At nearly twice the size of France the landlocked republic of Mali is one of the largest West African countries but has fewer people per square mile than any other. It's shaped like a bow tie after a long night - twisted to a 45° angle and with the left side smaller than the right. It's hemmed in by Niger, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire and Liberia on its eastern edge; Guinea and Senegal to the south; Mauritania to the west; and Algeria to the north. The northern region of Mali is nearly all Saharan desert and a whopping chunk of the middle is a belt of arid semi-desert, the Sahel. Mali's major geographical feature is the Niger River, which runs right up to the edge of the Sahara before turning right and heading back to the ocean. In the upper southern region the Niger and Bani rivers join to form a rich inland delta but it is only in the lower southern regions where rainfall is reliable that the dryness gives way to small pockets of natural forest.
Climate and environment are working overtime to bury Mali under a tonne of sand and 65% of the country is now desert or semi-desert. The rapid desertification of Mali is due to on-going droughts, over-grazing, topsoil erosion, harsh desert winds, and the scavenging of trees for firewood. It's hardly surprising, therefore, that Mali is almost totally without lush forests or abundant wildlife. In fact, Baoule National Park, 130km (80mi) northwest of Bamako, is about the only bit of green you'll see in the country, and the few lions, giraffes, buffalo and hippo that are there are all a bit lonely.
13 million (UN, 2003)
1,240,192 sq km
Mande:50.0%, Peul:17.0%, Voltaic:12.0%, Tuareg and Moor:10.0%, Songhai:6.0%, Other5.0%
French (official) , Bambara, Berber, Arabic
Islam:90%, indigenous beliefs:9%, Christian:1%
1 CFA (Communaute Financiere Africaine) franc = 100 centimes
www.africa-ata.org Mali was the core of the great empires of the western Sudan : Ghana, Mali, and Songhai, with centers of trade,
learning, and culture in such cities as Djenné, Timbuktu, and Gao. The state of Ghana originated early in the Christian era and reached its apogee betweem 950 and 1050. The empire of Mali originated in the 11th century, and its period of greatness began under Sundiata, who ruled from 1235 to 1255 and reached its peak in the early 14th century under Mansa Musa, who extended the empire until it reached from the Atlantic coast to east of Gao.
The decline of Mali was rapid, although the kings continued to rule until 1645. Its place was taken by the Songhoi Empire of Gao, whose great kings were Sunni Ali from 1464 to 1492, and Askia Muhammad, from 1493 to 1528. At its greatest extent, Songhoi reached from the Atlantic to Kano and included most modern Mali and parts of Guinea. Most of the empire was destroyed by Moroccan invasion in 1591.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, several small states developed along the Niger basin, notably that of Segu. The states fell during the mid-19th-century holy war waged by the muslin leader al-Hadjj Umar, whose theocratic empire extended from Timbuktu to the headwaters of the Niger and the Senegal. His son and successor, Ahmadu, was defeated by the French in 1893.
In 1904 modern Mali was made part of the French colony of Haut-Senegal-Niger and in 1920 was constituted the French Sudan, as a constituent territory of French West Africa.
African political activity was banned by the French in Mali until after World War II (1939-1945). Various parties that were then formed eventually merged to form the Sudanese Union, which became the Malian section of the interterritorial African Democratic Rally. By the time of the 1957 reforms, the union was the main party.
In 1958 the French Sudan voted to join the new French Community, and was proclaimed the Sudanese Republic on November 24, 1958. On January 17, 1959, it joined with Senegal to form the Federation of Mali, which proclaimed its independence June 20, 1960, with Modibo Keita as president. The federation broke up in September 22, 1960. The later that same month the Republic became a member of the United Nations.
SIGHTSEEING IN MALI
* TIMBUKTU: THE PEARL OF THE DESERT
Timbuktu was formerly a great commercial trading city and an international center of islamic learning. The city was probably founded in the late 11th century AD by Tuareg nomads. Timbuktu was a leading terminus of trans-Saharan caravans and a distribution point for trade along the upper Niger. Merchants from northern African cities traded salt and cloth for gold and for black African slaves in the markets of Timbuktu. The visitors will discovered the ancient mosques including the famous Sankore whose reputation spanned all across north Africa and Europe as a leading islamic academy for centuries. Most of the ancient books (some dating from the 14th century AD) are still preserved at the Ahmed Baba Center . Tuareg formed one of the most ancient tribal people of the Sahara. They speak a Berber language, Tamacheq, and have their own alphabet. In ancient times, the Tuareg controlled the trans-Sahara routes and substantially contributed in the expansion of Islam in sub-Saharan Africa even though they retained however some of their older rites. Today, the Tuareg symbolize the mysteries of the Sahara and continued to be seen as the Masters of the Desert.
* MOPTI: THE VENICE OF MALI:
The city of Mopti is known as the ''Venice of Mali''. Mopti is situated at the confluence of the Bani and Niger rivers, and is built on several interconnected islands. It is from the river that one can best observe the commercial and social activities of the town. . Mopti is literally teaming with traditional traders offering a variety of locally-produced commodities and beautiful artifacts.
* DJENNE: MALI 'S ARCHITECTURAL JEWEL
Founded in the 4th century, Djenné has scarcely changed since the Middle Ages. In the 13th-15th centuries, Djenne was a rival of Timbuktu for the wealth of the Trans-Saharan trade. The city is located on an island in the inland Niger delta, and is surrounded by mud brick walls.
As well as making a visit to the archaeological site of Djenné Djeno that looks backward in time over a 1.000 years. Generation after generation, a guild of highly skilled master-builders, the Baris, have ensured Djenné's architectural integrity. The atmosphere in the streets brings the traveller back to medieval times.
* DOGON COUNTRY
The Dogon country is one of the most extraordinary places on earth. In the 11th century, the Dogons fled the advancing Arabs coming from the north, and found shelter in one of West Africa's most inhospitable areas. Protection from their enemies was obtained by building their villages high up on the vertical faces of the 125 miles long escarpment. Multi-storey houses, granaries and burial sites were all built out of harm way. This is such a unique place that the UNESCO declared it a World Heritage site.
The Dogons are animist, worshipping their ancestors and the spirits of nature. They have preserved their traditions down through the centuries and, are considered to be one of the most original civilizations of West Africa.