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French Sudan, northwestern Africa, Niger River, popular referendum, human development index

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Mali, landlocked country in northwestern Africa. Desert covers much of Mali, and the country is thinly populated. The southern part of the country is well watered by the Niger River, and most of Maliís people live in valleys along the Niger or the Senegal rivers. The people in this largely rural country live primarily by farming and fishing. Drought is a recurrent problem, often bringing famine with it. The largest city is Bamako, Maliís capital, which has about 1 million people.

Although Bamako is the capital, the town of Tombouctou, or Timbuktu, is far more famous. Founded in the 11th century, this trading post on the southern edge of the Sahara was celebrated for centuries for its splendor. Camel caravans, carrying gold and ivory, passed through it. So did slaves. Tombouctou linked the rest of West Africa with the Mediterranean Sea to the north. In time, to Westerners it came to stand for all that was remote, mysterious, and unimaginable.

From the 5th century through the 19th century, Mali was the core of a series of West African empires that sought control of Tombouctouís lucrative caravan routes and the gold to its south. In the late 19th century Mali became a colony of France. Under French rule the territory was known as the French Sudan. In 1960 Mali gained independence, taking the name of one of the medieval empires that had formed in the region. Mali has struggled economically since independence. In 2007 the United Nations Development Program ranked Mali 175th out of 178 countries on the human development index, a measure of poverty, literacy, life expectancy, and other criteria of a nationís well-being. The World Bank had previously classified Mali as one of the poorest countries in the world.

French remains the official language of Mali, and Islam is by far the major religion. However, the people of Mali belong to a number of ethnic groups and speak a variety of African languages.


A constitution approved by popular referendum in 1992 established Mali as a multiparty republic with a directly elected president. The president is elected to a five-year term and is limited to two terms in office. This official appoints the prime minister, who selects the other members of the council of ministers. The unicameral National Assembly consists of 147 deputies elected to five-year terms.

Until 1991, Mali was governed under a constitution drawn up in 1974 and made effective, with amendments, in 1979. Elected twice without opposition, President Moussa Traore ruled as a dictator through the nationís sole legal political party, the Democratic Union of the Malian People, founded in 1976. After a coup in March 1991, this party was dissolved.

For the purposes of regional government, Mali is divided into eight administrative regions plus the capital district of Bamako. The larger towns have elected mayors and council members.


For younger readers

Koslow, Philip. Mali: Crossroads of Africa. Chelsea House, 1995. For readers in grades 4 to 6.

McKissack, Patricia, and Frederick McKissack. The Royal Kingdoms of Ghana, Mali, and Songhay: Life in Medieval Africa. Holt, 1994. For middle school and high school readers.

Parris, Ronald. Hausa. Rosen, 1996. For readers in grades 5 to 8.


Jenkins, Mark. To Timbuktu: A Journey Down the Niger. Harper, 1998. Adventurer Jenkins's quest to reach the city of Timbuktu, interspersed with tales of earlier explorers of the region.

Mann, Kenny. Ghana, Mali, Songhay: The Western Sudan. Dillon, 1996. An account of the powerful empires of the Sudan region. For middle school readers.

McKissack, Patricia, and Fredrick McKissack. The Royal Kingdoms of Ghana, Mali, and Songhay: Life in Medieval Africa. Holt, 1994. The origins, customs, people, and political history of three kingdoms that flourished in Africa between ad 700 and 1500; for younger readers.

Wisniewski, David. Sundiata: Lion King of Mali. Clarion, 1992. Story of Sundiata, leader of one of the great trade empires of 13th-century Africa; for younger readers.


Microsoft ģ Encarta ģ 2009. © 1993-2008 Microsoft Corporation.

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