AFP/Spacedaily.com info that I
combined w/ and AFP/Yahoo map below.
Factfile on Mauritania
The northwest African country straddles two Africas --
the Arabicized north and the black south -- and its
leadership has changed hands only in a series of coups since
its gaining independence in 1960.
- POPULATION: More than 80 percent of Mauritania's 2.7 million people are Moors (a mix of Arab, Berber and African descent). Black Africans of several ethnicities make up 18 percent of the population, according to recent census numbers.
Ethnic fighting in 1989 led to the deaths of hundreds of black Mauritanians.
- RELIGION: Islam (99 percent). Sharia Islamic law was instituted in 1980 but is not enforced.
- CAPITAL: Nouakchott.
- LANGUAGE: Arabic is the official language. French is also widely spoken.
- HISTORY: A crossroads of the Middle Ages, Mauritania came under French control in 1814 and became a protectorate in 1903. It gained full independence in 1960, and its first president was Moktar Ould Daddah.
Daddah was overthrown in a 1978 coup led by colonel Ould Saleck.
Ould Taya himself came to power through a coup in December 1984. After a multi-party system was set up, he won the presidential election in 1992 and was reelected in 1997. The next election is scheduled for November 7.
While officially an Islamic republic, Mauritania has had diplomatic relations with Israel since 1999 and since the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States has repeated its determination to fight international extremism.
There is widespread opposition in Mauritania to Ould Taya's links with Israel. Mauritania became in 1999 only the third Arab League state to set up full diplomatic relations with the Jewish state.
Despite the official abolition of slavery in 1980, several rights organizations say the practice is still in force.
A new constitution, drawn up in 1991, not only established multi-party politics in Mauritania but reaffirmed its dual Arab and African identity.
- ECONOMY: Mauritania has been under the tutelage of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund since 1986, undergoing economic and social reform in return for massive loans for the drought-prone country.
Last year both announced Mauritania would receive 1.1 billion dollars in debt relief -- 622 million dollars of principal and accumulated interest, or half of the country's total debt.
The IMF also renewed loans last December as part of a program to reduce poverty and encourage growth in poor countries.
Nearly half -- 46.3 percent -- of Mauritanians live beneath the poverty level, but that number climbs to 61.2 percent in rural areas, according to official statistics.
The World Food Programme has called for urgent international aid to help offset the risk of starvation because of a long drought. Around 420,000 people are affected by food shortages, a WFP official said in February.
Mauritania's main exports are iron and fish.
Most rural areas concentrate on herding sheep, goats and cattle, since only one percent of the country receives enough rain to grow crops.
- GROSS DOMESTIC PRODUCT: 370 dollars (310 euros) per person
in 2000 (World Bank figures).
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Africa | June 2003