Although today Nouakchott is the largest city not just in Mauritania but in the Saharan region with a population of just over 800,000, even as recently as 1958 it was just a small fishing port with around two hundred inhabitants.
The French moved into the area known as Mauritania in 1814 however it wasn't
until 1904 following treaties with local emirates, that they had established
the country as a colonial territory as part of its west African interests.
It was a further eight years before northern emirate of Adrar was defeated in
battle and subsumed into the colony. In 1920 Mauritania became part of the
Federation of French West Africa comprised of itself, Senegal, French Sudan
(now Mali), French Guinea, CÃ´te d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast), Upper Volta (now
Burkina Faso), Dahomey (now Benin) and Niger and then became an autonomous
member of the French Community before being granted independence in 1960. As
the country moved to independence a need was identified for a capital as
during the colonial period it was administered from Saint-Louis, in Senegal.
In 1957 planning started for the new capital with architects anticipating a
population of some 15,000 built around the tree lined central Avenue Abd an-Nasir
or (Gamal Abdel Nasser Avenue).
Following independence in 1960, Nouakchott formally became the new country's
capital in 1962 and within five years its population was already 20,000.
during the 1970s and 1980s the region suffered numerous droughts with many
'Mauritanians', who typically led a nomadic lifestyle, flocking to the
emerging city effectively as refugees pushing its population up to 800,000;
one in four of the country's overall population. Today, some estimate that its
population has topped one million however in the absence of any census the
actual figure is hard to establish.
This rapid expansion has led to a somewhat sprawling city with an unkempt and
rubbish strewn appearance. By the late 2000s many of the outlying areas had
degenerated into shanty tin roofed slums, one even being nicknamed "Kosovo"
because of its high crime rate.
The government is currently in the process of knocking down these slums with
tens of thousands being relocated in the process. Some unwilling to be
resettled have simply left and returned to their former nomadic lifestyle in
the desert. Its home to the
University de Nouakchott, the country's only university, as well as acting as
Mauritania's economic and administrative centre, with numerous markets,
mosques, internet cafes and a cinema together with a stadium, National Library
and National Museum. Three miles from the centre is its port which was
upgraded in the 1980s into a deep water harbour which is used mainly for
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