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*On this date in 1960, Mauritania gained independence from France. Mauritania is a country in Northwest Africa. It is the twenty-eighth largest country or dependency in the world, the eleventh largest sovereign state in Africa, and the largest country lying entirely below an altitude of 1,000 meters (3,300 ft). In the late 19th century, due to the Berlin Conference, Mauritania became a French colony.
The Atlantic Ocean borders Mauritania to the west, Western Sahara to the north and northwest, Algeria to the northeast, Mali to the east and southeast, and Senegal to the southwest. The country’s name derives from the ancient Berber kingdom of Mauretania, located in present-day Morocco and Algeria. Berbers occupied the area that today is Mauritania beginning in the 3rd century CE, until Arabs invaded and conquered it in the 8th century, bringing Islam and Islamic culture with them. Approximately 90% of Mauritania's land is in the Sahara. As a result, most of its inhabitants live in the south of the country, where precipitation is slightly higher, including the Mandé community.
The capital and largest city are Nouakchott, located on the Atlantic coast. It is home to around one-third of the country's 4 million people. Arabic is the official language. French is also widely spoken due to Mauritania’s history as a colony of France. Mauritania’s official religion is Islam, and its inhabitants are Sunni Muslims. One country’s largest ethnic group is the Bidhan, or “white moors." They make up 30% of the population. Another of the largest groups is the Haratin, or “black moors." The Haratin make up 40% of the population. The rest of the inhabitants, for the most part, belong to sub-Saharan ethnic groups. Despite an abundance of natural resources, Mauritania remains poor. The country's economy is based on agriculture and livestock. Its major industries include mining (particularly iron ore), petroleum production, and fishing.
Contemporary Mauritania has been criticized for its poor human rights record, including for Mauritania's continued practice of slavery, a result of a historical caste system between the Bidhan and Haratin, despite abolishing it in 1981 as the last country in the world to do so and criminalizing it in 2007. There have also been allegations of systematic torture by Mauritanian law enforcement. Since then, it has experienced recurrent coups and authoritarian military rule. The most recent coup, in 2008, was led by General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, who then won presidential elections in 2009 and 2014. Mohamed Ould Ghazouani's victory in the 2019 Mauritanian presidential election was presented as the country's first peaceful transition of power since independence.