Mauritania, officially the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, is a sovereign state in Northwest Africa. It is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the west, Western Sahara to the north and northwest, Algeria to the northeast, Mali to the east and southeast, and Senegal to the southwest. Mauritania is the eleventh largest country in Africa, and 90 percent of its territory is situated in the Sahara. Most of its population of 4.4 million lives in the temperate south of the country, with roughly one third concentrated in the capital and largest city, Nouakchott, located on the Atlantic coast.
The country's name derives from the ancient Berber kingdom of Mauretania, located in present-day Morocco and Algeria. Berbers occupied what is now Mauritania beginning in the third century AD. Arabs conquered the area in the eighth century, bringing Islam, Arab culture, and the Arabic language. In the late 19th century, Mauritania was colonized by France as part of French West Africa. It achieved independence in 1960, but has since experienced recurrent coups and periods of military dictatorship.