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 West Africa







Mali is part of the Sahel area where the pre-colonial empires of west Africa arose and is named after one of them. These were based on the gold trade from modern Ghana across the desert to north Africa and Europe. There was a salt trade also.

The empire of Ghana was founded in western Mali from the 8th to 13th centuries. The Mandingo Empire of Mali lasted from the 13th to 16th centuries. The emperor Mansa Musa made the pilgrimage in 1324 and astonished Cairo with his wealth of gold when he distributed alms to the poor .(The value of gold fell). Mali was followed by the Songhai Empire which founded the university of Timbuktu - a town whose reputation spread over a large area as a center of learning.

Ancient Mali covered part of the territory of the modern state but was centered in what is now the Senegal-Guinea border. In 1591 the Moroccan army (including English and other European slaves) of Ahmed al Mansur conquered the Songhai empire of which Mali was a part. This act destroyed the local African political culture and the gold trade but did not put anything in its place. As the Moroccans could not supply a proper administration, only a mutinous garrison remained until 1618, terrorizing the surrounding area with private enterprise raids. But the trade declined because European trade was directed across the Atlantic - probably the real cause of the decline of Timbuktu and the other cities. Until colonisation the area was unsettled and the cities became deserted. European explorers began to follow the Niger from the 18th century.

As the French Soudan it was a French colony from the mid 19th century to 1960.

The modern borders were decided by the French colonial government and owe much to the route of the railway to the coast at Dakar.

The southern part of the country is dry savannah and desert fringe; the northern is dry Sahara desert. The people of the desert are the nomadic Tuareg whose traditional role, before airplanes and modern communications, was to herd their animals and raid the settled people of the south, and control the trade across the desert by camel caravans. The south was part of the area of horsemen who dominated the Savannah areas of west Africa.

The traditional cultures were weakened by climatic and technological changes and the invasion of the Europeans - in the case of Mali, the French. The wealth of the Tuareg had come partly from the camel-borne trade in salt. Modern transport has abolished the need for this in its traditional form.

During the colonial period Mali (French Soudan) was part of a federation of colonies known as French West Africa, ruled from Dakar in Senegal. The main railway was built from Dakar to Bamako.

In 1958 there was an attempt to form a federation with Senegal. This broke up before independence in 1960. Since independence there have been military governments.

At present (1990) there is a Tuareg rebellion. These traditionally occupy the northern desert area of several countries including Mali, Algeria, Niger and Libya. They are related to the Berbers of north Africa. A tenth of the total population of Mali are Tuaregs. They are believed to want autonomy from the national government formed mainly of black Africans whom they have traditionally regarded as potential slaves. In late 1990 an agreement was signed to give the Tuareg an autonomous province. This has defused the war, to some extent. The agreement is reported to have been negotiated by Gaddafi's Libya. Gaddafi the former ruler of Libya may have been paying the Tuareg to revolt.

In the long run it is possible that the country may split into Mali and a state with the proposed name of Azawad.

The fall of Gaddafi may have destablised the country. Mercenaries formerly employed by him to keep the Libyan people cowed under his regime seem to have returned home and may have been the people who overthrew the government.

ECOWAS states have imposed sanctions on the military regime. Can the state be put together again? Or will it permanently be split into the two parts?

In January of 2013, French and Malian troops invaded the North of Mali to oust rebels from Al-Qaeda of the Mahgreb who had taken control of the area.


Several African langs.

Niger-Congo family

West Atlantic:

Fula (Peulh)

Mande group



Afro-Asiatic family

Tamashek (Tuareg) - related to Berber

Nilo-Saharan family

Ancient Mali

Ancient West African Kingdoms

Histoire de Tombouctou

Afrique Occidentale Francaise

Conference faite a Berlin

La transmission du savoir islamique

Mali : le procès permanent (Etudes africaines)

Tuareg rebellion
Mali's Tuareg Rebellion Puts Region at Risk (World Politics Review Briefings) Mansa Musa







A military coup in March 1991 overthrew Mousa Traore who had himself staged a military coup in the 1970s.

There was then a multi-party system with transfer of power through elections.

A military revolt 22/03/12 occupied the presidential palace a few weeks before presidential elections. Is this a new military regime? It is said to be related to the Tuareg problem.

The Tuareg rebels occupied Timbuktu.
At the same time a radical Salafist cult derived from Islam is occupying the heritage sites in Timbuktu and has destroyed them, having driven the Tuareg out.
Destruction of heritage

It might not be too strong to state that the Malian state has collapsed.







The agricultural economy is centered on the interior delta of the Niger where the river slows down, spreads out into many channels and marshes and loses much of its volume to irrigation and evaporation. Like ancient Egypt this culture was dependent on rain falling further away (in the mountains of Fouta Djallon in Guinea).

Other than this irrigated area Mali possesses few natural resources.

Beef raised in Mali is normally sold to Ghana and Ivory Coast. This market is affected by subsidized European exports of beef to West Africa.







Southern Mali is in the Sahel belt and is suffering from what looks like a long term desiccation. Northern Mali is in the true desert area of the Sahara.






Human Rights

Climate effects

It is possible that the Sahel part of the country will become somewhat wetter if the Monsoon moves north. The Sahara part may become Sahel, thus increasing the habitability of the country. However, there are uncertainties and the land may become drier.

Mali may have a role, with other Sahel and Saharan countries, in a climate change policy of providing solar energy and possibly sites for carbon absorption industries, and even the use of depressions in the desert to store water to prevent sea level rise.


Last revised 3/07/12

West Africa


World Info


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