Capital : Nouakchott
Size: 396 000 sq m Popn: 2 143 000
Mauritania was the name given to the Roman province of North West Africa after its Berber inhabitants, the Mauri, who occupied the region in the C1st to C3rd AD. This vast territory was once jungle and grassland but is now largely desert. As the Sahara desert increased, the Berbers drove the indigenous black population south, taking political and economic control. From the C7th to C11th AD, it was part of the Ghana Empire, coming under Islamic influence from Almoravid Empire in the C8th, and then under Arab control.
France had an influence from the C17th, establishing trade in gum arabic and began to colonize in the mid C18th, gaining control of south Mauritania and negotiating treaties with the Berbers in the C19th. The territory of Mauritania was created in 1904 and in 1920 it became part of French West Africa. France conquered the Regueibat tribes to make it part of the Empire in 1933 but it was never economically profitable.
In 1958, it became self-governing within the French community and was given full independence in 1960 under President Moktar Ould Daddah after Morocco gave up a claim for it as a province. Daddah nationalized the iron ore company in 1974, joined the Arab League in 1975 and agreed to divide the former Spanish Sahara with Morocco. This was resisted by the Popular front for Liberation or 'Polisario' and Morocco and Mauritania were forced by guerrilla warfare into a mutual defence pact. The economy was weakened and Daddah's incompetent regime was overthrown in 1978 by the military under Colonel Mustapha Ould Salek. His replacement, Lt.-Col. Ahmed Ould Bouciek, was killed in an air-crash in 1979 and succeeded by Colonel Mohammed Khouna Ould Heydalla (Haidalla). He made peace with the Saharan Polisario movement and agreed to give back Mauritania's share of the Spanish Sahara although this was prevented by a Moroccan occupation.
A bloodless coup in 1984 replaced Heydalla with former prime minister, Colonel Maaouia Ould Sid Ahmed Taya whose administration is praised for respecting human rights. Diplomatic relations with Morocco ended in 1981 and the situation did not improve until 1984 when Mauritania gave formal recognition to the Polisario regime in Western Sahara. 1989 saw border struggles with Senegal and citizens of the two countries were repatriated to try to resolve them.
About 20% of the people are Black Africans from the Toucouleur, Sarakole and Wolof ethnic groups and there are some Peulh or Fulani who are light-skinned nomads. The rest are Arab-Berber Moors, consisting of the Bidan or 'white' Moors and the less numerous Harattin or 'black' Moors, who share the Malekite Muslim religion. Arabic and French are the official languages, the Moors speak Hassiniyya, a Berber-Arabic dialect, and the Senegal valley peoples have their own languages. The Toucouleur, who may be the original inhabitants, are linguistically similar to the Peulh.
This collection of names was compiled by Kate Monk and is ©1997, Kate Monk.
Copies may be made for personal use only.
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