All About Mali


Mali, a landlocked country in Western Africa, shares a border with Niger on the east, Burkina Faso and the Côte d’Ivoire on the south, Guinea to the south-west, Senegal and Mauritania to the west, and Algeria to the north. According to world population review Mali’s population is estimated at 19,508,678 (2018) and the country’s size is 1,240,192 sq. km. Bamako is the capital. There are eight regions in Mali and its north reaches into the Sahara while the south contains the Niger and Senegal rivers. Agriculture and fishing are cornerstones of the economy, while resources include salt, gold, and uranium.

Modern Mali was formerly part of three empires controlling trade in the Sahara. These were the Mali, Songhai, and Ghana empires. Mali became part of the French Empire in the 19th century. In 1959, French Sudan, of which Mali was a part, gained independence as the Mali Federation. Senegal withdrew from the federation, leading to the Republic of Mali. In 1991, a coup led to a new constitution and multiple political parties. In Mali, about half of the population live below the international poverty line.


What is modern-day Mali was once part of three empires that controlled the trans-Saharan trade. None of these kingdoms had rigid ethnic identities or boundaries. The Ghana Empire was the earliest. It expanded in West Africa until the Almoravids conquered it in 1078.

On the upper Niger River, the Mali Empire formed and reached its height in the 1300s. Centers of trade and Islamic learning were Djenne and Timbuktu. Internal intrigue led to the empire’s decline and the ultimate rise of the Songhai Empire. The Songhai came from Nigeria and were a West African power under the Mali Empire’s rule.

The Songhai gradually became independent from the Mali Empire in the late 14th century. The Moroccan invasion in 1591 under Judar Pasha led to the Songhai Empire’s collapse. This marked the end of the region as an important trading crossroads. The trans-Saharan trade routes lost importance after Europeans established sea routes.

The French took control of Mali in the late 1800s. Most of the area was a part of French Sudan by 1905. French Sudan and Senegal united in 1959 to form the Mali Federation. This Federation gained independence on June 20, 1960. Within a few months, Senegal left the federation and the Sudanese Republic gained independence as the Republic of Mali. Modibo Keita became the first president and established the nation as a one-party state. Keita cultivated relations with the East and had a socialist orientation.

After economic decline, Keita was overthrown in a bloodless coup in 1968 led by Moussa Traore. This regime attempted economic reforms, but drought and political turmoil. The regime survived three coup attempts and student protests. Until the late 1980s, the Traore regime repressed the dissent until the late 1980s.

After the public continued to demand reforms, the Traore regime allowed some liberalization in politics. A full democracy was refused. The return of many Tuaregs to Mali in 1990 and rising ethnic violence led to opposition movements.

A coup occurred in 1991 and a transitional government set up a new constitution. Alpha Oumar Konare won the first multi-party presidential elections in 1992. He was reelected in 1997 and enacted economic reforms and combated corruption. Amadou Toumani Toure succeeded Konare in 2002 when he won elections. Toure led the military side of the 1991 coup.

An insurgency began in 2012 led by the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA). A coup occurred that March and the MNLA took control of northern Mali and declared independence. They were overthrown soon after by Islamists groups who supported Sharia law.

President Ibrahim Boubacar KEITA  has been in power since 4 September 2013 and is still currently president in 2014.


Mali is southwest of Algeria and has an area of 1,240,000 sq. km. It is comparable in size to South Africa and is the 24th largest country. Mali mostly lies in the southern Sahara and is mostly flat, but rises to rolling northern plains covered by sand. In the northeast, the Adrar des Ifoghas is a large massif.

In the south, the climate is tropical and it is arid in the north. There is little rainfall in Mali. The rainy season is from late June to early December. The Niger River commonly floods in the rainy season. Mali’s natural resources include uranium, phosphates, gold, salt, limestone, and kaolinite. There are many environmental challenges including erosion, inadequate water, deforestation, and desertification.


There are eight regions and one district, each with a governor. There are an additional 49 cercles, and 288 arrondissements. The arrondissements are governed by mayors and city councils.

Politics and Government

The constitution of 1992, which was modified in 1999, governs Mali as a constitutional democracy. Powers are separated between the legislative, executive, and judicial branches.

The president has executive power and is elected to a five year term, with a limit of two terms. The president is the commander in chief and chief of state. Appointed by the president, the prime minister is the head of government and appoints the Council of Ministers. The legislative body is the unicameral National Assembly and each deputy is elected to a five year term. After the 2007 elections, the Alliance for Democracy and Progress held 113 of the 160 seats. There are two sessions of the National Assembly each year.

There is an independent judiciary, but it is subject to executive influence due to the executive’s power in appointing judges. The Supreme Court is the highest court and a Constitutional Court reviews legislative acts and arbiters elections. Lower courts also exist but village elders typically resolve rural disputes.

President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta was elected by popular vote, 77.6 percent. The election that was supposed to take place in April 2012 was delayed until July 2013 following the coup in March.

Foreign Relations and Military

Over time, Mali’s foreign relations have become more pro-Western. Mali has an ambivalent relationship with France, but good relationships with the U.S. and the West in general. Controlling regional conflicts is a major goal of the government. It is part of the African Union. In the north, the insecure border is a concern and cross-border banditry and terrorism are concerns.

The military has an army, air force, paramilitary Republican Guard and Gendarmerie. The Ministry of Defense and Veterans controls the military. The forces are poorly paid and equipped. Following an agreement with Tuareg rebels in 1992, there irregular forces were incorporated into the regular military. General Mahamane Touré is a former general and has the military’s support. The forces are generally under the government’s control. The U.S. has helped train and equip Mali’s military.


The economy’s strong growth continues, with real GDP growth an estimated 5.0% in 2018, down slightly from 5.3% in 2017, driven mainly by agriculture (cotton in particular) and services (financial activities and trade). On the demand side, household consumption is the primary driver. The budget deficit was reduced from 2.9% of GDP in 2017 to an estimated 2.5% in 2018.

Agriculture is a key industry and cotton is the largest export crop. Mali also produces millet, corn, rice, tobacco, and tree crops. 80 percent of Mali’s exports are gold, agriculture, and livestock. 80 percent of Malians work in agriculture and 15 percent in services. Common livestock are cattle, sheep, and goats. In 1991, relaxed mining laws led to foreign investment. In southern Mali, gold is mined and the country has Africa’s third highest production.

Mali remains dependent on foreign aid as the country’s fiscal status fluctuates with gold and agricultural commodity prices and the harvest; cotton and gold exports make up around 80% of export earnings. Mali is developing its iron ore extraction industry to diversify foreign exchange earnings away from gold. Mali has invested in tourism but security issues do not encourage tourists to visit the country which makes it a hard sell. Mali experienced economic growth of about 5% per year in years leading up to 2011, but the global recession, a military coup, and terrorist activity in the north of the country caused a decline in output in 2012; growth resumed at a slow pace in 2013 and remains so in 2014.

Threats to Mali’s economy is a return to physical insecurity, high population growth, corruption, weak infrastructure, and low levels of human capital.

Energie du Mali (EDM) maintains water and electricity production. Half of Mali’s power is hydroelectric.


Mali’s total population is expected to double by 2035; its capital Bamako is one of the fastest-growing cities in Africa. A young age structure, a declining mortality rate, and a sustained high total fertility rate of 6 children per woman – the third highest in the world – ensure continued rapid population growth for the foreseeable future. Significant outmigration only marginally tempers this growth. Despite decreases, Mali’s infant, child, and maternal mortality rates remain among the highest in sub-Saharan Africa because of limited access to and adoption of family planning, early childbearing, short birth intervals, the prevalence of female genital cutting, infrequent use of skilled birth attendants, and a lack of emergency obstetrical and neonatal care.

Mali’s high total fertility rate has been virtually unchanged for decades, as a result of the ongoing preference for large families, early childbearing, the lack of female education and empowerment, poverty, and extremely low contraceptive use. Slowing Mali’s population growth by lowering its birth rate will be essential for poverty reduction, improving food security, and developing human capital and the economy.

Many sub-Saharan ethnic groups make up Mali’s population. 46.3 percent are Bambara. The Mande group is 50 percent of the country’s population and are made up of the Bambara, Khassonke, Soninke, and Malinke. Other major groups are the Peul, Voltaic, Songhai, Tuareg, and Moor. Most inter-ethnic relationships are good. The Tuaregs have been mostly forced from their nomadic life by droughts over the last several decades.

French is the official language, but over 40 African languages are used. 80 percent of Malian can communicate in Bambara.


94.8 percent of the people of Mali are Muslim and 2.4 percent are Christian. The remaining 2.8 percent follow indigenous religions. Muslims are mostly moderate Sunni or Sufi. The country is officially secular.

Health and Education

USAID supports the nationwide expansion and scale-up of life-saving, high impact health interventions in public and private health facilities in the areas of maternal and child health; malaria prevention and control; family planning; water and sanitation; nutrition; and HIV/AIDS prevention. USAID also provides technical assistance, commodities and equipment to Mali’s primary health care delivery system and the community health worker program. KEY 2018 RESULT: The preliminary results of the 2018 Demographic and Health Survey show a huge decrease 19% of malaria prevalence in Mali. This is due to PMI investment in area of Malaria prevention and treatment in Mali.

The Government of Mali is committed to providing access to quality education for all children. In this respect, a ten-year programme on Access to Quality Education was developed (PRODEC). Mali has adopted the ‘Fast Track Initiative’ to accelerate the process to reach universal primary education by 2015. Gross enrolment stands at 80 per cent, with 70.7 per cent girls of girls enrolled.

Human Rights

Estimates show 91.6 percent of Mali’s women and girls have undergone some form of female genital mutilation.

On March 17, 2014, Human Rights Watch sent a letter to President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita expressing concern about the lack of justice for abuses during the armed conflict.


Musical traditions derive from the griots, who are commonly referred to as the “Keeper of Memories.” Music is diverse and some influences are Toumani Diabate, Ali Tarka Toure, Tinariwen (a Tuareg band), and Afro-pop artists.

Mali has been a lively intellectual center with a good literary tradition. Literature was mainly passed by word of mouth. Mali’s best-known historian, Amadou Hampata Ba, wrote down these oral traditions for history. Yambo Ouologuem is Mali’s most famous novelist.

Most Malians wear colorful robes called boubous that are widely seen in West Africa. They also participate in dances, ceremonies, and festivals. Malian cuisine has millet and rice as staples. There are variations in cuisine regionally.


Football is the most popular sport and Mali hosted the African Cup of Nations in 2002. Mali reached the 1972 African Nations Cup final, but lost 3–2 to Congo. They failed to qualify for the finals again until 1994 when they reached the semi-finals, an achievement repeated in 2002, 2004 and 2013. The  Mali national football team, nicknamed Les Aigles ( The Eagles ).  The Eagles did not qualify for the 2014 world cup in Brazil. Several notable players from Mali play abroad, but there are formal and informal games in the country as well. Basketball and traditional wrestling are also popular sports.