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Mauritania-Internal Security Threats





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Mauritania Index

In 1987 the military government was the most likely arena for power struggles affecting internal security. Aside from factions within the military, there appeared to be no group with a large enough power base or organizational structure to challenge the existing military regime. Despite the personal popularity of President Taya, governmental institutions remained without a broad base of support and provided no outlet for discontent, dissent, or even meaningful debate over national policies (see Political Power in the Mid-1980s , ch. 4).

From independence until the 1978 military coup, labor and student unrest and racial clashes presented the most serious threats to internal security. These threats were interrelated because minority ethnic groups from the Senegal River Valley actively participated in the unions and student demonstrations.

Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, labor unions struck primarily in Fdérik at the Mauritanian Iron Mines Company (Société Anonyme des Mines de Fer de Mauritanie--MIFERMA) complex, whose employees had grievances against the West European overseers. Violence was common, and the army was used to quell the frequent disturbances, causing injuries, deaths, and numerous arrests. In their turn, many students opposed the government's language policy, which in 1966 required students to study Hassaniya Arabic as well as French. Violent confrontations often erupted, and schools were frequently closed for months at a time. Moreover, students often joined forces with MIFERMA strikers in opposition to the PPM.

From the time of the military coup in 1978 through 1987, the CMSN leadership banned all political parties and opposition groups and suspended freedom of assembly, especially public meetings that addressed political themes. Labor unions were the only nationwide organizations with any political import that were not dissolved following the 1978 coup. The right to strike existed in theory but was greatly restricted in practice, and extended strikes were strongly opposed by the government. There were only two brief strikes, in the early 1980s.

In 1978 serious ethnic conflict erupted between Maures and southern blacks. Blacks resented their overrepresentation as recruits in the Western Sahara conflict and their underrepresentation in the upper echelons of the military. Racial unrest peaked during February and March 1979. For the first time since the military coup in 1978, antigovernment activists distributed hostile tracts in the streets and placed antiregime slogans on walls. The government arrested several people, including black teachers and students who threatened to strike over the language issue. Further troubles occurred during March 1979 when a number of prominent, moderate blacks were arrested for advocating the use of ethnic quotas to fill government jobs; however, they were released a few days later in response to popular pressure.

In an effort to mollify blacks, on March 19, 1979, the government announced the formation of the National Consultative Council. Composed of eighty-seven Maures and seventeen blacks, it was intended to provide a measure of popular participation in decision making until such time as elections could be held. On March 30, all seventeen blacks resigned, charging the council with unequal ethnic representation.

Despite increased ethnic tensions, the government under both Mustapha Ould Salek and Ahmed Ould Bouceif took no action to appease the black community. On the contrary, the new military government virtually barred blacks from government. Moreover, the government took measures in November 1978 that favored Arabic as the sole language in Mauritania's secondary schools, further fueling accusations of economic and political discrimination.

Tensions between blacks and Maures erupted in 1986 following the publication in April of a document entitled Le Manifeste du Négro-Mauritanien Opprime (Manifesto of the Oppressed Black Mauritanian) (see Ethnic Minorities , ch. 4). The manifesto was circulated in cities and towns in Mauritania and also at the September 1986 Nonaligned Movement summit in Harare, Zimbabwe and at the Organization of African Unity (OAU) summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. This document criticized "Mauritanian apartheid" and the white Maure system that ensured the political and economic domination by the Arab-Berbers at the expense of the black ethnic groups (see Ethnic Groups and Languages , ch. 2). The manifesto also took issue with the policy of favoring Arabic over French, the lack of educational opportunities for blacks, and land reform measures. In particular, the manifesto viewed the controversial Land Reform Act of 1983 as a means by which wealthy, urban Maures could appropriate profitable land along the Senegal River, traditionally the homeland of Mauritania's black population.

More ethnic unrest continued into September 1986, when police arrested several black leaders for participating in civil disturbances. Later that month, an additional forty blacks were arrested for what the government labeled subversive activities. In addition, dozens of leading black public figures, including two former cabinet ministers, were detained for questioning about "activities harmful to national unity." Nine of those arrested were later sentenced to five years' imprisonment, and eight were sentenced to four years' imprisonment. The accused had allegedly opposed the land reform measures.

On October 9 and 11, 1986, in response to the September arrests, violence again erupted. Black demonstrators ransacked and burned a fish factory, gasoline station, and pharmacy. The government linked this violence to the African Liberation Forces of Mauritania (Forces de Libération Africaine de Mauritanie-- FLAM) and the black African manifesto attacking Maure discrimination (see Ethnic Minorities , ch. 4). Thirteen of those arrested in the 1986 protests over racial discrimination against blacks were convicted of arson in Nouakchott and Nouadhibou in October 1986. Five of them were sentenced to five years' imprisonment and eight to four years' imprisonment. Five others on trial on similar charges were acquitted. An additional twenty people were tried and convicted in March 1987.

As part of a large-scale crackdown on blacks (and the Toucouleur community in particular) carried out in the second half of 1986, all Toucouleur officers serving at posts of responsibility in the military regional commands were sacked. The administration purged itself of all its Toucouleur governors, préfets, and sous-préfets serving in the south (they were either sent to the far north or fired.) Among those who lost their positions within the CMSN and/or the government as a result of the crackdown was the minister of interior, information, and telecommunications, Lieutenant Colonel Anne Amadou Babali (a Toucouleur), who was transferred to the Ministry of Trade and Transport for about six weeks and then dismissed from government on October 4, 1986. The director of the International Bank of Mauritania (Banque Internationale pour la Mauritanie--BIMA) was fired, and the head of the Red Crescent (Red Cross in Islamic countries) was removed from office. Authorities banned meetings of black self-help groups and cultural associations and even engaged in surveillance of large gatherings of black families, such as weddings. In this tense environment, a group calling itself the National Front of Black Officers (Front National des Officiers Noirs--FRON) emerged and denounced the arbitrary arrests and sentences of Mauritanians who wished only to guarantee civil and political rights for all ethnic groups. FRON blamed the Maure community for the chaos and called for the institution of a multiracial republic.

The government was not about to follow such a drastic prescription. The elections of December 1986 had allowed the semblance of political participation at the local level, a process that Taya described as a first step toward participatory democracy (see Local Elections , ch. 4). To the credit of all Mauritanians, the elections proceeded peacefully; however, the problems of ethnic imbalance remained unaddressed by the government.

*          *          *

There is no comprehensive study that specifically covers Mauritanian national security. Certain aspects, such as the armed forces' involvement in the Western Sahara, are covered fairly inclusively in Ripe for Resolution by William I. Zartman and in The Western Saharans by Virginia Thompson and Richard Adloff. Various periodicals, such as Frères d'armes, Africa Confidential, West Africa, Jeune Afrique, Marchés tropicaux et Méditerranéens, and Afrique Défense sporadically cover Mauritanian security issues. Some statistics on the armed forces can be found in the annual The Military Balance published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)

Data as of June 1988



BackgroundIndependent from France in 1960, Mauritania annexed the southern third of the former Spanish Sahara (now Western Sahara) in 1976, but relinquished it after three years of raids by the Polisario guerrilla front seeking independence for the territory. Maaouya Ould Sid Ahmed TAYA seized power in a coup in 1984 and ruled Mauritania with a heavy hand for more than two decades. A series of presidential elections that he held were widely seen as flawed. A bloodless coup in August 2005 deposed President TAYA and ushered in a military council that oversaw a transition to democratic rule. Independent candidate Sidi Ould Cheikh ABDALLAHI was inaugurated in April 2007 as Mauritania's first freely and fairly elected president. His term ended prematurely in August 2008 when a military junta led by General Mohamed Ould Abdel AZIZ deposed him and ushered in a military council government. AZIZ was subsequently elected president in August 2009. The country continues to experience ethnic tensions among its black population (Afro-Mauritanians) and White and Black Moor (Arab-Berber) communities, and is having to confront a growing terrorism threat by al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Mahgreb.
LocationNorthern Africa, bordering the North Atlantic Ocean, between Senegal and Western Sahara
Area(sq km)total: 1,030,700 sq km
land: 1,030,700 sq km
water: 0 sq km
Geographic coordinates20 00 N, 12 00 W
Land boundaries(km)total: 5,074 km
border countries: Algeria 463 km, Mali 2,237 km, Senegal 813 km, Western Sahara 1,561 km

Coastline(km)754 km

Climatedesert; constantly hot, dry, dusty

Elevation extremes(m)lowest point: Sebkhet Te-n-Dghamcha -5 m
highest point: Kediet Ijill 915 m
Natural resourcesiron ore, gypsum, copper, phosphate, diamonds, gold, oil, fish
Land use(%)arable land: 0.2%
permanent crops: 0.01%
other: 99.79% (2005)

Irrigated land(sq km)490 sq km (2002)
Total renewable water resources(cu km)11.4 cu km (1997)
Freshwater withdrawal (domestic/industrial/agricultural)total: 1.7 cu km/yr (9%/3%/88%)
per capita: 554 cu m/yr (2000)
Natural hazardshot, dry, dust/sand-laden sirocco wind blows primarily in March and April; periodic droughts
Environment - current issuesovergrazing, deforestation, and soil erosion aggravated by drought are contributing to desertification; limited natural fresh water resources away from the Senegal, which is the only perennial river; locust infestation
Environment - international agreementsparty to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Wetlands, Whaling
signed, but not ratified: none of the selected agreements
Geography - notemost of the population concentrated in the cities of Nouakchott and Nouadhibou and along the Senegal River in the southern part of the country
Population3,129,486 (July 2009 est.)
Age structure(%)0-14 years: 41% (male 643,436/female 638,793)
15-64 years: 55.7% (male 818,778/female 923,046)
65 years and over: 3.4% (male 44,836/female 60,597) (2009 est.)
Median age(years)total: 19.2 years
male: 18.3 years
female: 20 years (2009 est.)
Population growth rate(%)2.399% (2009 est.)
Birth rate(births/1,000 population)34.11 births/1,000 population (2009 est.)
Death rate(deaths/1,000 population)9.16 deaths/1,000 population (July 2009 est.)

Net migration rate(migrant(s)/1,000 population)-0.96 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2009 est.)
Urbanization(%)urban population: 41% of total population (2008)
rate of urbanization: 3% annual rate of change (2005-10 est.)
Sex ratio(male(s)/female)at birth: 1.03 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.01 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 0.89 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.74 male(s)/female
total population: 0.93 male(s)/female (2009 est.)
Infant mortality rate(deaths/1,000 live births)total: 63.42 deaths/1,000 live births
male: 68.65 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 58.03 deaths/1,000 live births (2009 est.)

Life expectancy at birth(years)total population: 60.37 years
male: 58.22 years
female: 62.59 years (2009 est.)

Total fertility rate(children born/woman)4.45 children born/woman (2009 est.)
Nationalitynoun: Mauritanian(s)
adjective: Mauritanian
Ethnic groups(%)mixed Moor/black 40%, Moor 30%, black 30%

Religions(%)Muslim 100%
Languages(%)Arabic (official and national), Pulaar, Soninke, Wolof (all national languages), French, Hassaniya

Country nameconventional long form: Islamic Republic of Mauritania
conventional short form: Mauritania
local long form: Al Jumhuriyah al Islamiyah al Muritaniyah
local short form: Muritaniyah
Government typemilitary junta
Capitalname: Nouakchott
geographic coordinates: 18 07 N, 16 02 W
time difference: UTC 0 (5 hours ahead of Washington, DC during Standard Time)
Administrative divisions12 regions (regions, singular - region) and 1 capital district*; Adrar, Assaba, Brakna, Dakhlet Nouadhibou, Gorgol, Guidimaka, Hodh Ech Chargui, Hodh El Gharbi, Inchiri, Nouakchott*, Tagant, Tiris Zemmour, Trarza
Constitution12-Jul-91

Legal systema combination of Islamic law and French civil law; has not accepted compulsory ICJ jurisdiction

Suffrage18 years of age; universal
Executive branchchief of state: President Mohamed Ould Abdel AZIZ (since 5 August 2009) note - AZIZ, who deposed democratically elected President Sidi Ould Cheikh ABDELLAHI in a coup and installed himself as President of Military High Council of State on 6 August 2008, was elected president in an election held 18 July 2009
head of government: Prime Minister Moulaye Ould Mohamed LAGHDAF (since 14 August 2008)
cabinet: Council of Ministers
elections: following the August 2008 coup, the Military High Council of State pledged to hold a new presidential election which was subsequently scheduled and held on 18 July 2009; under Mauritania's constitution, the president is elected by popular vote for a five-year term; election last held on 18 July 2009 (next to be held by 2014)
election results: percent of vote - Mohamed Ould Abdel AZIZ 52.6%, Messaoud Ould BOULKHEIR 16.3%, Ahmed Ould DADDAH 13.7%, Other 17.4%

Legislative branchbicameral legislature consists of the Senate or Majlis al-Shuyukh (56 seats; 53 members elected by municipal leaders and 3 members elected by Mauritanians abroad to serve six-year terms; a portion of seats up for election every two years) and the National Assembly or Majlis al-Watani (95 seats; members elected by popular vote to serve five-year terms)
elections: Senate - last held 21 January and 4 February 2007 (next to be held in 2009); National Assembly - last held 19 November and 3 December 2006 (next to be held in 2011); note - it is unclear when the Senate elections originally scheduled for 2009 will be held
election results: Senate - percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - Mithaq (coalition of independents and parties associated with the former regime) 37, CFCD (coalition of political parties) 15, representatives of the diaspora 3, undecided 1; National Assembly - percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - Mithaq 51 (independents 37, PRDR 7, UDP 3, RDU 3, Alternative (El-Badil) 1), CFCD 41 (RFD 16, UFP 9, APP 6, Centrist Reformists 4, HATEM-PMUC 3, RD 2, PUDS 1), RNDLE 1, UCD 1, FP 1

Judicial branchSupreme Court or Cour Supreme; Court of Appeals; lower courts

Political pressure groups and leadersGeneral Confederation of Mauritanian Workers or CGTM [Abdallahi Ould MOHAMED, secretary general]; Independent Confederation of Mauritanian Workers or CLTM [Samory Ould BEYE]; Mauritanian Workers Union or UTM [Mohamed Ely Ould BRAHIM, secretary general]
other: Arab nationalists; Ba'thists; Islamists
International organization participationABEDA, ACP, AfDB, AFESD, AMF, AMU, AU, CAEU, FAO, G-77, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICRM, IDA, IDB, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, ILO, IMF, IMO, Interpol, IOC, IOM, IPU, ISO (correspondent), ITSO, ITU, ITUC, LAS, MIGA, NAM, OIC, OIF, OPCW, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNIDO, UNWTO, UPU, WCL, WCO, WFTU, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WTO
Flag descriptiongreen with a yellow five-pointed star above a yellow, horizontal crescent; the closed side of the crescent is down; the crescent, star, and color green are traditional symbols of Islam

Economy - overviewHalf the population still depends on agriculture and livestock for a livelihood, even though many of the nomads and subsistence farmers were forced into the cities by recurrent droughts in the 1970s and 1980s. Mauritania has extensive deposits of iron ore, which account for nearly 40% of total exports. The nation's coastal waters are among the richest fishing areas in the world, but overexploitation by foreigners threatens this key source of revenue. The country's first deepwater port opened near Nouakchott in 1986. Before 2000, drought and economic mismanagement resulted in a buildup of foreign debt. In February 2000, Mauritania qualified for debt relief under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative and nearly all of its foreign debt has since been forgiven. In December 2007 donors pledged $2.1 billion at a triennial Consultative Group review. A new investment code approved in December 2001 improved the opportunities for direct foreign investment. Mauritania and the IMF agreed to a three-year Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF) arrangement in 2006 and Mauritania made satisfactory progress, but IMF and World Bank suspended their programs in Mauritania following the August 2008 coup; following the July 2009 Presidential elections, the IMF and World Bank agreed to meet with the Goverment to discuss a resumption. Oil prospects, while initially promising, have largely failed to materialize. The Government continues to emphasize reduction of poverty, improvement of health and education, and privatization of the economy.
GDP (purchasing power parity)$6.323 billion (2008 est.)
$6.109 billion (2007 est.)
$6.048 billion (2006 est.)
note: data are in 2008 US dollars
GDP (official exchange rate)$3.161 billion (2008 est.)
GDP - real growth rate(%)3.5% (2008 est.)
1% (2007 est.)
11.4% (2006 est.)
GDP - per capita (PPP)$2,100 (2008 est.)
$2,000 (2007 est.)
$2,100 (2006 est.)
note: data are in 2008 US dollars
GDP - composition by sector(%)agriculture: 12.5%
industry: 46.7%
services: 40.7% (2008 est.)
Labor force1.318 million (2007)

Labor force - by occupation(%)agriculture: 50%
industry: 10%
services: 40% (2001 est.)
Unemployment rate(%)30% (2008 est.)
20% (2004 est.)
Population below poverty line(%)40% (2004 est.)
Household income or consumption by percentage share(%)lowest 10%: 2.5%
highest 10%: 29.5% (2000)
Distribution of family income - Gini index39 (2000)
37.3 (1995)
Budgetrevenues: $770 million
expenditures: $770 million (2007 est.)
Inflation rate (consumer prices)(%)7.3% (2007 est.)

Stock of money$NA (31 December 2008)
Stock of quasi money$NA (31 December 2008)
Stock of domestic credit$NA (31 December 2008)
Market value of publicly traded shares$NA
Economic aid - recipient$190.4 million (2005)

Agriculture - productsdates, millet, sorghum, rice, corn; cattle, sheep
Industriesfish processing, oil production, mining of iron ore, gold, and copper; gypsum deposits have never been exploited

Industrial production growth rate(%)2% (2000 est.)

Current account balance-$184 million (2007 est.)
Exports$1.395 billion (2006)

Exports - commodities(%)iron ore, fish and fish products, gold, copper, petroleum
Exports - partners(%)China 41.4%, France 10.2%, Spain 7%, Italy 6.9%, Netherlands 5.4%, Belgium 4.7%, Cote d'Ivoire 4% (2008)
Imports$1.475 billion (2006)

Imports - commodities(%)machinery and equipment, petroleum products, capital goods, foodstuffs, consumer goods
Imports - partners(%)France 16.7%, China 8.8%, Netherlands 6.4%, Spain 6%, Belgium 5.4%, US 5.1%, Brazil 4.5% (2008)

Debt - external$NA

Exchange ratesouguiyas (MRO) per US dollar - NA (2007), 271.3 (2006), 267.04 (2005), 265.8 (2004), 263.03 (2003)

Currency (code)ouguiya (MRO)

Telephones - main lines in use76,400 (2008)
Telephones - mobile cellular2.092 million (2008)
Telephone systemgeneral assessment: limited system of cable and open-wire lines, minor microwave radio relay links, and radiotelephone communications stations; mobile-cellular services expanding rapidly
domestic: Mauritel, the national telecommunications company, was privatized in 2001 but remains the monopoly provider of fixed-line services; fixed-line teledensity 2 per 100 persons; mobile-cellular network coverage extends mainly to urban areas with a teledensity of 60 per 100 persons; mostly cable and open-wire lines; a domestic satellite telecommunications system links Nouakchott with regional capitals
international: country code - 222; satellite earth stations - 3 (1 Intelsat - Atlantic Ocean, 2 Arabsat) (2008)
Internet country code.mr
Internet users45,000 (2008)
Airports27 (2009)
Roadways(km)total: 11,066 km
paved: 2,966 km
unpaved: 8,100 km (2006)

Ports and terminalsNouadhibou, Nouakchott
Military branchesMauritanian Armed Forces: Army, Mauritanian Navy (Marine Mauritanienne; includes naval infantry), Islamic Air Force of Mauritania (Force Aerienne Islamique de Mauritanie, FAIM) (2008)
Military service age and obligation(years of age)18 years of age (est.); conscript service obligation - 2 years; majority of servicemen believed to be volunteers; service in Air Force and Navy is voluntary (2006)
Manpower available for military servicemales age 16-49: 740,675
females age 16-49: 744,709 (2008 est.)
Manpower fit for military servicemales age 16-49: 450,289
females age 16-49: 544,598 (2009 est.)
Manpower reaching militarily significant age annuallymale: 34,546
female: 35,272 (2009 est.)
Military expenditures(% of GDP)5.5% of GDP (2006)
Disputes - internationalMauritanian claims to Western Sahara remain dormant

Electricity - production(kWh)415.3 million kWh (2007 est.)
Electricity - production by source(%)fossil fuel: 85.9%
hydro: 14.1%
nuclear: 0%
other: 0% (2001)
Electricity - consumption(kWh)386.2 million kWh (2007 est.)
Electricity - exports(kWh)0 kWh (2008 est.)
Electricity - imports(kWh)0 kWh (2008 est.)
Oil - production(bbl/day)12,830 bbl/day (2008 est.)
Oil - consumption(bbl/day)21,000 bbl/day (2008 est.)
Oil - exports(bbl/day)30,620 bbl/day (2007 est.)
Oil - imports(bbl/day)20,610 bbl/day (2007 est.)
Oil - proved reserves(bbl)100 million bbl (1 January 2009 est.)
Natural gas - production(cu m)0 cu m (2008 est.)
Natural gas - consumption(cu m)0 cu m (2008 est.)
Natural gas - exports(cu m)0 cu m (2008)
Natural gas - proved reserves(cu m)28.32 billion cu m (1 January 2009 est.)
HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate(%)0.8% (2007 est.)
HIV/AIDS - people living with HIV/AIDS14,000 (2007 est.)
HIV/AIDS - deathsfewer than 1,000 (2007 est.)
Major infectious diseasesdegree of risk: high
food or waterborne diseases: bacterial and protozoal diarrhea, hepatitis A, and typhoid fever
vectorborne diseases: malaria and Rift Valley fever
respiratory disease: meningococcal meningitis
animal contact disease: rabies (2009)
Literacy(%)definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 51.2%
male: 59.5%
female: 43.4% (2000 census)

School life expectancy (primary to tertiary education)(years)total: 8 years
male: 8 years
female: 8 years (2006)
Education expenditures(% of GDP)2.9% of GDP (2006)








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