Mauritania became independent from colonial
power France on November 28, 1960. The history of the
young nation is dominated by military coups, dictatorial
rule, border conflicts with neighboring countries and an
increasingly violent struggle against radical Islamist
terrorist groups. Mauritania was a one-party state until
1991, when multi-party systems were introduced. But
despite free elections being held, democracy has never
Mauritania's first president became Mokhtar Ould
Daddah, whose Mauritanian people held all seats in the
National Assembly (see Older History). In 1964,
Mauritania also formally became a one-party state.
List of most commonly used acronyms containing Mauritania. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.
When Spain abandoned the territory of Western Sahara
northwest of Mauritania in 1975, Mauritania occupied the
southern part, known as Tiris al-Gharbia. Morocco took
the northern part. The Western Sahara Liberation
Movement Polisario, which fights for a free Western
Sahara, fought hard for the Mauritanian army and in 1976
attacked the capital Nouakchott.
The military setbacks coincided with severe drought,
economic problems and increased contradictions between
blacks and Moors (see Population and Languages) as
Moorish nomads became settled and needed agricultural
land. In July 1978 President Daddah was overthrown in a
military coup and succeeded a year later by Lieutenant
Colonel Mohammed Khouna Ould Haidallah. The same year
Mauritania made peace with Polisario. Tiris al-Gharbia
was then occupied by Moroccan troops instead.
The economic situation worsened and in 1984 the
military implemented a new coup. Colonel Mouawia Ould
Sid'Ahmed Taya was appointed new president. In exchange
for favorable loans, he carried out economic reforms in
cooperation with the International Monetary Fund (IMF),
which, among other things, led to the privatization of
During the 1980s, the contradictions between blacks
and Moors increased. Many blacks were forced away from
their land by immigrant Moorish ex-nomads. In 1989,
hundreds of people were killed in clashes between blacks
and Moors in Mauritania and Senegal. Tens of thousands
of black Mauritanian and Senegalese guest workers were
forced to flee the country away from Moors and
Mauritanian government soldiers. Senegal also massively
expelled Mauritanian Moors who lived in the country as
Organizations fighting for the cause of black
Mauritania began to grow in strength and some groups
also launched an armed struggle from bases in Senegal.
The Mauritanian regime responded with mass arrests, and
demonstrations were met with violence. The outside world
condemned the regime's abuse.
In connection with the war in Iraq in 1991,
Mauritania was isolated from traditional allies in the
Arab world, such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, which had
previously provided almost all foreign financial support
to the country. Taya was forced to turn to the United
States and the international loan agencies the World
Bank IMF. This, in turn, resulted in the pressure that
led President Taya to agree to a democratization. In
1991, a new constitution was adopted that allowed other
political parties, but the Republican Democratic and
Socialist Party (PRDS) became the dominant political
force because the opposition was divided. The same year
an agreement was concluded in Guinea-Bissau that ended
the conflict with Senegal.
In January 1992, Taya won the country's first
presidential election in which several parties could
stand for candidates. Both foreign observers and the
opposition accused the regime of electoral fraud. Large
parts of the opposition boycotted the parliamentary
elections in 1992 and 1996 and also the 1997
presidential elections when Taya was re-elected.
In 2000, another conflict arose with Senegal, this
time on the use of water in the Senegal River.
Mauritania threatened to expel 100,000 Senegalese from
the country, but after mediation by Morocco, Gambia and
Mali, the conflict could be resolved.
Most of the opposition parties participated in the
2001 parliamentary elections. President Taya's PRDS
gained its own majority by a wide margin.
In the 2003 presidential election, Taya was
re-elected by a large majority. The opposition and
several media accused the government of electoral fraud.
Several coup attempts were made against Taya and at
one point fighting was fought in Nouakchott. Senior
military and politicians were arrested.
Finally, in August 2005, a coup was implemented that
set the point for Taya's 20-year power holdings.
Soldiers under the leadership of the former commander of
the security forces, Colonel Ely Ould Mohammed Vall,
took over power without the blood spill when Taya was
abroad. The coup makers explained that within two years
the country would become a democracy. They formed a
governing military council with Vall as leader.
The coup was initially condemned by the UN, the EU,
the US and the African Union (AU), which suspended
Mauritania from African cooperation. At the same time,
reports came from Mauritania that people were
celebrating on the streets of the capital and that the
opposition welcomed the coup. The AU soon released its
demand for President Taya to regain power and instead
demanded that general elections be held shortly. Taya
fled. PRDS changed its name to the Renewed Republican
Democratic Party (PRDR) and Vall became party leader.
In the autumn of 2005, an amnesty for political
prisoners was issued. Exceptions were made for some 20
interns who were suspected of having contacts with the
militant Islamist group al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb
(Aqim; see Political system and Current politics).
In a 2006 referendum, 97 percent of voters said yes
to a number of constitutional changes. Among other
things, no one was allowed to be president for more than
ten consecutive years.
Ahead of the parliamentary elections that autumn, the
leading opposition parties formed an election alliance
that took almost half of the mandate. As many
independent candidates were elected, but most of them
had ties to the old ruling party PRDR and after the
election they formed a new alliance, al-Mithaq, which
al-Mithaq gave support to the ruling military council
and its candidate Sidi Mohammed Ould al-Cheikh Abdellahi
in the March 2007 presidential election. Abdellahi won
the second round of elections over Ahmed Ould Daddah,
opposition leader and half-brother to the country's
After just over a year at the post, Abdellahi was
deposed in a bloodless coup in August 2008. One
triggering reason was that after high-level
contradictions, Abdellahi dismissed four generals. One
of them, General Mohammed Ould Abdelaziz, now took
The dismissed generals were reinstated and the
president, prime minister, and interior minister
arrested. The military formed a government that, with
Abdelaziz at the head, would lead the country. A few
days later, the Prime Minister and the Interior Minister
were released. President Abdellahi was released in
The outside world condemned the coup. The AU excluded
Mauritania and imposed sanctions on the Cabinet,
including travel bans. The United States also introduced
an entry ban for members of the Cabinet. The EU, France
and the World Bank frozen much of their aid. Nationally,
the coup was supported by several of the country's