Mauritania: A Brief History

Published on 14th June 2005

From the 3rd to 7th 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. Continued Arab-Berber migration drove indigenous black Africans south to the Senegal River or enslaved them. By 1076, Islamic warrior monks (Almoravid or Al Murabitun) completed the conquest of southern Mauritania, defeating the ancient Ghana empire.


Over the next 500 years, Arabs overcame fierce Berber resistance to dominate Mauritania. The Mauritanian Thirty-Year War (1644-74) was the unsuccessful final Berber effort to repel the Maqil Arab invaders led by the Beni Hassan tribe. The descendants of 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. Hassaniya, a mainly oral, Berber-influenced Arabic dialect that derives its name from the Beni Hassan tribe, became the dominant language among the largely nomadic population. Aristocrat and servant castes developed, yielding \"white\" (aristocracy) and \"black\" Moors (the enslaved indigenous class).


French colonization at the beginning of the 20th century brought legal prohibitions against slavery and an end to interclan warfare. During the colonial period, the population remained nomadic, but sedentary black Africans, whose ancestors had been expelled centuries earlier by the Moors, began to trickle back into southern Mauritania.


In 1958, Mauritania became an autonomous republic; in 1960 full independence was declared. The country, hitherto administrated from St. Louis (in Senegal), got a new capital at Nouakchott. In 1961, Makthar Ould Daddah was elected president. In 1965, he proclaimed a one-party-state.


In 1966 Mauritania withdrew from the French Community (i.e. the country loosened its ties to motherland France); in 1973, Mauritania joined the Arab League, replaced the African Franc by the Ougouiya. The Sahel drought greatly reduced the country\'s livestock. In 1976 Spain withdrew from the Western Sahara, which subsequently was split up between Mauritania and Morocco. The Saharan Polosario liberation front, aided by Morocco\'s archrival Algeria, fought a Guerilla war. President Daddah was ousted in 1978; in 1979 Mauritania withdrew from its sector of the Sahara (which then was also occupied by Moroccans).


Further coups occurred in 1980 and 1984. A conflict between the Maure and the Negro settlers on the north bank of the Senegal River resulted in riots and atrocities on both sides of the border, in the mutual expulsion of each others citizens and in the break of diplomatic relations. In 1991, multiparty democracy was introduced; incumbent president Maaouiya Ould Sidi Ahmed Taya (since 1984) was re-elected in 1993 and 1997. Consider Mauritania to be an Arab country (mainly Moors) and those who seek a dominant role for the Sub-Saharan peoples. The discord between these two conflicting visions of Mauritanian society was evident during intercommunal violence that broke out In April 1989 (the \"1989 Events\"), but has since subsided. The tension between these two visions remains a feature of the political dialogue. A significant number from both groups, however, seek a more diverse, pluralistic society. A group of current and former army officers launched a bloody but unsuccessful coup attempt on June 8, 2003. The ringleaders remain at large, and their exact motives remain unclear.


2005 Index of Economic Freedom, The Heritage Foundation and Wall Street journal analyses Mauritania as follows:


Rank: 67

Score: 2.93

Category: Mostly Free

Population: 2,785,000

Total area: 1,030,700 sq. km

GDP: $1.4 billion

GDP growth rate: 3.3%

GDP per Capita: $503

Major exports: iron ore, fish

Exports of goods and services: $401 million

Major export trading partners: Italy 14.7%, France 14.4%, Spain 12.1%, Germany 10.8%

Major imports: machinery and equipment, petroleum products, foodstuffs

Imports of goods and services: $776.6 million

Major imports trading partners: France 20.8%, Belgium 8.8%, Spain 6.7%, Germany 5.6%

Foreign direct investment (net): $12 million




2005 Index of Economic Freedom, The Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal




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