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 Jewel of

The African continent is comprised of 54 nations, each with its own independent government and sovereignty, GDP, culture, natural resources, language(s), military, and religion. The treasure trove of mineral and raw material wealth has scarcely been touched and the continent's largely untapped fertile lands could feed the world. Herewith is Jewel of Africa, an interactive adventure in the cradle of mankind, an exploration of nations from A-Z in alphabetical order.

Mauritania: Chinguetti oil reserves 120 million barrels


The Islamic Republic of Mauritania is a country in northwest Africa. The coast faces the Atlantic Ocean on the west, and Senegal lies to the southwest, Mali to the east and southeast, Algeria to the northeast, and the Moroccan-annexed territory of Western Sahara to the northwest. The country's capital and largest city is Nouakchott, bearing 661,400 people. The overall population of Mauritania is 4.8 million.

Named after the ancient Berber kingdom of Mauretania, the West African nation is a land dominated by sand and barren soil located on the western flank of the Sahara Desert. Mauritania sees itself as a link connecting the northern Arab nations of North, Africa's Maghreb, and the African countries that make up the rest of the continent. Mauritania recently discovered large offshore reserves of oil and natural gas. The goal of economic independence is now a feasible possibility. The main obstacle to economic independence is the political and ethnic disunity that has plagued the country for centuries.


Mauritania is generally flat, its territory of over 618,000 square miles forming vast, arid plains broken by occasional ridges and cliff-like outcroppings. A series of scarps face southwest, 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 1,640 feet. 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 and the “Eye of the Sahara”) is a prominent circular feature in the Sahara desert of west-central Mauritania is a prominent feature of the north-central region. Kediet Ijill, near the city of Zouîrât, has an elevation of 3,280 feet and is the highest peak.

Richat Structure, located in the Sahara Desert of Mauritania, at Gres de Chinguetti Plateau, has been a focus of world attention due to its bull's eye shape. The structure is 30 miles in diameter and has become a landmark for crews of the space shuttle. Once thought to be a meteorite impact structure, it is now considered to be a symmetrical uplift (circular anticline) laid bare by erosion.

Though the interior contains mineral resources, the country's best-known exports may be the weather disturbances that form in the summer and fall, move offshore into warm ocean water, form cyclonic winds, head west for the Americas as tropical storms with assigned names, develop into hurricanes, and occasionally devastate islands and cities.


The name of the country is derived from the Latin Mauretania, meaning “west,” which corresponds to the Arab name of North Africa, Maghreb. The Romans named to the Berber people Maures. The French occupied the country in 1860 in close cooperation with Maur religious leaders. Mauritania became a nation after the destruction of the kingdoms of Fouta Toro and Walo Walo and the Arab-Berber emirats of Trarza, Brakna, Taganet, and Adrar. As a result, the country has two main ethnic groups: black Africans and Arab-Berbers.

The Black Africans in Mauritania include the Fulani, Soninke, and Bambara. The Maurs include the Arab-Berbers (Beydan) and the Haratin, Black Africans who were enslaved by white Maurs. White and Black Maurs consider themselves Arab, whereas Black Arabs see themselves as African. The most important common denominator is Sunni Islam.

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Mauritania in West Africa is a land of contrast, lounging against the Atlantic Ocean, while the northwest is largely dominated by the sand and barren soil of the Sahara desert. Included in the geography are cool beaches, rain-fed oases, and rocky plateaus.

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Some of harshest conditions on Earth occur in Mauritainia without dampening the spirits of the hearty people, who number 4.2 million strong.


Millet and sorghum were Mauritania's principal crops, followed by rice and corn. Before the 1980s, millet and sorghum accounted for 70 to 80 percent or more of total grain production. Rice pro- duction in the 1970s averaged 5 to 10 percent, and corn made up 10 to 25 percent.


Mauritania, along with Morocco, illegally annexed the territory of Western Sahara in 1976, with Mauritania taking the lower one-third. After several military losses to the Polisario, Mauritania retreated in 1979 and their claims were taken by Morocco. Mauritania's economic weakness has since made it a negligible player in the territorial dispute. dispute. communal violence that broke out in 1989 (the "1989 Events"), but has since subsided. The tension between these Moor and the non-Moor visions remains a feature of the political dialogue. A significant number from both groups, however, seek a more diverse, pluralistic society.



After independence in 1960, President Moktar Ould Daddah, originally installed by the French, formalized Mauri- tania into a one-party state in 1964 with a new constitution, which set up an authoritarian presidential regime. Daddah's own Parti du Peuple Mauritanian (PPM) became the ruling organization. The president justified this decision on the grounds that he considered Mauritania ill-prepared for Western-style multi-party democracy. Under this one-party constitution, Daddah was reelected in uncontested elections in 1966, 1971 and 1976. Daddah was ousted in a bloodless coup on July 10, 1978.

A committee of military officers governed Mauritania from July 1978 to April 1992. A referendum approved the current constitution in July 1991.

The government bureaucracy is comprised of traditional ministries, special agencies, and para-statal 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 13 regions (wilaya), including 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 some limited decentralization.

Politics in Mauritania have always been heavily influenced by personalities, with any leader's ability to exercise political power dependent upon control over resources; perceived ability or integrity; and tribal, ethnic, family, and personal considerations. Conflict between White Moor, Black Moor, and non-Moor ethnic groups, centering on language, land tenure, and other issues, continues to be the dominant challenge to national unity.

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. Most opposition parties boycotted the first legislative election in 1992, and the parliament was dominated by the PRDS.


Mauritania has a population of 4 million people. The local population is divided into three main ethnic tiers: Bidhan or Moors, Haratin, and West Africans. The Bidhan speak Hassaniya Arabic and are primarily of Arab-Berber origin. The Haratin are descendants of former slaves and also speak Arabic. The remaining ethnic groups are of West African descent, including the Niger-Congo-speaking Halpulaar (Fulbe), Soninke, Bambara, and Wolof.


The majority of Mauritanians are Sunni Muslims, that adhere to the Maliki rite, one of the four Sunni schools of law. Since independence in 1960, Mauritania has been an Islamic republic. The Constitutional Charter of 1985 declares Islam the state religion and Sharia the law of the land. Islam first spread southward into West Africa, including Mauritania, with the movement of Muslim traders and craftsmen and later with the founders of Islamic brother- hoods. Although the brotherhoods (Sufism and tariqa) played a role in the early expansion of Islam, it was not until the 19th century that these religious orders assumed importance when they attempted to make religion a force for expanding identities and loyalties beyond the limits of kinship.

The relative peace brought to the area by French administration and the growing resentment of colonial rule contributed to the rapid rise in the power and influence of the brotherhoods. In recent decades, these orders have opposed tribalism and have been an indispensable element in the growth of nationalist sentiment.

In the 1980s, two brotherhoods (tariqa), the Qadiriyyah and the Tijaniyyah, accounted for nearly all the brother- hood membership in Mauritania. The Qadiriyyah and Tijaniyyah were essentially parallel “ways,” differing primarily in their methods of reciting the litanies. Their Islamic doctrines and their religious obligations were basically similar. Two smaller brotherhoods also existed—the Shadhiliyyah, centered in Boumdeït in Tagant Region, and the Goudfiya, found in the regions of Tagant, Adrar, Hodh ech Chargui, and Hodh el Gharbi.

As Islam spread westward and southward in Africa, various elements of indigenous religious systems became absorbed into and then altered strictly Islamic beliefs. For example, the Islamic tradition includes provisions for a variety of spirits and supernatural beings, as long as Allah is still recognized as the only God. Muslims in Mauritania believe in various lesser spirits apparently transformed from pre-Islamic faiths into Islamic spirits. Mauritanian Muslims, however, do not emphasize the Islamic concepts of the eternal soul and of reward or punishment in an afterlife.


Arabic is the official and national language of Mauritania. The local spoken variety, known as Hassaniya, contains many Berber words and significantly differs from the Modern Standard Arabic that is used for official communica- tion. There are four national languages. Hassaniya is a mixture of Arabic and Berber and is the language of the white Maurs and the Haratin. Pulaar (Fulani) is spoken on the Atlantic coast and across the sahel-savannah zone. Soninke (Sarakolle) is spoken on the borders with Mali and Senegal. Wolof is widely spoken. Bambara is spoken in the southeast.

At independence, French became the official language and, in 1965, the Arab-Berber regime made Arabic compulsory in primary and secondary education. This resulted in ethnic confrontation over the national language. The clashes intensified until 1999, when Colonel Maaouiya Ould Sid Ahmed Taya decided to resurrect French and downgrade Arabic. Black Africans' determination to resist Arabization resulted in the official recognition of Fulani, Soninke, and Wolof as national languages in 1980 and the creation of a national institute to teach those languages in public schools.


Education is based on a combination of three overlapping philosophies: indigenous, Islamic, and Western. In the first system, the objective is to prepare the young to be useful members of the local community. Education is thus inward-oriented and functional and is provided by parents, elder siblings, peers, and specialized traditional teachers. The key values are belief in God, honor, respect, and service to the community, generosity, hospitality, endurance, and patience. Islamic teaching prepares Muslims to serve Allah and the community of believers by learning the Koran and practicing the five pillars of Islam.


The most important qualities in a “good” child are respect and service to the parents and the community, truthful- ness, learning, prayer, and politeness. Parents believe that children are what they inherit and learn from their parents. If they are of good character, her children will be good.

Higher education: Before independence, there were few schools and illiteracy was close to 100 percent. Sons of the Black aristocracy were sent to a special school established by the French in Senegal. After power was transferred to the Arab-Berbers, the new rulers built schools in their areas and neglected the south.


Mauritania and Madagascar are the only two countries in the world not to use decimal-based currency. The basic unit of currency, the ouguiya, is comprised of five khoums. The Sahara region is developing a modern economy centered on the exploitation of copper and iron-ore resources. It receives technical assistance and capital invest- ment from abroad.

The Chinguetti oil reserves, discovered in 2001, are estimated to contain about 120 million barrels of oil. At the end of December 2005, authorities estimated that in 2006 the oil profits would be 47 billion ouguiyas (US$180 million) and represent a quarter of the state budget. This discovery puts Mauritania more substantially on the world eco- nomic map. Before the discovery, fishing and agriculture made up almost 33 percent of the gross national product,  mining 25 percent, and public administration about 15 percent.


Nouakchott is the capital and largest city of Mauritania. It is one of the largest cities in the Sahel. The stone architecture and urban planning is wonderfully adapted to the desert environment. The city also serves as the administrative and economic center of Mauritania. Nouakchott was a mid-sized village of little importance until 1958 when it was chosen as the capital of the nation. Today the population of Mauritania is 4.8 million people. (Pictured below, Chinguetti mosque and the ruins of ancient Volubilis.

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Many mammal and bird species have adapted well to the harsh Sahara. Among them, the camel, fennec fox, and hornbill.


Oil production commenced at the Chinguetti Oil Field in February 2006. The target production rate of 75,000 BOPD was achieved within two weeks and within three weeks cumulative production achieved one million barrels. The first cargo loading of approximately one million barrels of crude oil was completed on March 22 of 2006, destined for China, representing that country's first oil import from Africa.

The Sahel region, on the other hand, still maintains the traditional subsistence economy of raising livestock, crafts, trading, and agriculture. More than 75 percent of the Mauritanian population live by traditional economic practices, such as raising livestock. The Mauritanian government has been trying to increase irrigation to the Senegal River valley to stimulate the production of rice, which they are currently importing in large quantities.


The music of Mauritania comes predominantly from the country's largest ethnic group: the Moors. In Moorish society musicians occupy the lowest caste, iggawin. Musicians from this caste used song to praise successful warriors as well as their patrons. Iggawin also had the traditional role of messengers, spreading news between villages. Traditional instruments include an hourglass-shaped four-stringed lute called the tidinit and the woman's kora-like ardin. Percussion instruments include the tbal (a kettle drum) and dag humma (a rattle).

There are three ways to play music in the Mauritanian tradition:

Al-bayda—the White way, associated with delicate and refined music, and the Bidan Moors.

Al-kahla—the Black way, associated with roots and masculine music, and the Haratin Moors.

Music progresses through five modes (a system with origins in Arabic music): karr, fagu (both Black), lakhal, labyad (both White, and corresponding to a period of one's life or an emotion), and lebtyat (white, a spiritual mode relating to the afterlife). There are further sub-modes, making for a complicated system, one to which nearly all male musicians conform.


The name of the country is derived from the Latin Mauretania, meaning "west," which corresponds to the Arab name of North Africa, Maghreb. The Romans referred to the Berber people as Maures. The French occupied the country in 1860 in close cooperation with Maur religious leaders. Mauritania became a nation after the destruction of the kingdoms of Fouta Toro and Walo Walo and the Arab-Berber emirats of Trarza, Brakna, Taganet, and Adrar. As a result, the country has two main ethnic groups: Black Africans and Arab-Berbers.

The Black African group includes the Fulani, Soninke, and Bambara. The Maurs include the Arab-Berbers (Beydan) and the Black Maurs known as Haratin. The Haratins are Black Africans who were enslaved by White Maurs. White and Black Maurs consider themselves Arab, whereas Black Arabs see themselves as African. The most important common denominator is Sunni Islam.



Mauritanian cuisine has been influenced by the various African and Arab peoples who have lived in the Sahara desert or crossed through it in caravans. There is an overlap with Moroccan cuisine in the north and Senegalese cuisine in the south. French colonial influence has also played a role in influencing the cuisine of Mauritania. Food has important social and psychological functions. People eat together in groups from a large bowl or calabash, using the right hand.


Eating with the left hand is forbidden. The left hand is considered dirty.

The diet consists mostly of meat, millet, rice, fish, and sweet potatoes and potatoes. The main meal is lunch among Black Africans, whereas Arab-Berbers have the main meal in the evening. Breakfast consists of milk and cereal with French bread and butter. People use a lot of oil in cooking and sugar in drinks. Eating almost always takes place at home. People eat first and then drink cold water or sour milk mixed with cold water, juice from the hibiscus flower, or baobab juice.

After lunch and dinner, it is customary to drink small glasses of green tea with sugar and mint. Alcohol is prohibited in the Muslim faith and its sale is largely limited to hotels.


The most popular sport in Mauritania is soccer, which is run by the Football Federation of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. The association administers the Mauritanian national football team, as well as the Mauritanian Premier League. Mauritania has an international football team who play and train at the Olympic Stadium. They play against other African international teams for a spot in the Africa Cup of Nations. Mauritania's premier national tournament is the Coupe de Presidente de la Republique (President's Cup).

In the early 1980s, Mauritania had a competitive basketball team, which challenged the continent's elite teams on multiple occasions. 

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