Mali Listeni/ˈmɑːli/, officially the Republic of Mali (French: République du Mali, French pronunciation: [maˈli]), is a landlocked country in Western Africa. Mali borders Algeria on the north, Niger on the east, Burkina Faso and the Côte d’Ivoire on the south, Guinea on the south-west, and Senegal and Mauritania on the west. Its size is just over 1,240,000 km² with a population of 14.5 million. Its capital is Bamako. Mali consists of eight regions and its borders on the north reach deep into the middle of the Sahara, while the country’s southern region, where the majority of inhabitants live, features the Niger and Sénégal rivers. The country’s economic structure centers around agriculture and fishing. Some of Mali’s natural resources include gold, uranium, and salt.
Present-day Mali was once part of three West African empires that controlled trans-Saharan trade: the Ghana Empire, the Mali Empire (from which Mali is named), and the Songhai Empire. In the late 19th century, during the Scramble for Africa, France seized control of Mali making it a part of French Sudan. French Sudan (then known as the Sudanese Republic) joined with Senegal in 1959, achieving independence in 1960 as the Mali Federation. Shortly thereafter, following Senegal’s withdrawal from the federation, the Sudanese Republic declared itself the independent Republic of Mali. After a long period of one-party rule, a 1991 coup led to the writing of a new constitution and the establishment of Mali as a democratic, multi-party state. About half the population live below the international poverty line of US$1.25 a day.
Mali was once part of three famed West African empires which controlled trans-Saharan trade in gold, salt, slaves, and other precious commodities. These Sahelian kingdoms had neither rigid geopolitical boundaries nor rigid ethnic identities. The earliest of these empires was the Ghana Empire, which was dominated by the Soninke, a Mande-speaking people. The nation expanded throughout West Africa from the 8th century until 1078, when it was conquered by the Almoravids.
The Mali Empire later formed on the upper Niger River, and reached the height of power in the 14th century. Under the Mali Empire, the ancient cities of Djenné and Timbuktu were centers of both trade and Islamic learning. The empire later declined as a result of internal intrigue, ultimately being supplanted by the Songhai Empire. The Songhai people originated in current northwestern Nigeria. The Songhai had long been a major power in West Africa subject to the Mali Empire’s rule.
In the late 14th century, the Songhai gradually gained independence from the Mali Empire and expanded, ultimately subsuming the entire eastern portion of the Mali Empire. The Songhai Empire’s eventual collapse was largely the result of a Moroccan invasion in 1591, under the command of Judar Pasha. The fall of the Songhai Empire marked the end of the region’s role as a trading crossroads. Following the establishment of sea routes by the European powers, the trans-Saharan trade routes lost significance.
The pages above are from Timbuktu Manuscripts written in Sudani script (a form of Arabic) from the Mali Empire showing established knowledge of astronomy and mathematics. Today there are close to a million of these manuscripts found in Timbuktu alone.
One of the worst famines in the region’s recorded history occurred in the 18th century. According to John Iliffe, “The worst crises were in the 1680s, when famine extended from the Senegambian coast to the Upper Nile and ‘many sold themselves for slaves, only to get a sustenance’, and especially in 1738–56, when West Africa’s greatest recorded subsistence crisis, due to drought and locusts, reportedly killed half the population of Timbuktu.”
Mali fell under the control of the French during the late 19th century. By 1905, most of the area was under firm French control as a part of French Sudan. In early 1959, French Sudan (which changed its name to the Sudanese Republic) and Senegal united to become the Mali Federation. The Mali Federation gained independence from France on 20 June 1960. Senegal withdrew from the federation in August 1960, which allowed the Sudanese Republic to become the independent Republic of Mali on 22 September 1960. Modibo Keïta was elected the first president. Keïta quickly established a one-party state, adopted an independent African and socialist orientation with close ties to the East, and implemented extensive nationalization of economic resources.
On 19 November 1968, following progressive economic decline, the Keïta regime was overthrown in a bloodless military coup led by Moussa Traoré, a day which is now commemorated as Liberation Day. The subsequent military-led regime, with Traoré as president, attempted to reform the economy. However, his efforts were frustrated by political turmoil and a devastating drought between 1968 to 1974, which killed thousands of people from famine. The Traoré regime faced student unrest beginning in the late 1970s and three coup attempts. However, the Traoré regime repressed all dissenters until the late 1980s.
The government continued to attempt economic reforms, and the populace became increasingly dissatisfied. In response to growing demands for multi-party democracy, the Traoré regime allowed some limited political liberalization, but refused to usher in a full-fledged democratic system. In 1990, cohesive opposition movements began to emerge, and was complicated by the turbulent rise of ethnic violence in the north following the return of many Tuaregs to Mali.
A statue of freedom in Bamako.
Anti-government protests in 1991 led to a coup, a transitional government, and a new constitution. In 1992, Alpha Oumar Konaré won Mali’s first democratic, multi-party presidential election. Upon his reelection in 1997, President Konaré pushed through political and economic reforms and fought corruption. In 2002, he was succeeded in democratic elections by Amadou Toumani Touré, a retired general, who had been the leader of the military aspect of the 1991 democratic uprising. Today, Mali is one of the most politically and socially stable countries in Africa.
Mali is a landlocked nation in West Africa, located southwest of Algeria. It lies between latitudes 10° and 25°N, and longitudes 13°W and 5°E.
At 1,240,000 square kilometres (479,000 sq mi), Mali is the world’s 24th-largest country and is comparable in size to South Africa or Angola. Most of the country lies in the southern Sahara, which produces a hot, dust-laden Sudanian savanna zone. Mali is mostly flat, rising to rolling northern plains covered by sand. The Adrar des Ifoghas lies in the northeast.
The country’s climate ranges from tropical in the south to arid in the north. Most of the country receives negligible rainfall; droughts are frequent. Late June to early December is the rainy season. During this time, flooding of the Niger River is common, creating the Inner Niger Delta. The nation has considerable natural resources, with gold, uranium, phosphates, kaolinite, salt and limestone being most widely exploited. Mali faces numerous environmental challenges, including desertification, deforestation, soil erosion, and inadequate supplies of potable water.
Regions and cercles
Mali is divided into eight regions (régions) and one district. Each region has a governor. Since Mali’s regions are very large, the country is subdivided into 49 cercles, 288 arrondissements and 703 communes. Mayors and elected members of the city councils officiate the arrondissements.
The regions and districts are:
Bamako (capital district)
Politics and government
Mali is a constitutional democracy governed by the Constitution of 12 January 1992, which was amended in 1999. The constitution provides for a separation of powers among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government.The system of government can be described as “semi-presidential.”
Executive power is vested in a president, who is elected to a five-year term by universal suffrage and is limited to two terms. The president serves as a chief of state and commander in chief of the armed forces. A prime minister appointed by the president serves as head of government and in turn appoints the Council of Ministers. The unicameral National Assembly is Mali’s sole legislative body, consisting of deputies elected to five-year terms. Following the 2007 elections, the Alliance for Democracy and Progress held 113 of 160 seats in the assembly. The assembly holds two regular sessions each year, during which it debates and votes on legislation that has been submitted by a member or by the government. Democracy-wise things looked positive after the local elections at the end of April 2009, though significant shortcomings and attempts at manipulation still existed.
Mali’s constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but the executive continues to exercise influence over the judiciary by virtue of power to appoint judges and oversee both judicial functions and law enforcement. Mali’s highest courts are the Supreme Court, which has both judicial and administrative powers, and a separate Constitutional Court that provides judicial review of legislative acts and serves as an election arbiter. Various lower courts exist, though village chiefs and elders resolve most local disputes in rural areas.
Foreign relations and military
Mali’s foreign policy orientation has become increasingly pragmatic and pro-Western over time. Since the institution of a democratic form of government in 2002, Mali’s relations with the West in general and with the United States in particular have improved significantly. Mali has a longstanding yet ambivalent relationship with France, a former colonial ruler. Mali is active in regional organizations such as the African Union. Working to control and resolve regional conflicts, such as in Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, is one of Mali’s major foreign policy goals. Mali feels threatened by the potential for the spillover of conflicts in neighboring states, and relations with those neighbors are often uneasy.] General insecurity along borders in the north, including cross-border banditry and terrorism, remain troubling issues in regional relations.
Mali’s military forces consist of an army, which includes land forces and air force, as well as the paramilitary Gendarmerie and Republican Guard, all of which are under the control of Mali’s Ministry of Defense and Veterans, headed by a civilian. The military is underpaid, poorly equipped, and in need of rationalization. Organization has suffered from the incorporation of Tuareg irregular forces into the regular military following a 1992 agreement between the government and Tuareg rebel forces. The military has generally kept a low profile since the democratic transition of 1992. The incumbent president, Amadou Toumani Touré, is a former army general and as such reportedly enjoys widespread military support. In the annual human rights report for 2003, the U.S. Department of State rated civilian control of security forces as generally effective but noted a few “instances in which elements of the security forces acted independently of government authority.”. Western powers such as the United States have also helped Mali’s military with training and equipment.
Mali is one of the poorest countries in the world. The average worker’s annual salary is approximately US$1,500. Between 1992 and 1995, Mali implemented an economic adjustment program that resulted in economic growth and a reduction in financial imbalances. The program increased social and economic conditions, and led to Mali joining the World Trade Organization on 31 May 1995. The gross domestic product (GDP) has risen since. In 2002, the GDP amounted to US$3.4 billion, and increased to US$5.8 billion in 2005, which amounts to an approximately 17.6% annual growth rate.
Mali’s key industry is agriculture. Cotton is the country’s largest crop export and is exported west throughout Senegal and the Ivory Coast. During 2002, 620,000 tons of cotton were produced in Mali but cotton prices declined significantly in 2003. In addition to cotton, Mali produces rice, millet, corn, vegetables, tobacco, and tree crops. Gold, livestock and agriculture amount to eighty percent of Mali’s exports. Eighty percent of Malian workers are employed in agriculture while fifteen percent work in the service sector. However, seasonal variations lead to regular temporary unemployment of agricultural workers.Mali’s resource in livestock consists of millions of cattle, sheep, and goats. Approximately 40% of Mali’s herds were lost during the Sahel drought in 1972–74.
Cotton processing at CMDT.
In 1991, with the assistance of the International Development Association, Mali relaxed the enforcement of mining codes which led to renewed foreign interest and investment in the mining industry. Gold is mined in the southern region and Mali has the third highest gold production in Africa (after South Africa and Ghana). The emergence of gold as Mali’s leading export product since 1999 has helped mitigate some of the negative impact of the cotton and Côte d’Ivoire crises. Other natural resources include kaolin, salt, phosphate, and limestone.
Electricity and water are maintained by the Energie du Mali, or EDM, and textiles are generated by Industry Textile du Mali, or ITEMA. Mali has made efficient use of hydroelectricity, consisting of over half of Mali’s electrical power. In 2002, 700 GWh of hydroelectric power were produced in Mali.
The Malian government participates in foreign involvement, concerning commerce and privatization. Mali underwent economic reform, beginning in 1988 by signing agreements with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. During 1988 to 1996, Mali’s government largely reformed public enterprises. Since the agreement, sixteen enterprises were privatized, twelve partially privatized, and twenty liquidated. In 2005, the Malian government conceded a railroad company to the Savage Corporation.Two major companies, Societé de Telecommunications du Mali (SOTELMA) and the Cotton Ginning Company (CMDT), are expected to be privatized in 2008.
Mali is a member of the Organization for the Harmonization of Business Law in Africa (OHADA).
In July 2009, Mali’s population was an estimated 14.5 million. The population is predominantly rural (68% in 2002), and 5–10% of Malians are nomadic. More than 90% of the population lives in the southern part of the country, especially in Bamako, which has over 1 million residents.
In 2007, about 48% of Malians were less than fifteen years old, 49% were 15–64 years old, and 3% were 65 and older. The median age was 15.9 years. The birth rate in 2007 was 49.6 births per 1,000, and the total fertility rate was 7.4 children per woman. The death rate in 2007 was 16.5 deaths per 1,000. Life expectancy at birth was 49.5 years total (47.6 for males and 51.5 for females). Mali has one of the world’s highest rates of infant mortality, with 106 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2007.
Mali’s population encompasses a number of sub-Saharan ethnic groups, most of which have historical, cultural, linguistic, and religious commonalities. The Bambara (Bambara: Bamanankaw) are by far the largest single ethnic group, making up 36.5% of the population. Collectively, the Bambara, Soninké, Khassonké, and Malinké, all part of the broader Mandé group, constitute 50% of Mali’s population. Other significant groups are the Fula (French: Peul; Fula: Fulɓe) (17%), Voltaic (12%), Songhai (6%), and Tuareg and Moor (10%). Mali historically has enjoyed reasonably good inter-ethnic relations; however, some hereditary servitude relationships exist, as do ethnic tensions between the Songhai and the Tuareg. Over the past 40 years, persistent drought has forced many Tuareg to give up their nomadic way of life.
Mali’s official language is French, but numerous (40 or more) African languages also are widely used by the various ethnic groups. About 80% of Mali’s population can communicate in Bambara, which is the country’s principal lingua franca and marketplace language.
Main article: Religion in Mali
Religion in Mali
Islam came to west Africa in the 11th century and remains the predominant religion in most countries here. An estimated 90% of Malians are Muslim (mostly Sunni and Sufi), approximately 5% are Christian (about two-thirds Roman Catholic and one-third Protestant) and the remaining 5% adhere to indigenous or traditional animist beliefs. Atheism and agnosticism are believed to be rare among Malians, most of whom practice their religion on a daily basis. Islam as practiced in Mali is moderate, tolerant, and adapted to local conditions; relations between Muslims and practitioners of minority religious faiths are generally amicable. The constitution establishes a secular state and provides for freedom of religion, and the government largely respects this right.
Health and education
Mali faces numerous health challenges related to poverty, malnutrition, and inadequate hygiene and sanitation. Mali’s health and development indicators rank among the worst in the world. In 2000, only 62–65 percent of the population was estimated to have access to safe drinking water and only 69 percent to sanitation services of some kind. In 2001, the general government expenditures on health totaled about US$4 per capita at an average exchange rate. Medical facilities in Mali are very limited, and medicines are in short supply. Malaria and other arthropod-borne diseases are prevalent in Mali, as are a number of infectious diseases such as cholera and tuberculosis.[ Mali’s population also suffers from a high rate of child malnutrition and a low rate of immunization. An estimated 1.9 percent of the adult and children population was afflicted with HIV/AIDS that year, among the lowest rates in Sub-Saharan Africa.
High school students in Kati, Mali
Public education in Mali is in principle provided free of charge and is compulsory for nine years between the ages of seven and sixteen. The system encompasses six years of primary education beginning at age seven, followed by six years of secondary education. However, Mali’s actual primary school enrollment rate is low, in large part because families are unable to cover the cost of uniforms, books, supplies, and other fees required to attend. In the 2000–01 school year, the primary school enrollment rate was 61% (71% of males and 51% of females); in the late 1990s, the secondary school enrollment rate was 15% percent (20% of males and 10% of females). The education system is plagued by a lack of schools in rural areas, as well as shortages of teachers and materials. Estimates of literacy rates in Mali range from 27–30% to 46.4%, with literacy rates significantly lower among women than men.
According to the World Health Organization in 2001 an estimated 91.6% of Mali’s girls and women have had some form of female genital cutting performed on them.
Main article: Culture of Mali
Malian musical duo Amadou et Mariam are known internationally for their music combining Malian and international influences.
Malian musical traditions are derived from the griots, who are known as “Keeper of Memories”. Malian music is diverse and has several different genres. Some famous Malian influences in music are kora virtouso musician Toumani Diabaté, the late roots and blues guitarist Ali Farka Touré, the Tuareg band Tinariwen, and several Afro-pop artists such as Salif Keita, the duo Amadou et Mariam, Oumou Sangare, and Habib Koité.
Though Mali’s literature is less famous than its music, Mali has always been one of Africa’s liveliest intellectual centers. Mali’s literary tradition is passed mainly by word of mouth, with jalis reciting or singing histories and stories known by heart. Amadou Hampâté Bâ, Mali’s best-known historian, spent much of his life writing these oral traditions down for the world to remember. The best-known novel by a Malian writer is Yambo Ouologuem’s Le devoir de violence, which won the 1968 Prix Renaudot but whose legacy was marred by accusations of plagiarism. Other well-known Malian writers include Baba Traoré, Modibo Sounkalo Keita, Massa Makan Diabaté, Moussa Konaté, and Fily Dabo Sissoko.
The varied everyday culture of Malians reflects the country’s ethnic and geographic diversity. Most Malians wear flowing, colorful robes called boubous that are typical of West Africa. Malians frequently participate in traditional festivals, dances, and ceremonies. Rice and millet are the staples of Malian cuisine, which is heavily based on cereal grains. Grains are generally prepared with sauces made from leaves such spinach or baobab leaves, with tomato, or with peanut sauce, and may be accompanied by pieces of grilled meat (typically chicken, mutton, beef, or goat). Malian cuisine varies regionally.
The most popular sport in Mali is football (soccer), which became more prominent after Mali hosted the 2002 African Cup of Nations. Most towns have regular games; the most popular teams nationally are Djoliba AC, Stade Malien, and Real Bamako, all based in the capital. Informal games are often played by youths using a bundle of rags as a ball.
The country has produced notable players for French teams, including Salif Keita and Jean Tigana. Frédéric “Fredi” Kanouté, named 2007 African Footballer of the Year, currently plays for Sevilla FC in Spain’s La Liga. Mahamadou Diarra, the captain of the Mali national team, played for Real Madrid for four seasons before moving to AS Monaco FC and Seydou Keita plays for FC Barcelona. Other notable players currently on European squads include, Mamady Sidibe (Stoke City), Mohammed Sissoko (Juventus), Sammy Traore (Paris Saint-Germain), Adama Coulibaly (AJ Auxerre), Kalifa Cisse, Jimmy Kebe (Reading F.C.), Dramane Traoré (Lokomotiv Moscow), Garra Dembele (Levski Sofia) and others. Basketball is another major sport; the Mali women’s national basketball team, led by Hamchetou Maiga, competed at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Traditional wrestling (la lutte) is also somewhat common, though popularity has declined in recent years. The game wari, a mancala variant, is a common pastime.
Mali launched its first ever Fashion Week in 2011. On July 28, 2011 at a press conference held at the United Nations representatives from Mali and fashion label BEBENOIR announced the inaugural Mali Fashion Week will take place December 12, 2011 through December 18, 2011 at the Musee Du Mali in Bamako, the capital city of Mali. Mali Fashion Week showcases the lines of international fashion designers.