Capital: Bamako

Area: 478,764 sq. miles

Population: 20,000,000

Government: Democracy

Religion: Islam 95%, traditional beliefs 3%, Christianity 2%

Language: French

            The name “Mali” derives from the Malinke people—a Muslim tribe that flourished in the area in the 13th and 14th centuries.  During that time Muslim traders dominated the trans-Saharan trading route and established large trading centers in Mali such as Djenné and Timbuktu.  They imported horses and cloth which they traded for salt, gold, and slaves.

            Aside from commodities, these traders brought Muslim culture into the region.  Mathematics, astronomy, and literature were introduced to the native people.  A unique form of architecture, Sudano-Sahelian, took shape and can still be seen today in such buildings as the Great Mosque of Djenné.  This building style used mud bricks supported by wooden-logs that protruded from the walls and allowed workmen to climb up the structure to make repairs.

Photo by Piccaya on

            By the late 1800s the French took control of the country and maintained a colonial presence until the 1960s when Mali became independent.   Today French is still the nation’s official language, though a native African language known as Bambara is also spoken.

            After acquiring independence from the French, Mali was ruled by a single-party political system until 1991 when a coup threw out the ruling party and established a new constitution and a democratic, multi-party political system.

            The vast majority of Mali’s 20 million inhabitants live in extreme poverty.  The average life expectancy is just 41 and most people survive through subsistence farming.

            Mali is comprised of three regions.  To the north is the Sahara desert.  To the south is the Savanna.  Between these two regions is the Sahel.  The variations in Mali’s landscape separate the country’s diverse population.  In the desert regions of the north, the inhabitants are almost entirely Muslim while in the southern Sahel and savanna regions there are more Christians and those who practice voodoo.

            Although landlocked, both the Senegal and Niger River flow through Mali.  These rivers create a fertile soil along their banks which provides most of the country’s arable land.  The Niger River is the center of life for the people of Mali.  They use the river as a source of water, food, and even transportation.  Their capital city, Bamako, is also one of the river’s major ports.

            Despite Mali’s wide-spread poverty, the country is rich with natural resources.  Its mines produce ample amounts of salt and gold.  In fact, Mali is the world’s third largest gold producer.