Maaouya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya
(pronounced "ma-OH-ya OOD sid-AH-med TAH-ya")
"I am glad to hail the increasing trust which our country enjoys with our partners in development and which has given us the opportunity to be the first country to benefit from the initiative to reduce debts."
The Islamic Republic of Mauritania is bordered on the northwest by the Western Sahara, on the north by Morocco, on the east and southeast by Mali, and on the south by Senegal. Its total area is 1,030,700 sq km (297,950 sq mi). Two-thirds of the country is desert.
Mauritania's population was estimated in 2002 at 2.83 million, with an annual population growth rate estimated at 2.92%. The population density of Mauritania, the lowest in West Africa, averages 2.1 persons per sq km (5.5 per sq mi). Two-thirds of the people are Moors, comprised of the dominant Bidan ("white") Moors and the Harratin ("black") Moors, though the color terminology can be misleading. Both of these groups were traditionally nomadic. The Harratin are considered to be of servile origin, with official emancipation legislation not having been passed until 1980. The black African population (approximately one-third of the total) is made up of Fulbe (20%) and Wolof (12%). They are mainly sedentary cultivators and live in the southern zone of the country. Islam is the official religion of Mauritania. The official language is Arabic (declared so in the 1991 Constitution), with Fulfulde, Wolof, and Soninke also widely spoken and recognized. French is frequently used for international commercial dealings.
The country has undergone intensive urbanization since the early 1970s, due primarily to drought conditions and an expanding desert. There has been a corresponding decline in nomadism, falling from 83% (1963) to 12% (1988). In a year of abundant rainfall, the Sahelian region to the south can support millet and sorghum crops as well as grazing for sheep, goats, and cattle. Camels graze primarily in the drier areas to the north. Millet and dates are also cultivated in some desert oases while salt deposits are harvested in Saharan zones. Per capita gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated at US $1,800 in 2001. The monetary unit is the ouguiya .
RISE TO POWER
As army chief of staff, Taya replaced the civilian prime minister under President Haidalla in 1981. The draft Constitution, providing for a civilian multiparty system, was abandoned. Haidalla proved unable to bring the country out of its economic doldrums. Reports of extravagance and corruption were widespread. In late 1982, Taya deposed Haidalla in a bloodless coup and has continued to maintain power since that time.
President of the Republic
Islamic Republic of Mauritania