Made up entirely of Sahara desert and bordering the Senegal River, Mauritania comes from the Latin word Mauretania, which means “west.” The African nation was founded to create an alliance between France and the Arab-Berber theocracy and to connect French black West African colonies with Algeria in the north. Mauritania became independent from France in 1960 and is now a multiparty democracy under the 2006 constitution.
Mauritania has many rich fishing zones along the Atlantic coast, but the nation is not self-sufficient. It is both one of the least industrialized nations and one of the largest recipients of foreign aid in the world, though the recent discovery of oil may in time bring wealth to the nation. As the last nation in the world to abolish slavery in 1981, an estimated 10-20 percent of the population still lives in bondage, a fact the Mauritanian government vehemently denies. Criminal punishment has only been legal since 2007, and so far, only one slave owner has been prosecuted. Anti-slavery activists and others who try expose the ongoing issue have been jailed and tortured in order to silence them. The lighter skinned Arabs – White Moors – are generally slave owners while the darker skinned Arabs, or Black Moors, are the slaves.
Mauritania is an Islamic Republic and the Mauritanian constitution states that Islam is the religion of the people and the state. Ninety-nine percent of the population is Muslim; Mauritanians believe they are the most Islamic state on the continent and that their mission is to spread Islam throughout black Africa. There are laws against preaching the Gospel, and the vast majority are unreached. The Black Moors and the nomads are among the hardest to reach with the Gospel. Believers in Mauritania are few and far between and have been persecuted and ostracized by both their families and tribes. This small remnant (0.25% of the population) needs courage to continue to stand up for their beliefs.