One of Africa’s newest oil producers, the Islamic Republic of Mauritania bridges the Arab Maghreb and western sub-Saharan Africa.
The largely-desert country presents a cultural contrast, with an Arab-Berber population to the north and black Africans to the south. Many of its people are nomads.
In the Middle Ages Mauritania was the cradle of the Almoravid movement, which spread Islam throughout the region and for a while controlled the Islamic part of Spain.
European traders began to show interest in Mauritania in the 15th century. France gained control of the coastal region in 1817, and in 1904 a formal French protectorate was extended over the territory.
Mauritania is rich in mineral resources, especially iron and ore.
It is seen by the West as a valuable ally in the fight against Islamist militancy in the Sahel region.
- The Islamic Republic of Mauritania
- Capital: Nouakchott
- Population 3.6 million
- Area 1.04 million sq km (398,000 sq miles)
- Major languages Arabic (official), French, others
- Major religion Islam
- Life expectancy 57 years (men), 61 years (women)
- Currency ouguiya