Video Source: Youtube
Flag Source: CIA World Factbook
In 1960, Mali gained its independence from France. In the past 50 years, Mali has experienced military and single-party rule, but in 1992 democratic elections were finally held, bringing Alpha Oumar Konaré to power. Mali is now one of the most peaceful and stable democracies in West Africa.
The Republic of Mali took its name from the Mali Empire, which once spanned the territory from the West African coast to present-day Gao, in northern Mali. The Mali Empire began as a small kingdom of the Malinke people in the upper Niger River area. At the time, the kingdom was part of the powerful Ghana Empire, which stretched across West Africa. Mali controlled the salt trade, and it began to make the kingdom very wealthy. When gold was discovered in Guinea, in the 12th century, the kingdom attained even greater wealth and was able to rebel against the Ghana Empire. The Mali Empire began to encompass gold fields and salt mines, as well
as the cities of Timbuktu, Gao, and Djenné. It was in the early stages of the empire that Islam became its official religion. North African traders and scholars spread Islam through the empire, and the major cities of the empire soon became important centers of Islamic learning.
In the 15th century the Songhai Empire, centered in Gao, dissolved the Mali Empire. Moroccan armies invaded the area in 1590 but were unsuccessful in ruling, allowing smaller kingdoms to break up the land. In the 19th century the French arrived and by 1898 controlled much of West Africa. Mali was incorporated into the French territory as French Sudan.
Modibo Keita led Mali’s independence movement in the 1950s and became president in 1960, governing the country under a socialist policy. In 1968, Lieutenant Moussa Traouré led a bloodless coup against Keita’s government, and Mali’s period of military rule began. In 1979, Traouré ran virtually unopposed in elections and was elected president of Mali’s civilian government.
Opposition to Traouré’s single-party rule increased over the next 13 years, until he was overthrown; democratic elections were held in 1992, taking Alpha Oumar Konaré to power. In 2002, Amadou Toumani Touré was elected president and reelected in 2007.
The Top 5: Local Advice
1. Mali is the largest country in West Africa, slightly less than twice the size of Texas and roughly five times the size of Great Britain. It is divided into eight regions that are further divided into cercles, which are subdivided into arrondissements. The autonomous District of Bamako is the home of Mali’s capital, Bamako.
2. The currency in Mali is the CFA franc, which is also used throughout the rest of French-speaking West Africa. The symbol for the West African CFA franc is XOF.
3. Mali is a predominantly Muslim country (90 percent of the population follows Islam). Alcohol is still widely available and consumed, though, as are cigarettes. It is important not to wear revealing clothing, especially when visiting a mosque or religious site.
4. The official language in Mali is French. Bambara is spoken by 80 percent of Malians and is often used for trade and administrative purposes. It is difficult to find English speakers in Mali, so we recommend learning a few basic French or Bambara phrases to get by.
5. The type of food available to travelers varies depending on where you go in Mali. In Bamako, one can find anything from pizza places to Vietnamese restaurants. Standard fare throughout the rest of the country includes freshly baked baguettes (a vestige of French colonialism), millet in all shapes and forms (but most commonly served as a paste called tô), rice, meats such as goat and beef, peanut sauces, and capitaine, a freshwater fish found in the Niger River. Outside of Bamako and other major tourist destinations, most restaurants will offer only one or two dishes, often made from the ingredients mentioned above.