The country derives its name from the ancient Berbers' Kingdom of Mauretania, which existed from the 3rd century BC to the 7th century AD, in the far north of modern-day Morocco. The French began colonising Mauritania in the late 19th century, and made it a province of French West Africa in 1920. The modern nation of Mauritania was founded in 1960. Approximately 90% of Mauritania's land is within the Sahara and consequently the population is concentrated in the south, where precipitation is slightly higher. The capital and largest city is Nouakchott, which is home to around 33% of the country's 3.5 million people.
Slavery in Mauritania has been called a major human rights issue, with roughly 4% (155,600 people) of the country's population – proportionally the highest for any country – being enslaved against their will, especially enemies of the government. Additional human rights concerns in Mauritania include female genital mutilation and child labour.