Mauritania is the fifth largest country in the Arab region with a population density of 4.4 inhabitants per square kilometer, making it the fourth least populous area in Africa.[1][2] The estimated population of Mauritania in 2018 is 4.5 million, growing at an annual rate of 2.7%[2] with an urban population rate of 52.8%, leveling below the world average at 55% in 2017.[3] 

Mauritania has made momentous progress in poverty alleviation, where poverty headcount witnessed a decline from 42% to 31%, along with inequality reduction, measured by Gini index, from 35.7 to 32.6 between the years 2008 and 2014.[3] Nonetheless, 26.4 percent of the population continue to live in severe multidimensional poverty in 2018.[4]

The education sector faces significant challenges, where the adult literacy rate levels at 52.1%, compared to an average rate of 80.5% in the Arab region in 2015.[[AI1] 5] The gross tertiary enrollment rate is at 5.2%, compared to an average tertiary enrollment rate of 30.8% in the Arab region in 2016. Nevertheless, the gross primary enrollment rate increased from 82% in 2000 to 93.8% in 2016, with a GPI of 1.1, compared to 0.51 at the tertiary level.[3]


Labor force participation in Mauritania has been dropping over the past two decades, reaching 49.4% in 2018, down from 52 in 2000. Although women labor force participation slightly increased from 30.2% in 2000 to 31% in 2018, the gap between men and women is very alarming, reflecting the obstacles Mauritanian women face in the workforce. Especially in youth unemployment, where 21.3% of young women are unemployed, compared to 12.8% of men in 2018.[6]


The country’s macroeconomic conditions are improving in Mauritania, a lower-middle-income country, with real GDP growth of 3.5% in 2017, recovering from 1.8% one year earlier.[6] This growth is said to have been spurred by improvements in the livestock, manufacturing, fisheries and commerce sectors.[1]

GDP (Purchasing Power Parity, constant 2011 prices) of Int$ 15.9 billion yet a relatively low GNI per capita (Purchasing Power Parity) compared to the Arab region of Int$ 3,900 and Int$ 16,998 in 2017 respectively.[3] The economy is said to be characterized by a low inflation rate, projected at 2.7 percent in 2018, despite increasing from 1.5 in 2016.[7]

Still, Mauritania continues to face several development challenges, including the efficient use of revenues derived from natural resources, diversification, poor infrastructure and weak capital[1] noting that its public debt remains high at 77.1% of GDP in 2018.[7]


Mauritania is highly trade-dependent; in 2017, trade-to-GDP ratio is at a level of 109.3% of GDP, where exports and imports reached 43.2% and 66.1% of GDP, respectively.[3] The country’s foreign trade has been heavily oriented towards Europe and, progressively more, toward Asia. Lately, exports have become even more concentrated, with iron and fishery products representing more than 74% of total exports.[8] Hence, its economy remains vulnerable to exogenous shocks.


The country is rich in natural resources, especially in the mining sector.  It is the second exporter of iron ore in Africa[3] with iron representing 44% of total exports.[8] The country’s exports also revolve around fishery products which, on average, accounted for 28% of total exports between 2000 and 2011, and for 34% of total exports in 2014.[7] Still, the fishery sector could be performing beyond its potential in 2018 had it not been facing significant obstacles in generating employment, local revenue, and sustainability.[1]



This overview has been drafted by the ADP team based on most available data as of 12 December 2018.





[1] The World Bank, Country Overview.  

[2]  World Population Prospects, Population Division, United Nations 

[3] The World Bank. 

[4] Human Development Report, UNDP  

[5] UNESCO Institute for statistics 

[6]  KILM – International Labour Organization (ILO)  

[7] IMF Country report No. 18/199 

[8] Office National de la Statistique, Mauritanie 


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Data Highlighted

  • The inflation rate remained relatively low at 3.5% in 2014 but declined to 0.5 in 2015 and the cash deficit shrunk from MRO minus 53.8 billion in 2013 to MRO minus 24.74 billion in 2014.

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