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Country, western Africa.

Area: 482,077 sq mi (1,248,574 sq km). Population (2007 est.): 11,995,000. Capital: Bamako. The Bambara constitute about one-third of the total population. Other ethnic groups include the Fulani and the Imazighen (Berbers). Languages: French (official), Dogon, Bambara, Songhai, Soninke, Senufo, Arabic. Religions: Islam; also traditional beliefs, Christianity. Currency: CFA franc. Mali’s terrain is largely flat, and in the north its plains stretch into the Sahara. The upper Niger River basin is in the south; about two-fifths of the total length of the Niger River flows through Mali. Only a tiny fraction of Mali’s total land area is considered arable. Mali’s most important exploited mineral is gold; other mineral reserves, which are largely unexploited, include iron ore, bauxite, and copper. Agriculture constitutes the major economic activity. Staple crops include millet, sorghum, corn, and rice; cash crops include cotton and peanuts. Mali is a republic with one legislative house; its chief of state is the president, and the head of government is the prime minister. Inhabited since prehistoric times, the region was on a trans-Saharan caravan route. The Malinke empire of Mali was founded in the 13th century on the upper and middle Niger. In the 15th century the Songhai empire in the Timbuktu-Gao region gained control. Morocco invaded the area in 1591, and Timbuktu gradually declined in importance. In the mid- to late-19th century the French conquered the area, which became part of French West Africa. In 1946 the area, known as the French Sudan, became an overseas territory of the French Union. In 1958 it was proclaimed the Sudanese Republic, and it joined with Senegal (1959–60) to form the Mali Federation. Senegal seceded, and in 1960 the independent Republic of Mali was formed. The government was overthrown by military coups in 1968 and 1991. A civilian government was restored in 1992, and democratic multiparty elections have since been held every five years. The country has experienced continuing economic problems.

Official name République du Mali (Republic of Mali)
Form of government multiparty republic with one legislative house (National Assembly [147])
Chief of state President
Head of government Prime Minister
Capital Bamako
Official language French
Official religion none
Monetary unit CFA franc (CFAF)
Population estimate (2008) 12,324,000
Total area (sq mi) 482,077
Total area (sq km) 1,248,574


landlocked country of western Africa, mostly in the Saharan and Sahelian regions. Mali is largely flat and arid. The Niger River flows through its interior, functioning as the main trading and transport artery in the country. Sections of the river flood periodically, providing much-needed fertile agricultural soil along its banks as well as creating pasture for livestock.

Although Mali is one of the largest countries in Africa, it has a relatively small population, which is largely centred along the Niger River. The Bambara (Bamana) ethnic group and language predominate, with several other groups—including the Fulani (Fulbe), Dogon, and Tuareg—also present in the population. Agriculture is the dominant economic sector in the country, with cotton production, cattle and camel herding, and fishing among the major activities.

The area that is now Mali was once part of the three great precolonial Sudanic empires: Ghana, Mali, and Songhai. The fabled but now faded trading and learning centre of Timbuktu is situated in Mali on the upper Niger River. For centuries, caravans crossed the Sahara desert from North Africa while others came from the forest regions to the south, meeting at the crossroads of Timbuktu. Other notable towns include Djenné, noted for its famous mosque and other examples of Sudanese architecture, and Mopti, a bustling market centre. The Dogon region, centred on the Bandiagara escarpment in the country’s central area, is an important tourist destination because of its unique cliffside villages and diverse artistic life. The national capital, Bamako, is located on the Niger River and is a rapidly growing city because of increased migration from the depressed rural areas.

Mali is bounded on the north by Algeria, on the east by Niger and Burkina Faso, on the south by Côte d’Ivoire and Guinea, and on the west by Senegal and Mauritania.

Mali’s landscape is largely flat and monotonous. Two basic relief features can be distinguished: plateaus and plains, which are crossed by two of Africa’s major river systems, the Niger and the Sénégal. The highland regions are localized and discontinuous.

The plateaus of the south and southwest (extensions of the Fouta Djallon highlands of Guinea and the Guinea Highlands of Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire) lie between about 1,000 and 1,600 feet (300 and 500 metres) above sea level but attain heights approaching 2,000 feet (600 metres) in the Mandingue Plateau near Bamako and more than 2,100 feet (640 metres) near Satadougou.

The plateaus of the southeast and east, also extensions of the Guinea Highlands, are a series of small, broken hills. Elevations in the southeast range between almost 1,000 feet (300 metres) around Sikasso and 1,740 feet (530 metres) at Mount Mina. East of the Niger River the Dogon Plateau descends gently westward to the river valley but ends in abrupt cliffs on the southeast. These cliffs reach an elevation approaching 3,300 feet (1,000 metres) at Bandiagara. Northwest of the region is the country’s highest point, Mount Hombori Tondo, which rises to a height of 3,789 feet (1,155 metres).

Northern and central Mali are made up of the plains of the Niger River basin and of the Sahara. The only marked relief feature in the north is the Iforas Massif. An extension of the mountainous Hoggar region of the Sahara, this heavily eroded sandstone plateau rises to elevations of more than 2,000 feet.

Drainage and soils
With the exception of some intermittent streams in the northeast, Mali’s drainage system consists entirely of the Sénégal and Niger rivers and their tributaries. The Sénégal system flows in a northwesterly direction across western Mali for about 420 miles (670 km) on its course to the Atlantic Ocean. One of its main headstreams, the Bakoye River, rises in the Fouta Djallon, while another, the Bafing River, rises farther to the east; they join at Bafoulabé to form the Sénégal. The river continues flowing northwest and then west around the Mandingue Plateau, broken along the way by falls at Gouina and Félou, before exiting Mali.

The Niger River flows through Mali for slightly more than 1,000 miles (1,600 km), about two-fifths of the river’s total length. It rises in the Fouta Djallon and is of significant size by the time it enters the country near Kangaba. It flows to the northeast across the Mandingue Plateau, its course interrupted by falls and a dam at Sotuba. Reaching Koulikoro, it spreads out in a wide valley and flows majestically to its confluence with the Bani River at Mopti. The Niger then forms an interior delta, because the land is flat and the river’s gradient almost nonexistent. The river breaks down into a network of branches and lakes as it continues northward and, at Kabara, eastward. At Bourem the Niger makes a great turn to the southeast, known as the Niger Bend, and flows past Gao and Ansongo to the Niger border at Labbezanga.

The flow of the Niger varies seasonally. High waters occur on the upper Niger from July to October, at the delta from September to November, and at the bend from December to January. Periodic floods and the rich alluvial soils in the central delta make the Niger valley an important agricultural region.

The soils outside the Niger valley in Mali are poor. In the south, ferruginous (iron-bearing) soils are shallow and form a hard, red crust because of intense evaporation. The desert region is composed of sand, rock, and gravel.

Mali lies within the intertropical zone and has a hot, dry climate, with the sun near its zenith throughout most of the year. In general, there are two distinct seasons, dry and wet. The dry season, which lasts from November to June, is marked by low humidity and high temperatures and is influenced by the alize and harmattan winds. The alize blows from the northeast from November to January and causes a relatively cool spell, with temperatures averaging 77 °F (25 °C). From March to June the harmattan, a dry, hot wind that blows from the east out of the Sahara, sweeps the soil into dusty whirlwinds and is accompanied by daytime temperatures of about 104 to 113 °F (40 to 45 °C).

During the rainy season, from June to October, the monsoon wind blows from the southwest. Preceded by large black clouds, the heavy rainstorms often include gusty winds and much lightning and thunder. Temperatures are somewhat lower in August, when most of the rainfall occurs.

The country can be divided into three climatic zones—the Sudanic, the Sahelian, and the desert zones. Sudanic climate occurs in about one-third of the country, from the southern border to latitude 15° N. It is characterized by an annual rainfall of 20 to 55 inches (510 to 1,400 mm) and average temperatures of 75 to 86 °F (24 to 30 °C). The Sahel, or the area bordering the Sahara, receives between 8 and 20 inches (200 and 510 mm) of rain per year and has average temperatures between 73 and 97 °F (23 and 36 °C). In the desert (Sahara), temperatures during the day range from 117 to nearly 140 °F (47 to 60 °C), while at night the temperature drops to 39 to 41 °F (4 to 5 °C).

Plant and animal life
There are two main vegetation zones that correspond to the climatic regions of the Sudan and the Sahel. In the Sudanic zone, localized forest corridors are found along the Guinean border and in the river valleys; the rest of the area is covered with savanna. The trees include the néré, or twoball nitta tree (Parkia biglobosa), the karite (Butyrospermum parkii), the cailcedra (Senegal khaya; Khaya senegalensis), and the kapioka. The incidence of trees decreases to the north as the Sudanic zone merges with the Sahel. The Sahel is characterized by steppe vegetation, notably such drought-resistant trees as the baobab, doum palm, and palmyra. These trees also disappear to the north, where short, thorny plants such as the mimosa, acacia, and cram-cram (Cenchrus biflorus, a member of the grass family) grow; all vegetation is absent in the far-north region of the Sahara. Beginning in the latter half of the 20th century, deforestation, overgrazing, and repeated episodes of drought served to greatly speed the rate of naturally occurring desertification, resulting in the encroachment of the desert on the Sahel.

The animal life of the Sudan and of the Sahel is rich and varied. Large herbivorous mammals include gazelles, antelopes, giraffes, and elephants. The main carnivores are lions, panthers, and hyenas. Crocodiles and hippopotamuses inhabit the rivers, and there are a wide variety of monkeys, snakes, and birds (including the ostrich). Boucle du Baoulé National Park along the Baoulé River in the west and the Ansongo-Ménaka Animal Reserve and Douentza (Gourma) Elephant Reserve in the east are major wildlife sanctuaries.

Ethnic groups
The notion of ethnicity is fluid in Mali. In some cases, people marry outside their ethnic group and speak languages that differ from those of their ancestors without changing their cultural affiliation. In other cases, however, identity does change, especially as people move internally and adopt Bambara, the most widely spoken African language in Mali. Nevertheless, several broad categories can be noted. Living in the Sahelian zone and north of the Niger Bend are Imazighen (Berbers, including the Tuareg, a significant subgroup) and the Arab-Spanish-Amazigh (Berber) group known as the Moors, who speak and write Arabic.

The rest of the population is composed of numerous agricultural groups, some of whom are descended from the peoples of the ancient empires of Ghana, Mali, and Songhai. The Bambara (Bamana), who live along the upper Niger River, make up the largest group. The Soninke are descended from the founders of the Ghana empire and live in the western Sahelian zone. The Malinke, bearers of the heritage of the Mali empire, live in the southwest, while the Songhai are settled in the Niger valley from Djenné to Ansongo. The Dogon live in the plateau region around Bandiagara, and the Bwa, Bobo, Senufo, and Minianka occupy the east and southeast.

The Fulani (Fulbe) were traditionally nomadic pastoralists of the Sahel and the Macina region southwest of Timbuktu. Other ethnic groups of note include the Tukulor, the Khasonke, the Bozo, and the Somono. Although some Tuareg and Fulani are nomadic, the vast majority now live in permanent settlements.

French is the official language of Mali, but languages of the Niger-Congo family dominate. One of them, Bambara, is used as a lingua franca by some four-fifths of the population. Mande languages—including Bambara, Malinke, Khasonke, Wasulunka, and Soninke—have the largest number of speakers, but the Gur branch (which includes Bwa, Moore, Senufo, and Minianka languages) and the Atlantic branch (which includes Fula and Tukulor and may include Dogon) are also represented.

Among the other languages of Mali are varieties of Semitic languages (Afro-Asiatic) and Songhai (Nilo-Saharan). The Moors and the Tuareg speak and write Arabic, although the Tuareg have also retained their traditional Amazigh language and their distinctive writing system, tifinagh, which is derived from ancient Libyan. Songhai is used along the Niger River.

There are three main religions. Sunni Islam is practiced by about nine-tenths of the population, traditional religions by most of the rest, and Christianity (primarily Roman Catholicism and Protestantism) by a small number. Islamization dates to the 11th century and has eclipsed traditional religions among the Soninke, Songhai, Moors, Tuareg, and most Fulani. Many of the Gur-speaking peoples, especially the Dogon, as well as some Malinke and Bambara, practice traditional African religions. Even among Muslim and Christian converts, many traditional beliefs persist.

Settlement patterns
Mali is traditionally divided into the nomadic region of the Sahel and the Sahara and the agricultural region of the Sudanic zone. Nearly three-fourths of the population is rural, typically living in thatched dwellings grouped together in villages of between 150 and 600 inhabitants and surrounded by cultivated fields and grazing lands. The older towns, such as Djenné, Timbuktu, Gao, and Ségou, are built in the Sudanese style of architecture, characterized by tall mud walls with wooden limbs and planks that stick out from the surface, providing a frame for the mud walls but also creating a type of ladder permitting yearly replastering; inside, a series of wooden columns holds up the roof, which has small openings to allow in some sunlight. The Djenné mosque, the epitome of Sudanese architecture, is the largest mud building in the world. Timbuktu (founded about ad 1100) was a centre of commerce and learning during the time of the Mali (13th–16th century) and Songhai (15th–16th century) empires; later, trans-Saharan trade declined in favour of trade along the Atlantic coast as desertification spread southward, and the town retained only a shadow of its former glory by the early 20th century. The newer towns, such as Bamako, Kayes, San, and Kati, consist of a central business district, around which residential districts are grouped.

Demographic trends
The population of Mali has been growing at a rate that is higher than the world average but is comparable to the regional average. Life expectancy at birth, still comparatively low, has risen gradually since 1990 for both males and females, and there has been a slight decline in both birth and death rates, though they remain high by both world and African standards. The population is heavily weighted toward the young, as are most African populations. Population densities throughout Mali are low; in the more remote eastern and northeastern areas, densities are only about three persons per square mile (one per square kilometre). These have long been regions of sparse population, but the droughts of the 1970s and ’80s led many of Mali’s Tuareg and other groups either to migrate to the towns or, if their herds managed to survive, to find new grazing lands farther south in Mali or in neighbouring Burkina Faso. Predictably, there has been a major increase in the permanent urban population, which now exceeds one-fourth of the total population. Urban unemployment and underemployment are high, however. Where opportunities exist, Malians migrate to France and other European countries for education and employment.

Mali’s economy is overwhelmingly agricultural. With the northern half of the country occupied by the Sahara, most human activity is concentrated in the more southerly regions, in particular in the valleys of the Niger and Sénégal rivers and their tributaries. Subsistence agriculture and livestock raising characterize domestic activities, although many people supplement their income by growing cash crops such as cotton and by seasonal migration to Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal. Change in the rural sector has been limited by an unfavourable climate, periodic droughts since the late 1960s, and low levels of technology.

The industrial and natural resource sectors have not been developed fully. Industry concentrates largely on food processing for domestic use, while advancement in the exploitation of extensive mineral resources is slow. Foreign exchange is obtained chiefly from the export of primary commodities that are vulnerable to volatile world markets and foreign-currency fluctuations. Revenue is insufficient to cover the cost of Mali’s imports, notably the high-value goods from France and other Western nations. In addition to its other problems, Mali has suffered severely from resource mismanagement, and the national debt has grown rapidly because of Mali’s dependency on foreign aid.

At the time of independence in 1960, the government adopted a socialist economic policy. State companies and rural cooperative societies were organized to regulate both the production and the distribution of goods. Since the first coup d’état in 1968, socialist policy has been mitigated by the encouragement of privatization, a process that has accelerated since the institution of democracy in 1992.

Bilateral external aid to Mali is provided largely by France, the United States, other European Union countries, and the countries of OPEC. International aid is granted by such organizations as the United Nations, the European Development Fund, and the United Nations Development Programme. Since 1981 the Malian government has responded to pressures from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and aid donors to encourage private investment and enterprise, liberalize domestic markets, and generally reduce state control. The country benefited from several debt-relief plans in the 1990s and 2000s, including the 2005 IMF plan that canceled 100 percent of Mali’s debt to that organization.

Agriculture, forestry, and fishing
Subsistence and commercial agriculture are the bases of the Malian economy. Some four-fifths of the working population is engaged in subsistence agriculture, but the government supports the development of commercial products. An agricultural area of major importance is the inland Niger delta. Millet, rice, wheat, and corn (maize), as well as yams and cassava (manioc), are the main subsistence crops, while cotton is an important commercial crop; peanuts (groundnuts), sugarcane, tobacco, and tea are also grown for market. Market gardens produce a variety of vegetables and fruits, including cabbages, turnips, carrots, beans, tomatoes, bananas, mangoes, and oranges. Irrigation projects have been developed on the Niger near the towns of Ségou and Mopti. Livestock is commercially important; the major areas for livestock raising (cattle, sheep, and goats) are the Sahel and the region around Macina. Fishing is also of economic significance, although this sector has declined since the 1980s. Still, Mali is one of the largest producers of fish in western Africa. The inland delta is a particularly important fishing ground, though periods of drought have hindered development of these fisheries. Large-scale dam construction and environmental pollution have also hindered this sector.

Resources and power
Mali’s mineral resources are extensive but remain relatively undeveloped. Exploited deposits include salt (at Taoudenni), marble and kaolin (at Bafoulabé), and limestone (at Diamou). The most important exploited mineral is gold, a significant source of foreign exchange. Gold is mined primarily in the southwestern areas of the country, on the Mandingue Plateau. The ancient Malian empire was based on the exploitation of gold, but those deposits were depleted before the advent of colonial rule in the 19th century.

Mali has many mineral deposits that are not commercially exploited, owing to the country’s limited infrastructure. Iron is the most widespread, with deposits found in the west near the Senegal and Guinea borders. Bauxite deposits are located near Kayes and on the Mandingue Plateau. Manganese is also found, and there are phosphate deposits in the area around Ansongo. Lithium has been discovered near Kayes and Bougouni, and there are uranium deposits in the Iforas. There are also small quantities of tungsten, tin, lead, copper, and zinc.

Electricity is largely produced in thermal power stations, but the role of hydroelectric power is growing. Thermal stations are located in Bamako and other large towns. Hydroelectric power is produced at the Sotuba, Markala, and Sélingué dams on the Niger River and at the Manantali Dam on the Sénégal. Oversight of the Manantali Dam, as well as other dams along the Sénégal, is the responsibility of the Organization for the Development of the Sénégal River, which comprises Mali, Senegal, Mauritania, and Guinea; the group is also tasked with management of the river’s resources. Solar-powered pumps provide electricity to some villages, and the world’s first commercial solar-power station was established at Diré.

Less than one-fifth of the labour force is employed in industry, and many people are involved in small-scale commerce. Most manufacturing enterprises process food and other agricultural products or make construction materials or consumer goods, the bulk of production being for the domestic market. Products include cotton fibre, printed cloth, and blankets. There are also shops for the construction of motorcycles, the repair of machinery, and the assembly of radios. Handicrafts are important, and the Malians are noted for their clothing, pottery, shoes, baskets, and wood carvings.

Finance and trade
Mali, along with seven other French-speaking countries in western Africa, is a member of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (Union Économique et Monétaire Ouest Africaine). These countries share a common bank, the Central Bank of West African States (Banque Centrale des États de l’Afrique de l’Ouest), which is headquartered in Dakar, Seneg. The bank issues the currency used by the member countries, the CFA (Communauté Financière Africaine) franc, officially pegged to the euro since 2002. Mali has several commercial banks, development banks, and other financial institutions. Several French insurance companies maintain offices in Bamako. A regional stock exchange based in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, and serving Mali has a branch in Bamako.

The most important export items are gold, cotton, and live animals, while imports consist largely of machinery, appliances, and transport equipment and food products. Mali’s major trading partners are China and other Asian countries, neighbouring countries, and France. Mali is a member of the Economic Community of West African States, a body encompassing most states in western Africa that attempts to integrate and harmonize the economic interests of the region. Despite strict customs controls, smuggling—especially of cattle and fish—is considerable, especially to such neighbouring countries as Mauritania and Côte d’Ivoire.

Services, labour, and taxation
Mali contains many historic places of interest, such as Timbuktu and Djenné. Although the transport infrastructure needs further development, hotel expansion and infrastructure improvements did take place before Mali hosted the 2002 African Cup of Nations football (soccer) tournament.

The majority of the workforce in Mali is centred on agriculture, with women performing a significant amount of the work. Workers in Mali are guaranteed the right to form or join trade unions, and there are several in the country, including the National Union of Malian Workers (Union Nationale des Travailleurs du Mali). Government revenue is derived from taxes on net income and profits, payroll, property, goods and services, and international trade.

Transportation and telecommunications
Mali’s transportation systems are concentrated in the Sudanic and Sahelian regions. Because Mali is landlocked, its major transport routes connect with those of neighbouring countries and their ports to provide it with outlets to the sea.

Several main paved roads radiate from Bamako. It is linked with Abidjan in Côte d’Ivoire, Kankan in Guinea, Monrovia in Liberia, and Ayorou in Niger. An all-weather road connects Gao and Sévaré (Mali) and is part of the Trans-Sahara Highway that links Algeria and Nigeria. Railroad track runs from Koulikoro, a short distance northeast of Bamako, northwestward to Kayes and to Kidira, on the Senegal border, where it connects with the Senegalese railway to Dakar. These railways are being restored and modernized through donor-funded programs.

Given the inadequacies of land transport, the country’s two major rivers—the Niger and the Sénégal—are important transportation links. Koulikoro, along the Niger just northeast of Bamako, is the country’s primary riverine port. The Niger is navigable throughout its length in Mali year-round for small boats and from July to January for larger vessels. The Sénégal is navigable year-round only from Ambidédi, just west of Kayes, to the river’s mouth in Senegal.

A national airline, Compagnie Aérienne du Mali, operates both domestic and international flights. Mali’s main airport is at Bamako, and there are several smaller ones.

Mali’s telephone service is limited. Landline coverage is not widely available and is somewhat unreliable, although the government worked to improve and expand the infrastructure in the early 21st century. Mobile telephone service is far more popular than landline telephone service and is expanding more rapidly. Access to Internet services is limited but continues to gradually increase—particularly in urban areas, owing to the growing popularity of Internet cafés.

Government and society
Constitutional framework
The constitution promulgated at independence in 1960 guaranteed parliamentary democracy, although the provisions of it were not fully implemented. It was suspended after a military government took power in 1968, and a new constitution, approved in a national referendum in 1974 and enacted in 1979, made the Malian People’s Democratic Union (Union Démocratique du Peuple Malien; UDPM) the country’s sole legal party until 1991. In 1992 a third constitution was approved, providing for the separation of powers into three government branches, including a unicameral National Assembly as the legislative body. It also guaranteed the right to multiparty politics. The members of the Assembly are popularly elected to five-year terms, as is the president. The president, who can serve no more than two terms, is the head of state and appoints the prime minister (the head of government) and the cabinet.

Local government
The country is divided into the eight régions of Gao, Kayes, Kidal, Koulikoro, Mopti, Ségou, Sikasso, and Tombouctou and the district of Bamako. Each of the régions is further divided into administrative units called cercles, which are in turn subdivided into arrondissements. Each région is administered by a governor, who coordinates the activities of the cercles and implements economic policy. The cercles provide nuclei for the major government services; their various headquarters provide focal points for health services, the army, the police, local courts, and other government agencies. The arrondissement is the basic administrative unit, and its centre usually houses a school and a dispensary. It is composed of several villages, which are headed by chiefs and elected village councils.

As the head of the judicial system, the Supreme Court exercises both judicial and administrative powers; it is the court of first and last resort in matters concerning the government. Courts of appeal try all cases on appeal, and there are also magistrates’ courts. The High Court of Justice tries cases relating to malfeasance of senior government officials. Justices of the peace have full powers to judge ordinary civil, commercial, and financial cases; they sit in the headquarters of the cercles and also travel to the major towns of the arrondissements.

Political process
Since 1960, new law codes have liberated women from traditional restraints, defined the rights and duties of citizens, and modified the penal procedure. The 1992 constitution furthered women’s rights considerably, although constitutionally guaranteed rights for women have not always been carried out in practice.

Mali has universal adult suffrage. Women and minorities have served in government positions, but in limited numbers: in the early 21st century, ethnic minorities and marginalized populations together held about one-tenth of the National Assembly seats, as did women. Women have also held cabinet posts and served on the Supreme Court.

The country has had political parties at various times since it gained independence in 1960. Under the first president, Modibo Keita, the Soudanese Union Party eventually became the only party until the military took over in 1968. Civilian government returned in 1979, when the country was led again by a one-party system, this time the Malian People’s Democratic Union, headed by Moussa Traoré, who was ultimately deposed in 1991 in favour of another military government, led by Amadou Toumani Touré. Political parties were once again allowed in 1992, and Alpha Konaré, of the Alliance for Democracy in Mali, was elected president that year. Since then, many political parties have been active in Mali.

Mali has a conscripted army, which requires two years of service, including the possibility of nonmilitary service. Mali’s military forces include army and air force contingents and a limited navy contingent as well. Paramilitary forces include the national police force, the republican guard, the militia, and gendarmerie units.

Health and welfare
Mali has few resources for health care, and child and infant mortality rates are among the highest in the world. State hospitals at Bamako and Kati are supplemented by a network of medical centres, maternity centres, dispensaries, and a mobile service that visits patients in rural areas. Research centres in tropical ophthalmology and leprosy treat patients at Bamako. Health care services are also provided by international relief organizations. Despite improvements in medical care, Mali is still challenged by a lack of personnel, facilities, resources, and supplies and by difficulties involving poor access to much of the country. Malnutrition and inadequate sanitation are also problems in many areas. Some progress has been made against polio, onchocerciasis (river blindness), schistosomiasis, and leprosy, but yellow fever and cholera are common, and malaria remains a leading cause of death. While Mali has not been hit as hard by HIV as some African countries, AIDS is becoming more prevalent in urban areas.

Houses in Mali are typically built of a mixture of earth and cement. Malian towns exhibit an eclectic mix of styles, including traditional mud huts, concrete houses, European-style villas, and mosques and government buildings in the Sudanese style. The Dogon built their houses into the Bandiagara Escarpment, which was designated a World Heritage site in 1989. These houses, built out of mud, have flat roofs where the inhabitants can sleep in warm weather, and their granaries have thatched conical roofs; both structures have decorative doors. Other houses, such as historic dwellings found in Djenné, were built on small hills to protect from seasonal flooding.

French, spoken by only a very small segment of the population, was the only language of instruction until 1994, when national languages such as Bambara and Fula were introduced into primary schools. Mali utilizes an educational track resembling the school system in France, Mali’s former colonial authority. In this system, primary and secondary education are compulsory and free from 7 to 16 years of age and are combined in the nine-year curriculum of the cycle fondemental (fundamental educational level). The general secondary school, or lycée, provides the last three years of traditional secondary education. Higher education—geared directly to the needs of the government—is offered by the University of Bamako (1993) and state colleges, which include teacher-training colleges, a college of administration, an engineering institute, an agricultural and veterinary science institute, and a medical school. Many of Mali’s university students study abroad, especially in France and Senegal. Other school reform has focused on such programs as “ruralization,” in which rural schools teach students about trades such as sewing, building, and farming in addition to such subjects as French, history, mathematics, and geography.

In the early 21st century, Mali remained a vast, poor country where opportunities for even primary education were extremely limited, especially in rural areas or among the nomadic peoples of the north. The World Bank began to assist Mali in 2000 by providing credit so that the country could expand its educational system. At that time only slightly more than half the population entered primary school. Expanding educational opportunities for the female population was also of interest to the Malian government. The country’s literacy rate is one of the lowest in the world, with estimates varying between two-fifths and one-third of the population being able to read. The literacy rate of women is significantly lower than that of men.

Cultural life
Mali has long functioned as a crossroads between northern and western Africa and has thus developed a rich cultural tradition. In addition, its location between the Arab nations to the north and the sub-Saharan African nations to the south has for centuries made it a cultural meeting place.

Weekly markets are held throughout Mali, often on a rotating basis in specific areas. Handwoven textiles, fresh fish, agricultural products, and other goods are purchased or traded at these bustling and well-attended markets. Herders bring their sheep, goats, and other livestock for sale and exchange. Malians travel long distances to attend the markets, which are also centres of social interaction. All ethnic groups participate; sometimes certain parts of the markets are reserved for a particular ethnic group’s wares. For Mali’s considerable Muslim population, mosques are an important centre of cultural and social life, especially on Fridays, when weekly prayer services are held.

Cuisine in Mali is similar to that of other countries in the region; staples include millet, rice, yams, plantains, beans, and cassava (manioc). Fish, whether dried or fresh, is also enjoyed. Fruit from the baobab tree is used as porridge when drought conditions exist.

Christian holidays, including Christmas and Easter, and Muslim holidays, including Tabaski (also known as ʿĪd al-Aḍḥā, marking the culmination of the hajj rites near Mecca) and Korité (also known as ʿĪd al-Fiṭr, marking the end of Ramadan), are observed in Mali. In addition, the country also celebrates Armed Forces Day on January 20, Democracy Day on March 26, Labour Day on May 1, Africa Day on May 25, and National Independence Day on September 22. An unusual day is National Complaints Day, invented in 1994; on that day any Malian citizen can present complaints to the government with impunity.

The arts
The most common cultural activities involve music and dancing. Dogon dancers wear masks that are more than 10 feet (3 metres) tall to act out their conception of the world’s progress, and Bambara animal-spirit masqueraders do a fertility dance in which they imitate the movements of animals. Variants of these dances are often evident in performances given by the country’s numerous dance troupes, where traditional elements are adapted and combined to suit a tourist audience. Mali also has a ballet troupe that performs throughout the world. Traditional music from women of the southern area known as Wassoulou is very popular. Several Malian musicians are internationally known: Oumou Sangaré, Sali Sidibi, Ali Farka Touré, Amadou Bagayoko and Mariam Doumbia (who perform together as Amadou and Mariam), and Salif Keita, a descendant of Sundiata Keita, the founder of the Mali empire; their music combines elements of rock and roll with indigenous traditions.

The Bambara and other groups excel in the creation of wood carvings of masks, statues, stools, and objects used in traditional religions. The Tyiwara, or gazelle mask, of the Bambara is remarkable for its fineness of line and distinct style. Localized handicrafts include jewelry making by the Malinke people and leatherworking around the Niger Bend. Carved statues and cotton cloth woven with geometric designs are produced for the tourist trade in urban areas. There are also some contemporary Malian artists, mainly in Bamako, who paint and sculpt in modern styles and media. Artists are trained in both traditional and contemporary genres at the National Institute of Arts and at the Artisan Centre of Bamako.

Architecture is well developed in the Niger valley, with building materials consisting of mud bricks, stones, and a little wood. The Sudanic style finds typical expression in the multistoried houses and mosques of Djenné and Timbuktu. Both cities were designated UNESCO World Heritage sites (1988)—in part for their architectural heritage as well as for their historical and cultural significance—as was the Tomb of Askia (2004) in Gao, a pyramid-like structure dating back to the Songhai empire.

Cultural institutions
The National Archives of Mali and the National Library are located in Bamako, as is the Municipal Library; the Ahmed Baba Institute, a centre that houses and preserves a large collection of historical Arabic and African manuscripts, is located in Timbuktu. These institutions suffer from lack of funds and are often closed. The civilian government has sought outside funding for these cultural organizations in order to preserve Mali’s rich heritage.

Sports and recreation
The government promotes popular culture principally through the Ministry of Youth and Sports and the Ministry of Culture. Youth associations organize athletic, theatrical, musical, and dancing activities. Football (soccer) is Mali’s most popular sport, and every neighbourhood in the major towns has a team. Several Malian football players have played professionally for European clubs (especially in France and Italy), including Salif Keita, who in 1970 became the first recipient of the African Player of the Year award. Mali hosted the prestigious African Cup of Nations tournament in 2002.

Basketball is also popular, but, as in most other sub-Saharan African countries, wrestling is more prevalent, especially in the western and southern parts of the country. Orally transmitted epics from the ancient Malian empire speak of great wrestlers as cultural icons, and even today traditional wrestlers are held in high esteem. Matches are festive occasions that are accompanied by drumming, music, dancing, praise-singing, and the wearing of costumes.

Media and publishing
Freedom of the press is guaranteed under the constitution, and the media climate in Mali ranks among the freest in Africa. There are numerous newspapers in Mali, including the state-owned L’Essor–La Voix du Peuple. Newspapers are far less effective in disseminating information than radio, not least because their circulation is limited to the literate and effectively to Bamako. There are many commercial radio stations in addition to the national radio station, which broadcasts news bulletins, general information, and educational programs, as well as entertainment, cultural, and religious programs. The number of radio receivers has increased dramatically, which has greatly facilitated communication with the more remote regions. Television was introduced in 1983 and is available in most of the country, although few Malians outside Bamako own sets. Television stations generally broadcast news, educational programs, foreign movies, and religious segments.

Kathleen M. Baker
Andrew Clark


This discussion briefly surveys Mali’s early history and focuses primarily on events since 1800. For more in-depth treatment of early history and for consideration of the country in its regional context, see western Africa, history of.

Precolonial history
Rock paintings and inscriptions as well as Paleolithic and Neolithic remains have been found throughout Mali. Neolithic human skeletal remains dating to 5000 bc were found in 1927 in the Sahara at Asselar.

Rich gold deposits in the west and southwest constituted the principal resource in the economic life of early urban entrepôts and a succession of political states. An important trading centre, Djenné-Jeno, arose about 250 bc in the inland delta of the Niger River and flourished until the 11th century ad; it then declined and eventually was eclipsed by Djenné, a trading centre founded by Muslim Soninke about the 13th century ad. Terra-cotta statues dating to as early as ad 800 have been found at Djenné-Jeno and other sites in Mali.

The export trade in gold and in slaves, ivory, civet, and gum arabic moved over trans-Saharan caravan routes from the Niger River valley to North Africa for almost a thousand years. This trade was controlled by the Soninke kingdom of Ghana (4th–11th century), which was established between the headwaters of the Niger and Sénégal rivers. Ghana was effectively destroyed by the Almoravid invasion of 1076, and its hegemony was ultimately assumed by the Mandinka empire of Mali (13th–15th century), founded around the upper Niger. Under Mali the caravan routes moved east through Djenné and Timbuktu (founded about the 11th century ad). Mali’s decline in the 15th century enabled the Songhai kingdom in the east to assert its independence. Under Songhai, Djenné and Timbuktu flourished as centres of both trade and Islamic scholarship. In 1591 a Moroccan army of 4,000 men armed with muskets succeeded in crossing the Sahara and easily defeated the Songhai, who did not have firearms. With the destruction of Songhai hegemony, political chaos ensued, resulting in a disruption of trade.

Eventually new trade routes in gold and slaves were established, but these were directed toward the coast, where Europeans were establishing trading posts. The Moroccans exiled or executed the Timbuktu scholars (because they represented a political threat) and dispersed most of their libraries of books and manuscripts. Moroccan military and political influence never extended beyond a short stretch of the Niger in the areas of Gao and Timbuktu, and eventually political ties between Morocco and the descendants of the Moroccan invaders lapsed. In 1737 the Moroccans were defeated by the Tuareg, who seized control of the Niger Bend, and to the west the Fulani kingdom of Macina defeated the Moroccans at Diré in 1833. West of Macina, the Bambara established a powerful kingdom at Ségou beginning in the early 17th century.

The 19th century
Most of the 19th century was characterized by French colonial expansion from Senegal in the west and by Islamic jihads (religious wars) that led to the establishment of theocratic states. Shehu Ahmadu Lobbo (Cheikou Amadou), a Fulani Muslim cleric, successfully overturned the ruling Fulani dynasty in Macina in 1810 and established a theocratic state with its capital at Hamdallahi. In the west, political events were dominated by al-Ḥājj ʿUmar Tal, a Tukulor Muslim cleric who led a series of jihads. ʿUmar conquered the Bambara kingdom of Ségou in 1861 and the Fulani empire of Macina in 1864. After ʿUmar was killed in a skirmish with the Fulani in 1864, his vast domains were divided among his sons and commanders. His eldest son, Amadou Tal, who had been installed at Ségou, unsuccessfully attempted to exert control over the whole Tukulor empire in a series of civil wars. He became head of the Ségou Tukulor empire, whose predominantly Bambara inhabitants mounted constant revolts against his rule.

The French, who established a fort at Médine in western Mali in 1855, viewed the Ségou Tukulor empire as the principal obstacle to their acquisition of the Niger River valley. Fearful of British designs on the same region, they engaged in a series of diplomatic overtures and military operations to push the limits of their control eastward. Between 1880 and 1881 the French succeeded in expanding their control from Médine 200 miles (320 km) east to Kita, primarily through the diplomatic efforts of Capt. Joseph-Simon Gallieni, who signed protectorate treaties with chiefs at Bafoulabé and Kita.

In 1883 Gustave Borgnis-Desbordes launched a series of military campaigns against the Tukulor and the forces of Samory Touré, a Dyula Muslim leader who had founded a state to the south in the late 1860s. Borgnis-Desbordes captured Bamako during that year, giving the French a presence on the Niger. Between 1890 and 1893, Col. Louis Archinard launched a series of successful military operations that led to the final conquest of Ségou in 1893. Samory was driven into the Côte d’Ivoire colony and captured in 1898, the same year that the small Dyula kingdom of Kenedougou around Sikasso was conquered by French forces under Col. H.M. Audeod. Timbuktu was conquered in 1894 by the French officers Gaston Boiteaux, Eugène Bonnier, and Joseph-Jacques-Césaire Joffre, and the southern Sahara was finally brought under French control by méharistes (camel corps) by 1899.

French West Africa
What is present-day Mali became a part of French West Africa, although its borders were modified repeatedly and its name was changed as well. For most of its existence, the territory was known as the French Sudan and headed by either a governor or a lieutenant governor. The northern border in the Sahara Desert was gradually extended as the colonialists were able to pacify some, but not all, nomadic groups in the northern region. In 1904 the Kayes-Bamako portion of the Ocean-Niger railroad, linking coastal Dakar with the Niger River, was completed. Bamako became the colony’s capital, doubling in size from 1902 to 1912 and continuing to rapidly grow thereafter.

During both World War I and World War II the French recruited and drafted heavily in the French Sudan, as Bambara soldiers were reputed to be reliable and brave; many of the tirailleurs sénégalaise (Senegalese riflemen) were actually Bambara from French Sudan. After both wars, but particularly after World War II, veterans achieved considerable standing within the colonial administration and garnered respect from the local population.

Throughout the colonial period, the French viewed the colony as markedly less important economically and politically than its neighbours, Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire. Peasant production was emphasized. Forced labour, conscription, and taxation elicited several local revolts, but none was widespread or notably disrupted production and trade. The Tijani (Tijānīyyah) brotherhood dominated among Muslims and generally cooperated with the colonial administration, which sent several key religious figures on the hajj (pilgrimage) to Mecca.

Independent Mali
Political parties were first formed in 1946, when a territorial assembly was established. The Sudanese Union–African Democratic Party (Union Soudanaise–Rassemblement Démocratique Africain; US–RDA) eventually became the dominant party, under its charismatic Marxist leader, Modibo Keita. In October 1958 the territory became known as the Sudanese Republic; on Nov. 24, 1958, it became an autonomous state within the French Community. In January 1959 Senegal and the Sudanese Republic joined to form the Mali Federation under the presidency of Keita. Hopes that other Francophone states would join the union were never fulfilled, and in August 1960 the federation broke up over major policy differences between the two countries. On September 22, a congress of the US–RDA proclaimed the independent country of the Republic of Mali.

Political unrest and military intervention
Keita, the new country’s first president, rapidly replaced French civil servants with Africans, distanced the country from France, established close diplomatic relations and economic ties with communist-bloc countries, and built a state-run economy. In 1962 Mali issued its own nonconvertible currency, although Keita entered into monetary negotiations with the French in 1967 to prop up a sagging economy. Keita, while claiming to be nonaligned, regularly supported the communist bloc in international affairs. His radical socialist political and economic policies and a cultural revolution launched in 1967 led to widespread popular discontent, which created a favourable environment for a group of army officers to seize power. On Nov. 19, 1968, they launched a coup that overthrew Keita and his government. Led by Lieut. Moussa Traoré, the officers formed a 14-member Military Committee of National Liberation that ruled Mali from 1969 to 1979, when a civilian government was elected. Disagreements led to the removal of two officers in 1971, and in 1978 four others, who opposed a return to civilian rule, were accused of planning a coup and were arrested; two of them later died in prison.

Traoré’s rule
In 1974, Malians overwhelmingly approved a new constitution. Under it the country returned to civilian rule in 1979, with a military-sponsored political party, the Malian People’s Democratic Union (Union Démocratique du Peuple Malien; UDPM), in control of the government and Traoré serving as head of state. When elections were held in 1979, Traoré was elected president, and he was reelected in 1985, while the UDPM—the only legal party—occupied all the seats in the National Assembly. During the 1980s Traoré gave civilians access to the government through regular local and national elections, and he also dealt effectively with protests and with a number of coup attempts.

Traoré consistently followed a pragmatic foreign policy, maintaining close relations with both France and the communist bloc. During the 1980s he made concerted efforts to improve relations with other Western countries, including the United States, which were linked to his attempts to attract foreign investments, diversify the economy, and promote a private sector. Mali had two armed conflicts with Upper Volta (renamed Burkina Faso in 1984) over a border area, in 1974–75 and again in 1985. The latter conflict took place in December 1985 and lasted five days; the territory in question was the Agacher Strip, a border region of about 1,150 square miles (3,000 square km). The matter was referred to the International Court of Justice, which in 1986 divided the territory to the satisfaction of both parties.

By 1991 movements for greater democracy had gained a foothold in Mali but were rejected by Traoré’s regime, which claimed that the country was not ready for such change. Demonstrations and riots broke out in major urban centres, leading to a military takeover in March 1991 and the imprisonment of Traoré. The new military government, led by Amadou Toumani Touré, promised a quick return to civilian rule and held a national conference attended by major associations and unions. Elections were held in 1992, and Alpha Konaré, a prominent civilian intellectual, won the presidency.

Toward a more democratic future
A new constitution and a multiparty government raised hopes of a more democratic future. President Konaré’s efforts to rebuild Mali were hampered, however, by a weak economy, drought, desertification, inefficient parastatals (agencies serving the state but not officially under government control), a bloated civil service, decreasing foreign aid, and the French government’s devaluation in 1994 of the CFA franc. In 1994–95, confrontations between security forces and students protesting these economic hardships often turned violent. The government also faced a continuing crisis caused by Tuareg rebels, who began returning to their homes in the northern part of the country from Libya and Algeria, where they had migrated in times of drought in the 1970s and ’80s. Nevertheless, Konaré was reelected in May 1997 amid charges of electoral fraud and human rights abuses. The political situation subsequently became more stable, and a fragile peace was established with the Tuareg rebels.

In 2002 Touré, the former military leader who had handed the government over to civilians in 1992, was elected president of the country on a nonpartisan platform; he was reelected in 2007. His administration was faced with continuing economic problems, some of which were partially alleviated by debt relief—particularly the significant relief granted in 2003 and 2005. Touré’s administration was also occupied with various conflicts: renewed troubles with Tuareg rebels in 2006 were tenuously resolved by peace agreement that same year, and in 2007 skirmishes between Guinean and Malian villagers over land rights resulted in injury, death, and loss of property. The governments of both countries intervened, resuming a long-dormant mixed patrol along the Mali-Guinea border and encouraging the use of peaceful negotiations to reconcile the disputes.

Pascal James Imperato
Andrew Clark



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