Mauritania -- Geography --
Official name: Islamic Republic of Mauritania
Land population: 3,364,940
Ethnic groups: 40% mixed Moor/Black; 30% Moor; 29% Black; 1% French
Religions: 99.84% Muslim, most of whom are Sunnis, 0.16% Christians, mostly Roman Catholics
Languages: Arabian and French
Mauritania, officially Islamic Republic of Mauritania, is a country in northwest Africa. It is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean on the west, by Senegal on the southwest, by Mali on the east and southeast, by Algeria on the northeast, and by the Morocco-controlled Western Sahara on the northwest. It is named after the Roman province of Mauretania, even though the modern state covers a territory far to the south-west of the old province. The capital and largest city is Nouakchott, located on the Atlantic coast.
Mauritania is divided into 12 regions and one capital district, which in turn are subdivided into 44 departments. The regions and capital district (in alphabetical order) and their capitals are:
At 1,030,700 km?, 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 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 ej Jill, near the city of Zouirat, has an elevation of 1,000 meters (3,280 ft) and is the highest peak.
Approximately three quarters of Mauritania is desert or semidesert. As a result of extended, severe drought, the desert has been expanding since the mid-1960s. To the west, between the ocean and the plateaus, are alternating areas of clayey plains (regs) and sand dunes (ergs), some of which shift from place to place, gradually moved by high winds. The dunes generally increase in size and mobility toward the north.
Mauritania -- History --
From the fifth to seventh century, 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, Moorish 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. 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 gradually absorbed the territories of present-day Mauritania from the Senegal river area and upwards, starting in the late 1800s. 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.
The head of the Presidential Guards took over the president's palace and units of the army surrounded a key state building in the capital Nouakchott on 6 August 2008, a day after 48 lawmakers from the ruling party resigned. The army surrounded the state television building after the president sacked (fired) two senior officers, including the head of the presidential guards. The president, the prime minister and the minister of internal affairs were arrested.
The coup was organized by General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, former chief of staff of the Mauritanian army and head of the Presidential Guard, whom the president had just dismissed.
Mauritania -- Economy --
The Mauritanian economy and business depend a lot on agriculture and mining. Iron ore is one of the main natural resources of Mauritania. The Mauritanian economy and business runs heavily on the export of iron ore, which account for almost 50% of total exports. And this is good for the economy, taking into consideration the recent hike in metal prices and gold prices too.
The fish processing is one of the other sectors that draw money for the Government of Mauritania. The nation's coastal waters are among the richest fishing areas in the world, but overexploitation by foreigners threatens this key source of revenue.
Another important fact about the economy is that oil was discovered in 2009 in the offshore Chinguetti deposit. Although potentially significant for the Mauritanian economy, it remains to be seen how much it will help the country. Mauritania has been described as a "desperately poor desert nation, which straddles the Arab and African worlds and is Africa's newest, if small-scale, oil producer." There may be additional oil reserves inland in the Taoudeni basin, although the harsh environment will make extraction expensive.
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%.
Mauritania -- Culture --
The name of the country is derived from the Latin Mauretania, meaning the land of the Mauri.
The French occupied the country in 1860 in close cooperation with Maur religious leaders. Mauritania became a nation after the destruction of the kingdoms of Fouta Toro and Walo Walo and the Arab-Berber emirats of Trarza, Brakna, Taganet, and Adrar. As a result, the country has two main ethnic groups: black Africans and Arab-Berbers. The black African group includes the Fulani, Soninke, and Bambara. The Maurs include the Arab-Berbers (Beydan) and the black Maurs known as Haratin. The Haratins are black Africans who were enslaved by white Maurs. White and black Maurs consider themselves Arab, whereas black Arabs see themselves as African. The most important common denomination is Sunni Islam.
The Mauritanian cultural idea of beauty encourages consumption of high fat foods such as camel's milk, to ensure that young women attain sufficient size. Overweight individuals would be considered attractive in this culture. Stretch marks are also considered attractive, as are large ankles and bottoms. Obesity is so revered among Mauritania's white Moor Arab population that the young girls are sometimes brutally force-fed a diet of up to 16,000 calories a day to prepare them for marriage, a weight the government has described as "life-threatening". Force-feeding has now been officially outlawed but still takes place in some areas of the country.
The music of Mauritania comes predominantly from the country's largest ethnic group: the Moors. In Moorish society musicians occupy the lowest caste, iggawin. Musicians from this caste used song to praise successful warriors as well as their patrons. Iggawin also had the traditional role of messengers, spreading news between villages. Traditional instruments include an hourglass-shaped four-stringed lute called the tidinit and the woman's kora-like ardin. Percussion instruments include the tbal (a kettle drum) and daghumma (a rattle).
There are three "ways" to play music in the Mauritanian tradition:
Al-bayda - the white way, associated with delicate and refined music, and the Bidan (Moors of North African stock)
Al-kahla - the black way, associated with roots and masculine music, and the Haratin (Moors of Sub-Saharan stock)
L'-gnaydiya - the mixed or "spotted" way
Mauritania -- Government and Politics --
Mauritanian government and politics were under the French rule till 1960 when it became an independent country. Mauritanian government and politics are now under the jurisdiction of a republican constitution of 1991 resembling that of France. Both the Mauritanian government and politics are guided by the Islamic sharia law. Mauritania is now under an authoritative single party regime. The President is elected through a popular vote for a stretch of six years. The President in turn appoints the Prime Minister and the Cabinet. The Mauritanian government and politics are controlled by a bicameral parliament.
The parliament of Mauritania is represented by a 56 seat Senate or the Majlis al-Shuyukh which has its members selected through the municipal leaders for a six year term. There is also a Majlis al-Watani or the National Assembly with 79 members who are elected for 5 year terms by popular voting, in the politics and government of Mauritania.