immediately provoked resistance from southerners who feared the domination of the majority Moors.

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In 1976 an agreement was reached to place the colonial possession of Spain, Western Sahara (formerly the Spanish Sahara), under the temporary administration of Morocco and Mauritania. However, this was followed by an unpopular war with the Frente Polisario, a national liberation movement of Western Sahara aided by Algeria, among the Mauritanians.

In July 1978, in a bloodless military coup, the army overthrew Moctar Ould Daddou. In the immediate aftermath, the constitution was suspended, the government, parliament, and social organizations were dissolved, and power was taken over by the Military Committee for National Revival (Comité militaire national de renouveau, CMNR). Lieutenant Colonel Mustafa Ould Mohammed Salek, its leader, took over as president of the country. POLISARIO declared an end to the war with Mauritania, but the Moroccan leadership insisted that the Mauritanians continue to fight for their part of Western Sahara.

The next few years were marked by frequent changes of leaders in the military regime. Relations between the Negro and the Moors remained tense. Attempts by individual members of the Military Committee to stage a new military coup, as well as disagreements with Morocco over the question of Western Sahara, were a constant source of internal political instability.

For a brief period in 1979 Mustafa Ould Mohammed Salek established a regime of personal power and reconstituted under a new name the Military Committee for National Revival, which he continued to lead after his resignation. He was soon ousted by Lieutenant Colonel Muhammad Luli, who in turn was forced to relinquish power in 1980 in favor of Lieutenant Colonel Muhammad Khuna Ould Heydallah. The latter, as prime minister, declared in July 1979 the final renunciation of Mauritania’s claim to the territory of Western Sahara. In 1981 Mohammed Houna Ould Heidallah renounced his intention to form a civilian government and adopt a new constitution.

In 1984, in a bloodless coup, Lieutenant Colonel Maouya Ould Sidi Ahmed Tayyah, who had been prime minister several times under Mohammed Houna Ould Heidallah, seized power in the country. Overall, Maouya Ould Sidi Ahmed Tayyah was able to restore internal stability, initiate economic reforms, and take steps to democratize the political system.

Ethnic riots continued in Mauritania until the late 1980s, and the border dispute with Senegal in 1989 provoked a wave of attacks on black Mauritanians and Senegalese citizens and the expulsion of the latter from the country. Disagreement over the demarcation of the Mauritanian-Senegalese border and the repatriation of refugees led to a temporary suspension of diplomatic and economic relations, which were restored in 1992.

A national referendum held in 1991 adopted a new constitution introducing a multi-party system. Maouye Ould Sidi Ahmed Tayyah’s victory in the 1992 presidential election was marred by riots and accusations of vote-rigging. The pro-government Republican Social Democratic Party (RSDP) won an overwhelming majority of seats in the 1992 and 1996 National Assembly elections, as well as in the 1992, 1994, and 1996 Senate elections.

The main events since the adoption of the new constitution have been boycotts of the elections by opposition parties claiming that the ruling party had a unilateral advantage in electoral campaigns, arrests of opposition group members, and clashes over ethnic conflicts. Despite the Mauritanian government’s diverse ethnic composition and its formal implementation of some democratic reforms under the new constitution, international human rights observers in the 1990s continued to note violations of the rights of the black minority population and members of opposition organizations.

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Mauritania is a developing country with a relatively low standard of living compared to other countries in the region.

During the colonial period, camel farming, fishing, and subsistence agriculture were the main occupations of the population. Iron ore deposits were discovered in the 1960s, and mining has been the mainstay of the Mauritanian economy ever since.

Agriculture in Mauritania is held back by an arid climate. The oases grow dates and grain crops. In the 1970s, the Sahel region was plagued by drought, affecting more than half of the region’s countries and 200 million people. In Mauritania, the drought killed crops and caused famine. The second blow of the drought was in 1982-1984. Soon an irrigation system was built, which has allowed to somewhat overcome the effects of drought. Irrigated 49 thousand hectares of land.


sahara desert in mauritania

Mauritania is a large African country, situated in the north-western part of the continent on the Atlantic coast. It covers an area of 1030700 sq km and has a population of approximately 3 200 000 inhabitants, of which about 900 000 live in the capital city of Nouakchott. The country borders Western Sahara, Algeria, Mali and Senegal.

fish market mauritania africa

If you look at a map of Africa, you can clearly see how equal its borders are, similar to a geometric figure. The reason is that unlike the countries of Europe, whose borders follow natural earthly forms like mountains or rivers, the borders of Mauritania were drawn in the distant colonial past and do not follow the landforms and natural features. Mauritania is a former French colony. Today French is the official language for the country. Other languages are Arabic, Wolof, Tucolor, and Hasania. Today Mauritania is inhabited mostly by descendants of the Berbers and more precisely the Moors, from which the country gets its name, but there is also a smaller number of dark-skinned people. The population of Mauritania is homogeneous in terms of religious affiliation. It is almost entirely Muslim.

The country is not a popular tourist destination, although it has always been considered the birthplace of the Berber tribe of Moors, who have left their cultural imprint on much of North Africa and parts of Mediterranean Europe, more specifically southern Spain. In fact, there are some things in Mauritania that are really worth visiting. Of note here is Ouadane. It is a city founded in the 12th century, which flourished for five centuries. Today, however, the only reminders of its rich past are the thick stone walls that remain of residential buildings, public buildings and other larger structures. Ouadane reached its peak in the 17th century when the locals began to trade with Europeans who arrived during this period mainly from Portugal. Gradually, however, trade became increasingly concentrated in the coastal areas of the country and more precisely in the capital. Mauritania has vast and endless beaches, on which, unfortunately, you do not see any tourists. Only here and there, mainly near the capital, Nouakchott, can you see children from nearby areas playing in the sand or swimming in the sea. The coastal sand imperceptibly merges with the desert sand of the Sahara. Here the largest desert in the world meets the Atlantic Ocean. Mauritania is one of the countries located on the route of the most famous rally in the world – the Paris-Dakar Rally.

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Mauritania africa

The country has a very hot, dry and sunny tropical climate. A northern tropical circle crosses its northern part. The cold Canary Current, which runs along the coast of Mauritania, causes scanty rainfall and year-round dry weather. Almost all of the territory is occupied by dry and harsh deserts. From the coast to the interior of the country, the scenery is monotonous – golden orange sand dunes stretch as far as the eye can see, and the only thing that breaks the uniformity is some desert bush that has somehow managed to survive. The only ones that have been able to adapt unproblematically here are the camels, for which drought is not a problem. Vegetation is almost completely absent in this part of the country. The difference between day and night temperatures here is enormous. Daytime temperatures are regularly above 40 ° C, even in the shade, and at night the temperature drops even below 10 ° C. Precipitation is very scarce.

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They fall mostly in the southern coastal areas of the country between July and September. Almost a third of the population of this desert country lives in the capital city of Nouakchott. The city is located on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. The climate here is much more pleasant compared to its hinterland. When the desert areas get hot under the scorching sun and people are tormented in 40 degree heat, near the coast the temperature varies between 28 and 34° C throughout the year. Although it is located on the ocean, Nouakchott is a classic desert city. Its streets are dusty and sandy. There is almost no vegetation. Just the dry and hot weather makes it impossible for almost any plants to develop. Infrastructure is poor because Mauritania is a poor country and does not have the means to maintain it. So where the roads are, their pavement is usually ruined. When a car passes, clouds of dust rise up after it. In some ways, the greatest shortcomings of the Mauritanian capital make it the most colorful and strange for visitors coming from rich and orderly countries. And the local markets are probably the place where one European can see the most impressive and memorable things. On small stalls, many of them restrained by improvised means, food is sold without any necessary conditions for it. One can see when even raw meat is sold, hung just like that by some trader, and flies and other insects sit quietly on it and no one bothers about it. The buildings in Nouakchott are low, bright, mostly white with flat roofs. Traffic on the streets is rather chaotic, and rules are often not enforced. In many parts of Nouakchott, the roads are not even paved. Cars move straight through the sand. The poorest neighborhoods are in the outskirts. Here goats and other farm animals walk the streets, and people in the poorest areas do not even live in houses, but in huts. The most luxurious is the central part of the Mauritanian capital. Many government buildings, embassies, and other important institutions are located here. There is more vegetation in this part of town because small gardens are irrigated. The buildings are much neater and spruced up. Most of the hotels in Mauritania are located here. Many of them have their own swimming pool, which for such a poor country seems like a great luxury.

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Poverty in Mauritania is visible everywhere and affects all areas of social life. Health care is at an extremely low level. Not only are there no professionals, but also no conditions in which they can work. This is true even for cities such as the nation’s capital. Education is also at a very low level. The reason again is the lack of funds. Because of extreme poverty, the local population has no access to the Internet, and in the 21st century this is simply detrimental and further separates Mauritania from the rest of the world. Internet in Mauritania is the most expensive commodity that very few people have access to. The country relies entirely on fishing and mining. The country’s coastal waters are rich in fish. It is Mauritania’s main export commodity. Besides fishing, another important industry is the mining of iron ore, of which the country is very rich. This iron ore is the reason for the blood-red color of the low mountains in northern Mauritania. It is also home to the highest part of the country, which rises only 910 meters, the peak of Kedied Ijil. This vast country has very few places that are suitable for the development of agriculture. The state does not earn particularly from this sector, and agricultural products other than the monotonous in assortment are also few in number. Mostly heat-loving and unpretentious plants are grown, such as peanuts, pulses and date palms. Mauritania’s most fertile land is located in the southernmost part of the country, where the climate is slightly more humid and the land is irrigated by the high-water river Senegal, which is one of the few natural borders of Mauritania. Although the country is not very far from Europe and is close to some of the more developed and advanced African countries like Morocco and Algeria, it has a somewhat peripheral location. The fact that nature, though beautiful, has not been very generous in terms of fertility in any way helps the local population. Long periods of drought, vast desert areas, illiterate population, health and education problems, poor infrastructure are all factors that hinder the economy of Mauritania. Today, the country is on the list of the poorest and least developed countries in the world. This does not help at all for the development of tourism in Mauritania. Moreover, for tourists in this country, there would always be a risk from terrorism. Indeed, the country has some features which could be used in its favor, such as the fact that it is considered the cradle of Berber civilization, but it will be a long time before things are in favor of Mauritania. Weak publicity as well as a lack of developed tourist infrastructure are the main obstacles. In the future, the country could use its proximity to Europe and the fact that Europe is the largest tourist market in the world. Tourists, however, will go to Mauritania when the necessary base with the right quality, which accommodate and serve them, as well as the necessary infrastructure and security, which can ensure their stay in the country.

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