Although it cannot compete with the major safari countries for sheer natural spectacle, Mali is a nation of unusual interest and charm. Like Egypt, Mali is a country that is intimately related to a great river--in this case, the Niger. In addition, Mali is the location of some of the continent's most interesting cultural sites. Legendary Timbuktu is located here, and in the center of the country is the magnificently dramatic Bandiagara escarpment, home to the fascinating culture of the Dogon.
History & People
Although Mali is today one of the poorest countries in the world, it has a long and illustrious past as an integral part of great African empires. The first of these empires was the empire of Ghana, which from the 4th to the 11th century controlled the trans-Saharan caravan routes. Ghana fell under invasions by the Muslim Almoravids, but it was soon supplanted by a the Mandinka empire of Mali. Mali reached its pinnacle of power and wealth during the 14th century, extending over almost all of West Africa and controlling virtually all of the rich trans-Saharan gold trade. It was during this period that Mali's great cities, Timbuktu and Djenne, became fabled centers of wealth, learning, and culture. Mali's power didn't last much longer. In the 15th century it fell to the Songhai, who had established their own capital at Gao. The Songhai held sway until the end of the 16th century, their empire collapsed under both internal and external pressures. The end of the Songhai empire also marked the conclusion of the regions history as a trading centre, for the trans-Saharan trade routes quickly lost their vitality after the establishment of sea routes by Europeans.
In the late nineteenth century, Mali became a French colony, and in 1960 it became independent. The country has suffered from periods of internal and external strife, as well as from an extended drought in the early 1970s, but today it appears to by moving toward a stable, multi-party democratic government.
Mali's population comprises a number of different peoples, including the Bambara (who are the largest single segment), the Songhai, Mandinka, Senoufo, Fula, and Dogon. The last of these groups, the Dogon, are world-renowned for their artwork, and a visit to their traditional cliffside villages is a fascinating experience. The majority of Mali's people are Muslim, and the official language is French. Bambara, however, is the country's true lingua franca.
Mali became independent in 1960 (for a few months it was federated with Senegal). Its first president, Modibo Keita, embarked on an unsuccessful period of one-party state socialism. Ambitious planning schemes went awry, the economy wilted, and Keita was, somewhat humiliatingly, forced to ask the French to support the Malian franc. Eventually, in 1968, Keita was overthrown by a group of army officers led by Moussa Traoré.
During the Cold War, Mali was firmly in the Soviet camp. Continual food shortages were exacerbated by droughts (which did devastate the northern regions in 1968–74 and again in 1980–85), but were largely due to government mismanagement and government instability. From 1970 to 1990 there were five coup attempts, and the early 1980s were characterised by strikes, often violently suppressed.
But it was not all bad news: thanks to market liberalisation (and adequate rainfall), in 1987 Mali produced its first grain surplus.
The Tuareg uprising began in 1990, and later that year a peaceful pro-democracy demonstration drew 30, 000 people onto the streets of Bamako. Following strikes and further demonstrations, on 17 March 1991, security forces met students and other demonstrators with machine-gun fire. Three days of rioting followed, during which 150 people were killed. The army, led by General Amadou Toumani Touré (General ATT as he was known), took control. Moussa Traoré was arrested, and around 60 senior government figures were executed.
Touré established an interim transitional government and gained considerable respect from Malians and the outside world when he resigned a year later, keeping his promise to hold multiparty elections.
Alpha Oumar Konaré (a scientist and writer) was elected president in June 1992. Though a widely respected and capable leader who oversaw considerable political and economic liberalisation, Konaré had to deal with a 50% devaluation of the CFA during the 1990s (which resulted in rioting and protest) and an attempted coup. In sharp contrast to many African leaders, Konaré stood down in 2002, as the new constitution he’d helped draft dictated; he is now Chairman of the African Union. The former general, Amadou Touré, was rewarded for his patience and elected as president in April 2002.
Location, Geography & Climate
Mali, the largest country in West Africa, is bordered by seven other states: Algeria lies to the north and northeast, Niger to the east, Burkina Faso to the southeast and, with the Ivory Coast, to the south. On the west are Senegal and Mauritania.
Mali is shaped a bit like a butterfly, leaning to the northwest, with a much smaller left than right wing. The larger northwestern region of the country, which extends into the Sahara, is almost entirely arid desert or semidesert. In the central region, known as the Sahel, life follows the Niger River's annual flood cycle, with high water between August and November. In the southwestern area, rainfall and rivers are more plentiful, and this region is marginally more lush than the rest of the country. Mali's single most important geographic feature is undoubtedly the great Niger River, which traverses both the Sahel and the southeastern section of the country. The Niger, like the Nile, is both a critical source of sustenance and a major transportation artery--and in this latter capacity it is an excellent venue for boat travel.
Although most of Mali experiences only negligible rainfall, the 'rainy' season in the south extends from June through September.
Tourist attractions Mali
- National Museum, Bamako
- Markets of Bamako
- Maison des Artisans
- Boucle du Baoulé National Park
- Woroni Falls
- Dogon Country
- River Niger
- Ségou Koro
- Lake Debo