|Islamic Republic of Mauritania
الجمهورية الإسلامية الموريتانية
Al-Jumhūriyyah al-Islāmiyyah al-Mūrītāniyyah
Republik bu Lislaamu bu Gànnaar
République Islamique de Mauritanie
|Motto: شرف إخاء عدل (Arabic) (English: Honor, Fraternity, Justice)|
|Anthem: Koon Lililahi Nassira
(and largest city)
|-||President||Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz|
|-||Prime Minister||Moulaye Ould Mohamed Laghdaf|
|-||Date||28 November 1960|
|-||Total||1,030,700 km2 (29th)
397,954 sq mi
|-||2009 estimate||3,291,000 (135th)|
|GDP (PPP)||2008 estimate|
|GDP (nominal)||2008 estimate|
|Gini (2000)||39 (medium)|
|HDI (2007)||▲ 0.520 (medium) (154th)|
|-||Summer (DST)||not observed (UTC+0)|
|Drives on the||right|
|1According to article 6 of Constitution: The national languages are Arabic, Pular, Soninke, and Wolof; the official language is Arabic
2Not recognized internationally. Deposed leaders President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi and Prime Minister Yahya Ould Ahmed El Waghef no longer have power as they were arrested by military forces.
Mauritania (Arabic: موريتانيا Mūrītāniyā; Wolof: Gànnaar; Soninke: Murutaane; Pular: Moritani; French: Mauritanie), officially the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, is a country in Western Africa. It is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean on the west, by Senegal on the southwest, by Mali on the east and southeast, by Algeria on the northeast, and by the Morocco-controlled Western Sahara on the northwest. It is named after the Roman province of Mauretania, even though the modern state covers a territory far to the southwest of the old province. The capital and largest city is Nouakchott, located on the Atlantic coast.
The civilian government of Mauritania was overthrown on 6 August 2008, in a military coup d'état led by General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz. On April 16, 2009, General Aziz resigned from the military to run for president in the July 19 elections, which he won. In Mauritania about 20% of the population live on less than US $1.25 per day.
From the fifth to seventh centuries, the migration of Berber tribes from North Africa displaced the Bafours, the original inhabitants of present-day Mauritania and the ancestors of the Soninke. The Bafours were primarily agriculturalist, and among the first Saharan people to abandon their historically nomadic lifestyle. With the gradual desiccation of the Sahara, they headed south.
Following them came a migration of not only Central Saharans into West Africa, but in 1076, Moorish Islamic warrior monks (Almoravid or Al Murabitun) attacked and conquered the ancient Ghana Empire. Over the next 500 years, Arabs overcame fierce resistance from the local population (Berber and non-Berber alike) and came to dominate Mauritania. The Mauritanian Thirty-Year War (1644–74) was the unsuccessful final effort to repel the Yemeni Maqil Arab invaders led by the Beni Hassan tribe.
The descendants of the Beni Hassan warriors became the upper stratum of Moorish society. Berbers retained influence by producing the majority of the region's Marabouts—those who preserve and teach Islamic tradition. Many of the Berber tribes claimed Yemeni (and sometimes other Arab) origin: there is little evidence to suggest this, though some studies do make a connection between the two. Hassaniya, a Berber-influenced Arabic dialect that derives its name from the Beni Hassan, became the dominant language among the largely nomadic population.
French colonization gradually absorbed the territories of present-day Mauritania from the Senegal river area and upwards, starting in the late 1800s. In 1901, Xavier Coppolani took charge of the colonial mission. Through a combination of strategic alliances with Zawiya tribes and military pressure on the Hassane warrior nomads, he managed to extend French rule over the Mauritanian emirates: Trarza, Brakna and Tagant quickly submitted to treaties with the colonial power (1903–04), but the northern emirate of Adrar held out longer, aided by the anticolonial rebellion (or jihad) of shaykh Maa al-Aynayn. It was finally defeated militarily in 1912, and incorporated into the territory of Mauritania, which had been drawn up in 1904. Mauritania would subsequently form part of French West Africa, from 1920.
French rule brought legal prohibitions against slavery and an end to interclan warfare. During the colonial period, the population remained nomadic, but many sedentary peoples, whose ancestors had been expelled centuries earlier, began to trickle back into Mauritania. As the country gained independence in 1960, the capital city Nouakchott was founded at the site of a small colonial village, the Ksar, while 90% of the population was still nomadic.
The great Sahel droughts of the early 1970s caused massive problems in Mauritania. With independence, larger numbers of indigenous Sub-Saharan African peoples (Haalpulaar, Soninke, and Wolof) entered Mauritania, moving into the area north of the Senegal River. Educated in French language and customs, many of these recent arrivals became clerks, soldiers, and administrators in the new state. This occurred as France militarily suppressed the most intransigent Hassane tribes of the Moorish north, shifting old balances of power, and creating new cause for conflict between the southern populations and Moors. Between these groups stood the Haratin, a very large population of Arabized slaves of black African origins, who lived within Moorish society, integrated into a low-caste social position. Modern day slavery is still a common practice in this country. According to some estimates, up to 600,000 Mauritanians, or 20% of the population, are still enslaved. This social discrimination concerns mainly the Haratin ("black Moors) in the northern part of the country, where tribal elites among "white Moors" (Beidane) hold sway, but low-caste groups within the black African communities of the south are also affected by similar practices.
Moors reacted to the change, and to Arab nationalist calls from abroad, by increasing pressure to Arabize many aspects of Mauritanian life, such as law and language. A schism developed between those Moors who consider Mauritania to be an Arab country and those who seek a dominant role for the non-Moorish peoples, with various models for containing the country's cultural diversity suggested, but none implemented successfully.
This ethnic discord was evident during intercommunal violence that broke out in April 1989 (the "1989 Events" and "Mauritania-Senegal Border War"), but has since subsided. Some 70,000 black African Mauritanians were expelled from Mauritania in the late 1980s. The ethnic tension and the sensitive issue of slavery – past and, in some areas, present – is still a powerful theme in the country's political debate. A significant number from all groups, however, seek a more diverse, pluralistic society.
The government bureaucracy is composed of traditional ministries, special agencies, and parastatal 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 thirteen 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 limited decentralization.
Mauritania, along with Morocco, annexed the territory of Western Sahara in 1976, with Mauritania taking the lower one-third at the request of former colonial power Spain. After several military losses to the Polisario – heavily armed and supported by Algeria, the local hegemon and rival to Morocco –Mauritania retreated in 1979, and its claims were taken over by Morocco. Due to economic weakness, Mauritania has been a negligible player in the territorial dispute, with its official position being that it wishes for an expedient solution that is mutually agreeable to all parties. While most of the former Spanish or Western Sahara has been woven into Morocco, the UN still considers the Western Sahara a territory that needs to express its wishes with respect to statehood: a referendum is still supposed to be held sometimes in the future, under UN auspices, to determine whether or not the “saharaouis” wish to remain part of Morocco. The Moroccan authorities, on their part, wish the saharaouis to remain part of Morocco and therefore have made significant investments in the area.
After independence, President Moktar Ould Daddah, originally installed by the French, formalized Mauritania into a one-party state in 1964 with a new constitution, which set up an authoritarian presidential regime. Daddah's own Parti du Peuple Mauritanien (PPM) became the ruling organization in a single-party system. The President justified this decision on the grounds that he considered Mauritania unready for western-style multi-party democracy. Under this one-party constitution, Daddah was reelected in uncontested elections in 1966, 1971 and 1976. He was ousted in a bloodless coup on 10 July 1978, after bringing the country to near-collapse through a disastrous war to annex the southern part of Western Sahara, in an attempt to create a "Greater Mauritania".
Col. Mustafa Ould Salek's CMRN junta proved incapable of either establishing a strong base of power or extracting the country from its destabilizing conflict with the Sahrawi resistance movement, the Polisario Front. It quickly fell to be replaced by another military government, the CMSN. The energetic Col. Mohamed Khouna Ould Haidallah soon emerged as its main strongman, and by giving up all claims to Western Sahara, he found peace with the Polisario and improved relations with its main backer, Algeria – but relations with the other party to the conflict, Morocco, and its European ally France, deteriorated. Instability continued, and Haidallah's ambitious reform attempts foundered. Not only was his regime plagued by attempted coups and intrigue within the military establishment, but it also became increasingly contested because of his harsh and uncompromising line against opponents and political and military dissidents, of whom many were jailed and some were executed.
In 1984 he was deposed by Col. Maaouya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya, who relaxed the political climate somewhat, without relinquishing military control. Ould Taya moderated Mauritania's previous pro-Algerian stance, and reconnected with Morocco during the late 1980s. Relations with Morocco deepened during the late 1990s and early 2000s, as part of Mauritania's drive to attract support from Western states and Western-aligned Arab states. However, Mauritania has not rescinded its recognition of Polisario's Western Saharan exile government, remaining on good terms with Algeria. Its position on the Western Sahara conflict is, since the 1980s, one of strict neutrality.
The Parti Républicain Démocratique et Social (PRDS), formerly led by President Maaouya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya, dominated Mauritanian politics following the country's first multi-party elections in April 1992 following the approval by referendum of the current constitution in July 1991. President Taya, who won elections in 1992 and 1997, first became chief of state through a 12 December 1984 bloodless coup which made him chairman of the committee of military officers that governed Mauritania from July 1978 to April 1992.
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; 12 major political parties were active in 2004. Most opposition parties boycotted the first legislative election in 1992, and for nearly a decade the parliament was dominated by the PRDS. The opposition participated in municipal elections in January-February 1994 and subsequent Senate elections, most recently in April 2004, gained representation at the local level as well as three seats in the Senate.
A group of current and former Army officers launched a bloody but unsuccessful coup attempt on 8 June 2003. The leaders of the attempted coup were never caught.
Mauritania's presidential election, its third since adopting the democratic process in 1992, took place on 7 November 2003. Six candidates, including Mauritania's first female and first Haratine (former slave family) candidates, represented a wide variety of political goals and backgrounds. Incumbent President Maaouya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya won reelection with 67.02% of the popular vote, according to the official figures, with Mohamed Khouna Ould Haidalla finishing second.
During the late 1980s, Ould Taya had established a close cooperation with Iraq, and pursued a strongly Arab Nationalist line. At the same time, bloody clashes erupted with Senegal in 1989, during which both countries expelled ethnic minorities to the other country. Mauritania grew increasingly isolated internationally, and tensions with Western countries grew dramatically after it took a pro-Iraqi position during the 1991 Gulf War. During the mid- to late 1990s, Mauritania shifted its foreign policy to one of increased cooperation with the US and Europe, and was rewarded with diplomatic relaxation and aid projects.
In 1999, Mauritanian Foreign Minister Ahmed Sid’Ahmed and his Israeli counterpart David Levy signed an agreement in Washington DC, USA, on 28 October, establishing full diplomatic relations with Mauritania, an Islamic country and a member of the Arab League. The signing ceremony was held at the U.S. State Department in the presence of U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Mauritania thereby joined Egypt, Palestine and Jordan as the only members of the Arab League to officially recognize Israel. Ould Taya also started cooperating with the United States in antiterrorism activities, which was criticized by human rights NGOs, who talked of an exaggeration and instrumentation of alleged terrorist activities for geopolitical aims. (See also Foreign relations of Mauritania.)
On 3 August 2005, a military coup led by Colonel Ely Ould Mohamed Vall ended Maaouya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya's twenty-one years of rule.
On 3 August, the Mauritanian military, including members of the presidential guard, seized control of key points in the capital of Nouakchott. They took advantage of President Taya's attendance at the funeral of Saudi King Fahd to organize the coup, which took place without loss of life. The officers, calling themselves the Military Council for Justice and Democracy, released the following statement:
The Military Council later issued another statement naming Colonel Vall as president and director of the national police force, the Sûreté Nationale. Sixteen other officers were listed as members. Colonel Vall was once regarded as a firm ally of the now-ousted president, even aiding him in the original coup that brought him to power, and later serving as his security chief.
Applauded by the Mauritanian people, but cautiously watched by the international community, the coup has since been generally accepted, while the military junta has organized elections within the promised two year timeline. In a referendum on 26 June 2006, Mauritanians overwhelmingly (97%) approved a new constitution which limited the duration of a president's stay in office. The leader of the junta, Col. Vall, promised to abide by the referendum and relinquish power peacefully. Mauritania's establishment of relations with the State of Israel – it was one of only three Arab states to recognize Israel – was maintained by the new regime, despite widespread criticism from the opposition, who viewed it as a legacy of the Taya regime's attempts to curry favor with the West.
Parliamentary and municipal elections in Mauritania took place on 19 November and 3 December 2006.
The first fully democratic Presidential election since 1960 occurred on 11 March 2007. The election effected the final transfer from military to civilian rule following the military coup in 2005. This was the first time that the president had been selected in a multi-candidate election in the country's post-independence history.
The head of the Presidential Guards took over the president's palace and units of the army surrounded a key state building in the capital Nouakchott on 6 August 2008, a day after 48 lawmakers from the ruling party resigned. The army surrounded the state television building after the president sacked (fired) two senior officers, including the head of the presidential guards.  The president, the prime minister and the minister of internal affairs were arrested.
The coup was organized by General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, former chief of staff of the Mauritanian army and head of the Presidential Guard, whom the president had just dismissed. Mauritania's presidential spokesman, Abdoulaye Mamadouba, said President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, Prime Minister Yahya Ould Ahmed Waghf and the interior minister, were arrested by renegade Senior Mauritanian army officers, unknown troops and a group of generals, and were held under house arrest at the presidential palace in Nouakchott. In the apparently successful and bloodless coup d'etat, Abdallahi's daughter, Amal Mint Cheikh Abdallahi, said: "The security agents of the BASEP (Presidential Security Battalion) came to our home and took away my father." The coup plotters, all dismissed in a presidential decree shortly beforehand, included General Muhammad Ould ‘Abd Al-‘Aziz, General Muhammad Ould Al-Ghazwani, General Philippe Swikri, and Brigadier General (Aqid) Ahmad Ould Bakri.
A Mauritanian lawmaker, Mohammed Al Mukhtar, announced that "many of the country's people were supporting the takeover attempt and the government was "an authoritarian regime" and that the president had "marginalized the majority in parliament." The coup was also backed by Abdellahi's rival in the 2007 election, Ahmed Ould Daddah. However, Ould `Abd Al-`Aziz's regime was isolated internationally and punished by diplomatic sanctions and the cancellation of some aid projects. It found few supporters, among them Morocco, Libya and Iran, while Algeria, the United States, France and other European countries criticized the coup, and continued to refer to Abdellahi as the legitimate president of Mauritania. A group of parties also coalesced around Abdellahi to continue to protest the coup, causing the junta to ban demonstration and crack down on opposition activists. International and internal pressure eventually forced the release of Abdellahi, who was instead placed in house arrest in his home village. The new government broke off relations with Israel, which it had recognized in 1999, during the Gaza invasion of late 2008/early 2009, which helped grant it some recognition in the Arab world and promises of Iranian and Libyan support. Even so, the `Abd Al-`Aziz government appeared isolated and weak during the first half of 2009.
`Abd Al-`Aziz had since the coup insisted on organizing new presidential elections to replace Abdellahi, but was forced to reschedule them due to internal and international opposition. However, during the spring of 2009, the junta negotiated an understanding with some opposition figures as well as international parties, which dramatically changed the situation. Abdellahi formally resigned, under protest, as it became clear that some opposition forces had defected from him and most international players, notably including France and Algeria, now lined up behind `Abd Al-`Aziz. The United States continued to criticize the coup, but did not actively oppose the elections. Abdellahi's resignation paved the way for the election of military strongman Muhammad Ould `Abd Al-`Aziz as civilian president, on July 18, by a 52% majority. Many of Abdellahi's former supporters criticized this as a political ploy and refused to recognize the results. They argued that the election had been falsified due to junta control, and complained that the international community had let down the opposition. Despite marginal complaints, the elections were almost unanimously accepted by Western, Arab and African countries, which lifted sanctions and resumed cooperation with Mauritania. By late summer, `Abd Al-`Aziz appeared to have secured his position and to have garnered widespread international and internal support, although several influential parties and political personalities, notably Senate chairman Messaoud Ould Boulkheir, continued to refuse the new order and call for `Abd Al-`Aziz's resignation.
Mauritania is divided into 12 regions (régions) called wilaya and one capital district in Nouakchott, which in turn are subdivided into 44 departments (moughataa). The regions and capital district (in alphabetical order) and their capitals are:
|Hodh Ech Chargui||Néma|
|Hodh El Gharbi||Ayoun el Atrous|
|Nouakchott (capital district)|
Mauritania is generally flat, its 1,030,700 square kilometers (397,850 sq mi) forming vast, arid plains broken by occasional ridges and clifflike 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 500 meters (1,640 ft). 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) is a prominent feature of the north-central region. Kediet ej Jill, near the city of Zouîrât, has an elevation of 1,000 meters (3,280 ft) and is the highest peak.
Approximately three quarters of Mauritania is desert or semidesert. As a result of extended, severe drought, the desert has been expanding since the mid-1960s. To the west, between the ocean and the plateaus, are alternating areas of clayey plains (regs) and sand dunes (ergs), some of which shift from place to place, gradually moved by high winds. The dunes generally increase in size and mobility toward the north.
Mauritania remains as one of Africa's poorest countries. A majority of the population still depends on agriculture and livestock for a livelihood, even though most of the nomads and many subsistence farmers were forced into the cities by recurrent droughts in the 1970s and 1980s. Mauritania has extensive deposits of iron ore, which account for almost 50% of total exports. With the current rises in metal prices, gold and copper mining companies are opening mines in the interior. The nation's coastal waters are among the richest fishing areas in the world, but overexploitation by foreigners threatens this key source of revenue. The country's first deepwater port opened near Nouakchott in 1986. In recent years, drought and economic mismanagement have resulted in a buildup of foreign debt. In March 1999, the government signed an agreement with a joint World Bank-IMF mission on a $54 million enhanced structural adjustment facility (ESAF). The economic objectives have been set for 1999-2002. Privatization remains one of the key issues. Mauritania is unlikely to meet ESAF's annual GDP growth objectives of 4%-5%.
Oil was discovered in Mauritania in 2001 in the offshore Chinguetti deposit. Although potentially significant for the Mauritanian economy, it remains to be seen how much it will help the country. Mauritania has been described as a "desperately poor desert nation, which straddles the Arab and African worlds and is Africa's newest, if small-scale, oil producer." There may be additional oil reserves inland in the Taoudeni basin, although the harsh environment will make extraction expensive.
Life expectancy at birth was 53.91 years (2008 estimate). Per capita expenditure on health was 43 US$ (PPP) in 2004. Public expenditure was 2% of the GDP in 2004 and private 0.9 % of the GDP in 2004. In the early 21st century there were 11 physicians per 100,000 people. Infant mortality was 7,8 % of the live births.
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 emirates 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 non Arab blacks see themselves as African. The most important common denomination, if not the only one, is Sunni Islam.
A large proportion of the population, particularly women, are illiterate. Since 1999, all teaching in the first year of primary school is in Arabic. The country has the University of Nouakchott and other institutions of higher education. Public expenditure on education was at 10.1 % of 2000-2007 government expenditure.
|Area||total: 1,030,700 km2
land: 1,030,400 km2
water: 300 km2
|Population||3,177,388 (July 2006 est.)|
|Language||Arabic (official), French (official), Pulaar, Soninke, Wolof|
|Electricity||220V/50Hz (European plug)|
Mauritania is a land about desert and ocean. It is of course no wonder that the main attractions for most tourists are the desert in Adrar and Tagant areas (around Atar), and the ocean in Banc d'Arguin (a natural reserve with dunes ending in the sea, full of millions of birds and protected by UNESCO). The Adrar is exactly how you've always imagined the Sahara as: endless ergs (dunes) and regs (rocky desert) with tabular small mountains. Most tourists stay along the west coast of the country, although there are a few beautiful sights far into the interior (rock formations in Aioun, for example). If you decide to travel off the beaten path, leave plenty of time to get around.
Mauritania is an Islamic Republic. Don't be afraid of this political status - most Mauritanians are not extremists, even if the majority of the people in the North are very conservative and quite reserved. The Southern part of the country is filled with friendly people, and they are very welcoming, if a little unused to tourists.
Travelling to Mauritania is becoming easier, with charter flights from France to Atar through the winter. Some charter flights have been canceled this past month due to security concerns. Guides and tourist agencies are quite easy to find. However, Mauritania is not connected to the international banking system. Your Visa card will not work in the local ATM. There are now international ATM's at BNP and Societe Generale in Nouakchott and Nouadhibou. Otherwise, credit cards are accepted almost nowhere. It is easy to change euros, dollars and CFA in Nouakchott, however.
All visitors to Mauritania require a passport. Holders of West African passports holders do not require a visa to enter.
As of 2009, visas for Mauritania are no longer available at on arrival at land borders, so overland travellers have to arrange them in eg. Rabat. Single entry visa fee is 37 EUR, double entry is 52 EUR. Two passport-size photos are required, as well as a copy of the information pages of your passport. Visas are available on the next day.
For most people there are no vaccinations required in Mauritania. Only ones coming from yellow fever endemic zones are required to present vaccination certificate.
Nouakchott International Airport (IATA: NKC ICAO: GQNN) is the base for Mauritanian Airways , which flies to Paris, Dakar, Abidjan and Nouadhibou. It also receives flights from Algiers on Air Algérie  and from Paris on Air France  . Alternatively you can take a charter flight, which costs around €400.
No trains run between Mauritania and its neighbors.
The road from The Western Sahara/Morocco enters the country near Nouadhibou. The road is paved all the way to the Moroccan border post in Fort Guerguarat, where one has to traverse about 7 kilometers of twisting, stony, but straightforward pistes to reach the Mauritanian border, where the tarred road begins again. Although the driving is simple, care should be taken not to leave the well worn pistes between the two border posts, because the area is a mine field. This danger is still present once you reach the tar on the Mauritanian side, and the area is not considered mine-free until you pass the railway line.
The crossing formalities are straightforward. Transit visas - valid for 3 days - can no longer be bought at the border, although this may change again. There is a bureau de change at the border, and a vehicle insurance office and numerous hopeful guides for making the old desert crossing down to the capital.
There are numerous pistes running across the Mauritanian border from Mali. These used to be the de facto route between the two countries, however there now exists a new tar road connecting Nara in Mali to Ayoun al Atrous in Mauritania. The border formalities in Mali are completed at various buildings around Nara town (local children will lead you to the police or customs for a small present). The Mauritanian formalities are conducted at a string of road-blocks along the border road.
An alternative land route which goes direct from Mauritania to Timbuktu, Mali is to travel the road Southeast from Néma, which is at the end of a good tarred road from Nouakchott. This dirt road continues to Bassekounou before crossing the border near Léré, Mali where it improves to a good dirt road to Niafunké and on to Timbuktu.
There is only one train line in Mauritania, linking Nouadhibou, Choum and Zouerat, but it's a tourist attraction itself. The train is said to be the longest one in the world, having over 150 cars and being over 2 kilometers long. It's used to carry iron ore from Zouerat mine to Nouadhibou harbor.
In Mauritania there is only one passenger car, but travel in iron ore hopper is also possible (and advisable, as the passenger car is usually overcrowded and tickets are required). Ticket price is 1500 ougiyas for passenger car and travel in hopper is free. Remember to have scarf to cover your face, as there are always awful lots of tiny dust.
From Choum it's possible to get to Atar with a bush taxi.
Hassaniya Arabic is the language of the Moor majority, while other languages are spoken by Southern Black Afrians including Pulaar, Wolof, and Soninke (especially in the Guidimakha region around Selibaby). French is the second official language and is spoken by many. This is especially true near towns. In the countryside, individuals may often speak several languages but not French.
It is considered polite to say Salaam aleikum when entering a taxi, office or when greeting someone. It is the first greeting for most of the dialects spoken in the region.
Souvenirs can be bought at Marche Capital or Marche Sixieme in Nouakchott, or at tourist shops in the Adrar. Fabric will be sold in boutiques all over the country, but Kaedi is famous for its tie-dying.
In general, the quality of most Mauritanian souvenirs is not as good as one might expect. That said, you can find leather products, pipes, wooden bowls, tea pots and silver jewelry among other things (be careful with the quality of jewelry). Fabric, however, is tie-dyed by hand and can be quite beautiful. Fabric will be sold as a mulafa (veil)--usually gauzy and one piece--or as material for a boubou, with two separate pieces for a skirt and top. Fabric is sold anywhere for anything from 1500 UM to 8000 UM, depending on the fabric quality and work involved.
When buying anything in Mauritania, feel free to bargain. Sometimes the starting price will be three times the actual price. Stay friendly, but don't worry about insulting anyone by asking for a lower price.
There is a decent variety of restaurants in Nouakchott with plates from 1000 to 2500 UM. Most restaurants in the capital offer pretty much the same menu - simple pizzas, hamburgers, sandwiches, and salads. There is a string of restaurants on the road from the Stade Olympique to the French Embassy. Good ones include Pizza Lina, Cafe Liban, and Le Petit Cafe. The Sahara Cafe, on the other side of the stadium, is also a good place for pizza, sandwiches or Lebanese, and has some of the best reasonably-priced food in town. Near Marche Capitale, there is a street of sandwich shops that offer near-identical menus, the best of which is the Prince (which taxi drivers know by name).
Outside of Nouakchott, it is possible to find a hamburger in Atar. Otherwise, you are looking at local dishes: fish and rice (chebujin) in the south and rice and meat or couscous in the north. Hole in the wall restaurants can be found everywhere and serve plates from 200 to 500 UM. Mechui, or grilled sheep, is also delicious if a little more expensive. Look for carcasses hanging by the side of the road. Some fruit can be found in most regional capitals. Note that most restaurants outside of Nouakchott do not have very high sanitation standards in regards to food preparation. Since most small restaurants go under within a few years of opening, your best bet in trying to find one in a regional capital is to just ask locals for directions to whatever is nearby. Another alternative, in the absence of a restaurant, is paying a family to prepare food for you, which should be relatively inexpensive (no more than 1500 um), even if it takes a while (up to a couple hours to buy the food and prepare it).
Bottled water can be bought for 200 UM and is a good idea for anyone not accustomed to Africa.
If none of this sounds good, keep in mind that boutiques everywhere stock bread, cookies and sodas if nothing else!
Tea is usually served after a meal, but it is not included with the meal at restaurants. If you are offered tea in someone's home, it is impolite to leave until at least the second (of three) glasses. The whole process takes about an hour.
Despite being an Islamic country there are a few fun bars in the capital. Drinking can be expensive however: beers can go for about $6! There is a nightclub inside the French Embassy compound. For the non-French, try the Salamander or the trashy (but open late) Club VIP. Next door to VIP is the Casablanca, a more low-key bar with live music on the weekends. Note that it is illegal to import alcohol!
All ranges of accommodation are available, with the highest class hotels available only in Nouakchott and Atar. "Auberges" and Campsites can rent beds/mattresses for as little as 1500 ouguiya in the Adrar and Nouadhibou.
There is usually at least one hotel in the regional capitals in the rest of the country, although they can be expensive for what you are getting. If possible, make friends with a local and try to get invited to stay with their family. As long as you don't mind a)sleeping on the ground on a foam mat b)sleeping/eating near animals or c)using a latrine, you will probably end up having a nice, memorable stay.
The area near the Western Sahara is heavily mined and travel through this area is highly unadvised. Border areas lining Algeria and Mali are notorious for banditry. In other areas, one should avoid flaunting wealth or expensive wares. Daunting though it may seem, a bit of research and common sense will ensure a pleasant trip in Mauritania.
Check your Embassy or Consulate travel advisories carefully. Due to increasing numbers of attacks on Westerners in the past several years, most Western nations advise great caution. Resident expatriates travel between cities by day, in groups and on major routes. Nkosi 06:59, 1 January 2010 (EST)
For the majority of Westerners, the local water in any part of the country (including Nouakchott) is not safe to drink. Visitors should drink only bottled water if they don't have access to some type of water purifying or filtration system. The Sahara is a very dry climate. You may become dehydrated quite easily, and not be aware of it. The best rule of thumb is to be sure that you have peed three times each day, at reasonable intervals. In the hottest part of the year, this might mean drinking several liters of water each day.
Malaria is endemic in the Southern part of the country, and visitors should always use a mosquito net there. Mosquitos are less common in the dry desert in the North of the country, but exist year-round in the South, if a bit less prevalent during the dry season (December-May).
Learn Salaam alaykum and use it when greeting people. If you are a man, don't try to shake hands with a woman, and vice versa (note that some African women will not have a problem with shaking a man's hand, but it is best to not try to initiate contact, just follow their lead). You can, however, say hello and touch your hand over your heart.
Be careful to eat with your right hand, especially outside of Nouakchott where you may not be offered silverware. Like other places in the Arab world, the left hand is reserved for the bathroom. If you're left-handed... try hard.
Covering your head isn't required, but it is polite. It may cut down on the Madame ou bien Mademoiselle? question, but Westerners, especially women, will be the target of unwanted attention and minor harassment everywhere in the country. Be aware though, that many Mauritanians, both male and female, think that a direct gaze is a sexual invitation. There is even a phrase in Hassiniya, ayna m'tina, meaning strong eyes, to describe what many people feel is an agressive act. Just because you are in a foreign country doesn't mean that the men have carte blanche to be jerks, though. Calling them on their bad behavior, or pointing it out to the ever present bystanders, can often work. If you give respect, you can demand it also. The Moors respect women who stand up for themselves (even while they push you to see how far they can get).
If you are traveling with someone of the opposite sex, avoid touching in public. It's actually much more common to see two men holding hands than a woman and a man. As far as dress, the more skin you show, the more negative attention you will receive. In Nouakchott, women can wear pants, but avoid tank tops and to-the-knee skirts everywhere. Long skirts are the best choice for women. It is a good idea to cover your arms also. Pants display the crotch area and thus are also disturbing, especially to people in the countryside who aren't as used to seeing this as the city folk. Most people will be very polite, and you will not know what they are thinking.
If you are a female, there is no non-sexual reason, EVER, to go off in private with a man. If they ask you to step into an office, or back of the store, or whatever, don't. The men are aware that that is an unreasonable request, and no one would ask you for a private chat if they meant well. If you allow yourself to be alone with a man, for however brief a time, everyone will assume you had sex, and will judge you accordingly. As a weakling, not as dissolute. In fact, if you have a boyfriend, not a series of boyfriends, most people are a bit flattered. The men are pretty uninhibited, very sensual, and can be lots of fun.
If you are a LGBT visitor, do not try to be open about your sexuality to any Mauritanian. They will act very harshly to this. Also do not make any acts in public that would imply the fact that you are LGBT, thenceforward you will be sentenced to death.
If you are white, Nasrani, Toubac and Toubab refers to you. Little kids, and sometimes rude adults, will refer to you by this name. Nasrani actually means a person from Nazareth. Since Christians follow Christ's teachings, and Christ is from Nazareth, then Christians are all honorary Nazarenes.
Beware of people who may try to take advantage of Westerners' unfailing politeness in order to try to make a sale. Be aware that in market areas, almost everyone who tries to befriend you is trying to sell you something at an inflated price. They will try many tricks to get you to buy items from them (including "giving them to you as a gift"), and a few might even accuse you of not liking Africans if you decline to look at their souvenir shop. If someone is going beyond the normal limits to bother you, it is not impolite to tell them, without question, that you are not interested. If they ask for something that you own, just say that you need it right now, and can give it to them in a month or so.
There are two operators of a GSM-Network: Mattel  (excellent English website) and Mauritel Mobiles . Prepaid plans are available for both of them. Further Information regarding Coverage and Roaming are available from GSM-World .
For tours into the desert where no GSM-Network is available satellitephones are a good solution. Thuraya, Iridium or Inmarsat. Thuraya tends to be the cheapest and the most easy to use. The equipment is also available for rent.
Internet cafes with DSL internet can be found in Nouakchott and Nouadhibou for 200-300 UM an hour. Slower connections plauge "cybercafes" elsewhere in the country, but if you are desperate to check your email it is usually possible.
|This is a usable article. It gives a good overview of the region, its sights, and how to get in, as well as links to the main destinations, whose articles are similarly well developed. An adventurous person could use this article, but please plunge forward and help it grow!|
Declension of Mauritania (type kulkija)
From Maurus (“‘Moor’”)
Mauritānia (genitive Mauritāniae); f, first declension
[[File:|thumb|right|Map showing location of Mauritania]]
Mauritania is a country in northwest Africa. The capital city, which is also the biggest city in the country, is Nouakchott. It is on the Atlantic coast. Its president is General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz.
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