Country Profiles:
Mauritania

Mauritania is a country in the Maghreb region of Northwestern Africa., bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the west, Western Sahara in the north, Algeria in the northeast, Mali in the east and southeast, and Senegal in the southwest. It is the eleventh largest country on the continent. The capital and largest city is Nouakchott, located on the Atlantic coast, which is home to around one-third of the country’s 4.3 million population. Precolonial Mauritania was the cradle of the Almoravid movement that spread Islam in the region and also controlled the Islamic part of Spain for decades. The Almoravid dynasty (Berber: Imṛabḍen, Arabic: Al-Murābiṭūn) was an imperial Berber Muslim dynasty centered in Morocco. It established an empire in the 11th century that stretched over the western Maghreb and Al-Andalus. Founded by Abdallah ibn Yasin, a theologian.

UNESCO Heritage sites in Mauritania includes:

1. Ancient Ksour of Ouadane, Chinguetti, Tichitt and Oualata
Founded in the 11th and 12th centuries to serve the caravans crossing the Sahara, these trading and religious centres became focal points of Islamic culture. They illustrate a traditional way of life centred on the nomadic culture of the people of the western Sahara.

2. Banc d’Arguin National Park
The park consists of sand dunes, coastal swamps, small islands, and shallow bodies of water; all bordering the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. Birds are often found to migrate in the area, accompanied by various species of sea turtles and dolphins, whose presence fishermen often use to attract fish.

Mauritania became independent from France on November 28 1960.

In 1964 the first 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. As a result of his authoritarian regime, he was ousted in a bloodless coup on July 10 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.” A civilian government established in December 1980 was replaced the following April by a largely military administration. In 1991 a new constitution established a multiparty system and a new bicameral legislative structure. Additional coups took place in 2005 and 2008, each followed by elections. Constitutional amendments to the 1991 constitution, put forth in 2006, included a new legislative body, an adjustment of the presidential term, and an age limit of 75 for presidential candidates. Following the 2008 coup, the military leadership announced that the 1991 constitution, augmented by a supplemental charter, would remain in place according to Encyclopedia Britannica. The current president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz Assumed office on August 5th 2009.

Mauritania is rich in natural resources and currently holds the title as the 18th largest oil producer in Africa and 95th largest producer of oil in the world. Oil was discovered in Mauritania at the Chinguetti Oil field in 2001. Oil production started in February 2006, and Mauritania now produces about 6000 barrels of oil a day. Mauritania’s crude oil reserves are estimated at around 600 million BPD, and the oil sector is expected to contribute to the economy of Mauritania, which the mining industry accounts for around 25% of GDP. Approximately half of Mauritania’s energy needs are fulfilled by hydroelectricity generated by installations on the Sénégal River. A power plant inaugurated in Nouakchott in 2003 is capable of supplying more than one-third of the power required by the capital. The country is also rich in mineral resources such as iron and ore, copper deposits of Akjoujt are extensive, substantial gypsum deposits, and Reserves of ilmenite (the principal ore of titanium) have been located.

The local population is divided into three main ethnic tiers: Bidhan, Haratin, and West Africans. The Bidhan or Moors represent around 30% of citizens. They speak Hassaniya Arabic and are primarily of Arab-Berber origin. The Haratin constitute roughly 40% of the population. They are descendants of former slaves, and also speak Arabic. The remaining 30% of the population largely consists of various ethnic groups of West African descent. Among these are the Niger-Congo-speaking Halpulaar (Fulbe), Soninke, Bambara and Wolof. The official language is Arabic, although, the predominant spoken languages are Hassaniya Arabic, Pulaar (Fula), Soninke, Wolof and French.

Mauritania is home to a diversified dining scene with dishes influenced by several of its neighboring countries lie Senegal. Most traditional Mauritanian meals are served in communal fashion. Since everyone’s eating from a communal dish (with their hands), hand washing is an important first step in sitting down to a meal. Thieboudiene (Cheb-u-jin) also call jolo rice, Yassa Poulet, Lebanese-style chawarma (pressed mutton slices), and Moroccan tajines and stews can be found in local establishments, Hakko, Mauritanian Sweet Tea, Mahfe (peanut soup).

Mauritania’s music scene has been most heavily influenced by the Moors—the country’s predominant ethnic group. The name of Mauritania’s professional musical caste is the iggawen, or griots.There is three different ways to play music in the Mauritanian tradition, according to Moorish culture: the white way, the black way, and the mixed or “spotted” way. The white way, or Al-bayda, represents a more delicate and refined sound, and comes from the Moors of North Africa. Al-kahla, or the black way, is generally more masculine and roots, and comes from the Moors of the sub-Saharan region. The mixed or “spotted” way, l’-gnaydiya, falls somewhere in between. All music is based on this sophisticated and rather rigid modal system derived from Arab musical theory. Dimi Mint Abba, who passed away in June 2011, was one of the first singers to tour the English-speaking world throughout the mid-1980s.

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