Mauritania is a northwestern African country that is bordered in the north by Algeria and the territory known as Western Sahara, in the east by Mali, in the south by Senegal and in the west by the Atlantic Ocean.
A considerable portion of Mauritania, about 70% of the land, is desert. This makes the more-than-one-million-square-kilometer country one of the most scarcely populated countries in the world with a little over four million inhabitants.
Mauritania’s geographical layout means that for the last 500 or so years, it has been home to very few peoples. Those considered natives, a Berber group as well as another tribe that belongs to the Niger-Congo group, settled in the south of the modern country some centuries ago.
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One of the Berber peoples who lived in this area were those described in the Greco-Roman world as the Mauri people, a nomenclature that is linked to the more familiar Moor. In the 7th century common era, the home of Mauri became a Roman province, from which time the Romans called this part of the Sahel region, Mauritenia (what we now know is the anglicized spelling).
After the collapse of the Roman Empire, Mauretania became the center of the Almoravid dynasty that was instrumental in spreading Islam and Arabic culture throughout north and west Africa. By the beginning of the 20th century, specifically in 1904, France had laid claim to the land which was in the backyard of a number of their colonies in that region.
Mauritanian nationalist identity began to coalesce around the centuries-old Arab-Berber culture just around the beginning of World War I. The country has three main ethnic groups: the Bidhan or white Moor, the Haratin or black Moor and the people of the Niger-Congo stock.
In 1960, the country won independence from France while led by Moktar Ould Daddah, a man of the privileged white Moor group.