Mauritania, or to give it is full title, the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, named after the Roman province of Mauretania, is situated in north-east Africa. It is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to its west, by the Western Sahara to its north, by Algeria to its north-east, by Mali to its east and south-east and by Senegal to its south-west. It spans three cultures with Arabs to the north, black Africans to the south and many nomads living in the large desert expanse that makes up most of the country. Mauritania achieved independence from France on 28th November 1960 and named its capital as Nouakchott. At the time of independence 90% of the population were living a basic, nomadic lifestyle. Mauritania is in 159th place out of 189 countries and territories in 2019 when ranked in terms of life expectancy, literacy, access to knowledge and the living standards of a country.
Mauritania's first president was one Moktar Ould Daddah who, like so many of his counterparts in other newly emerging independent African nations, concluded that the people weren't ready for democracy so made Mauritania into a one party state in 1964 and then ruled as an autocratic president. As the only candidate, Ould Daddah was understandably re-elected in elections in 1966, 1971 and 1976. Daddah's ambition to annex part of Western Sahara as part of a long held desire to unify the tribal Arabo-Berber population of the area into Greater Mauritania (which conveniently would have held back Morocco's desire for expansion), proved his undoing after meeting fierce resistance from Polisario guerrillas and the ongoing conflict strained to breaking point an already weak economy.
In 1978 Daddah was met by soldiers who carried out the country's first military coup. There followed a series of weak and ineffective governments riddled with plots and coup attempts until Colonel Maaouiya Ould Sid Ahmed Taya seized power as a result of a further coup in 1984. Although Taya was elected president in subsequent elections, these were widely seen as flawed and Taya effectively ruled as an autocrat. Like so many others before him, Taya made the mistake of leaving the country in 2005 and on 3rd August of that year troops announced his overthrow and the creation of a military council that would hold democratic elections. This duly occurred in 2007 and Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi was elected Mauritania's first democratically elected president. Democracy however proved to be short lived and was quashed seventeen months later as a further military coup took place prompted by Abdallahi's attempts to sack senior members of the military. General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, leader of the coup, was elected president in July 2009 and remained in power until 2019 when he was peacefully succeeded by Mohamed Ould Ghazouani.
70% of Mauritania is either desert or semi dessert and frequent droughts have forced many living nomadic lifestyles into urban areas in search of food, water and work. Unfortunately Mauritania does not have the infrastructure required to meet these frequent influxes resulting in severe pressure, housing, sanitation and medical care. For those who continue to live outside urban areas, less that 10% have access to safe drinking water, whilst for the entire population of 4,799,110 (2021) it remains at just 53%. With a life expectancy of 64.70 years (2018) and with an adult literacy rate of 53.5%, poverty is a major issue in Mauritania with most children just eating once a day. One mother reported proudly that one day her one year old son ate porridge one day and three days earlier was treated to couscous. Over one hundred and nine children die out of every thousand compared with just three in say a country like Spain. Locusts also plague the area, often wiping out entire harvests sending food prices rocketing.
Mauritania Profile: Volunteer in Mauritania
Mauritania Profile: Nouakchott Profile
Mauritania Profile: Child Sponsor Mauritania
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