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Mauritania, a country situated in Northwest Africa, is characterized by its vast deserts, rich history, and cultural diversity. Spanning the Sahara and part of the Sahel, it is a land where ancient caravan routes once thrived, and diverse communities coexist. This unit study explores Mauritania’s geography, history, government, economy, and culture, offering a comprehensive overview of a nation where tradition meets modernity.


Mauritania is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the west, Western Sahara to the north, Algeria to the northeast, Mali to the east and southeast, and Senegal to the southwest. The country’s geography is predominantly desert, with the Sahara covering more than two-thirds of its land area. The Senegal River forms a natural border with Senegal and is one of the few perennial rivers in the region.

Administrative Divisions

The country is divided into 15 regions and the capital district of Nouakchott. These regions are further subdivided into departments, which are the basic administrative units. Mauritania’s regions reflect its geographical and cultural diversity, from the coastal capital of Nouakchott to the historical cities of Chinguetti and Oualata in the east.


Mauritania’s history is deeply rooted in the trans-Saharan trade, with several ancient cities serving as hubs for the exchange of goods and ideas between North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa. It was part of French West Africa until it gained independence on November 28, 1960. Since independence, Mauritania has experienced periods of military rule, with a transition towards democratic governance in recent years, albeit with ongoing challenges.


Mauritania is an Islamic republic. The President, elected by popular vote, serves as the head of state and government. The country has a bicameral legislature, consisting of the National Assembly and the Senate. Political life in Mauritania has been marked by coups and efforts towards democratization and stability.


Mauritania’s economy is based on natural resources, agriculture, and fisheries. It is one of the world’s leading exporters of iron ore. Fishing along the Atlantic coast represents a significant sector, with Mauritania’s waters being among the richest fishing areas globally. Despite its natural wealth, the country faces challenges such as unemployment, poverty, and the need for economic diversification.


Mauritania’s culture is a blend of Moor (Arab-Berber) and Sub-Saharan African traditions, reflecting its position as a crossroads of cultures. Music, poetry, and storytelling hold important places in Mauritanian society, with traditional instruments like the ardine and tidinit being central to musical expression. The country is also known for its distinctive Moorish architecture and vibrant markets.


Mauritania has a population of approximately 4.5 million people, comprising various ethnic groups, including Moors, Haratines (freed slaves or descendants of slaves), and Sub-Saharan ethnic groups such as the Wolof, Soninke, and Pulaar. Arabic is the official language, and Islam is the state religion, deeply influencing the country’s laws and customs.

Fun Facts

  • Mauritania was the last country in the world to officially abolish slavery, in 1981.
  • The ancient city of Chinguetti is home to thousands of medieval manuscripts, earning it a designation as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
  • The Richat Structure, also known as the Eye of the Sahara, is a prominent circular feature in the Sahara desert, visible from space.


Mauritania’s environment features dramatic landscapes, from the dunes of the Sahara to the biodiversity of the Banc d’Arguin National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site important for migratory birds. Environmental challenges include desertification, water scarcity, and protecting marine biodiversity.


Development of infrastructure, including roads, water supply, and healthcare facilities, is crucial for Mauritania’s growth. The expansion of the Port of Nouakchott and improvements in transportation networks are vital for enhancing trade and access to markets.

Challenges and Opportunities

Mauritania faces challenges such as political stability, economic development, and social inequality. However, its rich cultural heritage, natural resources, and strategic location offer opportunities for sustainable development, particularly in mining, fisheries, and tourism.

Global Connections

As a member of the United Nations, African Union, and Arab League, Mauritania participates in regional and international efforts to address common challenges, promote peace, and foster economic cooperation.

Personal Connections

Exploring Mauritanian music, learning about traditional nomadic lifestyles, or studying the country’s efforts to preserve its ancient manuscripts can provide students with a personal connection to Mauritania’s rich cultural heritage and contemporary challenges.

Mauritania’s vast deserts, historical cities, and diverse cultures offer a unique window into the complexities of African and Islamic civilizations. This unit study has highlighted key aspects of Mauritania’s society, environment, and economy, emphasizing the importance of understanding and supporting efforts towards sustainable development and cultural preservation. Reflecting on Mauritania’s story encourages a broader appreciation for the diversity of human experiences and the interconnectedness of our global community.