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COUNTRY PROFILES


PROFILE

Country Profile

Area: 1,030,700 km². Mauritania has a 700 km (435 ml) Atlantic coastline and is approximately twice the size of France.
Population: 3.3m (UN, 2010)
Capital City: Nouakchott
Language(s): Hassaniya Arabic (official), Pulaar, Soninke, Wolof, French. French is widely used in business.
Religion(s): Muslim
Life expectancy: 55 years (men), 59 years (women) (World Bank 2009)
Currency: Ouguiya
Government: Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz was elected President of Mauritania in July 2009. The EU described the elections as a crucial part of a return to constitutional order and said the poll took place in a calm atmosphere, without major incidents. The elections marked a return to democracy in Mauritania, thirteen months after a coup d’etat in August 2008 which overthrew Mauritania’s first democratically elected President since independence.
Head of State: Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz .
Prime Minister: Moulaye Ould Mohamed Laghdaf
Foreign Minister: Hamadi Ould Hamadi
Membership of international groupings/organisations: Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa (ABEDA), Agency for Cultural and Technical Cooperation (ACCT - associate), African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP), African Development Bank (AfDB), Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development (AFESD), Arab League (AL), Arab Monetary Fund (AMF), Arab Maghreb Union (AMU), Agency for Air Navigation Safety in Africa and Madagascar (ASECNA), African Union (AU) (currently suspended), Council of Arab Economic Unity (CAEU), Customs Cooperation Council (CCC), Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Group of 77 at the United Nations (G-77), International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement (ICRM), International Development Association (IDA), Islamic Development Bank (IDB), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), International Finance Corporation (IFC), International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRCS), International Hydrographic Organisation (IHO - pending member), International Labour Organisation (ILO), International Monetary Fund (IMF), International Maritime Organisation (IMO), International Telecommunications Satellite Organisation (Intelsat), International Criminal Police Organisation (Interpol), Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC), International Telecommunications Union (ITU), Non Aligned Movement (NAM), Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), Organisation pour la Mise en Valeur du fleuve Sénégal (OMVS), Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), United Nations (UN), United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), Universal Postal Union (UPU), World Confederation on Labour (WCL), World Health Organisation (WHO), World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), World Tourism Organisation (WtoO), World Trade Organisation (WtrO)

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ECONOMY

Basic Economic Facts

GDP: US$3 billion (World Bank 2009)
GDP (PPP) per capita: US$ 2600 (2006 est)
Annual Growth: 11.2% (2006 est)
Inflation: 8.9% (2006 est)
Major Industries: Exports: iron ore, fish and fish products. Imports: machinery and equipment, petroleum products, capital goods, foodstuffs, consumer goods
Major trading partners: France, UK, US, China (2005). Export partners: Italy, France, Germany, Japan
Exchange rate: US$1 = 278 Mauritanian Ouguiya (August 2011); £1 = 459 Ouguiya)

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 a diverse range of mineral resources, including gold and diamonds. However, exploitation of these resources has been limited by the country’s poor infrastructure. A significant iron ore mining industry contributes up to 11% of the country’s GNP, as well as 40% of export earnings.

Mauritania has offshore oil and gas deposits and a growing upstream oil industry. Offshore oil extraction began in February 2006. GDP surged 11.2% in 2006, one of the highest growth rates in the world. However, technical difficulties affected oil production in the second half of 2006 causing a sharp fall in output from 75,000 barrels per day in February to around 22,000 barrels p/d in December. Production is expected to stabilise at around 30,000 barrels p/d in 2007 thereby moderating recent GDP growth.It is one of the four oil refining countries in West Africa. Its downstream oil industry is a significant element in the country’s economy. Oil derived products supply 95% of the country’s commercial energy needs.

In the past, drought and economic mismanagement resulted in a build-up of foreign debt. In February 2000, Mauritania qualified for debt relief under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative and in December 2001 received strong support from donor and lending countries at a triennial Consultative Group review. In June 2006 Mauritania had its Multilateral debt cancelled under the G8 Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative (MDRI). Ongoing negotiations with the IMF involve problems of economic reforms and fiscal discipline. The government’s main objectives remain the reduction of poverty, improvement of health and education, and promoting privatisation of the economy.

If the promising oil and gas prospects now being explored offshore are brought to fruition, Mauritania will have the chance to diversify its currently narrow export base. In addition, Mauritania has Least Developed Country status. This means it can export to the EU most goods (provided that they meet EU standards) on a tariff-free basis.

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HISTORY

In the 11th century Mauritania formed part of the Islamic religious Almoravid state, which subjugated Ghana, Morocco and western Algeria and dominated Muslim Spain until the mid 12th century. The strength of Islam in Mauritania dates from those times. Between the 13th -15th centuries Mauritania was invaded by Maqil Bedouin tribes. From the 15th century the Portuguese and Spanish established trading settlements on the coast. They were followed by the French who first set up posts along the Senegal river but later gained control of the coastal region, and in 1903 incorporated Mauritania into the French West Africa protectorate. In 1920 Mauritania became a French colony and in 1958 an autonomous state, remaining within the French Community. It gained full independence as the Islamic Republic of Mauritania on 28 November 1960. In 1973 Mauritania joined the Arab League.

BBC News Country Timeline: Mauritania (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-13882166)

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MAURITANIA'S RELATIONS WITH THE UK

Diplomatic Representation

The British Ambassador in Rabat (Morocco) is accredited to Mauritania. There is an Honorary British Consul in Nouakchott who is responsible for consular protection. There is no Mauritanian Embassy in London, but the Mauritanian Ambassador in Brussels is accredited to the UK.

Recent Visits

-- October 2011: William Hague, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.
-- January 2006: H. E. Mohamed Ould Sidiana, Mauritanian Minister of Fisheries and Maritime Economy.
-- March 2005: Zeidane Ould Hmeida, Mauritanian Minister for Industry and Mines .
-- November 2004: Zeidane Ould Hmeida, Mauritanian Minister for Industry and Mines.
-- June 2004: Mohammed Vall Ould Bellal, Mauritanian Minister of Foreign Affairs met the Foreign Secretary and Foreign Office Ministers Baroness Symons and Mike O’Brien. This was the first official visit to the UK by a Mauritanian Minister.

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GEOGRAPHY

The Islamic Republic of Mauritania lies mainly in the Sahara Desert belt of West Africa. Mauritania is a poor country with few sources of income and great vulnerability to climatic and environmental factors. Sharing borders with Morocco, Algeria, Mali and Senegal, Mauritania is about 60% desert. The capital city and major port is Nouakchott. Other major towns are Kiffa, Rosso, Atar, Kaedi, Zouerate and the port of Nouadhibou.

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TRADE AND INVESTMENT

In 2010 UK exports to Mauritania were worth around £43.6m and imports around £2.4m.

Aid

The UK does not provide any direct aid to Mauritania. However, the UK supports the work of the EU, UN and other international institutions working in Mauritania. In 2000, HMG cancelled all outstanding Mauritanian debt to the UK.

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POLITICS

In August 2005 the 'Military Council for Justice and Democracy' seized power in a largely bloodless coup d’etat. The Military Council appointed a transitional government and undertook to return the country to democracy by March 2007. Prior to the coup, President Maaouya Ould Sid'Ahmed TAYA governed from 1984, first as head of a military junta, and from 1992-2005 as head of an elected civilian government.

A new constitution was approved by 97% of voters in a referendum in June 2006. Legislative elections were held in November and December 2006. Turnout was around 70%. No party won outright.. The 11-member ‘Coalition of Forces for Democratic Change’, made up of parties which opposed former President Taya, took 41 of the 95 seats contested. Independents also did well, winning 39 seats. Women won 17 seats and make up 18% of the National Assembly. International observers considered the legislative elections free and transparent. Presidential elections took place in March 2007. The first round on 11 March 2007 did not produce a decisive winner. A second round run-off between the first round’s two leading candidates was held on 25 March 2007. Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheik Abdellahi narrowly defeated his veteran opposition rival, Ahmed Ould Daddah, 52% to 48%. Turnout was 67.5%. The EU Presidency, US and AU issued statements commending the conduct of the elections. President Abdellahi’s first government, formed mostly of technocrats, resigned in May 2008. The new government, announced on 11 May, is regarded as more broad-based and political and includes former ministers.

Municipal and parliamentary elections, planned to take place in September and October 2011 have been postponed until spring 2012, although a date has yet to be fixed.

Earlier this year the Government launched a new system to conduct a national census. Civil society has raised concerns over its implementation, in particularly that it could lead to lead to disenfranchisement of the black population. This has led to a number of small but violent protests across the country.

Mauritania has become the target of terrorist activities. In August 2009 a suicide bomb attack took place outside the French Embassy in Nouakchott, injuring three people. In December 2009, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQM) claimed responsibility for the kidnapping three Spanish nationals who were travelling in an 11-vehicle convoy from the capital Nouakchott to the northern port city of Nouadhibou.

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Last Updated: December 2011

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