General issues: French civil territory 1906-1920, French colony 1920-1944, French overseas territory, self government 1960, Islamic republic 1960-Present
Country name on general issues: Mauritanie
Currency: 1 Franc = 100 Centimes 1906-1960, 1 (CFA) Franc = 100 Centimes 1960-1973, 1 Ouguiya = 5 Khoums 1973-Present
Population: 527 000 in 1905, 3 890 000 in 2013
Political history Mauritania
The late 19th century
Mauritania is located in western Africa. In the second part of the 19th century Mauritania is divided among a number of emirates ruled by Moor emirs. The Moor are the largest population group in Mauritania – the ruling class being of Arab and Berber origin. Also, in the 19th century, the French have settled in Mauritania. The French presence in the late 19th century is limited to a number of settlements on the northern bank of the Senegal River, administered as part of Senegal – the oldest and most important French possession in western Africa. Mauritania has been awarded to France at the 1885 Berlin conference at which the colonial powers have defined their respective spheres of influence in Africa.
The early 20th century
The French start the actual colonization of Mauritania from 1902. In 1902, a treaty of protection is signed with the emirate of Trarza and and in 1903 the protectorate of Mauritania is formed, administered from Senegal. The protectorate, in 1904, is elevated to become a separate civil French territory within French West Africa – French West Africa is the federation of French possessions that has been formed in 1895. At the same time the French settlements on the northern bank of the Senegal River are transferred from Senegal to Mauritania.
French control is further extended when treaties are signed with the emirates of Brakna in 1904 and Tagant in 1905. Further north the emirate of Adrar resists French colonization and is conquered by military force in 1908. Mauritania in 1920 becomes a French colony. At the time the larger part of Mauritania is fully under French control – pockets of resistance however still exist and the ‘pacification’ of all of Mauritania will take until 1934.
The borders of Mauritania have within French West Africa been defined in 1904. A major border adjustment is effected in 1944 when the El Hodh region is transferred from what is then French Sudan to Mauritania. The borders with Spanish Rio de Oro – the future Western Sahara – are agreed upon in a treaty with Spain in 1900.
From overseas territory to Islamic republic
Mauritania in 1946 becomes a French overseas territory, gains self government within the French Union in 1958 as the Islamic republic of Mauritania and full independence in 1960. Mauritania has from 1904 been administered from St. Louis in Senegal. In 1960, the seat of the administration is moved to the new capital of Nouakchott – a city newly set up specifically for this purpose.
Mauritania after independence will from 1964 be ruled within one party political system. The first multi party elections are held in 1991. The political history of the country shows different periods with either democratically chosen governments and military dictatorships.
From the 1970’s, the government promotes the Arab identity of the country. This leads to tension between the Moor population groups and the population groups of Nilo-Saharan origin living in southern Mauritania – most often peoples of which the majority lives in Senegal. In 1989, the tensions escalate into a short military conflict with Senegal.
In 1975, the Spanish retreat from the neighboring Spanish Sahara – the former Rio de Oro. The Spanish Sahara is transferred by the Spanish as the Western Sahara in part to Morocco and in part to Mauritania. A war of liberation is started by the Polisario Front with the goal to establish an independent Western Sahara. Mauritania in 1979 withdraws from the conflict and has since maintained a policy of neutrality. Western Sahara is currently largely annexed by Morocco – a diplomatic solution has yet to be found.
Mauritania has a long tradition of slavery. In 1981, Mauritania is the last country in the world to formally abolish slavery. The government is however until today criticized for its reluctance to actively end still existing forms of slavery.
The economy is largely based on agriculture – exports depending on the iron ore resources of the country.
Postal history Mauritania
The first stamps to be used in Mauritania are stamps of Senegal – used from 1890 in the post offices set up from Senegal in the French settlements on the northern bank of the Senegal. Mauritania issues stamps from 1906 as a French civil territory and from 1920 as a French colony. The first set issued is – as are many subsequent issues – of the common design for the countries that were part of French West Africa. The stamps of Mauritania are from 1944 superseded by the issues of French West Africa as is the case in all countries being part of French West Africa.
Mauritania will resume to issue stamps after having gained self government in 1960 and will issue stamps as the independent Islamic republic of Mauritania from 1960 until today.