Nation of West Africa bordered by Morocco and Algeria to the N, Mali to the E and SE, Senegal to the SW, and the Atlantic Ocean to the W.
Mauritania has long been a contested border country between black Africa and the Berber-Islamic culture of North Africa. Berbers moved S as early as 200 b.c., forcing the local black population to pay tribute. In the 10th century a.d. the Berbers clashed with the great empire of Ghana over control of the caravan trade, and in 1076 a Berber confederation captured Ghana’s capital Kumbi and asserted supremacy. The Berbers were in their turn dominated by the Arab Beni- Hassan from the 15th to the 17th centuries, and Islam became the dominant cultural force of the region. Mauritania’s coast was first explored by Portuguese traders in the 15th century, and for the next 300 years England , the Netherland s, and France vied for control of the region’s trade. French commercial interests prevailed, and by the early 19th century merchants based in the French colony of Senegal tried to wrest control of the lucrative trade in gum arabic from the Arab rulers of Mauritania. In the mid-19th century military expeditions from Senegal extended French control over the country, and in 1903 it was made a French protectorate. Mauritania was incorporated into French West Africa in 1920 and remained a colony until 1958, when it joined the French Community.
In 1960 full independence was achieved, and under the leadership of President Moktar Ould Daddah the country built a stable economy with financial assistance from France and other foreign countries. In 1976 Mauritania and Morocco agreed on the partition of the former Spanish colony of Spanish Sahara, but guerrilla warfare by the Polisario front of Saharan liberation made this acquisition a costly one. Fighting continued until 1978 when a military coup ended Daddah’s long-elected tenure, and a cease-fire with Polisario was signed. In 1979, Mauritania renounced claims to their part of the Western Sahara, allowing Morocco to annex the remainder. The 1980s saw a number of military governments and coups. In 1981 Mauritania severed diplomatic relations with Morocco after it appeared that Morocco had been behind a coup attempt. In 1985, after yet another coup, Mauritania created a new government under Lieutenant Colonel Maaouiya Ould Sidi Ahmed Taya.
In 1989, 40,000 black Senegalese workers were driven out of the country, resulting in black and Arab rioting. Many black Mauritanians were forced from their land by the military, and Mauritania broke off diplomatic relations with Senegal. In 1991 a new constitution providing for multiparty rule was approved by referendum, but Taya was elected to the presidency and held on to power through elections in 1992, 1997, and 2003 amid charges of vote rigging and a number of coup attempts. In 2005, a military coup took control of the country led by Colonel Ely Ould Mohamed Vall.