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 Jewel of

The African continent is comprised of 54 nations, each with its own

independent government and sovereignty, GDP, culture, natural resources, language(s), military, and religion. The treasure trove of mineral and raw material wealth has scarcely been touched and the continent's largely untapped fertile lands could feed the world. Herewith is Jewel of Africa, an interactive adventure in the cradle of mankind, an exploration of nations from A-Z in alphabetical order.

Mali: Desert kingdom a
West African gold haven


The Republic of Mali is a landlocked nation situated in West Africa. The eighth-largest country on the African continent with a total land mass of more than 480,000 square miles, the population of Mali is 22.5 million. 

Of the population in Mali, 67 percent is under the age of 25. The capital and largest city is Bamako, bearing 1.3 million people. Mali is comprised of eight regions, bordering to the north on the Sahara Desert. The country's southern border is the Sudanese savanna, where the Niger and Sene- gal rivers flow, and the majority of the Malian people live.


The country’s economy centers on agriculture and mining. One of Mali's most prominent natural resources is gold, aa the country is the third largest producer of gold in African continent. It also exports salt.

Present-day Mali was once part of three West African empires that controlled trans-Saharan trade—the Ghana Empire, the Mali Empire, and the Songhai Empire. At its peak in 1300, the Mali Empire covered an area about twice the size of modern-day France and stretched to the west coast of Africa. 

In the late 19th century, during the Scramble for Africa, France seized control of Mali, making it a part of French Sudan. French Sudan (formerly 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.


Rock paintings and carvings indicate that northern Mali has been inhabited since prehistoric times when the Sahara was fertile grassland. Farming took place by 5000 B.C. and iron was used around 500 B.C. The Rock art in the Sahara suggests that northern Mali has been inhabited since 10,000 B.C., when the Sahara was fertile and rich in wildlife. Early ceramics have been discovered at the central Malian site of Ounjougou dating to about 9,400 B.C., and are believed to represent an instance of the independent invention of pottery in the region.

In the first millenium B.C., early cities and towns were created by Mande peoples related to the Soninke people, along the middle Niger River in central Mali, including at Dia which began from around 900 B.C.,, and reached its peak around 600 B.C., and Djenne-Djenno, which lasted from by around 300 B.C.  to 900 A.D. By the 6th century AD, the lucrative trans-Saharan trade in gold, salt and slaves had begun, facilitating the rise of West Africa's great empires.

There are a few references to Mali in early Islamic literature. Among these are references to "Pene" and "Malal" in the work of al-Bakri in 1068, the story of the conversion of an early ruler, known to Ibn Khaldun (by 1397) as Barmandana, and a few geographical details in the work of ial-Idrisi.

Mali was once part of three famed West African empires which controlled trans-Saharan trade in gold, salt, other precious commodities, and slaves majorly during the reign of Mansa Musa from c. 1312-1337A.D.  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 Son- inke, a Mande-speaking people. The empire expanded throughout West Africa from the 8th century until 1078, when it was conquered by the Almoravids.

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Bamako is the capital and largest city in Mali, with a population of 1.3 million, situated on the Niger River, near the rapids that divide the upper and middle Niger val- leys in the southwestern part of the country. Bamako is the coun- try's political and administrative hub. Bamako is also the eco- nomic and cultural center of Mali. 

   Gold is Mali's most lucrative export, making the nation the third largest producer of the precious mineral in Africa. Mali also exports rice, cotton, kola nuts, and livestock, and are transported to the city and packaged for international trade and domestic consumption. Bam- ako's river port is located in near- by Koulikoro, along with a major regional trade and conference center. Bamako is the seventh-largest West African urban center after Lagos, AbidjanKanoIba- danDakar, and Accra. Locally manufactured goods include textiles, processed meat, metal goods and raw minerals. Com- mercial fishing occurs daily on the Niger River. Bamako is a city in contrast melding ancient his- tory with the contemporary such as Stade du 26 Mars, a 50,000-seat soccer arena. 

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Five-star hotels like the Mali Radisson (above), Azalai, L'Amitie, and the Star Residence, belies the sporadic skirmishes that mar the country's reputation and discourages tourism, of which Mali stands to reap tremendous financial returns if it can forge peace.

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Mali is a landlocked country in West Africa encir- cled by five nations and situated on the rim of the Sahara Desert in the north portion of the country. Mali is the eighth-largest country in Africa, with a  population of 19.1 million. 


In a nation beset by years ongoing political upheaval, war, and some of the harshest natural conditions of any country on the Earth with extreme heat by day and plummeting cold by night, Mali's most valuable resource are its resilient people. Nearly two-thirds of Mali is covered by the Sahara Desert. How- ever, despite the geographical barriers, Mali has the highest agricultural potential of the Sahel Region where 80 percent of Malians rely on rain-fed agriculture to earn a living. 

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Despite the Republic of Mali's severities, she is graceful enough to express her beauty, from sultry sunsets to alluring sand dunes whose granular essence is uncomputable. We experience her magnificence in the gorgeous

serenity of a dawn canoe ride, in the spring season budding of cotton, in her harvest of food- stuffs, the mining of  gold ... and in the hoofbeats, growls, groans, trumpets and myriad personalities of her precious wild creation.

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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.

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 1738-1756, when West Africa's greatest recorded subsistence crisis, due to drought and locusts, reportedly killed half the population of Timbuktu."




Mali is a landlocked country in West Africa, located southwest of Algeria. The nation borders Algeria to the north-northeastNiger to the eastBurkina Faso to the south-eastIvory Coast to the southGuinea to the south-west, Senegal to the west, and Mauritania to the north-west. At 479,635 square miles, Mali is the world's 24th-largest country comparable in size to South Africa and Angola. Most of the country is situated in the southern Sahara Desert, which produces an extremely hot, dust-laden Malian savanna. Mali is mostly flat, rising to rolling northern plains covered by sand. The Adrar des Ifoghas massif lies in the northeast.

One the hottest locales on Earth, Mali lies in the torrid zone. The thermal equator, which matches the hottest spots year-round on the planet based on the mean daily annual temperature, crosses the country.  Mali receives negli- gible rainfall and droughts are very frequent. Late April to early October is the rainy season in the southernmost area. During this time, flooding of the Niger River is common, creating the Inner Niger Delta. The vast northern desert of Mali has a hot desert climate bearing long, extremely hot summers and scarce rainfall. The central area has a hot semi-arid climate with very high temperatures year-round, a long, intense dry season and a brief, irregular rainy season.

Mali has considerable natural resources, with gold, uranium, phosphateskaolinite, salt and limestone being most widely exploited. Mali is estimated to have in excess of 17,400 tons of uranium. In 2012, a further uranium min- eralized north zone was identified.


Mali faces numerous environmental challenges, including desertificationdeforestationsoil erosion, and inadequate supplies of potable water. Five terrestrial eco-regions lie within Mali's borders—Sahelian Acacia savannaWest Sudanian savannaInner Niger Delta flooded savannaSouth Saharan steppe and woodlands, and West Saharan montane xeric woodlands.

Flora, fauna

 The Saharan zone of Mali, an area of fixed dunes and false steppes, contains a mix of foliage—thick-leaved and thorny plants (mimosas and gum trees). The vegetation of the Sahelian zone resembles that of the steppes, with thorny plants and shrubby savannas. The Sudanese zone is an area of herbaceous vegetation; and its trees are bastard mahogany, kapok, baobab, and shea.

In the Saharan or desert zone, animal life includes dorcas, cheetah, and maned wild sheep—the latter endemic to the mountains. In the Sahelian region there are oryx, gazelle, giraffe, wart hog, ostrich, bustard, red monkey,  cheetah, lion, jackal, fox, hyena, and cynhyena. In the Sudanese zone there are large and small antelope, buffalo, elephant, lion, and monkey, plus such small game as hare, bustard, guinea fowl, quail, pigeon, and water birds such as duck, teal, sandpiper, pee-tweet, godwit, woodcock, pelican, marabou, ibis, egret, heron, eagle, and vulture, the national animal.

Primates such as chimpanzees and monkeys are found in the southernmost forests and in the Parc national de la Boucle du Baoule. Elephants in the Gourma region, known as the Sahelian herdsnumbering 360-630 animals, migrate more than 540 miles during the dry season between Burkina Faso and Mali to wet areas and return to Mali during the rainy season. Lions are found around the Faleme River in the far west of cerde of KeniebaThe African manatee (also known as the sea cow and West African manatee) is found all along the Niger River was hunted for meat in the past but its meat is now not marketed, which may be due its decreasing numbers or due to the legal protection given for its conservation.


Seventeen Important Bird Areas (IBAs) have been designated in Mali, encompassing 11,078 square miles, roughly 2.3 percent of the country. Ten miles include wetlands, nine are in the Inner Delta of the Niger river, four include the Sudan-Guinea eco-region of the Savanna biome, four are in the Sahel biome, and two in the Sahara-Sindian biome. The Kulicoro fire-finch is the only endemic bird of Mali, found in rocky and grassy areas near Mopti and Bamako.

In these IBAs 622 birds species have been record, including 335 resident birds out of which 202 breed in Mali. Of these, 137 species of 243 migratory species are of Palearctic origin. There are 12 species which are of global conservation concern and seven are Palearctic migrants. The Inner Delta is also rich in heron species, Senegal parrot, yellow-fronted canary, and the African fish eagle.

Reptiles and amphibians

A few snake species are the desert horned viper, puff adder, boom slang, Joger's carpet viper, white-bellied carpet viper, West African carpet viper, West African brown spitting cobra, forest cobra, black-necked spitting cobra, Egyptian cobra, Senegalese cobra, and the python. Crocodilians include the Nile crocodile and the African slender-snouted crocodile.


There are approximately 200 fish species in Mali. Fishing is a common practice in the Niger and other rivers in Mali, and the most popular variety of fish is capitaine. Many species of fish are found in the Niger River and its tributaries. Along the northern bend of the river in the eastern half of Mali. Many villages along the Niger River export fish and fish products to neighboring regions. For example, in Mopti Region, fishing villages near Konna regularly export fish to market towns in the dry inland Dogon country, such as Douentza. In Douentza, fish species that are commonly found in the market are catfish, carp, capitaine, dogfish, and Labeo fish.

Politics and government

Until the military coup of March 2012 and a second military coup in December 2012, Mali was a constitutional democracy governed by the Constitution formulated in January 1992, and 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 the president, who is elected to a five-year term 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. Mali's cons- titution 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 


There is no more a beautiful, majestic antelope than the Mali addax with its magnificent, unrivaled horns. It is truly a king, though the Barbary sheep might dispute that with its own amazing rack. Other kingly beasts are certainly the elephant and the lion.

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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

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 the US in particular have improved significantly. Mali has a longstanding yet ambivalent relationship with France, a former colonial ruler. Mali was active in regional organizations such as the African Union until its suspension over the 2012 Malian coup d'état.

Working to control and resolve regional conflicts, such as in Côte d’IvoireLiberia, and Sierra Leone, is one of Mali's major foreign policy goals, fearing a spillover of conflicts into neighboring states. General insecurity along borders in the north, including cross-border banditry and terrorism, remain troubling issues in regional relations.


Military, police


Mali's military forces comprised of an army, which includes land forces and air force, as well as the paramilitary Gendarmerie and Republican Guard, all under the control of Mali's Ministry of Defense and Veterans, overseen civilian control.



The Central Bank of West African States handles the financial affairs of Mali and additional members of the Economic Community of West African States. Mali underwent economic reform, in 1988, signing agreements with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. From 1988 to 1996, Mali largely reformed public enterprises, whereby 16 enterprises were privatized, 12 partially privatized, and 20 liquidated. In 2005, the Malian government conceded a railroad company to the Savage Corporation.

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 in May 1995. The gross national product (GNP) has risen by 17.6 percent since 1995 as a result. In 2002, the GNP amounted to US$3.4 billion and increased to US$5.8 billion in 2005. Mali is a part of the “Franc Zone” (Zone Franc), embracing the CFA franc, and is connected with the French government by agreement since 1962 (creation of BCEAO). Mali is also connected to French Central Bank.




Mali's key industry is agriculture. Cotton is the country's largest agricultural export and is exported west throughout Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire. During 2002, 620,000 tons of cotton was produced in Mali but cotton prices declined significantly in 2003. In addition to cotton, Mali produces rice, milletcorn, vegetables, tobacco, and lumber. Gold, livestock, and agriculture amount to 80 percent of Mali's exports. Fifteen percent of Malian workers are employed in the service sector and 80 percent in agriculture. Seasonal variations lead to regular temporary unemployment of agricultural workers.


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 emerged as Mali’s leading export in the late 90s and is mined in the southern region of the country. Mali is the third highest gold producer in Africa after South Africa and GhanaOther major natural resources include kaolin, salt, phosphate, and limestone.


Energy, transport, infrastructure

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 more than half of Mali's electrical power. In 2002, 700 GWh of hydroelectric power were produced in the nation. In Mali, there is a railway that connects to bordering countries. There are also approximately 29 airports of which 8 have paved runways. Urban areas are known for their large quantity of green and white taxicabs. A significant percentage of the population is dependent on public transportation.



In 2018, Mali's population was an estimated 19.1 million. The population is predominantly rural, and 5-10 percent of Malians are nomadic. More than 90 percent of the population resides in the southern part of the country, especially in Bamako, which has more than 1 million residents. Prior to colonization, Mali was a highly stratified and complex society. Most ethnic groups distinguished among horonw (free people or nobles), nyamankalaw (semiendogamous professional groups such as leather workers, griots, and smiths), and jonw/wolosow (first-generation slaves or slaves born in the family). Recent studies have shown a certain flexibility among these social groups, one that allowed for movements and permutations across the different groups.

Along the same lines, local people have renegotiated the boundaries of traditional professions. In fact, especially in the cities, the exercise of a given profession is no longer limited to people with the appropriate family back- ground. The Institut national des arts in Bamako has played a major role in this direction, opening nyamakala professions (such as sculpture and music) to the rest of the Malian population.

Mali's population encompasses a number of sub-Saharan ethnic groups. The Bambara (Bambara: Bamanankaw) are by far the largest single ethnic group, comprising 36.5 percent of the population. Collectively, the Bambara, SoninkéKhassonké, and Malinké (also called Mandinka), all part of the broader Mandé group, constitute 50 percent of Mali's population. Other significant groups are the Fula (French: Peul; Fula: Fulɓe), 17 percent; Voltaic, 12 percent; Songhai, 6 percent; and Tuareg and Moor, 10 percent.


In Mali, the Moors are also known as Azawagh Arabs, named after the Azawagh region of the Sahara. They speak mainly Hassaniya Arabic, which is one of the regional varieties of Arabic. Personal names reflect Mali's complex regional identities. In the far north, there is a division between Berber-descended Tuareg nomad populations and the darker-skinned Bella or Tamasheq people, due to the historical spread of slavery in the region. An estimated 800,000 people in Mali are descended from slaves. Slavery in Mali has persisted for centuries.

The Arabic population fostered slavery well into the 20th century, until slavery was suppressed by the French around the mid-20th century. Certain hereditary servitude relationships persist today.


Ethnic traditions, languages

Mixed European/African descendants of Muslims of Spanish, as well French, Irish, Italian and Portuguese origins live in Mali. They are known as the Arma people and comprise roughly one percent of the nation's population. Although Mali has enjoyed a reasonably good inter-ethnic relationships based on the long history of coexistence, some hereditary servitude and bondage relationship exist, as well as ethnic tension between settled Songhai and nomadic Tuaregs of the north.


Due to a backlash against the northern population after independence, Mali is now in a situation where both groups complain about discrimination on the part of the other group. This conflict also plays a role in the continuing Northern Mali conflict where there is a tension between both Tuaregs and the Malian government, and the Tuaregs and radical Islamists.


Mali's official language is French, but more than 40 African languages also are spoken by the various ethnic groups. About 80 percent of Mali's population can communicate in Bambara, which serves as an important lingua francaAccording to the 2009 census, the languages spoken in Mali include Bambara, 51.5 percent; Fula, 8.3 percent; Dogon, 6 percent; Soninké, 5.7 percent; Songhai, 5.3 percent; Malinké, 5.2 percent; Minianka, 3.8 percent; Tamasheq, 3.2 percent; Sénoufo, 2 percent; Bobo, 1.9 percent; Tieyaxo Bozo, 1.6 percent; Kassonké, 1.1 percent; Maure, 1 percent; Dafing, 0.4 percent; Samogo, 0.4 percent; Arabic, 0.3 percent; other Malian languages, 0.5 percent; other African languages, 0.2 percent; and foreign languages, 0.2 percent.

Mali has 12 national languages beside French and Bambara. They are BomuTieyaxo BozoToro So Dogon, Maasina FulfuldeHassaniya ArabicMamara SenoufoKita ManinkakanSoninkeKoyraboro SenniSyenara SenoufoTamasheq and Xaasongaxango. Each is spoken as a first language primarily by the ethnic group with which it is associated.


Islam was introduced to West Africa in the 11th century and remains the predominant religion  in much of the region, with Christianity comprising 66 percent — Roman Catholic and Protestant, 33 percent individually; and the remaining five percent, traditional African religions, such as Dogon. The constitution provides for freedom of religion.


Children's informal education is to a great extent a collective endeavor, with people other than the children's parents participating in their rearing. Small children, up to two or three years, receive much affectionate attention from both family and nonfamily members and are rarely disciplined. Education is free and compulsory for the first nine years, although private schools, which draw their students from the better-off strata of the population, are expanding. In general, the attitude toward western-style schooling is ambivalent—both because it is viewed as a colonial legacy and also because it is often disconnected from the rural populations' complex realities. In addition, scarce opportunities for employment in the formal sector of the economy, especially in rural areas, may demotivate families and pupils from investing resources and time in formal schooling.

Traditionally, children learned about their future economic responsibilities by observing and helping older same-sex kin, but in the cities boys increasingly have fewer responsibilities, while girls are still expected to help at home.

Higher Education: Since independence the government has devoted more resources to secondary education than to mass primary schooling. Secondary schools are concentrated in urban areas, Bamako in particular. Until very recently the most important objective for the Malian school was the production of administrative cadres, and until 1983 the state guaranteed employment for students with a secondary-school or university diploma. At that time, however, the state had to confront the fact that it could no longer assume this responsibility, and since then, enrollment in state schools has dropped.

The numerous student strikes that have occurred in the late twentieth century were an expression of students' anxiety about their uncertain professional future as well as dissatisfaction with the form and quality of education. Statistics from the 1990s suggest a literacy rate of about 38 percent. Students' success rate is also extremely low. In the 1980s only 50 percent of the students who began primary education were likely to complete six years of schooling and go on to secondary education. Female students are underrepresented at all levels of education, and their presence decreases from one educational level to the next; for instance, in 1998 there were 2,737 female students out of a total of 13,824 at the university level.

Culture, music, literature

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.

Malian musical traditions are derived from the griots, who are known as “Keepers of Memories.” Malian music is diverse and has several different genres. Some famous Malian influences in music are kora virtuoso musician Toumani Diabaté, the ngoni with Bassekou Kouyate the virtuoso of the electric jeli ngoni, the late roots and blues guitarist Ali Farka Touré, the Tuareg band TinariwenKhaira Arby, and several Afro-pop artists such as Salif Keita, the duo Amadou et MariamOumou SangareFatoumata DiawaraRokia Traore, and Habib Koité.


Dance also plays a large role in Malian culture. Dance parties are common events among friends, and traditional mask dances are performed at ceremonial events. 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.



The most popular sport in Mali is association soccer, which became more prominent after Mali hosted the 2002 African Cup of Nations. Most towns and cities have regular games; the most popular teams nationally are Djoliba ACStade Malien, and Real Bamako, all based in the capital. Informal games are often played by youths using a bundle of rags as a ball.

Basketball is another major sport; the Mali women's national basketball team, led by Hamchetou Maiga, competed at the 2008 Beijing OlympicsTraditional 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 featured a men's national team in beach volleyball that competed at the 2020 CAVB Beach Volleyball Continental Cup.




Malian cuisine varies regionally, which is heavily based on cereal grains, though rice and millet are staples. Grains are generally prepared with sauces made from edible leaves, such as spinach or baobab, with tomato peanut sauce with grilled chicken, mutton, beef or goat. Other popular dishes include fufujollof rice, and maafe.



In Mali, there are several newspapers such as Les EchosL'EssorInfo MatinNouvel Horizon, and Le Républi- cain. Telecommunications in Mali include 869,600 mobile phones, 45,000 televisions, and 414,985 Internet users.

Jarrette Fellows, Jr. / Creative Commons CC-by-sa 3.0 License 

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