REPUBLIC of MAURITANIA
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Location: northwestern Africa,
bordering the North Atlantic Ocean, between Senegal and Western
Area: 1,030,700 sq km
Coastline: 754 km
lowest point: Sebkha de Ndrhamcha -5 m
highest point: Kediet Ijill 915 m
Administrative divisions: 12 regions and one capital
district: Tiris Zemmour,
Adrar , Hodh ech Chargui , Tagant, Hodh el Gharbi, Dakhlet
Nouadhibou , Inchiri,
Trarza , Brakna , Gorgol, Guidimaka, Nouakchott Area
Official language: Arabic
National languages: Wolof, Pulaar, Fulfulde, Soninke,
Age structure: 0-14 years: 46%
15-64 years: 52%
65 years and over: 2%
Life expectancy: total population: 70.61 years
male: 59 years
female: 60 years (2002 est.)
Literacy: total population: 51.2 %(2000)
Internet domain: .mr
2- Terrain, Geography
4- Nature, Environment
7- Arts and culture
12- Human Rights
Mauritania lies in
northwestern Africa, bordered by the Atlantic Ocean and the Western
Sahara to the west, Senegal to the south-west, Mali to the east and
to the north-east. The capital and largest city is
Its Atlantic Ocean coastline extends for 754km from the delta of the
Sénégal River northward to the Cap Blanc Peninsula. It has an area
of 1,030,700 sq km and a population of 3,069,000.
Mauritania is divided into 12
regions and one capital district, which in turn are
subdivided into 44 departments.
2- Terrain, Geography:
There are three distinct
geographic regions in Mauritania: a narrow belt along the Sénégal
valley in the south; north of this valley, a broad east-west
savannah characterized by vast sand plains and fixed dunes held in
place by sparse grass and scrub trees; and a large northern arid
region that merges into of the Sahara Desert. There are 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 generally is flat desert or semidesert.
The plateaus are cut by wadis (dry riverbeds), where the occasional
floodwaters disappear into the few permanent drainage basins called
To the west, between the ocean and the plateaus, are alternating
areas of plains (regs) and sand dunes (ergs), some of which are
shifted from place to place by high winds. The dunes generally
increase in size and mobility toward the north.
The sand varies in color and composition: fixed sand dunes are
composed of coarse, brown sand, while shifting dunes consist of
fine, reddish-colored sand that can be carried by the wind. Plateaus
generally are covered with heavier blue, gray, and black sands that
form a crusty surface over layers of soft, loose sand.
The climate is hot, dry and
dusty, with temperatures around 40C but slightly more moderate along
coast. Nights can get freezing cold in the desert. In the valley of
the Sénégal River where most of the crops are grown, 6-7 months of
the year are hot.
The rainy season is short (hivernage), from July to September, with
average annual precipitation from 500 to 600 millimeters in the far
south, 0 to 100 millimeters in the northern two-thirds of the
country. The duration of the rainy season diminishes progressively
from south to north. Because of opposition between the wet
southwesterlies and the hot dry desert wind (the harmattan), rains
often come in stormy showers or squalls
4- Nature environment
Mauritania has four
distinct ecological regions: the Saharan zone, the Sahelian zone,
the Sénégal River Valley, and the Coastal zone.
The Saharan zone makes up the northern two-thirds of the country.
Some mountainous areas with a water source support small-leafed and
spiny plants and scrub grasses suitable for camels. After a rain,
dunes often sprout sparse vegetation that grows from the seeds of
dormant desert plants. Cultivation is limited to oases, where date
palms are used to shade other crops from the sun.
Rain usually falls between July and September. Often, isolated
storms drop large amounts of water in short periods of time.
Sometimes several years may pass without any rain.
Towns of the Sahara:
The Sahelian zone extends south of the Saharan zone to within
approximately thirty kilometers of the Sénégal River. In the
northern Sahel, dunes are covered with scrub grasses and spiny
acacia trees. Herds of cattle, sheep, and goats graze there. Farther
south there is greater rainfall and more vegetation. Large date palm
plantations are found on the Tagant Plateau, and savanna grasses,
brushwood, and balsam cover fixed dunes. Occasional baobab and
palmyra palm trees dot the savanna grasslands of the southern Sahel.
The steppes in the south-central Sahel are frequented by gazelle,
ostrich, warthog, panther, hyena and lynx. Crocodiles are found in
the permanent streams.
By the late 1980s, desertification in the Sahelian zone drove
people southward toward the Sénégal River valley.
The Sénégal River is the only permanent river between southern
Morocco and central Sénégal. Before
the droughts of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, the fertile river
valley ranged from sixteen to thirty kilometers north of the river.
By the late 1980s, desertification had reached the northern bank of
the river. Almost all
of the valley's population engages in agriculture or fishing along
the River and its main tributaries--the Karakoro, the Gorgol, and
the Garfa. This area supplies most of the country's agricultural
Ocean winds produce a humid but temperate climate along the coastal
zone. High surf and shifting sand banks characterize the entire
length of the shoreline. The Ras Nouadhibou (Cap Blanc) peninsula,
which forms Dakhlet Nouadhibou (formerly Lévrier Bay) to the east,
is one of the largest natural harbors on the west coast of Africa.
Fifty kilometers southeast of Ras Nouadhibou is Arguin, and the
Banc d’Arguin National Park.
By the late 1980s, the constant westward advance of sand dunes was
threatening to cover wells, villages, and roads. The government
secured international help to stabilize the dune field around
Nouakchott, and planted 250,000 palm trees to create a barrier
against the desert.
The majority of the
population is Maures, of mixed Arab-Berber and Sudanic black
The other ethnic groups are black African.
The Arab-Berber Maure population is composed of peoples of North
African origins, who speak various dialects of Hassaniya Arabic.
This dialect is derived from the Bedouin Arabic spoken by the Bani
Hassan tribe, who extended their authority over most of the
Mauritanian Sahara between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries.
It uses a vocabulary of both Arabic and Berber words. Most of the
members of the aristocratic castes also know literary Arabic. The
Maure population is concentrated in the north of the country, most
are nomadic or semi-nomadic.
Multiracism is provided by groups of African ancestry: Tukulor
(Toucouleur), who live in the
River valley; Pulaar and Fulani, who are dispersed throughout the
south; Soninke (Sarakole), in the extreme south; and Wolof (Oulof),
in coastal southwestern Mauritania, and the Bambara. Each of the
ethnic groups retains its own language.
Maure society traditionally is hierarchical divided. At the head of
the socioeconomic structure were the noble castes, composed Arab
warriors, and Berber marabouts, scholars of the Qur'an who perform
the functions traditionally associated with Islam. The bulk of the
of the white Maure population were vassals who received protection
from the warriors or marabouts in return for tribute.
Islamic education is an
important part of life in the nomadic communities and in settled
villages in Mauritania. Both boys and girls receive traditional
education in the local Qur'anic schools operated by the marabouts.
Centers of advanced Islamic learning developed wherever a renowned
marabout lived and taught. In these centers, students learned
grammar and logic, as well as traditional religious subjects. Many
of the centers developed and still hold sizable collections of rare
and important manuscripts.
The French colonial
administration established French public schools in the sedentary
communities in the Senegal River Valley. They established a teacher
training school at Boutilimit in 1950, and secondary school in Rosso
also began training teachers in 1957. Another teacher training
school was opened in Nouakchott in 1964.
French public schools were concentrated in the south, and black
Africans enrolled in large numbers. As a result, blacks became the
better educated and held most technical, professional, and
diplomatic posts at the time of independence.
The Institute of Islamic Studies was founded in 1955 at Boutilimit
and provided instruction in traditional Islamic subjects and
teaching methods. It was relocated to Nouakchott in 1960, where it
continued to draw upon the manuscript collection built by the
marabouts of Boutilimit as well as other libraries of traditional
Islamic literature in Chinguetti, Kaédi, Mederdra, Oualata (Walata),
In the early 1980s, instruction in Pulaar, Azayr (Soninké), and
Wolof was introduced into the primary school curriculum, and Arabic
was emphasized at all levels.
School attendance is
compulsory to age 14, but only a small minority of children benefit
from it. By 1985, only 35 percent of primary-school-age children
were enrolled in school, but only about 4 to 10 percent of
secondary-school-age children were enrolled.
The independent government viewed secular education as a necessary
step toward the development of a modern economy and as one of the
main elements in promoting national unity. In the 1986 it created
the State Secretariat of Culture, Information, and
Telecommunications to launch a literacy campaign. In 1987, with
assistance form the World Bank, Mauritania's education system was
able to dedicate special attention to vocational training in
important national industries, such as water engineering and
The University of Nouakchott (1981) has faculties of letters
and human sciences and of law and economics. The Institut
Mauritanien de Recherche Scientifique (IRMS), and the national
library are in the capital, and there are traditional local
libraries in other urban centers.
7- Arts and crafts
Artistic activity in
Mauritania following colonial times has centered on strong craft
traditions. Goldsmithing is a fine art. Metalwork objects produced
are daggers, anklets, bracelets, caskets, chests, teapots. Carved
wood and silver chests are made in Mederdra.
Weaving techniques are similar to those in southern
Carpets, cushions, brightly colored rugs are made of camel or goat
hair. In the south there are wood carving traditions.
In the early 1960s the government created the Bureau de l’Artisanat
to help commercialize the crafts as a means of income to the
The Festival des Musiques
Nomades takes place annually in Nouakchott .
The term griot is 17th
century French rendering of a local West African term: (Arabic iggiw,
Wolof gewel, Fulfulde gawlo, Soninke jaare) that refers to an
artisan class of hereditary professional musicians who hand down
their skills from father to son. They have an original musical
tradition with Arab-Berber and western Sudanic influences. Certain
instruments are exclusive to griots.
Traditionally the griots were attendants to noble warriors. They
defended the honor of their patrons, and their music and poetry were
highly regarded forms of entertainment.
Griots functioned as musicians, historians, genealogists of their
Mauritania has been an
Islamic republic since independence in 1960. The Constitutional
Charter of 1985 declares Islam the state religion and sharia the law
of the land. Mauritanians are predominantly Sunni Muslims. They
adhere to the Maliki rite, one of the four Sunni schools of
Most Maures belong to the
Qadiriya order. The
Tukulor and some of the Tagant tribes belong to the
Tijaniya order. Many tariqas
(mystical sects) flow from these orders.
Islam first spread southward into western Africa with the movement
of Muslim traders and craftsmen, and later with the founders of
Islamic brotherhoods. By the nineteenth century religious orders or
brotherhoods attempted to make religion a force for expanding
identities and loyalties beyond the limits of kinship. In recent
decades, these orders have opposed tribalism and have been an
indispensable element in the growth of nationalist sentiment.
Marabout is a general title that applies to any religious leader or
to any person who performs the functions traditionally associated
with Islam. They are usually are associated with a brotherhood and,
like the leaders of the brotherhoods, are believed to possess baraka.
The functions of a marabout include teaching and promoting Islamic
culture; leading religious recitations (including chants in some
cases) in community prayer; and performing rites connected with
curing the ill, preventing misfortune, and soothsaying. Because
illness is believed to have spiritual as well as physiological
causes, the marabout is called upon to help cure the sick. The
marabout also makes, uses, and sells amulets and talismans that are
believed to have mystical powers to protect their bearer from
sickness, injury, and other misfortune.
Other functions of the marabout include negotiation, mediation, and
activities related to peacekeeping; the granting of protection and
asylum to individuals; and the acting as advisers and agents of
important tribal leaders.
Iron mining began by a European consortium, Miferma, in 1963 . The
company was nationalized in 1974 and was renamed Cominor (Complexe
Minier du Nord). The iron ore deposits of Mount Ijill have nearly
been exhausted, and exploitation of reserves at Guelbs began in
Exploitation of copper deposits in Akjoujt was started by a
US-European consortium, Somima (Société Minière de Mauritanie), in
1969. Somima was nationalized in 1975.
Prospecting for tungsten, petroleum, uranium and iron is carried out
be a state-owned company which was opened to private investment in
1978. Titanium and phosphate reserves have been identified. There
are substantial gypsum deposits near Nouakchott; most of the annual
production is exported to Senegal.
two-thirds of the work force. Millet sorghum, beans, yams, corn
(maize), and cotton, and watermelons are grown along the Senegal
River, dates are grown in oases.
In agriculture the aim of successive Mauritanian governments has
been to increase the amount of irrigated land in the Sénégal River
valley and to increase the production of rice. Between the years of
1981 and 1983 a 45 metre high arch dam was constructed at the Gorgol-Noir,
a tributary of the Sénégal River, to help improve the irrigation
Mauritania’s waters among
richest in world. The most valuable varieties of fish in its
Atlantic waters are cod, sole, octopus, squid, lobster, and shrimp.
In 1979 Mauritania initiated its New Fisheries Policy and
established a 200-nautical-mile Exclusive Economic Zone. The New
Fisheries Policy had three objectives: the formation of
Mauritanian-controlled joint ventures, the creation of a national
fishing fleet, and the establishment of a Mauritanian-controlled
fish processing industry at
Nouadhibou where fish are
canned, frozen, or processed as fish flour. Several tons each year
are dried and exported to other African countries.
In 1986, estimates of the country's potential annual marine
resources ranged between 400,000 and 700,000 tons.
Mauritanians historically had done little fishing. The majority
Maure population consumed little fish, and only the small Imraguen
ethnic group fished for subsistence.
Approved by referendum in
Slavery is illegal and was
abolished by law in 1981; efforts to eliminate the vestiges and
consequences of slavery, goals to which both the government and
major opposition parties are committed have begun to bear fruit.
Several Mauritanian non-governmental organizations including SOS
Esclaves, and Association Mauritanienne des Droits de l’Homme (AMDH),
were officially legalized by the authorities in June 2005. They and
other organizations had been classified as illegal and had operated
with great difficulty in Mauritania.
Slavery-related practices persisted most strongly in the east and
southeast, where education levels were generally lower and there was
a greater need for manual labor in work such as herding livestock
and tending fields.
constitution of Mauritania
guarantees equality before the law and full rights of political
participation for women, Article 10 [Individual Freedom, Rule of
Law]. Women have legal rights to property and child custody, and,
among the more modern and urbanized population, these rights are
The law provides that men and women receive equal pay for equal
work. While not universally applied in practice, the civil service
and the state mining company, observed this law. In the modern wage
sector, women receive family benefits, including 3 months of
In 1987, President Taya named three women to cabinet-level posts to
"correct countless managerial mistakes committed in the past."
Khadijatou Bint Ahmed of Boutilimit was appointed minister of mines
and industries. Lalla Mariam Bint Moulaye was appointed associate
director of the presidential cabinet, and N'Deye Tabar Fall became
general secretary of the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs.
Female genital mutilation is practiced among all ethnic groups,
often performed on the 7th day after birth. The Government and
international organizations developed campaigns that focus on
eradicating the practice of FGM in hospitals and by midwives, and
educating the populations on the health risks of the practice. The
High Islamic Council of Mauritania, the Islamic Scholar Association,
and the National Forum for Women's Rights launched campaigns that
emphasized that FGM is not a religious requirement.
The Secretariat for Women's Affairs the government, women’s groups
national and international NGO’s organize seminars and workshops
regularly to publicize women's rights and improve the status of
There is only one major
modern hospital in Nouakchott and 25 other regional health centers.
Free medical services are available to the poor. Traditional
medicine flourishes. Though Mauritania ranks among the world’s
thirty poorest countries, its social welfare system, the National
Social Insurance Fund, provides disability payments for industrial
accidents and occupational diseases, maternity benefits and old-age
Mauritania is a favorite
destination for adventurers: amateur astronomers study the skies,
students of history can leaf through 1000-year-old books,
archaeologists dig for past civilization, and fishermen enjoy the
sandy beaches and warm sun. It is a destination for car racing,
gliding, and parasailing.
Banc d’Arguin National Park
is one of the world’s best places for birdwatching. It was inscribed
as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1989.
The Dictionary of Art, 1996. v 20 p 861-862.
The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 2001. Second
edition, v10, p427.
The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, Micropaedia, 2007. Fifteenth
edition, v 7, p957.
U.S. Library of Congress
African Bird Club