Mauritania map

Mauritania flag

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 colour 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).

Nationality: Mauritanian(s).

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, French.

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 re-elected president in January 1992, and the country returned to civilian rule later that year following multiparty legislative elections.