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A landlocked country in north-west Africa, sharing common boundaries with Mauritania, Algeria, Niger, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea, and Senegal.


The northern part of Mali is in the dry Sahara and its south is in the tropics. From the south-west, and through its centre flows the Niger, which provides fish. The Niger here has an inland delta which permits the seasonal growing of rice, while other areas contain sufficient pasture for cattle, sheep, and goats.


Mali is amongst the world's poorest countries. The economy is agricultural, with livestock-rearing predominant in the drought-ridden north, and cotton cultivation in the southern savannah. Cotton, livestock, and gold are the chief exports. Millet, sorghum, and rice are also important subsistence crops. Light industry is based on clothing and food-processing. Hydroelectric power contributes substantially to electricity supplies. There are deposits of gold, marble, limestone, salt, and phosphates.


The Mali empire in the upper Niger region of West Africa was established in the 13th century. The founder, Sundjata, conquered the remains of the empire of Ghana c. 1235–40 with his army of Malinke soldiers. Mali soon controlled the rich trade across the Sahara and became a major supplier of gold. The empire reached its peak in the early 14th century under Mansa Musa, who established an efficient administration. The Muslim traveller Ibn Battuta (1304–78) visited Mali in 1351–52 and gave a detailed account of the court and trade. However, by then the empire was beginning to decline. In 1335 Songhay became independent of Mali and by the 15th century had conquered the rest of the empire. After the Moroccan invasion of 1591, the Songhai empire collapsed. Mali was only freed from Moroccan rule at the end of the 18th century, when it was divided among the Tuareg, Macina, and Ségou. France colonized it in the late 19th century. In 1946 it became an Overseas Territory of France. It was proclaimed the Sudanese Republic in 1958, an autonomous state within the French Community. It united with Senegal as the Federation of Mali in 1959, but in 1960 Senegal withdrew and Mali became independent. A military government took over in 1968, under Lieutenant Moussa Traoré, who gradually re-introduced some degree of civilian participation. In 1974, as General Traoré he was elected President, and re-elected in 1985. Pro-democracy rioting began in 1990, and in 1991 Traoré was arrested and a National Reconciliation Council took charge under Lieutenant Colonel Amadou Toumani Touré. More than 40 political parties emerged, of which the Alliance for Democracy in Mali won a majority in the general election of 1992, its leader Alpha Oumar Konaré being elected President. His policy was to pacify rebellious Tuareg tribesmen in the north (a peace agreement was reached in 1992) and to try to win UN support to rebuild an economy which had suffered severely from drought. He was re-elected President in 1997 but did not stand in 2002, when Touré was elected.

Source: MAPS IN MINUTES™ © RH Publications (1997)




1,240,192 sq km (478,841 sq miles)


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