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Preface Last Updated: 3/28/2004 6:19 AM

Mauritania is for those who love the desert, surf fishing, open spaces, bird watching, adventure, and languages.

It is a place apart, where North Africa meets the Sub-Sahara. Its people are a rich mix of Arabs, Berbers, and Africans. But they are as one under Islam, practicing what they proudly state is “authentic” Islam, an Islam of moderation.

Visitors to this large, varied country are thrilled to see nomads still traveling by camel and using methods reminiscent of the ancient caravans that traversed this historic land. Adventurous tourists can step back in time by traveling these ancient caravan trails and visiting the centuries old ruins themselves.

We welcome your interest in the country and invite you to explore this post report as well as our internet ( and intranet ( websites.

The Host Country

Area, Geography, and Climate Last Updated: 3/23/2004 4:23 AM

The Islamic Republic of Mauritania is situated on the Atlantic Ocean in northwest Africa. It is bordered on the northeast by Algeria, on the east by Mali, and on the south by Senegal. Mauritania shares its long northern border with the former Spanish Sahara, now the Western Sahara. Spain relinquished control of this area to Morocco in 1976, but its political status is still unresolved.

Mauritania has three distinct geographic regions:

The Saharan Zone, which constitutes the northern two-thirds of Mauritania. Beautiful shifting dunes, rock outcroppings, and rugged mountain plateaus with elevations higher than 1,500 feet characterize this vast, sparsely populated region. Irregular, scant rainfall permits little vegetation, although date palms are cultivated around larger oases and on some of the higher plateaus in the east. Herds of camels, goats, and sheep, which formerly ranged in this area, were depleted during successive droughts in the 1970s and 1980s.

The Riverine Zone, a narrow belt of rich, well-watered alluvial soil stretching along the Senegal River Valley in the south. It is the center of settled agriculture. Rainfall averages 10-25 inches annually.

Between the two is the Sahelian Zone, a broad, east-west band that extends from the riverine zone to just north of Nouakchott. Until recently, annual rainfall averaged 4-18 inches, which was enough to support savannah grasslands suitable for nomadic cattle and sheep herding. However, a decrease in rainfall has diminished the grasslands forcing many inhabitants to move south to the riverine zone or migrate to larger towns. When it rains, it is usually as heavy, localized thunderstorms. Nouakchott, at the northern extreme of this zone, experiences such storms when they occur.

Mauritania's climate is hot and arid, except in the far south, which has higher humidity. In Nouakchott, daytime temperatures reach 85 °F in the winter, although at night sweaters and blankets are needed. Summer temperatures regularly reach over 100 °F during the day. It is usually a dry heat that most find more bearable than the same temperatures with high humidity. Summer evenings can be considerably cooler.

The area's fine sand makes beach going one of the highlights of a tour in Nouakchott. However, winds can stir this sand into sandstorms that last several hours. These infrequent sandstorms occur throughout the year, although they are less frequent during the summer and fall months.

Population Last Updated: 3/23/2004 4:39 AM

Mauritania's population of nearly three million is unevenly distributed. It ranges from an average of 91 persons per square mile in certain sections of the Senegal River Valley, to an average of 19 persons per square mile in the Sahelian Zone, and to less than one person for every 4 square miles in the Saharan Zone.

Mauritania is a country of cultural and ethnic diversity. Arabic-speaking Moors comprise the largest group of about two-thirds of the population. Among Moors, there are two major subgroups: White Moor (Bidan), an Arab-Berber group that worked traditionally as herders, traders, and oasis farmers; and Black Moor (Haratine), the descendants of freed tributary and slave groups who practiced extensive dry land agriculture and herding.

With centuries of intermarriage, the terms Black and White Moor now indicate patriarchal ancestry rather than any racial characteristics. The Moors, whether White or Black, have been traditionally nomadic, roaming the deserts of Mali, Algeria, Morocco, Western Sahara, and Senegal. The majority of the Moors have settled in sedentary agricultural communities or in towns and cities over the years. Yet, more than 20% of the adult male population still remains away from the settlements at any given time, with either trading, herding, or working as manual laborers.

The rest of Mauritania's population, the Afro-Mauritanians, lives in the Senegal River Valley. However, their numbers are rising in urban areas. This population’s major ethnic groups starting with the largest are Haalpulaar (Peulh, Fulbe, Fula, and Fulani), Soninke (Sarakolle), and Wolof.

The French are the largest foreign national group, numbering several thousand. Other notable groups are the Lebanese, Chinese and Spanish. Most of the Americans who reside in Nouakchott work for the U.S. Government, or for relief and development organizations.

Arabic is Mauritania’s sole official language, although there are four national languages. French is the working language for much of government and commerce. Hassaniya, the local, unwritten dialect of Arabic, is spoken to some degree by at least 75% of the population. About 42% of the population over the age of 15 can read and write (51% males and 32% females). However, statistics do not state which language (French or Arabic) was used to measure literacy. The government has an active program to promote literacy in Arabic.

The Mauritania’ population is overwhelmingly Muslim (99.3%). Dietary restrictions common to Muslims, such as prohibitions against consumption of alcoholic beverages and pork, are observed. However, alcohol and imported pork are available in establishments owned and operated by foreigners. Social restrictions, particularly for women, are less noticeable here than in the many conservative Islamic countries. Mauritanian women cover their hair but rarely their faces in public. Many women are active in business and some in government. However, some Mauritanian women will not shake the hand of a male, nor will some Mauritanian men shake the hand of a Muslim or non-Muslim woman.

Mauritania achieved full independence in 1960. From 1903, until independence, it was part of the larger region known as French West Africa. Prior to that, some of present-day Mauritania was included in political systems based in northwest Africa and in the Niger River basin.

In the seventh century, the southward migration of the Senhadja Berber confederation of tribes brought the Islamic faith to what is now Mauritania. Indigenous black Africans were driven south to the Senegal River or enslaved by the nomadic Senhadja. Southern Mauritania was overrun in 1040, by Islamic warrior monks (Almoravid or Al Murabitun), who subsequently extended their empire northward into Morocco and into much of southern Spain.

As the Almoravid Empire eroded, the Arabs overcame fierce Berber resistance to dominate Mauritania. Several groups of Yemeni Arabs occupied North Africa and spread into what is today Mauritania. Their disruption of trans-Saharan caravan trade caused an eastward shift in the routes, resulting in a decline of Mauritanian trading towns. By the end of the 17th century, the Beni Hassan group dominated much of what is now Mauritania. The last effort by native Berbers to oust the Arab invaders was the unsuccessful Thirty Year War (1644-74).

The social structure established as a result of that war has been maintained intact to the present day. The descendants of the Beni Hassan warriors became the upper stratum of Moorish society, and Arabic gradually replaced Berber dialects. Many of the Berber groups, however, remained social equals while they became political vassals. They turned to clericalism and produced most of the region's Marabouts, the men who serve as repositories and teachers of Islamic tradition. At the bottom of the social hierarchy were the Zenaga (the poor Moor tributaries), the Haratine (freed slaves), and the Abid (slaves). The country's other ethnic groups do not share the tribal structure of the Moors, but are organized as clans, extended families, or villages. Their traditional hierarchical structure, however, is very similar.

Under French colonial rule the population was obliged to give up slave trading and warfare. Yet, armed clashes between French soldiers and Beni Hassan warriors continued through the 1930s. During the colonial period, sedentary black Africans began to trickle back to their traditional homes in southern Mauritania where Moorish nomads had expelled them in earlier years.

Many of the sedentary Haalpulaar, Soninke, and Wolof were educated through the French system. Hence, they became the clerks, soldiers, and administrators in the new state. It was these non-Arabic-speaking black peoples that triggered a major modification of the social structure in this century.

Moors reacted to this change by increasing pressure to Arabize many aspects of Mauritanian life (law, language, etc.). A schism resulted between those who consider Mauritania to be an Arab country (mainly Moors) and those who seek a dominant role for the ethnic sub-Saharan peoples. The discord between these two conflicting visions of Mauritanian society was evident in the language disputes of the 1960s, is claimed to be the reason for the failing public school system, and caused inter-communal violence in April 1989. The violence left hundreds of Africans dead, tens of thousands displaced and many of the remainder unemployed (replaced by Moors).

The tension between these two groups remains a feature of political dialogue. A significant number from both groups, however, seek a more diverse, pluralistic society.

Public Institutions Last Updated: 3/23/2004 4:48 AM

Mauritania became the self-governing Islamic Republic of Mauritania in November 1958. Shortly thereafter, it began the process of transferring its administrative services from St. Louis, Senegal, to the new capital at Nouakchott. Full independence was achieved on November 28, 1960. The constitution, adopted in 1961, replaced the former parliamentary type of government with a presidential system. Moktar Ould Daddah, who was elected the first President in 1961, was reelected in 1966,1971, and 1976.

On July 10, 1978, Ould Daddah was overthrown in a bloodless coup d'etat. The Military Committee for National Recovery (CMRN) assumed power. For the next two years, the power shifted among various members of the military group.

In January 1980, the Military Committee of National Salvation (CMSN) was formed and headed by Mohamed Khouna Ould Haidallah. A civilian prime minister was appointed in December 1980 and he formed a government of civilian ministers. However, the military committee retained policy oversight. This government was dissolved in April 1981, after the military reestablished itself as the sole ruling body of the nation.

In 1984, Colonel Maaouiya Ould Sid'ahmed Taya led a successful, bloodless coup against Haidallah and declared himself Chief of State. He soon called for gradual movement towards a democratic system. A constitution was approved in a general plebiscite in 1991, and presidential elections were held in 1992, 1997, and 2003.

Mauritania is divided into 12 regions and the district of Nouakchott. Each is administered by a governor responsible to the president. Municipal elections were first held in 1986-88. The second municipal elections were held in 1994 and contained the multiparty participation in races for municipal councils and mayors. In 1995, the government, with support from international and bilateral donors, began to decentralize authority by giving more responsibility to municipalities.

Although the constitution provides for the independence of the judiciary branch, the executive branch exercises significant pressure on the courts through its ability to appoint and influence judges. The system includes lower, middle, and upper level courts, each with its own jurisdiction. The dual system of courts, one based on modern law and one based on Shari'a, was replaced by a single system when the country moved to a legal system that conforms to the principles of the Shari'a.

Arts, Science, and Education Last Updated: 3/22/2004 7:45 AM

The inhabitants of Mauritania were primarily a nomadic until the recent, prolonged droughts. Consequently, it lacked the large market centers or sedentary populations that help generate traditional arts and crafts. Limited basic raw materials and restraints on possessions associated with mobility have contributed to crafts traditions that focus on utilitarian goods such as decorated leather pillows, mats woven with leather and reeds, silver jewelry (that served as a portable savings account), copal beads, decorated wooden storage boxes, and camel hair tents. Copal, like amber, is solidified tree sap and other organic matter but is not actually fossilized.

In recent decades, woven rugs, gold jewelry, silver inlaid ebony jewelry, decorated teapots, brightly quilted tents, and tie-dyed fabrics have developed as crafts. The migration of Senegalese artisans makes African fabrics, clothing and wood carvings readily available.

With the West’s recent interest in African beads, women artisans resurrected the well-protected process of creating the Kiffa bead. African artisans from the Ghana Empire originally made the beads. The reproduction beads are almost as expensive as the old beads and are just as sought after by collectors.

Women from Zouerate make beautiful stone beads from the wide variety of agates and jasper they find in the desert. However, these beads are not as easily found in the Nouakchott market place as the ancient African trade beads.

Two types of Mauritanian rugs are available: the "Boutilimit rug" made of camel, goat, and sheep hair, adapted from traditional wool tent weaving methods; and the new style of hand-knotted carpets with traditional motifs. Workmanship varies and vigorous bargaining, on all handcraft items, is necessary in order to attain a reasonable price.

Mauritanian women faithfully practice the ancient body art of Henna. They adorn their hands and feet (the most beautiful parts of the body) with temporary tattoos of geometric and floral designs. Women gather to do Henna at weddings, births, religious ceremonies, before traveling, and just for fun.

Unfortunately, archaeological artifacts such as pottery, arrowheads and stone tools are readily available in shops. However, many reproductions are also available for sale to tourists.

Mauritania has a rich history of music preserved by the caste of entertainers called Griot. Only members from this caste perform in public. Traditional music is passed from one family member to another and is not written down. Traditional Blues is believed to have roots in Mauritanian music and if you listen closely, you can hear how Jimi Hendrix was influenced by its mystic Berber melodies. Consequently, the Blues and Jazz are popular here and live concerts are common.

Nomadic life is not conducive to the establishment of institutions of higher education and science. From ancient times, however, traditional Koranic schools were founded in special encampments and religious caravan centers such as Chinguetti, Tichit, and Oualata. In addition to religion and language, these schools taught rhetoric, law, astronomy, mathematics, and medicine. The centuries-old family libraries in Chinguetti and Boutilimit still contain handmade manuscripts of treatises on a vast range of subjects. The basic curriculum was largely based on Greco-Roman scholarship. Some traditional Koranic schools still exist, but that system now coexists with public schools, including the University of Nouakchott with its faculties of letters, law, economics, and science.

Research facilities and programs remain in a formative stage. The Mauritanian Institute of Scientific Research in Nouakchott is a gathering place for a limited number of scholars interested in history, poetry, or archeology. It supervises the National Museum which consists of two large public rooms, a small standing exhibit of traditional life in Mauritania, displays of archeological materials found in the country, and occasional visiting shows. The National Health Center, the National Center for Agricultural Research and Development, and the National Center for Livestock and Veterinary Research perform limited studies and all generally dependent on foreign support.

Commerce and Industry Last Updated: 3/22/2004 7:51 AM

Many Mauritanians are engaged in subsistence farming or nomadic herding. Settled agriculture is confined mainly to the Senegal River Valley where millet, sorghum, and smaller quantities of other cereals and rice are the main crops. Some 25,000 tons of dates are produced annually from date palms cultivated in the mountainous regions of Adrar, Tagant, and Assaba, and desert oases. Most agricultural and animal husbandry production is consumed locally, and Mauritania is a net importer of foodstuffs.

The second most important sector of the economy is based on the rich fishing waters that lie off the Atlantic coast. The government levies fees on foreign and national fleets that fish in Mauritanian waters and requires that the catch of national fleet vessels be processed in Nouadhibou. In 2002, the country exported about 480,000 metric tons of frozen and canned seafood products worth about $200 million and received a further $86 million provided by the EU for the right to fish in Mauritanian waters. The EU agreement is in force until July 31, 2006 and allows about 140 trawlers to fish freely. The 2002 fish exports represented 44% of total country exports, but only 13% of GDP. Since 1998, 65% of the SMCP (the marketing organization responsible for all frozen fish exports) has been privatized. However, the fishing sector is plagued by problems, including mismanagement, over-fishing of some resources, and limited technical ability to monitor and control the 200-mile EEZ which extends 754 km from Nouadhibou in the North to NDiago in the South. The GIRM new fishery policy includes the promotion of the traditional fishery industry that occupies more than 20,000 persons in Nouadhibou and Nouakchott and the creation of fish processing joint ventures with foreign investors. This new policy aims to better integrate the fishing activities in the national economy through the creation of more local value added.

Mauritania's major income-producing sector is mining. High-grade iron ore is found in the Zouerate region in the northwest. Iron ore exports in 2001 totaled over 10.1 million metric tons with a value of approximately $210 million. The slagheaps of mined copper near Akjoujt were reprocessed to extract the remaining gold in March 1992, but processing was stopped in December 1997.

The Societé Nationale Industrielle et Miniére (SNIM), a parastatal corporation that controls the country's iron mines, was established in 1972 when a French mining company was nationalized. Sound management of SNIM and good ore quality make mining the most important sector of the economy. SNIM has consistently supported geological exploration in view of renewing or increasing its ore reserves. SNIM's sales forecast is a yearly yield rate of production of 12 million tons of both naturally high-grade iron ore, as well as, low-grade iron ore. These ore reserves are estimated at more than 5,700 million tons are located around the mining city of Zouerate. SNIM is taking advantage of its wide expertise in mining exploration in order to carry out various projects that will contribute widely to the country's economic development. For example, in 1998, SNIM obtained exploration permits in different localities and started prospecting for diamonds, gold, base metals and dimension stones. In addition, SNIM is engaged in civil engineering activities: metalwork and fabrication for the mining sector, gypsum processing for plaster production, and tourism.

Oil research and exploration are now in process. A consortium of international companies led by Australia's Woodside has found hydrocarbons deposits off Mauritania’s shores that may produce 200 million barrels of oil and significant quantities of natural gas. Hydrocarbon prospecting continues. Foreign investors and government officials are optimistic to find more deposits and attract production companies. Industry sources hope that Mauritania could start exporting oil as early as 2006.

Mauritania has been a member of the UN since 1961 and of the League of Arab States since 1973. In 1972, Mauritania, Senegal, and Mali formed the joint Senegal River Development Organization (OMVS) to develop the agricultural and hydroelectric potential of the Senegal River and to foster economic cooperation among the three countries. In 1989, Mauritania joined Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Morocco to form the Arab Maghreb Union (UMA). However, this organization, faced with several problems, could not reach its main politic and economic objectives. Mauritania was member of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) until 2000, when it withdrew following the creation of UEMOA monetary union by ECOWAS member-countries.


Automobiles Last Updated: 3/22/2004 7:54 AM

With the ever-expanding network of paved roads, Mercedes and BMWs are replacing the standard four-wheel-drive vehicle as the preferred method of travel both in and between cities. Now, sedans would do just fine negotiating the more traveled roads in Mauritania. Four-wheel drive vehicles are desirable for those who enjoy going off road to appreciate the natural and historical sites of interest in the interior of the country, the beach, or the dunes.

Toyota, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Land Rover, Isuzu, and Suzuki four-wheel-drive vehicles are popular and have enjoyed decent resale value. Peugeots, Renaults, Fiats, and Honda are popular in Nouakchott, and spare parts for these cars are more readily available. Spare parts for American cars are more difficult to find.

Many vehicles in Mauritania use diesel fuel rather than gasoline. Unleaded gasoline is not available. Regular and premium gases have lower octane ratings than those sold in the states. U.S. Embassy personnel can purchase duty free leaded gas and diesel fuel from GSO.

Air-conditioning is not only recommended for the 5 months of hot weather, but because blowing sand often necessitates keeping windows closed. If possible, avoid extras, such as electric windows and door locks, because they can break due to Nouakchott's dust and sand. The catalytic converter and the gasoline nozzle restrictor should be removed before shipping a vehicle from the U.S.

The U.S. Government will pay for shipment of a foreign-made personally owned vehicle. Cars may be ordered from Europe with specifications for the African market. Personally owned vehicles for American personnel are imported duty free and may be resold in Mauritania to other diplomats, holders of duty-free status, or non-diplomatic buyers if the buyer agrees to pay import duties based on the purchase price. New and used cars are available at local dealerships, and used cars are sold regularly by departing diplomats.

A valid U.S. driver’s license is acceptable in lieu of a Mauritanian drivers license. U.S. Embassy personnel are not allowed to drive vehicles unless covered by third-party insurance (U.S. and Mauritanian regulation) that must be purchased in Mauritania. Annual insurance rates for this limited coverage range from some $150 for a small car, to $200 for a larger car. Other insurance coverage should be purchased through a U.S.-based company specializing in overseas coverage.

Newly arrived personnel may use Embassy duty drivers for a nominal fee while awaiting the arrival or purchase of a personally owned vehicle. Official travel has priority and is free.

Driving in Nouakchott is not for the timid. People generally drive on the right side of the road and sometimes the left, if it suits them. Passing is the same way. The only rule that seems almost routinely applied, is yielding to oncoming traffic in traffic circle. In other words, the right side has priority. There are a couple of intersections with lights that are generally obeyed when they are working. Cars share the road with pedestrians, donkey carts, goats, sheep and camels. So, it is not uncommon to be stuck behind a heavily burdened donkey cart or to slow down to let sheep cross. Do not expect to go over 35 mph in or around the city. The other drivers might be aggressive, but they are also very polite. Surprisingly, few accidents occur.

Local Transportation Last Updated: 3/22/2004 7:55 AM

Limited bus service is available in Nouakchott and the vehicles are often dilapidated and overcrowded. Local point-to-point taxies are plentiful, cheap, and you can request to be the only passenger. You pay one flat rate from one destination in town to another.

Four-wheel-drive vehicles may be rented, with or without drivers, for trips into the interior.

Regional Transportation Last Updated: 1/4/2004 9:45 AM

A long-distance taxi service called "taxi-brousse," is available between Nouakchott and many regional cities. This is a colorful, if slow, way to experience the local scene. They are normally very crowded with people and livestock with open windows and doors for ventilation.

Travel within Mauritania is via a small network of roads, air, or over the beach at low tide to coastal destinations. The only railroad, from the port of Nouadhibou to Zouerate, is used primarily to transport iron ore to the coast. Travel by boat along the Senegal River is possible during the rainy season. No passenger service by ship exists along the Atlantic coast.

Mauritania's road network includes the main north-south truck line that begins with Bir Moghrein and continues south through Nouakchott to Rosso, which is at the Senegalese border. The main east-west road extends east towards the Malian boarder from Nouakchott to Nema and is 1,100 km. The paved road that will tie Nouakchott with Mali through the city of Kobenni, is almost complete. Other paved roads lead southeast from Nouakchott to Boghe and Kaedi, which are located along the Senegal River. The road that links Nouakchott to Atar is 425 km, and the road that links Nouakchott to Rosso is 210 km. Despite government efforts to build and pave a 550 km road from Nouakchott to Nouadhibou by mid 2004, the work is proceeding slowly. Until it is completed, Mauritania's business capital and port, Nouadhibou, is reachable only by air or four-wheel-drive vehicles that ply the beach between the two cities at low tide.

The many of Mauritania's roads are unpaved. Some dirt roads are well maintained and usable during the dry season. Because of deep, drifting sand, interior roads are often passable only in four-wheel-drive vehicles. At times, especially in the rainy season, even paved roads maybe in such poor condition that four-wheel-drive vehicles must forge parallel tracks over the desert.

Vehicular border crossings to Senegal can be made via the ferry at Rosso and by land over the Diama Dam to St. Louis, Senegal. Other crossing points made in "pirogue" small boats are at N'Diago, Diana, JerdEl Mohguen, Tekane, Lekseiba, Boghe, M'Bagne, Kaedi, Tifounde Cive, Maghama, and Goraye. These are not capable of taking cars. The dam is not recommended during the rainy season because heavy mud makes the road impassable.

The privately operated airline, Air Mauritania, provides services to most regional capitals and other cities such as Dakar, Casablanca, and Las Palmas (in Spain's Canary Islands). Air France, Air Algerie, Royal Maroc, Tunis Air and Air Senegal provide services in and outside of Africa. During sandstorms, the Nouakchott airport occasionally closes, and certain airlines decline to land.


Telephones and Telecommunications Last Updated: 1/4/2004 7:26 AM

A central semiautomatic switchboard serves all Embassy compound offices and residences. Compound residences have private phones as well. Telephones are installed in all Embassy residences off the compound.

Telephone service exists between Nouakchott and most regional capitals, and Nouakchott has direct-dial international long-distance service. However, it is not possible to contact the international access numbers for commercial operators such as AT&T, Sprint, or MCI. The Embassy IVG lines can be used to dial toll-free 1-800 numbers as well as to call toll-free to the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area (202, as well as many 703 and 301 area code numbers). It is less expensive to call Nouakchott from the U.S. than vice-versa.

Wireless Service Last Updated: 1/4/2004 7:26 AM Cell phones are the preferred form of communication between the locals and the most economical. A large variety of high tech phones are available and they all use prepaid phone cards. Vendors sell the phone cards at many intersections in town. Official cell phones are assigned to Embassy employees depending on the duty need and availability of phones. Cell phones for personal use are easily obtainable.

Internet Last Updated: 11/23/2003 11:41 AM

Internet service is available for private home use. However, the connection speed currently varies from house to house. The EMR and DCR have fast, broadband Internet connections through the Embassy system.

Mail and Pouch Last Updated: 3/28/2004 5:04 AM

Nouakchott is not an APO post. It uses the diplomatic pouch system.

International airmail from the U.S. to Nouakchott takes 7-21 days and is generally reliable for letters. Surface mail or parcel post to or from the U.S. takes 3-4 months. DHL (, which provides a worldwide express mail service, has an office in Nouakchott. UPS ( also has an office.

Embassy's international mailing address:

Ambassade des Etats-Unis d'Amerique B.P.222 Nouakchott, Mauritania (RIM) West Africa

Commercial telephone numbers: (222) 525-2660 or 2663. Fax number: (222) 525-1592

U.S. Government employees may also wish to visit the Department of State's Intranet website or contact our for details related to their travel and work in Mauritania.

Radio and TV Last Updated: 11/23/2003 11:43 AM

The government-operated radio stations located in Nouakchott, Boghe and Nouadhibou, broadcast music, news, and commentaries in Arabic with some French and local African language broadcasts. Shortwave reception is usually good and many Mauritanians listen to Media 1, a French broadcast out of Senegal. The government operated TV station broadcasts news, music, religious and serial shows in Arabic and French between the hours of 7 pm and 11 pm. European and international Arab broadcasts can also be seen in Mauritania with a multi-system TV.

All official Embassy residences are outfitted with a satellite antenna and receiver that provide French, Arabic and English-language channels. Residences are also equipped with an AFRTS decoder with seven channels that offer American programming to include major sporting events. Mauritania uses the SECAM D/K system for television, which is not compatible with American-system televisions. Some personnel bring their NTSC system television and others buy multi-system televisions.

Newspapers, Magazines, and Technical Journals Last Updated: 1/4/2004 7:33 AM

The Mauritanian government publishes a daily newspaper in both French and Arabic. There is one privately owned daily newspaper published in French. The rest of the independent French and Arabic papers are published any where from weekly to monthly. Limited amounts of international paperbacks, newspapers, and periodicals are available in French, Arabic, and English.

Many Embassy members have personal subscriptions to periodicals and newspapers that they receive through the pouch. The post, at times, subscribes to various periodicals for business use.

Health and Medicine

Medical Facilities Last Updated: 3/28/2004 5:06 AM

The Embassy maintains a small Health Unit, staffed by a contract nurse, to provide basic preventive and curative health care services for U.S. Government employees. A Department of State regional medical officer, assigned to the American Embassy in Dakar, periodically visits Nouakchott for consultations and to monitor the health care facilities in Nouakchott.

Local medical facilities are limited. The single government-run hospital in Nouakchott, staffed by Mauritanian and expatriate physicians, is used only in the case of life-threatening emergencies. Nursing care and hygiene do not meet U.S. standards. A few Mauritanian and expatriate physicians have private practices or clinics. Medical problems that cannot be handled in Nouakchott are normally referred to Dakar, London, or the U.S. However, the medical situation improves each year.

The Health Unit stocks a basic supply of medicines for treatment by the contract nurse. Bring prescription medicines that are taken regularly (such as those for high blood pressure, skin problems, hormone replacement, etc.) to post. Although many pharmacies stock French drugs, supplies are not reliable and exact duplicates of American prescriptions are not obtainable.

Home pharmaceutical items such as, cold remedies, home first-aid kit items, digestive aids, eyewashes, preferred sunscreens, and insect repellents should be brought in ample supply. Some international brands of facial and body lotions, sunscreens, and toothpaste are available.

There are few good ophthalmologists with modern equipment in Nouakchott. Despite the fact there are opticians available locally, it is wise to bring extra pairs of prescription glasses to post. Maintaining a prescription with a U.S. optician assures that replacements can be mailed through the pouch if necessary. Many people have trouble with contact lenses in Nouakchott because of dust and the dry climate (bring enough supply of cleaning solution or eye drops). Several pairs of sunglasses are also recommended.

There are two private dentists trained in Europe who most Americans use for routine care. They operate clean dental clinics with modern equipment. It is advised to complete all routine dental work before arrival at post. Currently, an orthodontist makes routine visits from Dakar to Nouakchott.

Community Health Last Updated: 11/23/2003 11:49 AM

Public health measures in Nouakchott are limited. Personal hygienic standards are low, and household trash often is thrown in the streets and vacant lots. Most illnesses are related to bacteria spread by Mauritania's prodigious fly population, contaminated tap water, or improper food handling. The desert climate of Nouakchott is healthier than tropical regions, but polio, typhoid fever, hepatitis, tuberculosis, malaria, meningitis, and a variety of parasitic illnesses are endemic.

Preventive Measures Last Updated: 3/28/2004 5:08 AM

Because medical facilities are limited, those assigned to Nouakchott must place a high priority on the prevention of illness and maintenance of good health. Health promotion measures include keeping immunizations current; proper treatment of food, water, and personal environment; maintaining good nutrition; and paying close attention to exercise, rest, and relaxation. Close supervision of hygiene practices of household staff is essential. The Health Unit supplies routine immunizations, malaria prophylaxis, iodine tablets, and fluoride tablets for U.S. Government employees' children under the age 13.

Employment for Spouses and Dependents Last Updated: 3/28/2004 5:09 AM

Every effort is made to locate suitable employment for U.S. Government employees' spouses who wish to work. The post has several Eligible Family Member (EFM) positions. Opportunities vary widely over time, but it is always a good idea to get as much French-language training as possible before coming to post. All local interaction, and therefore most employment, depends on an ability to communicate in French or Arabic. Other employment assets include experience in international development, editing, and computer skills. The American International School occasionally has part-time opportunities and welcomes volunteers, especially in the library and for special events.

Employment opportunities outside the Embassy are limited but not impossible to find with the right skills. Local employers, international organizations, and other embassies usually require professional proficiency in French or Arabic. No work permits are currently required for dependents of diplomatic personnel. Should one be required, local regulations specify that the employer is responsible for obtaining it.

American Embassy - Nouakchott

Post City Last Updated: 1/4/2004 11:07 AM

Nouakchott covers 10 square miles and is surrounded by desert. The Atlantic is nearby, just three miles from town. Population estimates for the city range as high as one million, but official statistics put the population in 2002, at about 650 thousand. Much of the population growth the city has experienced can be traced to a prolonged drought in Mauritania, which forced many nomadic groups to move to the larger towns and cities, including Nouakchott.

Nouakchott's maximum daytime temperatures average in the low 90's (F), with average minimum temperatures in the high 60's (F). Precipitation in Nouakchott is less than three inches annually.

The airport is located about 2 miles (a 10-minute drive) from the Embassy, near the older section of town known as Ksar. Many embassy residences are located on the other end of town, towards the ocean.

Nouakchott was originally a military post founded in 1903, during the French colonial era. When it was selected in 1957, as Mauritania's future the capital, it was a small village of mud brick houses. It was chosen over larger, historically more important towns because of its relatively moderate climate and central, coastal location. Nouakchott's name derives from the Berber expression "place of the winds."

Security Last Updated: 1/4/2004 7:46 AM

The level of crime in Nouakchott is rated by the U.S. State Department as moderate. Most incidents involve petty crime and crimes of opportunity that often result from improperly secured valuables inside a vehicle. Residential burglaries, robberies, and assaults also occur. Violent crimes and crimes involving the use of weapons are increasing.

Although U.S. citizens are generally welcomed in Mauritania, there were reports of anti-American incidents such as threats and stoning of vehicles, following the 1998 U.S. and British-led intervention in Iraq, and demonstrations outside the Embassy during the 2003 U.S. intervention in Iraq. Some Muslim extremists have occasionally perceived Christian non-governmental organizations as a threat. However, local authorities closely monitor political violence and religious extremist groups.

The beach area around Nouakchott should be avoided at night. During the day, beach goers should travel in large groups or stay in popular areas because there have been a number of incidents of theft and violence in the past two years. Prudent care and caution should be exercised when visiting the fish market and the surrounding areas to include the ports.

Keep all doors and windows closed and locked. Be particularly observant to road conditions, whether you are stopped in traffic, or entering/exiting your vehicle. Traveling at any time in Mauritania is hazardous. However, nighttime travel outside of Nouakchott is not advised because of the potential for banditry, treacherous traffic conditions (i.e. obstructions, obstacles, and poor/no road lighting) and a plethora of improperly maintained vehicles (i.e. no headlights or fenders). For travel outside Nouakchott, renting a vehicle, and hiring an experienced driver is advisable.

The Post and Its Administration Last Updated: 1/4/2004 11:08 AM

The American Embassy in Nouakchott opened in 1961, shortly after Mauritania's independence. It was closed, June 1967, when diplomatic relations were broken in the wake of the Six-Day Arab-Israeli War and reopened in 1970. The U.S. Mission, under the direction of the Ambassador, consists of a number of constituent parts, including an active Peace Corps program.

The Peace Corps has served in Mauritania for 36 years and currently supports 72 volunteers who serve in communities in 10 regions of the country. Peace Corps Mauritania is staffed by approximately 35 individuals: a director, five assistant directors, two medical officers, a director of security, a training director, a general services officer, a volunteer support officer, and a laboratory technician. Program activities concentrate on rural development, public health, water sanitation, information technology, secondary English education, curriculum development, gender and development issues, and small enterprise development.


Temporary Quarters Last Updated: 3/28/2004 5:11 AM

When possible, new U.S. Government employees are placed directly into their permanent housing.

Permanent Housing Last Updated: 3/28/2004 5:11 AM

Housing within the Embassy compound is government owned and furnished. Other personnel live in leased houses furnished with typical U.S. Government furniture. Houses usually have three or four bedrooms and a small garden or yard. Air conditioners are provided for at least the living and dining rooms, as well as, occupied bedrooms. All houses are equipped with large generators for use during power outages.

Furnishings Last Updated: 3/21/2004 11:02 AM

In all residences, the living room, dining room, and at least the master bedroom have area rugs. Draperies can be reimbursed. The post provides extra furniture such as bookcases, chests, and tables when possible. Master bedrooms are furnished with queen-sized beds with twin beds in the other bedrooms.

The post supplies a microwave, refrigerator, freezer, washer, dryer, gas/electric stove, water pressure pump, hot water heaters, water distiller, mosquito netting, and a number of step-down (220 to 110 volt) transformers for each residence. All homes are supplied with vacuum cleaners and bags, ironing boards, garden hoses and tools (shovel, hoe, hedge clippers, and rake), as well as a patio table with four chairs. Gardeners should bring sprinklers and any other extra tools they require. The Post loans lawnmowers to personnel with lawn areas. Note, grass is difficult to grow and most gardeners seek alternative groundcovers.

The Nouakchott market for household goods is limited but improving. Bring complete supplies of pots, pans, dishes, glassware, kitchen utensils, dish drainer, linens, washable cotton blankets, and shower curtains with liners. Although bed pillows can be provided, most people prefer to bring their own. Keep in mind the heavy dust (actually sand) sometimes permeates the houses despite weather stripping. Bring all small appliances you regularly use to post. Many people purchase 220v appliances for the frequently used, high-voltage appliances such as irons, toasters, hairdryers, microwaves, and coffee makers. Small 110v appliances such as mixers, blenders, and food processors are used less frequently and for briefer periods, can operate effectively with transformers. Many Embassy personnel order “forgotten” items from the U.S. outlets and have them shipped via the pouch.

Home entertainment is important in Nouakchott. An American standard (NTSC) TV set is adequate for VHS videotapes and for AFRTS, but a multi-system TV and VCR are recommended. Many Embassy members own VCRs and tape/DVD collections, which they exchange informally. Stereo systems need to be protected from dust, and CDS are popular because they are relatively immune to the dust's effects. Many people purchase dual voltage (110/220v and 50-60 cycles) stereo sets to avoid problems with the difference in cycles found in most 110v units and some transformers. Nouakchott AC supply is 220v, 50 cycles. Voltage regulators are essential for delicate equipment such as stereos, VCRs, and computers because of wide power fluctuations. The Embassy provides one regulator per residence for the TV and VCR. Surge protectors are recommended for all electrical equipment.

GSO provides a basic Welcome Kit to be used until a newcomer's airfreight arrives. Kits are also issued upon departure when the employee’s airfreight has been sent to the next post. Pack an adequate supply of linens, lightweight dishes, pots and pans, and other essential kitchen and personal items in your airfreight. Household effects (HHE) shipments may take up to 4 months to arrive from the U.S. Cleaning supplies and food can be purchased locally. The CLO coordinator will send all new personnel a welcome cable and letter with detailed information on suggestions for shipping and packing of airfreight, HHE, and consumables for Nouakchott.

Utilities and Equipment Last Updated: 3/28/2004 5:14 AM

The Embassy has installed large diesel generators at its residences to alleviate the occasional electrical power outages. Brownouts are more common but, good regulators and surge protects help protect against the problems associated with them. Because all residences have either water cisterns or water pressure systems that are backed up by a GSO water truck, water availability is not a major concern to Embassy personnel.

Food Last Updated: 3/28/2004 5:29 AM

U.S. Government employees use the following sources for food: the local market (usually 3-4 small supermarkets, as well as open-air markets), the internet, orders to Denmark's Peter Justesen, and their consumables allowance.

Many of the food products that Embassy personnel are accustomed are expensive, if available, on the local market. Almost all such food is imported, including fresh fruits and vegetables such as apples, oranges, and potatoes. Availability, quality, and variety fluctuate widely. Locally produced, good quality, vegetables are always available in winter. During the summer, fresh produce is scarce, and even meat, butter, and cheese can be in short supply due to fewer imports as foreign residents depart for vacation. Nouakchott is blessed with fresh, locally caught fish, shrimp, and rock lobster (in season) at reasonable prices. Beef and lamb, chickens, eggs, and a few vegetables (lettuce, tomatoes, tubers, mint, and parsley) are produced locally at costs about 30%-50% higher than U.S. prices. There are many imported fruit juices available at about twice the price of comparable U.S.- made products. Items such as turkey, pork, lunchmeat, cheese, and ice cream are imported either from neighboring countries or Europe and are expensive. Do not count on very many prepared foods such as canned soups and TV dinners.

Small supermarkets, butcher shops, open-air markets, several bakeries producing good baguettes, door-to-door vendors, and the fish market are the local sources of supply for groceries in Nouakchott. Shopping frequently, stocking up on sometimes scarce items, scouring the vegetable stands for fresh items, advance planning (but flexibility in menu planning), and befriending certain vendors enables foreign residents of Nouakchott to live adequately, albeit expensively, on the local market.

All direct-hire Americans supplement the locally available foodstuffs with items from their consumables shipment in order to save money and add variety to their diet.

U.S. Government employees should contact their Travel Coordinators (or equivalent) for more details about the various shipments to post.

A list of suggested items is sent to new personnel upon notification of posting to Nouakchott by the CLO coordinator. You may also e-mail the CLO coordinator or other Embassy personnel with specific questions.

Many Americans supplement their diet with produce grown in their own gardens. Bring heat resistant seeds post. However, there is a good selection of heat resistant and draught tolerant vegetable seeds in town. There is a small selection of flower seeds. With care and plenty of manure, gardens produce lettuce, tomatoes, and other vegetables and herbs in all but the hottest summer months.

Clothing Last Updated: 3/21/2004 10:50 AM

The weather in Nouakchott ranges from cool to very hot, so cool and warm weather clothing is needed. Cotton clothing is best for breathability but, rayon blends require less ironing and are fade resistant. Some cool-weather clothing such as sweaters, long-sleeved shirts, and jackets are needed during the winter when evening and nighttime temperatures can drop as low as 45 °F or in air-conditioned offices. Sweatshirts or light windbreakers are useful for the beach in the evening. Dry-cleaning establishments are becoming more prevalent in Nouakchott and frequented by Embassy personnel. Remember, most personnel go from their air-conditioned house, to their air-conditioned car, to their air-conditioned office and back again. Consequently, long sleeve shirts and tropical wool suits are common for both men and women.

Men and women use sandals for casual wear, and women wear them to the office. All shoes wear out quickly in Mauritania's sandy streets and yards. Bring all sports shoes to post. Tennis shoes wear out quickly on hard-surfaced courts. Softball cleats may not be necessary in sand, but cleats help rugby and soccer players.

Comfortable clothing for any type of sport or recreational activity in Nouakchott should be brought in quantity. Swimwear, tennis, jogging, basketball, soccer, rugby, and aerobic clothing all wear out much more quickly here from excessive perspiration, dust, and consequent washing. Hats and caps are necessary for any outdoor activity. Sweatbands and plenty of cotton socks are helpful.

Men Last Updated: 1/4/2004 8:53 AM

Men who like lightweight, short-sleeved safari suits or jackets find these comfortable for after work. A dark, lightweight suit is appropriate for evening formal occasions. Jeans and shorts are worn on the beach and for recreational activities. Shorts are not typically worn on the street as casual wear.

Women Last Updated: 3/21/2004 10:47 AM

Out of respect for Islamic custom, skirt length is conservative, and shorts are not worn on the street. A couple of long, full skirts that allow for gracefully movement from standing to sitting on the floor in order to eat in the traditional style, would be beneficial. Bare arms and sundresses are acceptable for foreign women. Local tailors can make Western style dresses and skirts from local tie-dyed or batik fabrics. Long-sleeved dresses, shawls or dressy jackets are useful for outdoor receptions on chilly evenings. Stockings are rarely worn outside the cool season.

Children Last Updated: 11/23/2003 12:11 AM

Boys and girls wear shorts or jeans and shirts to school. For the few occasions when they must dress up, boys need nice polo shirts and cotton pants and girls need simple dresses. Children wear tennis shoes that are best brought to post and "flip-flops" that may be purchased here. Bring at least one year's supply of shoes to post for children. The local shoe selection is extremely limited and expensive. Mail orders for clothing and shoes from the U.S. can take 1-2 months.

Office Attire Last Updated: 3/21/2004 10:46 AM

Simple dresses, and blouses worn with either skirts are pants. Conservative dresses with below-elbow sleeves and below-knee hems are worn on visits to the ministries.

The normal office attire for men includes slacks, long or short-sleeved shirts that are worn with or without ties, and occasionally, a sports jacket or blazer. A coat and tie are needed for official visits to the ministries.

Supplies and Services

Supplies Last Updated: 3/21/2004 10:42 AM

Few U.S. products are sold on the local market. Some French products are available, but the prices are high, and the selection is limited. Among imported French products are toiletries, great soaps, patent medicines, common household items, insect sprays, paper products, hardware, and some cleaning equipment.

Among items to ship to post are: vitamins, American brands of toiletries and cosmetics, paper products, laundry soap, prescription and over-the-counter medicines, Band-Aids, pain relievers, personal care products, razors and razor blades, sunscreens, plastic dishpans and buckets, and spot remover.

Most often cited suggestions include: American or multi-system TV sets, stereo battery-operated clocks (packed in suitcase), replacement parts (for cars and electrical appliances), voltage regulators, picnic coolers, candles (decortive), flashlights, extra batteries of all types, photographic supplies, garment storage bags, lunch box (school), plastic clothes hangers, occasion cards, Christmas decorations, artificial Christmas trees, cards, gift wrapping paper, stationery, U.S. postage stamps, sports equipment, hobby supplies (especially liquids, for example, artist paint can not be bought or mailed), sturdy broom/mop, shoe rack, plastic storage totes, and party decorations.

The CLO coordinator sends a list of packing suggestions for all new Embassy personnel.

The time of year will determine how you will ship certain items. For example, during or close to the beginning of the school year, you might want to pack school items in your luggage. However, if a birthday or Christmas is over 4 months away, you might want to pack gifts in your HHE.

Children: It is a good idea to include in your luggage a few toys or books. The only English library available is at the school and it is small. Bring plenty of last minute gift items such as books, small stuffed animals, and games for birthday parties. Internet shopping is a great help only if you can plan a month out. Bring sports equipment and dirt bikes for riding in sand. Rollerblades and roller skates with rubber wheels can be used on the paved Embassy compound. Bring boogie boards and other water toys for both the pool and ocean.

Basic Services Last Updated: 3/21/2004 10:38 AM

Most shops are open from 8:30 am to 12:30 pm, and 4 pm to 7 pm, Saturday through Thursday. Services include full salon services (haircuts, waxing, facial, manicure, pedicure and massage), basic tailoring and dressmaking, and simple electrical and automotive repairs. Massages, facials, manicures, or haircuts are available as home services as well.

Various “artisan” shops are available for specific products. For example, the silver market contains silver jewelry while the Women’s Boutique carries tie-dyed clothing and house ware items.

Spare tires and tools for automobiles, electrical appliances, radio, and stereos, etc., should be shipped. Local technical skills are minimal, and spare parts for American cars and appliances are hard to find. However, the situation is improving as Nouakchott develops.

Domestic Help Last Updated: 3/28/2004 5:21 AM

Most Americans hire a household employee to clean the house, as Nouakchott is a very dusty city. The typical male worker does general cleaning, laundry, ironing, dishwashing, and occasional serving at the table. A female worker may do the same and/or attend children. A cook usually will not do housework.

Many domestic workers are male, foreign, French speaking, and do not live in. Most employees in American homes are placed through recommendations in the American community. Typical salary is around $100 a month. The rare cook earns much more. Monetary gifts are customary given for Tabaski and Ramadan. Employers should have all household staff medically examined before starting work.

Religious Activities Last Updated: 11/23/2003 12:26 AM

Islam is the state religion in Mauritania. Non-Mauritanians may attend the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St. Joseph. Mass is available in both English and French. Protestant services (in English) are held on Fridays in the Parish Hall on the Cathedral compound.


Dependent Education Last Updated: 1/4/2004 9:11 AM

The American International School of Nouakchott (AISN) is an accredited, nonprofit, private, coeducational school that provides an American educational program for pre-kindergarten through grade 8. The school was founded in 1978 and moved into a new facility on the Embassy compound in 1981. The school is accredited in the U.S. through the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools.

The school year runs from Labor Day until mid-June. Classes are held from 8:00 am to 2:45 pm, Sunday through Thursday. Preschool is offered for 3 and 4-year-olds. Current American texts are used. Classes are multi-grade with student groupings determined by the number and needs of the students. In addition, a high school correspondence program is offered through the University of Nebraska.

There are six full-time teachers and most have U.S. certification. The principal was trained and certified in the United States.

Besides coming from the U.S., the school community is made up of students from countries such as Qatar, Kuwait, Sudan, Spain, Netherlands, Nepal, and Mauritania.

The student population fluctuates each year. Its highest number of students in attendance was 47 during the 2002-2003. Because of the extremely variable student population, parents should obtain current information about the school before bidding on the post.

At Post Last Updated: 3/28/2004 5:22 AM The American International School of Nouakchott (AISN) is an accredited, nonprofit, private, coeducational school that provides an American educational program for pre-kindergarten through grade 8. The school was founded in 1978 and moved into a new facility on the Embassy compound in 1981. The school is accredited in the U.S. through the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools.

The school year runs from Labor Day until mid-June. Classes are held from 8:00 am to 2:45 pm, Sunday through Thursday. Preschool is offered for 3 and 4-year-olds. Current American texts are used. Classes are multi-grade with student groupings determined by the number and needs of the student. In addition, a high school correspondence program through the University of Nebraska is offered.

There are six full-time teachers and most have U.S. certification. The principal was trained and certified in the United States.

Besides coming from the U.S., the school community is made up of students from countries such as Qatar, Kuwait, Sudan, Spain, Netherlands, Nepal, and Mauritania.

The student population fluctuates each year. Its highest number of students in attendance was 47 during the 2002-2003 school year. Because of the extremely variable student population, parents should obtain current information about the school before bidding on the post.

Away From Post Last Updated: 3/28/2004 5:27 AM Educational allowance away from post is approved for grades 7-12.

U.S. Government employees should contact the Family Liaison Office's educational counselor, the CLO at post, the Africa Representative at the Overseas Schools Office in the Department of State, and especially parents of students currently or recently attending these grades for more information. Parents should also check the country files at the Overseas Briefing Center and the school’s website

Special Needs Education Last Updated: 1/4/2004 9:12 AM

Special needs educations is not available.

Higher Education Opportunities Last Updated: 1/4/2004 9:12 AM

There are no local higher education opportunities. Attendance at the University of Nouakchott is not recommended for Embassy personnel.

Recreation and Social Life Last Updated: 1/4/2004 11:22 AM

Sports Last Updated: 3/21/2004 10:26 AM

Outdoor recreation centers around three areas: the beach; the gym, and the Embassy compound. The beach may be the greatest benefit of a posting to Nouakchott. The white sand beach is about three miles by paved road from town .

With four-wheel-drive vehicles, many Americans drive on the beach at low tide, or cross dunes to reach private spots north or south of town for fishing, camping, and picnics. The Atlantic often has high surf, strong currents, and undertows, so use vigilance and caution when swimming. Jogging, shell collecting, motorcycling, and surf fishing are popular on the beach.

Mauritania enjoys good surf fishing all year along the entire coast. Among the fish in these rich waters are tuna, sea bass, sole, parrotfish, squid, and lobster. Surf fishing rods, reels, tackle, and lines all should be sent to post. They are some available locally but they are expensive and selection is limited. Be advised that a fair amount of tackle may be lost to rocks and tenacious fish. Fishing licenses are not required, but a permit to fish from the wharf can be obtained through the Embassy.

The fishing season at Nouakchott begins in late March with the annual “tuna” run which consists mostly of big mackerels. The tuna season ends in early June, and the fishing slacks off until September when lish, sea trout, and sea bass begin to run. The sea trout migrate from north to south along the beaches feeding on minnows that are also migrating south. Flocks of feeding sea gulls mark their passages and any lure thrown into the melee will be instantly hit. Standard lure for trout is a streamer fly rigged ahead of a “boule.” Sea bass are caught in the rocky area near Tanit, 60 kilometers north of Nouakchott. The best lure for sea bass is a plastic tailed jig. Lish, a large flat silver fish and a harder fighter, hit boule and fly combinations. Sea serpents also occupy these waters and have been caught off the wharf.

At times, a community softball team is organized and participation by all is welcomed. The team sometimes travels to other country capitals for tournaments.

A community swimming pool, lighted tennis and volleyball courts, and a small weight room are on the Embassy compound. These facilities are available to all Embassy personnel and their families. The Ambassador's pool is sometimes the site of community events. Occasional tennis tournaments are organized, and the annual July 4th picnic usually centers around the pool and volleyball court.

Hunting is authorized at Lac R’Kez, Lac Mahmoud, Lac Aleg and Lac de Mal, which are located in the Brakna region. The hunting season is from October to the end of March.

Touring and Outdoor Activities Last Updated: 3/21/2004 10:23 AM

Attractions In Nouakchott

Fishermen’s Cooperative: is located at the beach, south of the Sabah Hotel. There are beautifully painted boats and guaranteed fresh fish with lots of interesting activity.

Cinquieme and Sixieme Arrondissements: these are interesting and somewhat unique sections of town. Some items you will find for sell are animals, plants, charcoal, traditional medicines, fabrics, beads, imported carpets, shoes, traditional clothing, etc. Best to go with someone and barter hard for good prices.

Marche Capitale: located one block south from Avenue Nasser, it has many small variety shops where you can find interesting things such as imports from Spain, Morocco, Italy and Taiwan.

The National Museum: is worth a visit because it contains a wealth of interesting information on Mauritania’s early history, dessert life and culture. Important collections of stone tools, ax heads, flint arrows and many more artifacts are on display. (These sorts of tools can be found freely in the Mauritanian desert by the eagle-eyed.) It is open Sunday thru Thursday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Marche Marocain: is a large and scattered market located south of Marche Capitale and is a close copy of a typical African market. The best vegetables and fruits can bought here for less than in the shops that cater to foreigners.

Women’s Cooperative: sells tablecloths, tie-dyed clothes, purses, pillows, camel hair rugs, leather cushions, tents, and fine reed/leather mats at reasonable prices. It is located by the hospital.

Artisan Center: the “Centre Artisanal” or silver market, sells silver inlaid wooden boxes, lots of other silver and metal objects, and Senegalese woodcarvings. Prices are higher, but it is at least worth a trip to see. It is located on the road to Rosso near the outskirts of town.

Rug Cooperative: sells handmade rugs of wool and camel hair and mats made of reed and leather. Prices start around $100 to over a $1000. Rugs can be made to order, and it is located near the airport.

Women Prisoners’ Quilting Cooperative: the show room is located in a volunteer's house, who teaches sewing skills to imprisoned women. All the beautifully hand-sewn projects represent life in Mauritania.

Places Outside of Nouakchott

Travel outside of Nouakchott is interesting and enriching, but requires thorough preparation and proper equipment. Four-wheel drive vehicles are necessary for any off road activities outside the city. A good selection of spare parts, tools, sand ladders, extra fuel, water, and food must be carried for travel off the main roads.

Camping is possible both on the beach and in the desert. One popular trip involves driving up the beach at low tide along the water's edge toward Cap Timiris. Others enjoy camping in the desert or along ancient caravan routes, searching for archaeological artifacts and exploring ancient towns.

Accommodations for travelers in the interior of the country are rudimentary, if available. For example, do not expect 24-hr electricity and water, air conditioning, towels or complimentary hotel soaps. Traveling to some cities still requires camping gear or staying with Mauritanian families. Most regional capitals have government rest houses, and a few have tourist hotels. Travel and accommodations require considerable advance planning.

In this country of vast open space, the population is as sparse as the vegetation. Wherever one camps, there are few signs of people. You can enjoy sleeping in the open during favorable seasons, but a tent is useful as protection against wind, sun and sandstorms. Camping stoves and lanterns should use kerosene, regular gasoline, butane gas, or charcoal; all of which are available here. Gas lanterns and cookers and their fuel cartridges are sold here.

Campers should bring gear such as inflatable mattresses or camp cots, lightweight cotton sleeping bags, severe weather ice chests, large water containers, a beach umbrella, and mosquito netting. Cots are advisable in areas where there are sand vipers and blister beetles. GSO can lend some camping supplies when they are not in use for official travel. Families should bring a lightweight, low, wind-resistant family tent. Nylon umbrella tents with collapsible sectional poles do not work well in high winds. Mosquito netting, Mauritanian tents, and okay ice chests are available in the market.

Interesting Mauritania Cities and Towns

Ayoun: is 3 hours east of Kiffa, with houses made from red and white blocks of local stone. The interesting rock formations to the south are reminiscent of the American southwest.

Atar: is 5 hours beyond Akjoujt. It was one of the ancient capitals of the Almoravid Kingdom and a caravan base for the trans-Saharan salt trade. It constitutes the point of departure for excursions towards the oasis of Tergitt, the gorge of Illidj, or the impressive canyon that skirts the route to Chinguetti.

Banc D'Arguin National Park: is a 4-5 hour drive north of Nouakchott along the beach at low tide and is a large, natural estuary rich in bird and animal life. The park is reputed to be one of Africa's best for watching migratory birds such as pelicans, flamingoes, and egrets. Big sea turtles, dolphins and huge fish have been reported to swim around rocks at the foot of the cliffs. A tour guide is advised for this trip, and a sailboat ride is recommended.

Boutilimit: is 2 1/2 hours by paved road from Nouakchott, one of the religious centers of the country, and the site of an Islamic institute. The ruins of a French military post are visible atop a dune, near the town.

Chinguetti – Ouadane: are located in the spectacular area to the east of Atar, which contains white dunes, mountain cliffs, oases, palm trees, ancient caravan centers and rock paintings. The stone city of Ouadane dates from the 11th century and is perched on a hill overlooking an oasis. Chinguetti is the seventh holy city of Islam and contains ancient manuscripts that date from the 3rd century. It is in a constant battle with holding back the encroachment of the dunes. Tourists can now travel in caravans between these two cities.

Kaedi: is 435 km from Nouakchott and located along the Senegal River. The architecture is very different from Nouakchott’s eclectic style. Many buildings are built to represent the traditional round, mud huts. It is humid and very green during the rainy season. Accommodations are limited.

Keur-Messene: is a hunting and fishing camp 60 kilometers west of Rosso, in the delta area of the Senegal River, and near the Banc de Diawling National Park.

Kiffa: is 8 hours east of Nouakchott and an important regional trading center. The oases and escarpments around Kiffa offer an interesting change of scenery. Recently discovered desert crocodiles can be found in the area during winter. Their mating season is around April and May.

Nouadhibou: is accessible from Nouakchott by air or a 2-day drive up the beach at low tide. It is a fishing and commercial port and the terminus of the railroad from the Zouerate iron mines. Nice hotels are available. A paved road from Nouakchott to Nouadhibou is under construction.

Oualata: is located in the southeast near the Malian borer. It was a famous religious center and is known for its unique style of decorated houses and courtyards. It is recommended to fly to Nema and take a guide to the city because the trip by vehicle from Nouakchott can be long and tiring.

Rosso: is 3 hours from Nouakchott and borders the Senegal River. The small ferry to Senegal is located here and has an infrequent schedule.

Easily Accessible Places from Mauritania

Canary Islands, Spain: consists of several different islands, each with its own character. Many locals take the flight to Nouadhibou then another short flight to the island, Gran Canaria. It features duty-free shopping, international resorts, and Spanish culture. The other islands can be reached by the local Spanish airlines or ferries.

Saint Louis, Senegal: the administrative capital for Mauritania during the colonial period, it is a 4-5 hour drive from Nouakchott. This picturesque island town was one of the earliest French settlements in Africa. The former slave trading port near the mouth of the Senegal River today offers comfortable hotels and good dining. There are several nature preserves around this area.

Dakar, Senegal: the capital of Senegal and the former capital of French West Africa, it is a cosmopolitan city with good shopping, beaches, hotels, restaurants, and nightlife. Frequent, 1-hour flights or an 8-hour drive from Nouakchott make this seaport city a popular destination.

Morocco: hotels are quite good and inexpensive off-season. Restaurants are very good. Shoppers can buy brass and bronze trays, candlesticks and jewelry, rugs and beautiful caftans. Casablanca is a large, modern town. Fez, Marrakech and Rabat are very charming ancient cities.

Mali: who can resist a visit to the famous city “Timbuktu” or see the one of the few elephant herds north of the equator?

Entertainment Last Updated: 3/21/2004 9:31 AM

Few commercial forms of entertainment are found in Nouakchott. The French and Moroccan cultural centers offer occasional live productions and exhibitions. A movie cinema shows fairly recent movies in French during the weekdays and English on Saturdays. For those with multi-systems, several DVD rental stores have evolved that help supplement video and DVD collections. Rentals are also available through the French Cultural Center. A rapidly growing number of local restaurants offer varying quality in food and service. A large sports stadium, built by the Chinese Government, hosts sports events featuring Mauritanian, African, and European sports teams. A pool and limited gym facilities are available on post. Many expatriates use local gyms. Aerobics, dance, and martial art classes are available at various times and locations in the community. An annual semi-marathon for men and a 5K run for women are hosted each year by the Germany Embassy in the month of March.

Social Activities Last Updated: 3/21/2004 9:28 AM

Among Americans Last Updated: 1/4/2004 9:20 AM The American community in Nouakchott includes personnel of the U.S. Mission, Peace Corps volunteers, and residents who are affiliated with religious or international organizations. Social life is relaxed and usually casual, centered around dining out and “get-togethers” at private homes.

International Contacts Last Updated: 1/4/2004 9:22 AM Many opportunities exist to develop friendships with members of the international and Mauritanian communities, but French proficiency is essential. Example opportunities include handball, quilting, and tennis clubs. Entertaining in the international community is similar in style to the American community.

Official Functions Last Updated: 3/21/2004 9:22 AM

Nature of Functions Last Updated: 3/21/2004 9:24 AM

Diplomatic missions observe national days with receptions and parties.

Mauritanian officials occasionally entertain foreign diplomats in their homes. Dinner most likely will be a "mechoui," the traditional Sahelian meal that consists of a whole lamb or goat, stuffed with couscous or rice, and is eaten with the right hand from a common platter while sitting on the floor. The traditional three glasses of mint tea are served afterwards.

Standards of Social Conduct Last Updated: 3/21/2004 9:21 AM

For most official functions, the dress is "Tenue de Ville' (business suit) or "Decontractee" (informal). Black tie is rarely worn.

Special Information Last Updated: 3/21/2004 9:18 AM

Due to its small size, post has no formal orientation program aside from the required briefing from the security officer. Sponsors introduce new employees to life at post while control officers brief the employee on office procedures. The CLO coordinator briefs newcomers and their family members on life in Nouakchott and helps them adjust to shopping and recreational activities. French-language training is available, budget permitting, to employees and dependents.

Notes For Travelers

Getting to the Post Last Updated: 3/28/2004 5:28 AM

Most people fly Delta flights on Air France from the U.S. to Nouakchott, via Paris.

Arriving U.S. Government employees should notify the American Embassy in Nouakchott of routing and arrival times well in advance of their departure from the United States. Accurate flight information for internal African routes is difficult to obtain in the U.S. and subject to frequent changes. Early warning enables the Embassy to confirm and correct flight reservations if necessary. Travelers are then met and assisted at the Nouakchott airport. Airport or border visas are issued for Mauritania only under emergency conditions. Visas can be obtained in Washington D.C., Paris, Dakar or other cities with Mauritanian consulates.

All U.S. visitors should register with the consular section.

Those who travel from Dakar to Nouakchott in a personally owned vehicle should check with the American Embassy in Dakar to assure that vehicle papers, dual-country vehicle insurance, and acceptable visas are in order. The American Embassy in Nouakchott is located between the Spanish Embassy and the Presidential Palace.

Customs, Duties, and Passage

Customs and Duties Last Updated: 3/28/2004 5:27 AM

U.S. Government employees have duty free-entry privileges for an initial shipment of HHE, airfreight, and a personal vehicle. Subsequent shipments of food, liquor, cigarettes, appliances, or other items require a separate clearance from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Passage Last Updated: 3/28/2004 5:30 AM

An entry visa is required for all Americans traveling to Mauritania. Multiple-entry visas for one year are obtained for all U.S. Government employees upon arrival at post.

Proof of current vaccination or a stamp in your World Health Organization (WHO) card for cholera and yellow fever, are also needed. Travelers not holding diplomatic passports should fill out a currency declaration form upon arrival at the port of entry and retain this form until time of departure in order to facilitate exit formalities.

Pets Last Updated: 3/21/2004 9:14 AM

There is no quarantine period. However, a health certificate translated into French and signed by a veterinarian is required. Both dogs and cats require current rabies and distemper (panleukopenia for cats) shots.

Tick fever is endemic. Bring and use tick and flea preventive measures. Routine parasite treatment is also recommended and the medicine can be attained locally. There are good, local veterinarians with a well-stocked pharmacies in Nouakchott.

Cat litter is usually available but of poor quality. Dry and wet cat food is available but is relative expensive with varying qualities. Dry and wet dog food is available for small to medium sized dogs. It too is expensive with varying qualities.

Firearms and Ammunition Last Updated: 6/30/1997 6:00 PM

Post policy prohibits shipment of firearms or ammunition in personal effects unless cleared in advance by the Chief of Mission.

Currency, Banking, and Weights and Measures Last Updated: 3/21/2004 9:09 AM

The local currency is the ouguiya (UM). All State Department and Peace Corps employees are paid biweekly in dollars. Most employees have their salaries deposited directly into an American bank account and cash dollar checks with the Embassy’s cashier to obtain local currency.

At this time, there are no ATMs in Nouakchott.

Mauritania uses the metric system of weights and measures.

Electric current is 220v, 50-cycle, one- or three-phase, two- or three-wire, and AC.

Taxes, Exchange, and Sale of Property Last Updated: 1/4/2004 11:14 AM

Sale of personal property normally is restricted to Americans or other non-Mauritanians with diplomatic free import privileges. Personally owned vehicles may be sold to non-diplomatic personnel. However, the transfer of title of the vehicle may not be made until a proof of payment of customs is provided to the Embassy.

Recommended Reading Last Updated: 11/24/2003 3:45 AM

These tides are provided as a general indication of the material published on this country. The Department of State does not endorse unofficial publications.

American University. Area Handbook for Mauritania. U.S. Government Printing Office: Washington, D.C.,1973.

Baduel, Pierre Robert. Mauritanie, entre arabite et africanite.1990.

Bouill, E.W. The Golden Trade of the Moors. Oxford University Press: London, 1978.

Clarke, Thurston. The Last Caravan. GP. Putnam's sons, 1978.

Gerteiny, Alfred G. Historical Dictionary of Mauritania. 2nf Edition. Scarecrow Press: 1981.

Gerteiny, Alfred G. Mauritania. Frederick A. Praeger: New York, 1967.

Goudie, A. and I. Wilkinson. The Warm Desert Environment. University Press: Cambridge, 1977.

Hargreaves, John D. West Africa: The Former French States. Prentice-Hall: Englewood Cliffs, NJ 1967.

Huddson, Thomas. Travels in Mauritania. 1988.

Kritzeck, J. and W. Lewis. Islam in Africa. Van Nostrand-Reinhold Co.: 1969.

La Mauritania: un Tournant Democratique? Politique Africaine no. 55, pages 2-109. October 1994.

Mauritania. Department of State in Country Reports of Human Rights Practice for 1991: February 1992.

Mauritania's Campaign of Terror: State-Sponsored Repression of Black Africans. Human Rights Watch/Africa: April 1994.

Mohamed Mahmoudould Mohamed Salah. Droit des Contrats en Mauritanie: Tome I Theorie Generate du Contras. L' Ordre National des Avocats: Mauritania, May 1996.

Mohammad-Mahmoud Mohamedou. Societal Transition to Democracy in Mauritania. 1995.

Morris, H.T. Shinguiti Folk Literature and Song. Oxford University Press: Oxford, 1968.

Pitte, Jean Robert. Nouakchott: Capitalede la Mauritanie. Paris, 1977.

Renaudeau, Michel. La Republique Islamique de Mauritanie. Editions Delroisse: Paris.

Rezette, Robert. The Western Sahara and the Frontiers of Morocco. Nouvelles Editions Latines: Paris, 1975.

St. Exupery, Antoine. Wind Sand and Stars. Harcourt, Brace Jovanovich: New York, 1967.

Stewart, C.C. and E.K. Islam and Social Order in Mauritania. Clarendon Press: Oxford, 1973.

Trimingham J.S. Islam in West Africa. Oxford University Press: 1959.

Local Holidays Last Updated: 12/9/2003 7:21 AM

In addition to legal American holidays, the Embassy in Nouakchott observes the following local holidays:

2004 Local Holidays

New Year's Day January 1 Id el-Adha or Tabaski February 1* First Muharram February 22* Mauritanian Labor Day May 1 Id el-Mawlud el-Nebewi May 2* Africa Day May 25 Id el-Fitr (End of Ramadan) November 14* Mauritanian Independence Day November 28

*Plus or minus 1 day

Adapted from material published by the U.S. Department of State. While some of the information is specific to U.S. missions abroad, the post report provides a good overview of general living conditions in the host country for diplomats from all nations.
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