|Islamic Republic of Mauritania
|Motto: شرف إخاء عدل (Arabic)
"Honor, Fraternity, Justice"
|Anthem: National anthem of Mauritania|
and largest city
|Recognised national languages|
|-||President||Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz|
|-||Prime Minister||Yahya Ould Hademine|
|-||Lower house||National Assembly|
|-||from France||28 November 1960|
|-||Current Constitution of Mauritania||12 July 1991|
|-||Total||1,030,700 km2 (29th)
397,954 sq mi
|GDP (PPP)||2012 estimate|
|GDP (nominal)||2012 estimate|
|HDI (2013)|| 0.487
low · 161st
|-||Summer (DST)||not observed (UTC+0)|
|Drives on the||right|
|ISO 3166 code||MR|
|a.||According to Article 6 of the Constitution: "The national languages are Arabic, Pulaar, Soninke, and Wolof; the official language is Arabic."|
|b.||Not recognized internationally (see main article).|
|This article needs additional citations for verification. (October 2014)|
Mauritania i// (Arabic: موريتانيا Mūrītānyā; Berber: Muritanya or Agawej; Wolof: Gànnaar; Soninke: Murutaane; Pulaar: Moritani), officially the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, is a country in the Maghreb region of western North Africa. It is the eleventh largest country in Africa, and is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the west, by Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara in the north, by Algeria in the northeast, by Mali in the east and southeast, and by Senegal in the southwest.
The country derives its name from the ancient Berber Kingdom of Mauretania, which existed from the 3rd century BC to the 7th century AD, in the far north of modern-day Morocco. Ninety percent of Mauritania's land is within the Sahara Desert and subsequently the population is concentrated in the south, where precipitation is slightly higher than the rest of the country. The capital and largest city of Mauritania is Nouakchott, located on the Atlantic coast, which is home to around one-third of the country's 3.5 million people. The government of Mauritania was overthrown on 6 August 2008, in a military coup d'état led by General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz. On 16 April 2009, General Aziz resigned from the military to run for president in the 19 July elections, which he won.
About 20% of Mauritanians live on less than US$1.25 per day. Slavery in Mauritania has been called a major human rights issue, with over 150,000 people – proportionally the highest for any country – being enslaved against their will, especially enemies of the government. Higher estimates suggest 10% to 20% of the population (340,000 to 680,000 people) is enslaved. Additional human rights concerns in Mauritania include female genital mutilation and child labour.
- 1 History
- 2 Politics and recent history
- 3 Society
- 4 Administrative divisions
- 5 Geography
- 6 Economy
- 7 Human rights
- 8 Culture
- 9 See also
- 10 Notes
- 11 References
- 12 Further reading
- 13 External links
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. Many of the Berber tribes claimed Yemeni (and sometimes other Arab) origins. There is little evidence to support such claims, but a 2000 DNA study of Yemeni people suggested there might be some ancient connection between the peoples.
Other peoples also migrated south past the Sahara to West Africa. In 1076, Moorish Islamic warrior monks (Almoravid or Al Murabitun) attacked and conquered the large area of the ancient Ghana Empire. Over the next 500 years, Arabs overcame fierce resistance from the local population (Berber and non-Berber alike) to dominate Mauritania.
The Mauritanian Thirty-Year War (1644–74) was the unsuccessful final effort of the peoples to repel the Yemeni Maqil Arab invaders. The invaders were led by the Beni Hassan tribe. The descendants of the Beni Hassan warriors became the upper stratum of Moorish society. Hassaniya, a Berber-influenced Arabic dialect that derives its name from the Beni Hassan, became the dominant language among the largely nomadic population.
Berbers retained a niche influence by producing the majority of the region's marabouts: those who preserve and teach Islamic tradition. The sub-Saharan black population was dominated by the other two ethnicities.
Imperial France gradually absorbed the territories of present-day Mauritania from the Senegal river area and upwards, starting in the late 19th century. In 1901, Xavier Coppolani took charge of the imperial mission. Through a combination of strategic alliances with Zawiya tribes, and military pressure on the Hassane warrior nomads, he managed to extend French rule over the Mauritanian emirates. Trarza, Brakna and Tagant quickly submitted to treaties with the colonial power (1903–04), but the northern emirate of Adrar held out longer, aided by the anti-colonial rebellion (or jihad) of shaykh Maa al-Aynayn. Adrar was finally defeated militarily in 1912, and incorporated into the territory of Mauritania, which had been drawn up and planned in 1904. Mauritania was part of French West Africa from 1920.
French rule brought legal prohibitions against slavery and an end to inter-clan warfare. During the colonial period, 90% of the population remained nomadic. 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.
After gaining independence, larger numbers of indigenous Sub-Saharan African peoples (Haalpulaar, Soninke, and Wolof) entered Mauritania, moving into the area north of the Senegal River. Educated in French language and customs, many of these recent arrivals became clerks, soldiers, and administrators in the new state. This occurred as France militarily suppressed the most intransigent Hassane tribes of the Moorish north. This changed the former balance of power, and new conflicts arose between the southern populations and Moors. Between these groups stood the Haratin, a very large population of Arabized slaves of sub-Saharan African origins, who lived within Moorish society, integrated into a low-caste social position.
Modern-day slavery is still a common practice in Mauritania. According to some estimates, up to 600,000 Mauritanians, or 20% of the population, are still enslaved. A 2012 CNN report, "Slavery's Last Stronghold," by John D. Sutter, describes and documents the ongoing slave-owning cultures. This social discrimination is applied chiefly against the "black Moors" (Haratin) in the northern part of the country, where tribal elites among "white Moors" (Beidane) hold sway. Low-caste groups within the sub-Saharan African ethnic groups of the south are also sometimes enslaved.
The great Sahel droughts of the early 1970s caused massive devastation in Mauritania, exacerbating problems of poverty and conflict. The Moors reacted to changing circumstances, and to Arab nationalist calls from abroad, by increasing pressure to Arabize many aspects of Mauritanian life, such as law and language. A schism developed between Moors who consider Mauritania to be an Arab country and others who seek a dominant role for the non-Moorish peoples. Various models for maintaining the country's cultural diversity being suggested, but none successfully implemented.
This ethnic discord was evident during inter-communal violence that broke out in April 1989 (the "1989 Events" and "Mauritania–Senegal Border War"), but has since subsided. Mauritania expelled some 70,000 sub-Saharan African Mauritanians in the late 1980s. Ethnic tensions and the sensitive issue of slavery – past and, in some areas, present – are still powerful themes in the country's political debate. A significant number from all groups seek a more diverse, pluralistic society.
Issue of Western Sahara
Mauritania, along with Morocco, annexed the territory of Western Sahara in 1976, with Mauritania taking the lower one-third at the request of Spain, a former imperial power. After several military losses to the Polisario – heavily armed and supported by Algeria, the local hegemon and rival to Morocco – Mauritania withdrew in 1979. Its claims were taken over by Morocco.
Due to economic weakness, Mauritania has been a negligible player in the territorial dispute, with its official position being that it wishes for an expedient solution that is mutually agreeable to all parties. While most of Western Sahara has been occupied by Morocco, the UN still considers the Western Sahara a territory that needs to express its wishes with respect to statehood. A referendum is still supposed to be held sometime in the future, under UN auspices, to determine whether or not the indigenous Sahrawis wish to be independent, as the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, or to be part of Morocco. The Moroccan government has thus far blocked such a referendum.
Ould Daddah era (1960–78)
Mauritania became an independent nation in November, 1960. In 1964 President Moktar Ould Daddah, originally installed by the French, formalized Mauritania as a one-party state with a new constitution, setting up an authoritarian presidential regime. Daddah's own Parti du Peuple Mauritanien (PPM) became the ruling organization in a single-party system. The President justified this on the grounds that Mauritania was not ready for western-style multi-party democracy. Under this one-party constitution, Daddah was reelected in uncontested elections in 1966, 1971 and 1976.
He was ousted in a bloodless coup on 10 July 1978. He had brought the country to near-collapse through a disastrous war to annex the southern part of Western Sahara, framed as an attempt to create a "Greater Mauritania".
CMRN and CMSN military governments (1978–84)
Col. Mustafa Ould Salek's CMRN junta proved incapable of either establishing a strong base of power or extracting the country from its destabilizing conflict with the Sahrawi resistance movement, the Polisario Front. It quickly fell, to be replaced by another military government, the CMSN.
The energetic Colonel Mohamed Khouna Ould Haidallah soon emerged as its strongman. By giving up all claims to Western Sahara, he found peace with the Polisario and improved relations with its main backer, Algeria. But relations with Morocco, the other party to the conflict, and its European ally France deteriorated. Instability continued, and Haidallah's ambitious reform attempts foundered. His regime was plagued by attempted coups and intrigue within the military establishment. It became increasingly contested due to his harsh and uncompromising measures against opponents; many dissidents were jailed, and some executed. In 1981 slavery was legally abolished, making Mauritania the last country in the world to do so.
Politics and recent history
Ould Taya's rule (1984–2005)
In 1980, Haidallah was deposed by Colonel Maaouya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya, who, while retaining tight military control, relaxed the political climate. Ould Taya moderated Mauritania's previous pro-Algerian stance, and re-established ties with Morocco during the late 1980s. He deepened these ties during the late 1990s and early 2000s as part of Mauritania's drive to attract support from Western states and Western-aligned Arab states. Mauritania has not rescinded its recognition of Polisario's Western Saharan exile government, and remains on good terms with Algeria. Its position on the Western Sahara conflict is, since the 1980s, one of strict neutrality.
Ordinance 83.127, enacted 5 June 1983, started the process of nationalization of all land not clearly the property of a documented owner, thus abolishing the traditional system of land tenure. Potential nationalization was based on the concept of "dead land", i.e., property which has not been developed or on which obvious development cannot be seen. A practical effect was government seizure of traditional communal grazing lands.
Political parties, illegal during the military period, were legalized again in 1991. By April 1992, as civilian rule returned, 16 major political parties had been recognized; 12 major political parties were active in 2004. The Parti Républicain Démocratique et Social (PRDS), formerly led by President Maaouya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya, dominated Mauritanian politics after the country's first multi-party elections in April 1992, following the approval by referendum of the current constitution in July 1991. President Taya won elections in 1992 and 1997. Most opposition parties boycotted the first legislative election in 1992. For nearly a decade the parliament was dominated by the PRDS. The opposition participated in municipal elections in January–February 1994, and in subsequent Senate elections – most recently in April 2004 – and gained representation at the local level, as well as three seats in the Senate.
This period was marked by extensive ethnic violence and human rights abuses. Between 1990 and 1991, a campaign of particularly extreme violence took place against a background of Arabization, interference with blacks' association rights, expropriation, expatriation and slavery. The slaves were mostly black.
In October 1987, the government allegedly uncovered a tentative coup d'état by a group of black army officers, backed, according to the authorities, by Senegal. Fifty-one officers were arrested and subjected to interrogation and torture. Heightened ethnic tensions were the catalyst for the Mauritania–Senegal Border War, which started as a result of a conflict in Diawara between Moorish Mauritanian herders and Senegalese farmers over grazing rights. On 9 April 1989, Mauritanian guards killed two Senegalese.
Following the incident, several riots erupted in Bakel, Dakar and other towns in Senegal, directed against the mainly Moorish Mauritanians who dominated the local retail business. The rioting, added to already existing tensions, led to a campaign within the country of terror against black Mauritanians, who are often seen as 'Senegalese' by Beidanes, regardless of their nationality. As conflict with Senegal continued into 1990/91, the Mauritanian government engaged in or encouraged acts of violence and seizures of property directed against blacks. The war culminated in an international airlift agreed to by Senegal and Mauritania under international pressure to prevent further violence. The Mauritanian Government expelled tens of thousands of black Mauritanians. Most of these so-called 'Senegalese' had no ties to Senegal, and many still reside in refugee camps in Mali and Senegal. The exact number of expulsions is not known but the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that, as of June 1991, 52,995 Mauritanian refugees were living in Senegal and at least 13,000 in Mali.
From November 1990 to February 1991, between 500 and 600 Fula and Soninke political prisoners were executed or tortured to death by Mauritanian government forces. They were among 3,000 to 5,000 blacks – predominantly soldiers and civil servants – arrested between October 1990 and mid-January 1991, on the basis of alleged involvement in an attempt to overthrow the government.
The government initiated a military investigation but never released the results. In order to guarantee immunity for those responsible and to block any attempts at accountability for past abuses, the Parliament declared an amnesty in June 1993 covering all crimes committed by the armed forces, security forces as well as civilians, between April 1989 and April 1992. The government offered compensation to families of victims, which a few accepted in lieu of settlement. Despite this amnesty, some Mauritanians have denounced the involvement of the government in the arrests and killings.
In the late 1980s, Ould Taya had established close co-operation with Iraq, and pursued a strongly Arab Nationalist line. Mauritania grew increasingly isolated internationally, and tensions with Western countries grew dramatically after it took a pro-Iraqi position during the 1991 Gulf War. During the mid-to late 1990s, Mauritania shifted its foreign policy to one of increased co-operation with the US and Europe. It was rewarded with diplomatic normalization and aid projects. On 28 October 1999, Mauritania joined Egypt, Palestine, and Jordan as the only members of the Arab League to officially recognize Israel. Ould Taya also started co-operating with the United States in anti-terrorism activities, a policy which was criticized by some human rights organizations. (See also Foreign relations of Mauritania.)
A group of current and former Army officers launched a violent and unsuccessful coup attempt on 8 June 2003. The leaders of the attempted coup were never caught. Mauritania's presidential election, its third since adopting the democratic process in 1992, took place on 7 November 2003. Six candidates, including Mauritania's first female and first Haratine (descended from former slaves) candidates, represented a wide variety of political goals and backgrounds. Incumbent President Maaouya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya won reelection with 67.02% of the popular vote, according to the official figures, with Mohamed Khouna Ould Haidalla finishing second.
August 2005 military coup
On 3 August 2005, a military coup led by Colonel Ely Ould Mohamed Vall ended Maaouya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya's twenty-one years of rule. Taking advantage of Taya's attendance at the funeral of Saudi King Fahd, the military, including members of the presidential guard, seized control of key points in the capital of Nouakchott. The coup proceeded without loss of life. Calling themselves the Military Council for Justice and Democracy, the officers released the following statement:
- "The national armed forces and security forces have unanimously decided to put a definitive end to the oppressive activities of the defunct authority, which our people have suffered from during the past years."
The Military Council later issued another statement naming Colonel Vall as president and director of the national police force, the Sûreté Nationale. Vall, once regarded as a firm ally of the now-ousted president, had aided Taya in the coup that had originally brought him to power, and had later served as his security chief. Sixteen other officers were listed as members of the Council.
Though cautiously watched by the international community, the coup came to be generally accepted, with the military junta organizing elections within a promised two-year timeline. In a referendum on 26 June 2006, Mauritanians overwhelmingly (97%) approved a new constitution which limited the duration of a president's stay in office. The leader of the junta, Col. Vall, promised to abide by the referendum and relinquish power peacefully. Mauritania's establishment of relations with Israel – it is one of only three Arab states to recognize Israel – was maintained by the new regime, despite widespread criticism from the opposition. They considered that position as a legacy of the Taya regime's attempts to curry favor with the West.
Parliamentary and municipal elections in Mauritania took place on 19 November and 3 December 2006.
2007 presidential election
Mauritania's first fully democratic presidential election took place on 11 March 2007. The election effected the final transfer from military to civilian rule following the military coup in 2005. This was the first time since Mauritania gained independence in 1960 that it elected a president in a multi-candidate election.
2008 military coup
On 6 August 2008, the head of the Presidential Guards took over the president's palace in Nouakchott, a day after 48 lawmakers from the ruling party resigned in protest of President Abdallahi's policies[which?]. The army surrounded key government facilities, including the state television building, after the president fired senior officers, one of them the head of the presidential guards. The President, Prime Minister Yahya Ould Ahmed Waghef, and Mohamed Ould R'zeizim, Minister of Internal Affairs, were arrested.
The coup was co-ordinated by General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, former chief of staff of the Mauritanian army and head of the Presidential Guard. He had recently been fired. Mauritania's presidential spokesman, Abdoulaye Mamadouba, said the President, Prime Minister, and Interior Minister had been arrested by renegade Senior Mauritanian army officers and were being held under house arrest at the presidential palace in the capital. In the apparently successful and bloodless coup d'état, Abdallahi's daughter, Amal Mint Cheikh Abdallahi, said: "The security agents of the BASEP (Presidential Security Battalion) came to our home and took away my father." The coup plotters, all dismissed in a presidential decree shortly beforehand, included Abdel Aziz, General Muhammad Ould Al-Ghazwani, General Philippe Swikri, and Brigadier General (Aqid) Ahmad Ould Bakri.
After the coup
A Mauritanian lawmaker, Mohammed Al Mukhtar, claimed that many of the country's people were supporting the takeover of a government that had become "an authoritarian regime" under a president who had "marginalized the majority in parliament." The coup was also backed by Abdallahi's rival in the 2007 election, Ahmed Ould Daddah. However, Abdel Aziz's regime was isolated internationally, and became subject to diplomatic sanctions and the cancellation of some aid projects. It found few supporters (among them Morocco, Libya and Iran), while Algeria, the United States, France and other European countries criticized the coup, and continued to refer to Abdallahi as the legitimate president of Mauritania. Domestically, a group of parties coalesced around Abdallahi to continue protesting the coup, which caused the junta to ban demonstrations and crack down on opposition activists. International and internal pressure eventually forced the release of Abdallahi, who was instead placed under house arrest in his home village. The new government broke off relations with Israel. In March 2010, Mauritania's female foreign minister Mint Hamdi Ould Mouknass announced that Mauritania had cut ties with Israel in a "complete and definitive way."
Since the coup, Abdel Aziz insisted on holding new presidential elections to replace Abdallahi, but was forced to reschedule them due to internal and international opposition. During the spring of 2009, the junta negotiated an understanding with some opposition figures and international parties. As a result Abdallahi formally resigned under protest, as it became clear that some opposition forces had defected from him and most international players, notably including France and Algeria, now lined up behind Abdel Aziz. The United States continued to criticize the coup, but did not actively oppose the elections.
Abdallahi's resignation allowed the election of Abdel Aziz as civilian president, on 18 July, by a 52% majority. Many of Abdallahi's former supporters criticized this as a political ploy and refused to recognize the results. They argued that the election had been falsified due to junta control, and complained that the international community had let down the opposition. Despite marginal complaints, the elections were almost unanimously accepted by Western, Arab and African countries, which lifted sanctions and resumed relations with Mauritania. By late summer, Abdel Aziz appeared to have secured his position and to have gained widespread international and internal support. Some figures, such as Senate chairman Messaoud Ould Boulkheir, continued to refuse the new order and call for Abdel Aziz's resignation.
In November 2014, Mauritania was invited as a non-member guest nation, to the G20 summit in Brisbane.
Mauritania's population is 3,537,368 (2013 census)
- 30% "White Moors", or Beidane (Arab/Berber)
- 40% "Black Moors" or Haratines (Arab-speaking slaves, former slaves, and their descendants of African origin, enslaved by white Moors)
- 30% Black African or Afro-Mauritanians, (non-Arabic speaking Black Africans: Wolof, Bambara, Toucouleur, Fula, Serer, Soninke)
Mauritania's population is composed of several ethnic groups: the Moors (White or Arab) or Beidane; the Haratins, descendants of freed sub-Saharan black slaves who have grown up in this society; the Soninke; the Serer (generally farmers and stock-breeders); and the Hal-pulaar or Fulas, who include settled farmers called Toucouleur and nomadic stock-breeders.
The country is nearly 100% Muslim, most of whom are Sunnis. The minority Sufi brotherhood, the Tijaniyah, has had great influence not only in the country, but in Senegal and Morocco as well. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Nouakchott, founded in 1965, serves the 4,500 Catholics in Mauritania.
Spoken languages are: Hassaniya, Pulaar, Soninke, Imraguen language, Wolof, Serer and French (widely used in the media and among educated classes, see African French). Modern Standard Arabic is also an official language.
Zenaga, a Berber language, was once spoken throughout much of Mauritania, but today it is almost totally replaced by Hassaniya. Only a tiny group of about 200 to 300 speakers of the Zenaga language may be left.
Life expectancy at birth was 61.14 years (2011 estimate). Per capita expenditure on health was 43 US$ (PPP) in 2004. Public expenditure was 2% of the GDP in 2004 and private 0.9% of the GDP in 2004. In the early 21st century, there were 11 physicians per 100,000 people. Infant mortality is 60.42 deaths/1,000 live births (2011 estimate).
The obesity rate among Mauritanian women is high, perhaps in part due to the local standards of beauty, in which obese women are considered beautiful while thin women are sometimes regarded as "sickly".
Since 1999, all teaching in the first year of primary school is in Literary Arabic; French is introduced in the second year, and is used to teach all scientific courses. The use of English and the Weldiya dialect is increasing.
Mauritania has the University of Nouakchott and other institutions of higher education, but the majority of highly educated Mauritanians have studied outside the country. Public expenditure on education was at 10.1% of 2000–2007 government expenditure.
The government bureaucracy is composed of traditional ministries, special agencies, and parastatal companies. The Ministry of Interior spearheads a system of regional governors and prefects modeled on the French system of local administration. Under this system, Mauritania is divided into twelve regions (wilaya or régions) and the capital district, Nouakchott.
Control is tightly concentrated in the executive branch of the central government, but a series of national and municipal elections since 1992 have produced limited decentralization. These regions are subdivided into 44 departments (moughataa). The regions and capital district (in alphabetical order) and their capitals are:
|Hodh Ech Chargui||Néma||7|
|Hodh El Gharbi||Ayoun el Atrous||8|
|Nouakchott (capital district)||10|
At 397,929 square miles (1,030,631 km2), 90% of which is desert, Mauritania is the world's 29th-largest country (after Bolivia). It is comparable in size to Egypt. It lies mostly between latitudes 14° and 26°N, and longitudes 5° and 17°W (small areas are east of 5° and west of 17°).
Mauritania is generally flat, with vast arid plains broken by occasional ridges and cliff-like outcroppings. A series of scarps face south-west, 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 Zouîrât, has an elevation of 915 meters (3,002 ft) and is the highest peak.
Approximately three quarters of Mauritania is desert or semi-desert. 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.
Despite being rich in natural resources, Mauritania has one of the lowest GDP rates in Africa. A majority of the population still depends on agriculture and livestock for a livelihood, even though most of the nomads and many subsistence farmers were forced into the cities by recurrent droughts in the 1970s and 1980s. Mauritania has extensive deposits of iron ore, which account for almost 50% of total exports. With the current rises in metal prices, gold and copper mining companies are opening mines in the interior.
The country's first deepwater port opened near Nouakchott in 1986. 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-International Monetary Fund 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%.
Oil was discovered in Mauritania in 2001 in the offshore Chinguetti field. Although potentially significant for the Mauritanian economy, its overall influence is difficult to predict. 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.
The Abdallahi government was widely perceived as corrupt and restricting access to government information. Sexism, female genital mutilation, child labour, human trafficking, and the political marginalization of largely southern-based ethnic groups continued to be problems.
Following the 2008 coup, the military government of Mauritania faced severe international sanctions and internal unrest. Amnesty International accused it of practicing coordinated torture against criminal and political detainees. Amnesty has accused the Mauritanian legal system, both before and after the 2008 coup, of functioning with complete disregard for legal procedure, fair trial, or humane imprisonment. The organization has said that the Mauritanian government has practiced institutionalized and continuous use of torture throughout its post-independence history, under all its leaders.
Discrimination against black population
Since independence, critics had said that Mauritania's society has been characterised by discrimination against black populations, mainly Fula and Soninké. These ethnic groups have been seen to contest the political, economic, and social dominance of Moors. Mauritanian blacks allegedly face discrimination in employment in the civil service, the administration of justice before regular and religious courts, access to loans and credits from banks and state-owned enterprise, and opportunities for education and vocational training. Armed groups such as the now-exiled FLAM have carried out low-level rebellions in the southern part of Mauritania because of these continuing discriminatory practices.
Still today, masters lend their slaves' labor to other individuals, female slaves are sexually exploited and children are made to work and rarely receive an education. Slavery particularly affects women and children, who are the most vulnerable among the vulnerable. Women of child-bearing age have a harder time emancipating because they are producers of slave labor and perceived as extremely valuable.
— From U.S. Dept. of State report on Slavery in Mauritania, 2009 
Slavery still persists in Mauritania. Though slavery was abolished in 1981, it was not illegal to own slaves until 2007. According to the US State Department 2010 Human Rights Report, abuses in Mauritania include:
...mistreatment of detainees and prisoners; security force impunity; lengthy pretrial detention; harsh prison conditions; arbitrary arrests; limits on freedom of the press and assembly; corruption; discrimination against women; female genital mutilation (FGM); child marriage; political marginalization of southern-based ethnic groups; racial and ethnic discrimination; slavery and slavery-related practices; and child labor.
The report continues: "Government efforts were not sufficient to enforce the antislavery law. No cases have been successfully prosecuted under the antislavery law despite the fact that 'de facto' slavery exists in Mauritania."
Oumoulmoumnine Mint Bakar Vall is the only person prosecuted to date for owning slaves and she was sentenced to six months in jail in January 2011. In 2012, it was estimated that 10% to 20% of the population of Mauritania (between 340,000 and 680,000 people) live in slavery.
The government of Mauritania denies that slavery continues in the country. In an interview, the Mauritanian Minister of rural development, Brahim Ould M'Bareck Ould Med El Moctar, responded to accusations of human rights abuse by stating:
I must tell you that in Mauritania, freedom is total: freedom of thought, equality – of all men and women of Mauritania... in all cases, especially with this government, this is in the past. There are probably former relationships – slavery relationships and familial relationships from old days and of the older generations, maybe, or descendants who wish to continue to be in relationships with descendants of their old masters, for familial reasons, or out of affinity, and maybe also for economic interests. But (slavery) is something that is totally finished. All people are free in Mauritania and this phenomenon no longer exists. And I believe that I can tell you that no one profits from this commerce.
It is difficult to end slavery in Mauritania for the following reasons:
- The difficulty of enforcing any laws in the country's vast desert
- Poverty that limits opportunities for slaves to support themselves if freed
- Belief that slavery is part of the natural order of this society.
Leblouh: force feeding girls
In Mauritania, women are considered beautiful and attractive if they are moderately to morbidly obese. A widespread practice, in order to maintain this level of obesity, was forced feeding (leblouh). Forced feeding usually involved psychological pressure, rather than physical force, but it often required a family to reserve substantial quantities of food—in most cases, milk—for consumption by its pre-teenage daughters, whose beauty was a measure of a father's commitment to the marriage alliances they would form.
Filming for several documentaries and films has taken place in Mauritania, including Fort Saganne (1984), The Fifth Element (1997), The Books Under the Sand (1997), Life without Death (1997), Winged Migration (2001), and Heremakono (2002).
- "États généraux de l'Éducation nationale en Mauritanie". Le Quotidien de Nouakchott. 13 November 2011.
- "CIA – The World Factbook – Mauritania". Retrieved 7 November 2010.
- "Mauritania population". Retrieved 17 August 2014.
- "Mauritania". International Monetary Fund. Retrieved 17 April 2013.
- "Gini Index". World Bank. Retrieved 2 March 2011.
- "2014 Human Development Report Summary". United Nations Development Programme. 2014. pp. 21–25. Retrieved 27 July 2014.
- Facts On File, Incorporated, Encyclopedia of the Peoples of Africa and the Middle East (2009), p. 448, books.google.com/books?ISBN 143812676X-"The Islamic Republic of Mauritania, situated in western North Africa..."
- David Seddon, A Political and Economic Dictionary of the Middle East (2004), "We have, by contrast, chosen to include the predominantly Arabic-speaking countries of western North Africa (the Maghreb), including Mauritania (which is a member of the Arab Maghreb Union)..."
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- (Arabic) République Islamique de Mauritanie (official government site).
- (French) République Islamique de Mauritanie (official government site).
- Mauritania entry at The World Factbook
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- Mauritania profile from the BBC News.
- Wikimedia Atlas of Mauritania
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- Forecasts for Mauritania Development