I am divided into 12 regions called wilaya and one capital district. I am about the size of Bolivia in area. I received my independence from France in 1960. My terrain is generally flat, with vast arid plains broken by occasional ridges and cliff-like outcroppings. About three quarters of my land is desert or semi-desert. As a result of extended, severe drought, the desert has been expanding. My population of 3.3 million is made up primarily of 3 groups. They are Arab (30%), Black non-Arab (30%), and a mixed race group (40%). The Arab group includes Moors and Beidane. The Black group includes Haratins, Soninke, and Fulas. My people are nearly all Muslims, most of whom are Sunnis. My official language is Arabic while Pulaar, Soninke, and Wolof are recognized regional languages.
Many of my people are poor with over 20% living on less than $1.25 per day. It is also estimated that up to 20% of the population live in slavery, although slavery was legally abolished in 1981. There are at least 3 reasons why slavery is so difficult to eradicate. First, it is difficult to enforce any law in the country’s vast desert geography; second, the country is so poor that slaves have no prospects for supporting themselves once freed; and thirdly, the slaves generally perceive their condition as part of the natural order of things. Life expectancy is 61 years. There are 11 doctors per 100,000 people. Infant mortality is high with 60 deaths for every 1,000 live births. Obesity is high among my women. This is in part due to the belief that obese women are considered beautiful. My currency is the ouguiya. The documentary film “Winged Migration” was filmed here. Some charges have been made that there is discrimination toward blacks. However, we are not a stratified society because nearly 40% of the population is of mixed races. Iron ore accounts for nearly 50% of my exports. Gold and copper mines have opened in recent years. A majority of the population depends on agriculture and livestock for their livelihood. The extended drought has forced many nomads into the cities. My first deep water port was opened near Nouakchott in 1986. Oil has been discovered but so far it has not helped the country’s economy much. Couscous, rice, millet, and sweet potatoes are common elements of our desert diet. Dried meat is often paired with couscous. French bread is widely available, often dipped in maffe, a peanut-based stew. Dates are popular as snacks or dessert. Zwig, curdled goat or camel milk, is customarily drunk with meals. Soccer is the most popular sport while rugby is growing in popularity. Who am I?
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