Flag description: green with a yellow five-pointed star above
a yellow, horizontal crescent; the closed side of the crescent is down;
the crescent, star, and color green are traditional symbols of Islam
Location: Northern Africa, bordering the North Atlantic Ocean,
between Senegal and Western Sahara
Geographic coordinates: 20 00 N, 12 00 W
Climate: desert; constantly hot, dry, dusty
Independence: 28 November 1960 (from France)
Capital City: Nouakchott
Population: 2,667,859 (July 2000 est.)
Head of State: President Col. Maaouya Ould Sid Ahmed TAYA
Area: 1,030,700 sq km
Type of Government: republic
Currency: 1 ouguiya (UM) = 5 khoums
Major peoples: mixed Maur/black 40%, Maur 30%, black 30%
Religion: Muslim 100%
Official Language: Hasaniya Arabic, Wolof
Principal Languages: Hasaniya Arabic, Pular, Soninke, Wolof,
Major Exports: fish and fish products, iron ore, gold
History: Mauritania's first inhabitants were Africans and BERBERS.
The ancient kingdom of Ghana gained control of the area in the 10th century
but lost it to the invading ALMORAVIDS in the 11th century. Europeans
began to set up trading posts on the coast in the 15th century, and the
Beni Hasan conquered Mauritania in the 16th century. France controlled
the area, part of FRENCH WEST AFRICA, from early in the 20th century until
independence in 1960.
Mauritania became embroiled in a war with the Algerian-backed Polisario
Front guerrillas of the Spanish Sahara, now Western Sahara, after it annexed
(1976) the southern third of that former colony. These hostilities
brought on a serious economic crisis and led to the overthrow of the government
of Moktar Ould DADDAH, president since independence, in July 1978.
The Military Committee for National Recovery relinquished the Mauritanian
claim to Western Sahara in 1979; Morocco then claimed the entire
area. After a period of political uncertainty, Muhammed Ould Haidalla
became chief of state in 1980, and his government formally recognized the
Polisario government in 1984. Haidalla was overthrown in December
1984 in a bloodless coup led by Col. Maawiya Ould Taya.
In 1989 a
border incident with Senegal resulted in large-scale ethnic violence and
the displacement of thousands from each country, including the expulsion
of many black Mauritanians to Senegal.
Demands for political reform led to the adoption of a new constitution
in 1991. It provided for a president elected by universal suffrage
and a two-house legislature composed of a directly elected National Assembly
and an indirectly elected Senate. Taya was reelected president in
January 1992, and the country returned to civilian rule later that year
following multiparty legislative elections.