Mohamed Ould Ghazouani
Mohammed Ould Bilal
|Independence|| From France
28 November 1960
Islamic Republic of Mauritania is a sovereign state in Northwest Africa. It is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the west, Western Sahara to the north and northwest, Algeria to the northeast, Mali to the east and southeast, and Senegal to the southwest. Mauritania is the eleventh largest country in Africa, and 90 percent of its territory is situated in the Sahara. Most of its population of 4.4 million lives in the temperate south of the country, with roughly one third concentrated in the capital and largest city, Nouakchott, located on the Atlantic coast.
The country's name derives from the ancient Berber kingdom of Mauretania, located in present-day Morocco and Algeria. Berbers occupied what is now Mauritania beginning in the third century AD. Arabs conquered the area in the eighth century, bringing Islam, Arab culture, and the Arabic language. In the late 19th century, Mauritania was colonized by France as part of French West Africa. It achieved independence in 1960, but has since experienced recurrent coups and periods of military dictatorship. The most recent coup, in 2008, was led by General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, who won subsequent presidential elections in 2009 and 2014. He was succeeded by Mohamed Ould Ghazouani following the 2019 elections, which were considered Mauritania's first peaceful transition of power since independence.
Mauritania is culturally and politically part of the Arab world: it is a member of the Arab League and Arabic is the sole official language. Reflecting its colonial heritage, French is widely spoken and serves as a lingua franca. The official religion is Islam, and almost all inhabitants are Sunni Muslims. Despite its prevailing Arab identity, Mauritanian society is multiethnic: the Bidhan, or so-called "white moors", make up 30 percent of the population, while the Haratin, or so-called "black moors", comprise 40 percent. Both groups reflect a fusion of Arab-Berber ethnicity, language, and culture. The remaining 30 percent of the population is made up of various sub-Saharan ethnic groups.
Despite an abundance of natural resources, including iron ore and petroleum, Mauritania remains poor; its economy is based primarily on agriculture, livestock, and fishing. Mauritania is known for its poor human rights record, most notably the continued practice of slavery, a result of a historical caste system between the Bidhan and Haratin. It was the last country in the world to abolish slavery, in 1981, and criminalized it only in 2007.