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 (http://usembassy.state.gov/mauritania/)
and intranet (http://nouakchott.state.gov) 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
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
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
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
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
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),
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Mail and Pouch Last Updated: 3/28/2004 5:04 AM
Nouakchott is not an APO post. It uses the diplomatic pouch
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 (http://www.dhl.com/),
which provides a worldwide express mail service, has an office in
Nouakchott. UPS (http://www.ups.com/) 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:
U.S. Government employees may also wish to visit the Department
of State's Intranet website http://nouakchott.state.gov/mr_main_files/
or contact our WebmasterNKC@state.gov 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
There are six full-time teachers and most have U.S.
certification. The principal was trained and certified in the United
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
There are six full-time teachers and most have U.S.
certification. The principal was trained and certified in the United
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
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 http://www.aisn.mr/.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
American University. Area Handbook for Mauritania. U.S.
Government Printing Office: Washington, D.C.,1973.
Baduel, Pierre Robert. Mauritanie, entre arabite et
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,
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
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
Morris, H.T. Shinguiti Folk Literature and Song. Oxford
University Press: Oxford, 1968.
Pitte, Jean Robert. Nouakchott: Capitalede la Mauritanie. Paris,
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:
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