Country Listing

Mauritania Table of Contents



Population: Census of 1979 enumerated population of over 1.4 million, including nomadic population of approximately 513,000. In 1987 approximately 1.8 million population with annual growth rate of 2.9 percent. At least 40 percent, and perhaps as much as 80 percent, of population urban and concentrated in Nouakchott and Nouadhibou; remainder farmers or small town dwellers. Rural population densities ranged from 0.1 per square kilometer in north to 35 per square kilometer in south, with overall average of 1.8 per square kilometer. Over 46 percent of population under age fifteen.

Ethnic Groups: Six ethnic groups; one primarily ArabBerber (Maure), remainder black African (Toucouleur, Fulbe, Soninké, Wolof, and Bambara). Numerical proportions of each a source of contention; in 1978 government claimed 70 percent Maure; others said blacks constituted 50 percent or more.

Languages: Official languages: Hassaniya Arabic, spoken primarily by Maures, and French, preferred by blacks for political reasons. Fulfulde, Azayr, Wolof, and Mandé-kan spoken by black groups in south.

Education: Secular education not compulsory; in 1985 approximately 35 percent of primary-school-age children and 4 to 10 percent of secondary-school-age children enrolled. Secular schooling based on French system with six years of primary schooling followed by four-year lower cycle of secondary schooling and three-year upper cycle. One major secular university and various teacher training and vocational institutes, all government owned. Islamic education common throughout country; usually limited to rote learning of Quran. One Islamic institute of higher learning providing instruction in Islamic subjects and teaching methods. Literacy rate estimated at 5 percent at independence, about 18 percent in 1985.

Religion: Virtually entire population Sunni Muslims and adhere to Maliki rite.

Health: Infectious and parasitic diseases, including malaria, endemic. Health standards low and facilities woefully inadequate; severe shortages of equipment, supplies, and trained personnel.

Data as of June 1988