Two-thirds of Mauritania’s territory is desert – the only productive land is that drained by the Senegal River. The country has taken a strongly Arab direction since 1964.
Geography: The Sahara, barren except for some scattered oases, covers the north. Savanna lands lie to the south.
Climate: The climate is generally hot and dry, aggravated by the dusty harmattan wind. Summer rain in the south, virtually none in the north.
People and Society: The majority Maures control political and economic life. Family solidarity among nomadic peoples is particularly strong. Ethnic tension centers on the oppression of the sizable black minority by Maures. Tens of thousands of blacks are estimated to be in illegal slavery.
The Economy: Agriculture and herding. Iron, copper, and gold mining. World’s largest gypsum deposits. Offshore oil from 2006. Rich fishing grounds.
Insight: Slavery officially became illegal in Mauritania in 1980, but de facto slavery still persists
Official Name: Islamic Republic of Mauritania
Date of Formation: 1960
Population: 3.29 million
Total Area: 397,953 sq. miles (1,030,700 sq. km)
Density: 8 people per sq. mile
Languages: Hassaniyah Arabic*, Wolof, French
Religions: Sunni Muslim 100%
Ethnic Mix: Maure 81%, Wolof 7%, Tukolor 5%, other 4%, Soninka 3%
Government: Presidential system
Currency: Ouguiya = 5 khoums