Nouakchott is the capital and largest city of Mauritania. It is one of the largest cities in the Sahel. The city also serves as the administrative and economic center of Mauritania. Nouakchott, city, capital of Mauritania, on a plateau near the West African Atlantic coast, about 270 miles (435 km) north-northeast of Dakar, Senegal. Originally a coastal village on the desert trail north from Dakar, it was developed after independence (1960) as the capital of the new nation. Nouakchott was a major refugee centre during the Saharan droughts of the 1970s, and its rapid growth during that period (together with a sharp decline in the number of Mauritania’s nomads) was attributed to migration and urbanization in response to the droughts. The city focuses on a square, the Place de l’Indépendence, and includes an airport and industrial area. It is centrally located on the main north-south highway, connecting the more populated agricultural south with the sparsely populated but mineral-rich north.
Nouakchott was a mid size village of little importance until 1958, when it was chosen as the capital of the nascent nation of Mauritania. It was designed and built to accommodate 15,000 people, but drought and increasing desertification since the 1970s have displaced a vast number of Mauritanians who resettled in Nouakchott. This caused massive urban growth and overcrowding, with the city having an official population of just under a million as of 2013. The resettled population inhabited slum areas under poor conditions, but the living conditions of a portion of these inhabitants have since been improved. The city is the hub of the Mauritanian economy and is home to a deepwater port and Nouakchott–Oumtounsy International Airport, one of the country's two international airports. It hosts the University of Nouakchott and several other more specialized institutes of higher learning.
Data and Facts
- Nouakchott had an estimated population of 968,000 residents in 2015, living in a land area measuring 33 square miles (85 square kilometers)
- Population density is higher within Mauritania’s capital city with an average 29,300 residents per square mile (11,300 per square kilometer)
- At the national level, population density shrinks to a miniscule 9 Mauritanians per square mile (4 per square kilometer)
- The Arabic name is said to mean "The place of winds" in the language of the Berber people
- It was a tiny fishing town until 1958. It is possible that the Berber Muslim Almoravids came from the area. The city was selected as the capital city for its mild climate and its location near the center of the country
Nouakchott is divided into three regions , each of which contains three departments. The town was initially divided into four departments in 1973. In 1986 the current nine departments were created. Formerly a district, in 1990 Nouakchott became a region of Mauritania. On 25 November 2014, it was split into the three current regions and its governor Mahi Ould Hamed became the first governor of Nouakchott-Nord.
The Mauritanian state had a presidential regime from 1960 until 1978, when a coup d’état installed a military government. A civilian government established in December 1980 was replaced the following April by a largely military administration. Additional coups took place in 2005 and 2008, each followed by elections. Constitutional amendments to the 1991 constitution, put forth in 2006, included a new legislative body, an adjustment of the presidential term, and an age limit of 75 for presidential candidates. Following the 2008 coup, the military leadership announced that the 1991 constitution, augmented by a supplemental charter, would remain in place.
Mauritania is a republic. The president, elected by popular vote for a five-year term, is head of state and government and is assisted by the prime minister, whom he appoints. Until 2017 Mauritania had a bicameral legislature made up of the Senate, the majority of whose members were elected by municipal leaders, and the National Assembly, whose members are elected by popular vote for five-year terms. Qadis in rural and settled communities hear cases relating to marriage, divorce, and other personal status issues. A High Council of Islam is made up of five individuals appointed by the president to advise on matters at the president’s request. The judiciary also includes the lower courts, labour and military courts, the Court of State Security, a six-member Constitutional Council, a High Court of Justice, and a Supreme Court, the highest court of appeal, which deals with administrative as well as judicial matters.Suffrage in Mauritania is universal for Mauritanian citizens age 18 and older, all of whom are permitted to hold office. A 2006 decree stipulated that one-fifth of political party positions be reserved for women; in addition, in September of that year two women were appointed as the country’s first female governors. Minorities also participate in the political process, though in general at a rate lower than their proportion of the wider population.The Mauritanian defense forces consist of an army, a navy, an air force, and a paramilitary.
Nouakchott is the center of the Mauritanian economy, with three-quarters of service sector enterprises located in the city as of 1999 with 90% of the city's economic activity consisting of informal transactions. Some inhabitants have multiple addresses and maintain strong ties with their regions of origin, at times returning for labor. The economy of Mauritania is still largely based on agriculture and livestock, even though most of the nomads and many subsistence farmers were forced into the cities by recurring droughts in the 1970s and 1980s.
Mauritania has extensive deposits of iron ore, which account for almost 50% of total exports. The decline in world demand for this ore, however, has led to cutbacks in production. With the current rise in metal prices, gold and copper mining companies are opening mines in the interior. The nation's coastal waters are among the richest fishing areas in the world, but overexploitation by foreigners threatens this key source of revenue. In March 1999, the government signed an agreement with a joint World Bank-International Monetary Fund mission on a $54 million enhanced structural adjustment facility . The economic objectives have been set for 1999–2002. Privatization remains one of the key issues.
Mauritania is likely to benefit from the global transition to renewable energy and is ranked no. 2 among 156 countries on the index of geopolitical gains and losses after energy transition . Current GDP per capita of Mauritania grew 82% in the Sixties reaching a peak growth of 166% in the Seventies. But this proved unsustainable and growth consequently scaled back to 14% in the Eighties. In 2007, mining industries accounted for well over 35 percent of the Mauritanian economy, with the fish industry so much as 54% . Diversification of the economy into non-mining industries remains a long-term issue. Mauritania is a net importer of food, reportedly importing 70% of its domestic food needs.
In 2015, Kosmos Energy made significant natural gas discoveries on the maritime border between Senegal and Mauritania, and in December 2016, it entered into partnership with British Petroleum. The two companies, along with Mauritanian and Senegalese governments and the two countries' national oil companies, are optimistic about the potential of these gas discoveries. The Grand Tortue/Ahmeyim reserves are estimated at 15 trillion cubic feet. The production phase will begin in 2022, starting with 2.3 million tons annually.Mauritania has 380 MW of generating capacity, of which 263 MW are fossil fuels and 117 MW are renewable.
Both the Mauritanian government and the donor community see youth employment as a priority for the country. A 2016 estimate puts the country’s median age at 20.3 years . Youth between the ages of 15 and 25 comprise 20 percent of the population and are experiencing an unemployment rate of around 19 percent. Youth are seen as key drivers of social change in the country, but a lack of economic opportunities—partially due to population growth and urbanization—has also made them a vulnerable demographic. Tackling youth issues is also of geostrategic importance for Mauritania and its government given the relevance of this demographic to stability and inclusive socio-economic development.
By all accounts, Mauritanian youth do not lack for entrepreneurial instincts. Our research team met with young entrepreneurs with both new innovations as well as local adaptations of business models that have been developed elsewhere.
Nouakchott has a small but active group of incubators, and the research team met with four of them: Startup Mauritania, Hadina RIMTIC, i-Lab Mauritania and Nouakchott Business Center. Most of these incubators were created in the last five years, and as you might expect, all of them provide youth-led startups with a mixture of training and capacity building to startups, working spaces, internet access, and—of course—caffeine. Some of them also supplement their income by offering consulting services to international donors. They also host coding challenges; Startup Mauritania hosts Startup Weekend once a year, and Hadina RIMTIC also hosted a mobile app development competition known as the Mauriapp challenge. It was clear, however, that compared to Ghana, Mauritania’s startup and incubator ecosystem is ready for the next stage in its development.
However, since few of the startups generate revenue, they aren’t yet able to pay for the services that incubators offer. Incubators are currently refining their internal business models to be able to support entrepreneurs in an sustainable way.First, banks provide relatively large loans, typically above USD$25,000. Most microfinance institutions targeting small poverty-reduction products provide loans less than USD$10,000. Startups usually fall within this ‘missing middle,’ and there are no financial products available in the market to meet their needs. Second, banks demand traditional collateral—land titles, security deposits, a minimum of five years of credit history, etc.—which the typical local startup cannot provide. Third, given very low banking rate , banks don’t have access to long-term resources and require fast repayment terms . Local startups cannot sustain this kind of repayment schedule.
Nouakchott has a Chinese-built deepwater port that opened in 1986. It was designed for a capacity of 500,000 tons deadweight (DWT) of cargo a year, but has been handling 1,500,000 tons (DWT) by 2009. China agreed in 2009 to invest US$282 million in the port, aiming to extend the main quay by over 900 m (3,000 ft).As of 2011, the World Bank was investigating funding a new shipping container facility at the port.Air service is provided by Nouakchott–Oumtounsy International Airport, which replaced the previous Nouakchott International Airport in June 2016.The Cairo–Dakar Highway leg from Nouakchott to Nouadhibou was paved in 2004, although the Nouakchott-Rosso leg was paved before independence. A 1,100-kilometre (680 mi) road (Route d'Espoir (Road of Hope)) connects the city with Néma via Boutilimit and Kiffa. In the city, there is a public transport and commuter system, with vehicles serving major boulevards.
Social Wellness and Human Resources
For comparison, its population was only 20,000 in 1969. Part of the difficulty in estimating the city's population is that part of it is nomadic, setting up tents in suitable locations, then packing up when the need strikes. Some estimates put the 2008 population at over 2 million, estimated to be close to one-third of the country's population. The 2013 census gave the city's population as 958,399.In 2009, the government of Mauritania announced that it would begin a process of clearing the slum on the outskirts of Nouakchott, as 24,000 families would eventually be relocated to planned housing in the city. The process was scheduled to begin with the relocation of 9,000 families from the outskirts into the poor Arafat department neighbourhood of "Kosovo", popularly named for its high crime rate and poor services. The government planned to begin moving families in June 2009, despite concerns from aid agencies that needed infrastructure could not be put in place in the receiving neighbourhood. In 2013, it was reported that "slums have been replaced by social dwellings for the poorest", with the World Bank reporting that the plan met with substantial success, resulting in access to improved services for 181,035 people in the slum areas.
Attractions in Nouakchott include the National Museum of Mauritania, the National Library and the National Archives. The city hosts several markets including the Nouakchott Silver Market, and the beaches. One beach is devoted to fishing boats where fish can be bought fresh. Nouakchott is a principal selling place of native Saharan meteorites.