Mauritania Brief History

Mauritania: Country Facts

Mauritania, located in Northwest Africa, is known for its vast desert landscapes and rich cultural heritage. Its capital and largest city is Nouakchott. With a population of approximately 4.5 million, it covers an area of over 1 million square kilometers. Mauritania is a diverse country, with Arab-Berber, Sub-Saharan African, and Moorish influences. The economy is primarily based on agriculture, mining, and fishing, with a significant portion of the population engaged in nomadic herding. Mauritania faces challenges related to poverty, desertification, and political stability, but it is also a land of ancient traditions and hospitable people.

Precolonial Period and Kingdoms (Before 1550 CE)

Ancient Civilizations

Mauritania has a rich history dating back to ancient times, with evidence of human habitation and early civilizations in the region. The area was inhabited by various ethnic groups, including Berbers, Sub-Saharan Africans, and nomadic tribes.

Ghana Empire

The Ghana Empire, one of the earliest known kingdoms in West Africa, extended into present-day Mauritania. It flourished from the 8th to the 11th century, controlling trade routes and engaging in gold mining and salt trading.

Almoravid Dynasty

The Almoravid dynasty, originating from present-day Morocco, expanded into Mauritania in the 11th century. Under their rule, Islam spread throughout the region, shaping Mauritanian society and culture.

Moorish Kingdoms

From the 13th to the 15th century, Mauritania was home to several Moorish kingdoms, including the Kingdom of Tichitt and the Kingdom of Tekrur. These kingdoms played a significant role in trans-Saharan trade and Islamic scholarship.

Colonialism and French Rule (1550 – 1960)

European Contact

European explorers, including Portuguese and French traders, arrived in Mauritania in the 15th century, seeking access to West African trade routes. The Portuguese established trading posts along the coast, but their influence was limited.

French Colonization

In the late 19th century, France established colonial control over Mauritania, incorporating it into French West Africa. The French exploited the region for its resources, including gum arabic, and imposed colonial administration and governance.

Resistance and Rebellion

Mauritanians resisted French colonial rule through various means, including armed uprisings and protests. Notable resistance leaders, such as Sheikh Saad Bouh, led movements against French domination and exploitation.

Integration into French Empire

Mauritania was integrated into the French colonial administration, with French laws, language, and culture imposed on the indigenous population. The French introduced modern infrastructure and education but also exploited Mauritanian labor and resources.

Struggle for Independence

In the mid-20th century, nationalist movements emerged in Mauritania, demanding independence from French colonial rule. Political parties, including the Mauritanian Regroupment Party (PRM), campaigned for self-determination and sovereignty.


On November 28, 1960, Mauritania gained independence from France, becoming a sovereign nation with Moktar Ould Daddah as its first president. The country embarked on a journey of nation-building and development, facing challenges of political instability and economic dependence.

Post-Independence Challenges and Military Rule (1960 – 2005)

One-Party Rule

After independence, Mauritania was ruled by a single-party system under the Mauritanian People’s Party (PPM), led by President Moktar Ould Daddah. The government implemented socialist policies and centralized control over the economy.

Ethnic Tensions

Mauritania experienced ethnic tensions between Arab-Berber and Sub-Saharan African communities, exacerbated by disparities in wealth, power, and land ownership. The government’s policies favored Arab-Berber elites, leading to marginalization and discrimination against Sub-Saharan Africans.

Coup d’√Čtats and Military Rule

Mauritania witnessed multiple coup d’√©tats and military takeovers, with the military overthrowing civilian governments in 1978, 1984, and 2005. Military leaders, including Maaouya Ould Sid’Ahmed Taya, seized power and ruled the country with authoritarian control.

Arabization and Islamization

Under military rule, Mauritania underwent Arabization and Islamization policies, promoting Arabic language and Islamic culture at the expense of indigenous languages and traditions. Islamic law, or Sharia, was increasingly enforced, affecting legal and social norms.

Conflict and Instability

Mauritania faced internal conflict and instability, including armed rebellions by ethnic minority groups and Islamist militants. The government’s response to dissent and opposition often involved human rights abuses and repression of political dissent.

Regional and International Relations

Mauritania maintained diplomatic relations with neighboring countries and international partners, participating in regional organizations such as the Arab League and the African Union. However, its human rights record and authoritarian rule drew criticism from the international community.

Democratic Transition and Contemporary Era (2005 – Present)

Democratic Transition

In 2005, a military coup led by Colonel Ely Ould Mohamed Vall ousted President Maaouya Ould Sid’Ahmed Taya, marking the end of military rule. Mauritania embarked on a path of democratic transition, with promises of political reforms and free elections.

Return to Civilian Rule

Civilian governance was restored with the election of Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi as president in 2007, marking Mauritania’s first peaceful transfer of power since independence. However, political stability remained fragile, with ongoing challenges of corruption and insecurity.

Security and Counterterrorism

Mauritania faced security threats from Islamist extremist groups, particularly Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which carried out attacks and kidnappings in the region. The government collaborated with international partners to combat terrorism and secure its borders.

Economic Development

Mauritania’s economy relies heavily on natural resources, particularly iron ore and fisheries. The government implemented economic reforms and sought foreign investment to diversify the economy and reduce dependence on volatile commodity prices.

Human Rights and Governance

Mauritania grappled with human rights challenges, including slavery, discrimination, and restrictions on freedom of expression. Efforts to promote human rights, democracy, and the rule of law are ongoing, but progress has been slow and uneven.

Regional Cooperation and Diplomacy

Mauritania actively participates in regional and international forums, including the Arab League, African Union, and United Nations. The country plays a role in regional peacekeeping efforts and diplomacy, particularly in the Sahel and Maghreb regions.

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