Geography and Landscape


Mali (officially: Republik Mali - République du Mali) is a republic in West Africa. The total area of the country is 1,240,192 km2, making Mali the sixth largest country in Africa. Mali is almost five times the size of Great Britain. Mali is bordered to the north and northeast by Algeria (1376 km), to the west and southwest by Niger (821 km), to the south by Burkina Faso (1000 km), Ivory Coast (532 km) and Guinea (858 km), and in the east to Senegal (419 km) and Mauritania (2237 km). Mali has no access to the sea and uses the ports of Dakar (Senegal) and Abidjan (Ivory Coast).

Mali Satellite PhotoMali Satellite PhotoPhoto: Public domain


Central Mali is part of the Great West African Rift and consists of plateaus (table mountains) rarely more than 450 m high, and plains. Southern Mali lies in the basins of the rivers Niger and Senegal, while in the extreme southwest there are a number of sandstone mountains with fairly steep cliffs.

The northern, almost uninhabited half of the country lies within the Sahara, but the desert is advancing further and further south. Only Moors and Tuareg live here. In this desert area of Northern Mali, only the wadis (dry riverbeds) still have some vegetation.

Desert village in MaliDesert village in MaliPhoto: Ferdinand Reus CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

The Sahara is the largest desert in the world with about 7 million km2 of which 28% is located in Mali. Southern Mali is a swamp and steppe area with forests in the south and gallery forests in some places along the rivers. Some arable farming is also possible here. The transition zone between desert and savannah, the Sahel, lies between the north and the south. The Baoulé National Park and the Manding Highlands are located in Western Mali. Here, rivers used to carve out terraced ravines. In the east of the country lies the jagged Adrar des Iforhas mountain range, with altitudes of 500 to 900 meters. South of Mopti is a 200 kilometer long, steep rock face, the Falaise de Bandiagara. The Dogon have built their villages against this wall. The northern spur of this plateau forms the highest point in Mali, the Hombori Tondo at 1155 meters.

Hombori Tondo, Mali's highest mountainHombori Tondo, Mali's highest mountainPhoto: Tim Busshaus CC 3.0 Unportedno changes made

A large part of Mali was once occupied by a large lake. A remnant of this is the vast swamp area around the middle Niger that flows in a northeasterly direction between Sansanding and Kabara. Due to the changing climate, long periods of drought have caused this previously fertile inner delta to increasingly dry out, which has major consequences for both the population and the animal world.

The Malian landscape is largely determined by a number of large rivers. The most important river is the Niger, which flows 1500 kilometers through Mali. In the west flows the Senegal (670 kilometers in Mali) which is fed by the tributaries Bafing, Bakoy and Baoulé. The Falémé is the border river with Senegal.

Climate and Weather

Due to the size of the country, Mali is located in different climate zones. The north has a desert climate, the south has a steppe climate and in between the Sahel has a steppe climate. The year is made up of three seasons in all climate zones.

Climate zones of MaliClimate zones of MaliPhoto: Public domain

The rainy season runs from June to September, which is particularly noticeable in the far south. There is an average of 1200 mm of rain. The humidity rises to 100% during this period. Further north, the amount of precipitation decreases sharply and the rainy season is also becoming shorter. In the capital Bamako there is about 1000 mm per year and north of the line Mopti-Timbuktu-Gao falls on average less than 200 mm per year. During this period it is often very hot in Mali. The maximum temperature is then between 30 and 35°C in Bamako and between 35 and 40°C in Timbuktu. In the Sahel zone, falls between 300 and 600 mm per year. However, these amounts can vary greatly from year to year.

Harmattan, MaliHarmattan, MaliPhoto: Velio Coviello CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

After the rainy season follows the Malian "winter", as the Malians call it themselves. This period lasts from October to February and especially in the north it is noticeably cooler with "only" 30 to 35°C. At night it can even cool down to around freezing in the north. In December, January and February there is not a drop of rain in Mali.

The period from March to May is the warm season with temperatures in Bamako reaching 40°C and in Timbuktu up to 45°C. The Malian Sahara is home to some of the hottest areas in the world, with temperatures above 50°C. The town of Kayes in Western Mali has the dubious distinction of being the hottest city in Africa, with temperatures regularly exceeding 40°C.

Especially when the scorching desert wind, the "harmattan", blows from the northeast, it is hard to bear outside. In addition, these winds are accompanied by dust storms that can shut down public life altogether. The harmattan mainly blows from December to March.

Plants and Animals


The three vegetation zones are highly dependent on the three climate zones. The south is covered with savannas and riverside forests. The savanna landscape or "bush" consists mainly of shrubs and low trees, to the north of grass and shrubs. The further south you go, the more varied the vegetation becomes. Cailcedra and nitta trees, shea butter trees and mango trees can be found in this part of the country

Baobab in MaliBaobab in MaliPhoto: H Grobe CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

The Sahel zone generally has a steppe vegetation with grasses and shrubs and trees that can withstand drought well, such as acacias, cram-cram and monkey bread or baobabs. The baobab can reach a height of fifteen meters and has a huge, plump trunk. Boabab comes from the Arabic "bu hibab" which means "fruit with many seeds". The northern Sahel has many open spaces and some thorny scrub.

The Sahara is largely bare with only some vegetation in the southern part. It is estimated that 25% of Mali is covered with pastureland, 7% is covered with forest and 2% is agricultural area. The rest of the ground is fallow.


Catfish, MaliCatfish, MaliPhoto:Stan Shebs CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

The animal world of Mali does not have much to offer the tourist anymore. Big game in particular is under severe threat from increasing drought and the advancing desert. The people have taken all the places where water can still be found. In addition, the locals hunt practically anything that moves. Furthermore, there are only a few nature reserves where the animals can feel relatively safe. The most wild is therefore found in the west and south of the country. Mali is more known for its large numbers of cattle, sheep and goats. The two main bovine species are zebu and taurines. The zebu is found throughout the Sahel and is also used for work. The taurine is a bull-like bovine and is more common in the south and on the savannas. The Sahel sheep and the Guinea goat are kept for the meat, Macina sheep for the wool and the Sahel goat is a good milk producer. The camel is of course a familiar sight in the desert areas.

When it comes to birds, you can still indulge yourself in Mali. There are hundreds of species in Mali (ca. 650), especially along the Niger, but also in the northern Timbuktu. In the rivers and lakes of Mali there are about 200 species of fish, including the delicious "capitaine" and also carp, dogfish, and various types of catfish.


Baboon, MaliBaboon, MaliPhoto: Charles James Sharp CC 4.0 International no changes made

The Parc National de la Boucle du Baoulé is located northwest of the capital Bamako. The best time to visit that park is from mid-October to December. In the rainy season the park is virtually impassable and from January the area is ravaged by savanna fires. There is a reasonable chance to see warthogs, pygmy antelopes, baboons, green meerkats and hussar monkeys in this park. Only residual populations of desert antelopes such as algazel and addax can be found.

The Réservé des éléphants du Gouma is located on the road from Gao to Mopti. Small herds of elephants can be seen here from November to March. Outside the parks, mongooses and hyraxes can be found in rocky areas, and occasionally divers, klipspringers, foxes and jackals.

Hippos, crocodiles and Nile monitor lizards live in the Niger Delta. Throughout Mali you almost stumble over the lizards and in the evening many toads appear.


Black Kite, MaliBlack Kite, MaliPhoto: Charles James Sharp CC 4.0 International no changes made

The black kite is the most common bird of prey in Mali. The European variant occurs as a migratory bird. The African fish-hunting eagle is not so common anymore. The little gray kite is mainly found in the Office du Niger. The hooded vulture finds its carrion both along the Niger and in drier areas, but can also be found near slaughterhouses. The Shield Raven is also a scavenger. Waders come and go along the Niger. Storks are mainly migratory birds that rest for a while in the Niger Delta. The Abdim stork lives in the drier areas. The black ibis is not really black, but brown to ocher. Heron species are plentiful: purple herons, blue herons, black-headed herons, cow herons and egrets. Special is the hammerhead, which builds huge nests of up to 1.5 meters in diameter.

Smaller waders are the lily carpet, the spur lapwing, the Senegalese curlew and the water curlew. The only common duck-like in Mali is the spur-winged goose. The pied kingfisher, malachite kingfisher and rare Senegal kingfisher are mainly found in the Niger delta and the Senegal with its tributaries where they hunt for fish. The African snake-neck bird also hunts for fish.

Red-throated bee-eater, MaliRed-throated bee-eater, MaliPhoto: Francesco Veronesi CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

The bee-eaters are beautiful and colorful. Most common is the dwarf bee-eater, the red-throated bee-eater can mainly be seen in Western Mali, the carmine bee-eater in the south of Mali and we also have the small green bee-eater. Turacos include Senegalese spur cuckoo, violet turaco, pied peasant, ring-necked parakeet and gray banana-eater.

Hornbills are notable for their huge downward curled beak. They mainly live in the trees; some species are the gray tok and the red-billed tuft. The different pigeon species mainly live in the cities and villages, because that is where the most food can be found. Well-known apparitions are the weeping dove, the palm dove and the large speckled pigeon. The noisy Green-tailed Glossy Starling and the Green Long-tailed Glossy Starling are also mainly observed in villages and towns. There are also 116 types of weavers who weave beautiful nests. Each species has its own architectural style. Some types of weaver are the Napoleon weaver, the large textor weaver, the white-billed buffalo weaver and the grenadier weaver.

Fire finch, MaliFire finch, MaliPhoto: Alandmanso CC 4.0 International no changes made

One of the most striking birds of Mali is the Malian fire finch. The male is burgundy with a brown beak while the female is brown with a burgundy beak. It is also Mali's only native bird.


Kingdom of Ghana and Islam

Map of the Kingdom of GhanaMap of the Kingdom of GhanaPhoto: Barada-nikto CC 4.0 International no changes made

Between the 5th and 8th century, the kingdom of Ghana arose in West Africa, not to be confused with the modern state of Ghana. Present-day Southern Mauritania and Western Mali was the area of that kingdom founded by the Soninké. This population group still lives in this area. They were arable farmers and the rulers of this people made a lot of money from controlling the salt and gold trade in their area. In the 8th and 9th centuries, the Arabs interfered with the Sahara trade and founded important trading cities like Sijilmasa in southern Morocco. The Tuareg caused Islam to spread throughout the Sahel region.

The then capital of Ghana, Kumbi-Saleh, soon consisted of two parts, an Islamic part and a traditional African part. In the 11th century the social upper class of the Soninké turned to Islam. The common people remained loyal to traditional religions. The northern part of the empire was lost to the Almoravids. Initially, Ghana recovered from this, but the kingdom fell into decline in the 12th century as it lost its monopoly position.

New trade routes no longer ran through their territory, the climate became drier and arable farming was no longer possible due to overgrazing.

Kingdom of Mali

Mansa Musa, ruler of the kingdom of MaliMansa Musa, ruler of the kingdom of MaliPhoto: HistoryNmoor CC 4.0 International no changes made

In the 13th century, the empire of Mali was founded, spread across present-day Senegal, southern Mauritania, northeastern Guinea and Mali, without the northern desert area. The empire was founded by Sundjata Keïta, who built the capital Niana on the Niger River. The good agricultural opportunities were fully exploited here. Rice, millet and sorghum were grown along the rivers Gambia and Niger. The gold trade was also important to Mali, because it was found on the upper reaches of the Niger, in the empire itself.

The most important peoples were the Soninké and the Malinké, the actual power was with the latter. Sundjata Keïta's successors were Muslims and the most famous was Mansa Musa. On his pilgrimage to Mecca he marketed so much gold on the way in Cairo that the world gold price collapsed. Mansa Musa was succeeded by his brother Mansa Sulayman, after which the empire quickly fell into disrepair with court intrigues and a series of weak kings. The empire was invaded by the Tuareg from the north and the Mossi from the south.

Kingdom of Songhai

Kingdom of Sohghai, MaliKingdom of Sohghai, MaliPhoto: Roke CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

The third great kingdom in West Africa was Songhai. The Songhai lived south of Gao along the Niger. They traded food for salt and fabrics with Muslim merchants. It was therefore not surprising that all Songhai leaders had already converted to Islam in the 11th century. The original capital, Kukiya, was replaced by Gao, which was incorporated into the kingdom of Mali in the 14th century. Only the area south of Gao remained Songhai area. In the 15th century, Mali fell into disrepair and was overrun by King Sonni Sulayman Dandi and his successor Sonni Ali.

In 1468 Timbuktu (Toumbouctou) was conquered from the Tuareg and the salt mines of Taghaza, deep in the Sahara, also became part of the new empire. Under Muhammed Touré, a period of economic and cultural flourishing followed. The trade and control of the gold and salt trade and the proceeds from agriculture and fishing provided the economic boom. An example of cultural prosperity was the Sankoré mosque or university where tens of thousands of students studied Islam, medicine and law. The gold and salt trade across the Sahara was also controlled by Timbuktu.

Portuguese and the End of the Great Kingdoms

Jewelery Peul, MaliJewelery Peul, MaliPhoto: Tropenmuseum CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

Competition from the Portuguese and empires in Central Africa over the gold trade started the Songhai's decline. The Portuguese built Fort Elmina in present-day Ghana and from there bypassed the middlemen, to which Songhai owed a large part of its prosperity. Songhai's army was also too small and too weak to stop especially the Moroccans led by Ahmed el Mansour. In 1591 the Songhai lost the battle of Tondibi.

This brought an end to the great kingdoms of West Africa. However, attention from Morocco diminished soon after El Mansour's death as a result of the guerilla war with the Songhai and the constantly invading nomadic peoples such as the Peul and the Tuareg. However, the Moroccans who stayed behind took matters into their own hands, married Songhai women and called themselves "Arma". In 1737 Timbuktu was conquered by the Tuareg and the rule of the Arma was over. Several empires arose along the Niger, of which Ségou, was the most important.

The history of the interior of West Africa is the story of the Peul. These nomads let their herds graze on unused agricultural land. A shortage of meadows and paying too much tax caused widespread resistance from the Peul. A wave of jihads (holy wars of conversion) followed, after which various Islamic states were founded, including the state of Masina in 1818, with Djenné as its capital. After another jihad in 1852, Mazina was absorbed into the empire of Tukulor, which was led by al Hajj 'Umar.

French Colony

South of Tukulor was the empire of the Mandinka tribe led by the very powerful Samori Touré. These two empires were the last empires in West Africa. Their leaders, Ahmadu Seku son of Umar and Samori Touré, were France's main adversaries in the colonization of the western Sahel. The colonization of Africa was far behind compared to, among others, South America, Asia and Australia due to a lack of interest. The Europeans only had some colonies and trading establishments on the coast and the Africans controlled the interior.

Around 1880, the Turks of the Ottoman Empire were the most important rulers in Africa. The area they controlled corresponded to present-day Egypt, North Sudan, North Libya and Tunisia. Other colonizers were the British (South Africa), Portugal (Mozambique and Angola), and France (Northern Algeria and Gabon). In West Africa the areas controlled by Europeans were even smaller, with Portugal (Portuguese Guinea), France (part of Senegal), Great Britain (Sierra Leone, Gold Coast = Ghana, Southern Nigeria) and the Gambia basin.

Colonial AfricaColonial AfricaPhoto: Whiplashoo21 CC 4.0 International no changes made

From 1880 to 1900, Africa was almost completely occupied by the European superpowers and divided during negotiations, the "scramble for Africa". Great Britain focused on the South Africa-Egypt axis and France on Northwest and West Africa. A combination of factors caused this sudden attention to the African continent. Great Britain's crumbling world supremacy was important. They faced increasing competition from traditional opposites such as France and Germany, but also from the upcoming gigantic trade power United States.

Furthermore, there were many raw materials available in Africa that the industrial superpowers in Europe desperately needed. The gold and diamonds found in southern Africa also created a great attraction. Tropical diseases were better controlled, including malaria through the discovery of quinine. And the fact that the French colonized the Sahel and the western part of the Sahara was also simply because they were afraid that the British would get ahead of them. The French had been present in West Africa since 1658 through a trading post on an island in the mouth of the Senegal River. Due to the slave trade and tribal wars, the French territory expanded inland along the shores of the Senegal.

At the time, Dakar was the main city on the west coast of Africa. Under Governor Louis Faidherbe, interests in West Africa increased from 1854 onwards. Under his rule, the first fort on Malian territory was built in 1855 near Kayes on the Senegal: fort Médine.

In 1876 Brière de l'Isle became governor of Senegal. He wanted to build a railway between Dakar and the Niger River, in order to bring trade from the western Sahel to Senegal. In 1880, the French made a treaty with Tukulor leader Ahmadu Seku and in return they were granted trade rights. However, the French ignored the treaty and in 1883, under the leadership of Colonel Borgnis-Desbordes, took the then still insignificant Bamako and built a fort there.

Mali, French fort Bamako from 1883Mali, French fort Bamako from 1883Photo :Edouard Riou in the public domain

Ultimately, Bamako would become the capital of the state of Mali. In 1890, Ségou, the Tukulor capital, was conquered, but three years later the Tukulor were finally defeated. The next opponents of the French were the Mandinka and the Tuareg. In 1889 the Mandinka stronghold of Sikasso was taken and in 1894 the Tuareg city of Timbuktu was taken. The southwestern part of the Sahara was controlled by the famous camel riders of the French army, the Méharistes. After this, the track between Dakar and the Niger River was constructed and fully commissioned in 1904. In 1908, the administration of the French colony of Haute-Sénégal et Niger was installed in Bamako.

In 1920, French administration was again reorganized and divided into two large colonies: French Equatorial Africa, administered from Brazzaville, and French West Africa, administered from Dakar. French West Africa consisted of eight sub-colonies, of which Mali, then still called Soudan, was one. The borders that Soudan then got are still the borders of the current state of Mali. The local peoples were thus divided over three colonies. Economically, however, there was not much more to be obtained for France, even if, for example, they tried to revive cotton cultivation. Due to poor soil, salinization and reluctant local population, this project (Office du Niger) failed. As a result, France more or less abandoned Soudan, with the result that many Malians went to the coast to find work on the plantations or to countries such as Senegal and Ivory Coast.

Mali independant

Flag of the Mali Federation 1858-1961Flag of the Mali Federation 1858-1961Photo: Public domain

After the Second World War, independence movements sprang up all over the African continent, including Soudan. One powerful party emerged, the Union Soudanaise / Rassemblement Démocratique Africain, headed by Modibo Keïta, who became head of the Soudanese government in 1956. Soudan was then given limited autonomy. In 1958, further autonomy followed under the umbrella of the French Commonwealth, the Communauté Française. Various West African countries then wanted to form a federation. However, this collaboration barely got off the ground. Countries such as Ivory Coast, Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso) and Dahomey (now Benin) soon withdrew. Soudan and Senegal remained, which formed the Mali Federation in 1959, named after the 13th and 14th century empire. This alliance, too, did not last long because the ideas of leaders Leopold Senghor and Modibu Keita diverged too far. Senghor wanted to maintain close ties with France while Keita wanted to be completely independent. Senegal then left the federation and Soudan became the independent state of Mali (First Republic) on September 22, 1960. All this happened without bloodshed, unlike the wars of independence in, for example, North Africa. The little importance that France has in this region was thus clear. As an economic model, Keita chose a socialist plan economy with an emphasis on state-owned companies. In 1962, Mali left the monetary union of the CFA franc with major consequences. The own Malian franc was very much subject to inflation, which left Mali in financial isolation. There was also no train traffic between Senegal and Mali for three years. All these circumstances drove Mali into the hands of the Soviet Union, also because the West saw little in the economic and political course of Keita. However, everything failed and politics also went badly. The ruling US / RDA basically ran Mali as a one-party state and not everyone was happy about that. In 1963, an uprising broke out among the Tuareg of Eastern Mali. They wanted their own state, Azaouad, together with the Tuareg of Niger and Algeria. The revolt was crushed by the Malian army.

Coups and ultimately democracy

Moussa Traoré, MaliMoussa Traoré, MaliPhoto: Bogaerts, Rob / Anefo CC 3.0 Netherlands no changes made

On November 19, 1968, an army coup d'état (Military Committee of National Liberation) led by the young lieutenant Moussa Traoré. From that time on, Mali was governed by the Comité Militaire du Libération Nationale. Although ties with France were restored, the economy continued to suffer, especially after the disastrous drought that hit the Sahel in the early 1970s. In fact, Mali was now totally dependent on foreign aid. In 1974 Traoré made Mali a one-party state again under the leadership of the Union Démocratique du Peuple Malien (Second Republic). The UDPM was founded in 1979 and the civil administration returned. Besides the UDPM, political parties were prohibited. Traoré was elected president. He united the offices of president and head of government and conducted authoritarian rule during the 1980s and under this dictatorship corruption was rampant.

In 1974 Mali rejoined the monetary union of the CFA franc, but so far little or nothing changed politically and economically. In 1990 and 1991 various riots broke out again in Northern Mali, again due to the Tuareg (Azawad uprising) and a student riot in Bamako that were bloodily crushed with more than a hundred deaths as a sad result. Led by Lieutenant Colonel Amadou Toumani Touré, the military staged another coup in March 1991. A new constitution was drafted and a parliamentary democracy established. The Third Republic was born.

This was followed in 1992 under interim president Touré, which were won by a large majority by the Alliance pour la Démocratie au Mali (ADEMA).

Alpha Oumar Konaré, MaliAlpha Oumar Konaré, MaliPhoto: Antonio Cruz/ABr CCn 3.0 Brazil no changes made

ADEMA's foreman, Alpha Oumar Konaré became president, but faced the almost impossible task of saving the poverty-stricken country from destruction. The infant mortality rate was the highest in the world, life expectancy was below 50 years and 75% of the population was illiterate. Due to the transition to a democratic system, Mali did receive a lot of help from donor countries that made large investments in infrastructure, among other things. Mali also switched to a partial market economy so that it became more attractive for foreigners to invest in Mali. At the moment, economic growth is above the African average. For 'first degree murder' in riots in March 1991, ex-president Traoré and three others were sentenced to death on February 12, 1993. This death sentence was upheld on appeal in January 1999, but commuted to life in September.

The Tuareg are still a problem. In 1990, a kind of civil war broke out between the Tuareg and the Malian army. The Tuareg had lost almost all their livestock to the drought, the caravan trade was little more and the promised aid was not forthcoming. The desire for a state of its own still played a role. In 1992, Konaré made an agreement with the rebels that was ignored by a group, and attacks on civilian targets soon followed, which were answered in a bloody way by the Peul and the Songhai. In June 1995, the Arab-Islamic Front (FIAA) of Azaouad, the only remaining Tuareg group to engage in armed resistance, announced a unilateral ceasefire. In early 1996 the peace process between the government and the Tuareg rebels was completed. The Tuareg uprising has claimed the lives of at least 50,000 people since 1990.

Parliament elections were held twice more under Konaré. The first, in April 1997, was canceled by the Constitutional Court and the second, in July 1997, was boycotted by the opposition. The support of the opposition party Mouvement Patriotique pour le Renouveau (MPR) led by Choguel Maïga increased. This party is a continuation of that of former dictator Moussa Traoré. President Konaré announced in November 1999 that he would not run for the third time in the 2002 presidential election.

21st century

Amadou Touré , MaliAmadou Touré , MaliPhoto: Antonio Cruz/ABr CC 2.5 Brazil no changes made

In 2002 the former Malian dictator Moussa Traoré was granted amnesty by President Konaré. Konaré said in a statement that Traoré and his wife Mariam would be released for humanitarian reasons.

Both presidential and parliamentary elections will take place in 2007, in April and July 2007 respectively. Touré is expected to win them. His main challengers will be Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (Rassemblement pour le Mali (RPM) and a candidate of the Alliance pour la democracy au Mali (Adema). Key themes in Touré's election campaign will be to regain the confidence of the population in his poverty reduction policy, removing the unrest among students, privatization and agricultural prices In April 2007 Touré wins the presidential election and in July 2007 his party also wins the parliamentary elections In May 2008 there are riots with Tuareg fighters, in February 2009 the army declares most Tuareg base camps Due to security risks, the annual music festival will be held in a different location in January 2010. Army officers deposed Touré in March 2012 for being unable to deal with the rebels.In April 2012, the Tuareg conquer Northern Mali and declare independence The military hand over power back to a civilian government ge lead by Dioncounda Traore. It remains very restless throughout the year. The Tuaregs are supported by Islamic extremists.

Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, MaliIbrahim Boubacar Keita, MaliPhoto: Claude TRUONG-NGOC CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

In January 2013, France intervenes in Mali at the request of President Traore. The French troops recapture Gao and Timbuktu. In June, a treaty will be concluded with the Tuaregs. In August 2013, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita wins the presidential election. In the parliamentary elections in December 2013, supporters of the president won the most seats. In 2014 the UN will send a peacekeeping force to Mali. In April 2014, President Keita appointed his former rival Moussa Mara prime minister. In May 2014, after a fragile file, fighting broke out again with fights with Tuaregs. In 2015 and 2016 there has been a lot of unrest and there have been many attacks by Islamists, including that of November 2015 on the luxurious Radison hotel in Bamako. In August 2016, more than a hundred UN soldiers have been killed since the start of the mission, including Dutch people. In April 2017, President Keita appointed a new government with his ally Bdoulaye Idrissa Maiga as prime minister. President Keita will be re-elected in July 2018. Jihadist violence continues to ravage the north and east of the country. In August 2020 there will be a military coup, after months of protests by the population, and Keita has to leave the field. In September 2020, former army officer Bah Ndaw will form a transitional government.


Malians visit the market in Bamako, MaliMalians visit the market in Bamako, MaliPhoto: Carolinerre CC 4.0 International no changes made

Mali has 17,885,145 inhabitants. (2017) This means that approximately 14.4 inhabitants live per km2. Furthermore, for economic reasons, more than three million Malians live in Ivory Coast, France and other neighboring countries of Mali. 42% of the population lives in cities, the rest in rural areas. Almost 30% of the population lives in the humid, fertile south (Niger river basin). This percentage increases due to the migration from the countryside to the city, a migration mainly caused by the persistent drought, which affected the country in the 1980s. The largest and most important city is the capital Bamako with more than 1 million inhabitants. The entire agglomeration of Bamako has approximately 2.4 million inhabitants. Much smaller are cities such as Ségou, Mopti, Sikasso, Gao, Kayes, San and Koutiala. The countryside in the north is virtually unpopulated. Most people live in the south and along the Niger. Population growth has been around 3 percent in recent years (2017: 3.02%). The birth rate was 43.9 per 1000 inhabitants in 2017, the death rate was 9.8. Mali has a very young population. The percentage of inhabitants between 0-14 years was 48.2% in 2017, between 15-64 years 48.8% and 65+ 3%. The average age is low. Life expectancy for men is 58.2 years and 62.5 years for women. Per 1000 live births, approximately 70 children die before their first birthday, which is one of the highest figures in the world.

An overview of the main population groups:

Bambara ritual dance, MaliBambara ritual dance, MaliPhoto: TRIP DOWN MEMORY LANE CC 4.0 no changes made

The Bambara are the largest population group in Mali. Mainly as arable farmers they live in Central and Southern Mali, where the largest cities of Bamako and Ségou are also located. The Malinké (600,000) and the Soninké or Marka (750,000) live in Western Mali and are closely related to the Bambara. The Bambara, Soninké and Malinké are together also called Mandé or Manding. These peoples were the founders of the great West African empires. At the moment, they dominate politics and the economy by their sheer numbers. The Bambara are moderate Muslims, quite modern and as a result many old customs and rituals have been lost. Only much of the early music remains. These musicians are called griots or jali's and are still highly regarded today.

The Bozo are probably the oldest people in Mali. They are a people of fishermen and boat builders. They generally live in small elongated villages along the Niger. A brother people of the Bozo are the Somono.

Girl in traditional Peul clothes, MaliGirl in traditional Peul clothes, MaliPhoto: Rgaudin in the public domain

The Peul are also called Fula, Fulani and Fulbe. These livestock keepers live in large parts of West Africa and in Mali in and around the Niger Delta. From the eighteenth century onwards, this people was oppressed by the agricultural activities of other nations and by the high taxes. They fiercely oppose this through jihads (holy wars). They then founded Islamic states, including Masina with Djenné as its capital. In December, the Peul with tens of thousands of head of cattle cross the Niger from the north bank to the south bank.

The Songhai mainly live in East Mali (including Timbuktu, Gao, Hombori). Formerly fishermen and hippo hunters and now arable farmers. They mainly grow millet and sorghum and in the wet season also rice. Their culture is mainly determined by Islam.

Tuareg MaliTuareg MaliPhoto: H Grobe CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

The Tuareg live in the northern Malian desert area. They are the southernmost Berber people and mainly live in southern Algeria and northern Niger. They speak Tamasheq, a Berber language. They lead a nomadic life as pastoralists. The Tuareg are also Muslims, but with some deviating characteristics. For example, they are strictly monogamous and women play an important role. Furthermore, the men are veiled and the women are not. Due to the prolonged dry spells in the 1970s and 80s of the 20th century, they lost almost all their livestock. In the early 1990s, this led to a civil war between the Tuareg and the Malian government army.

The Moors are nomadic Arabs who travel through the Sahara and the Sahel with their livestock. Most Moors live in Mauritania and in Mali they live mainly along the Mauritanian border and around Timbuktu.

Dogon, Dance of the Masks, MaliDogon, Dance of the Masks, MaliPhoto: Fasokan CC 4.0 International no changes made

The Dogon are the most famous people of Mali. The influence of Islam and Christianity is virtually nil, so the Dogon can still maintain their traditional animist lifestyle. Initially they settled on the Niger, near present day Bamako. In the 15th century they were forced to leave by advancing Muslim peoples. They then settled along the Falaise de Bandiagara, a 200 kilometer long gorge wall in southeastern Mali. They are arable farmers and grow, among other things, millet, sorghum, tomatoes and onions. The onions are dried and then traded, the other products are for personal use. A typical Dogon product is "dolo", millet beer, which is even drunk by children. The Dogon also have livestock, which, however, is cared for by the Peul because the Dogon think that this is inferior work. The Dogon community is divided hierarchically into a number of social groups. The most important group are the farmers, followed by the blacksmiths, weavers and leather workers. There are no marriages between the different groups. The women who belong to these groups also have their own activities. The Dogon believe in one god, Amma, and know several sacred animals, such as the leopard, crocodile, and fox. One of the most important mysterious events in the Dogon's life is the circumcision of both boys and girls (clitoridectomy). This in Western eyes barbaric custom is maintained by almost all Malian population groups. Female circumcision has declined in the cities in recent years, partly due to protests from abroad. On many occasions there is dancing by the young men accompanied by singing men with drums. They all wear masks, often animal figures. The dancers on stilts are very special. The most important ritual is the "sigui". This ceremony takes place once every sixty years (next generation celebration is in 2025) and marks the beginning of a new generation. Determining the date is the position of a satellite of the star Sirius, Sirius B. All the customs, rituals and secrets of the Dogon are then passed on to the younger generation. A few smaller groups live in the south of the country, including Sénufo, Minianka, Bobo and Mossi.


The official language in Mali is French, which is spoken by only about 10% of the population. Of the various local languages, 40% of the population speaks Bambara (a Mande language) which is promoted as a national language by the government. Bambara is mainly spoken in the central part of Southern Mali. A number of Bambara dialects are Somono, Nyamasa, Masasi, Kalongo and Dyangirte.

In Western Mali Malinké and Soninké, related to Bambara, are spoken. Other important languages in Mali are Sénoufo in the Sikasso region, Peul in the Mopti region, Bozo along the Niger, Dogon in the Pays Dogon region (the Dogon use more than 40 dialects), Songhai in the Timbuktu region and Gao, the Tamasheq in the eastern part of the Malian Sahara, and the Arabic in the western part of the Malian Sahara.

Arabic speaking part of MaliArabic speaking part of MaliPhoto: Mapeh CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

The Ambara alphabet is a mixture of the French alphabet and the International Phonetic Alphabet, designed by Paul Dassy and Daniel Jones between 1886 and 1900. The Bambara has relatively easy grammar, but it has thousands of proverbs and expressions.

Some Bambara words and phrases:


It is estimated that 80% of the population consists of Muslims. The black population in the south is mostly animist. (approx. 18% of the population). However, a clear distinction between the different beliefs is difficult to make because a multitude of hybrid forms can be distinguished between Islam and animism. The blending of Islam with traditional African religions is largely due to the spread of Islam in the Sahel. This history continues to this day.

Mali, great mosque of DjenneMali, great mosque of DjennPhoto: Ralf Steiberger (CC BY 2.0) no changes made

Islam in Mali is less strict than in North Africa and Asia. Veils do not have to be worn by the women and drinking alcohol is quite common. Only the Tuareg and the Moors adhere quite strictly to traditional Islam customs. However, the Tuareg deviate from this due to the fact that they are monogamous.

The "marabouts" are very important persons who actually stand between the people and Allah. They are a kind of holy men who are also involved in e.g. ritual healings and predict the future. These are also examples of a less strict Islamic doctrine.

Animist Altar in Bozo village in MaliAnimist Altar in Bozo village in MaliPhoto: Gilles Mairet CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

The animists can be found mainly with the Bambara, Malinké, Bobo, Songhai, Sénufo and Dogon. The name for God therefore varies a lot: Bambara-Maa, Songhai-Irké, Sénufo-Koulouikière and Dogon-Amma.

The Christians (Roman Catholics and Protestants) are a small minority (1.2%) and are mainly found among the Dogon and the Bobo. Yet in the somewhat larger towns and villages one usually finds a Catholic mission or a Protestant representation. However, these missions are especially important because of their economic and social activities.

Religious freedom has existed in Mali since 1961.


State structure

Assembly room of the Parliament of MaliAssembly room of the Parliament of MaliPhoto: Laurent Schaffer CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

Under the 1974 constitution, Mali was a one-party state. This constitution only came into effect in 1979 and was suspended again after the fall of the Traoré regime in 1991. In this system, the president was both head of state and government. In 1992, the third republic began with a new constitution and democratic elections were held for the first time. Since that time, Mali has been a multi-party state. Parliament elections are held every five years. 129 seats are available for the dozens of political parties. Thirteen of these are also intended for Malians abroad. More information about the current political situation can be found in the chapter history.

Administrative division

Districts of MaliDistricts of MaliPhoto: Public domain

Mali is divided into eight districts and the capital district of Bamako. The districts are Gao, Kayes, Kidal, Koulikoro, Mopti, Ségou, Sikasso and Timbuktu.


School class in MaliSchool class in MaliPhoto: RudolfSimon CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

Education is in a sad condition in Mali. In 1995, 60.6% of men were illiterate and 76.9% of women. Only about 25% of the children who should attend school actually go to school every day. Approx. 7% of the children who attend primary education then enter secondary education. In 1997/98 there were 2511 primary schools with 10,583 teachers and approximately 860,000 students. In the same school year, approximately 188,000 attended secondary education. Higher professional training can only be followed in Bamako. In November 1996 the first university in Mali opened its doors: the Lúniversité du Mali.



Bamako tailors, MaliBamako tailors, MaliPhoto: Ralf Stenberger CC 2.0 no changes moade

Mali is one of the poorest countries in the world. Per capita there is a GNP of no more than $ 2,200 per year (2017). Disappointing harvests and increases in oil prices have hit Mali's fragile economy very hard. The country had also not built up any reserves to absorb these blows.

The eighties were aimed at meeting their own food needs after a number of famines. This yielded little, but efforts are still being made to achieve this. They were even forced to import rice from Thailand.

Much of industrial production takes place in state-owned companies, but these companies suffer from losses, corruption and inefficiency. The government is trying to bring about economic reforms by privatizing state-owned companies, limiting public debt and cutting subsidies. They also try to tackle corruption. This is partly due to pressure from the International Monetary Fund and other foreign lenders. All these measures have transformed Mali's economy from a state-run to a mixed economy, although the government is still vigorously trying to steer the economy.

The Malians abroad (approx. 3 million) are of inestimable value to the economy. Because there is sometimes hardly any question of their own economy, whole areas of Mali are in fact dependent on remittances by family members abroad.

Agriculture, fishing, livestock and forestry

Vegetable gardens MaliVegetable gardens MaliPhoto: Freepius in the public domain

The basis of the Malian economy is still formed by agriculture, in which approx. 80% of the working population is active (2017). Most arable land is used to provide for its own food needs and it is mainly maize, rice, millet and sorghum that are grown for this. Millet and sorghum are important crops because they are resistant to drought. Important fruits are shea nuts and mangoes.

Cotton, sugar cane and groundnuts are grown for export. Cotton is currently the most important export product. The low wages in this labor-intensive branch of agriculture ensures low prices, which in turn are interesting for the exporting countries. Mali is currently the second largest cotton exporter in Africa after Egypt. Cotton, sugar cane and groundnuts are also processed in the local industries. The price for the purchase of agricultural products is set by the government. These prices are often much lower than in neighboring countries, resulting in quite a few smuggling practices.

Livestock farming is very important to the Malian economy, but it often suffers greatly from periods of persistent drought that regularly hit the country. It regularly happens that more than fifty percent of the cattle and sheep die. Live cattle exports are mainly focused on Ivory Coast, Liberia and Senegal.

Fishing on Mali's inland waters is also affected by the dry periods. Compared to a few years ago, the water level has declined structurally, leading to reduced catches.

Yet Mali is still the third largest fish producer in North and West Africa after Morocco and Senegal. The main fishing areas are the inland delta of the Niger and the lake area. Much of the catch is marketed in the form of smoked and dried fish on the domestic and foreign market. There are about 100,000 fishermen in Mali, concentrated around the Niger and Bani rivers. Most of the fishermen belong to the Bozo people.

The forests mainly provide firewood and timber for the traditional economy. Prolonged drought and irresponsible clearing of forests have resulted in a drastic decline in forestry resources and extensive soil erosion.

Mining and industry

Work on gold mine in MaliWork on gold mine in MaliPhoto: Iamgold CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

Mining is of little economic significance. A lack of technical knowledge and a good infrastructure means that the available mineral resources (especially iron ore) can hardly be exploited profitably. That is a shame because it has already been proven that Mali has reserves of uranium, bauxite, magnesium, lithium and copper. Salt is extracted in the north of the country and phosphate, lime and gold are also extracted on a small scale. Gold could become a major export commodity as a few international mining companies become involved in the exploitation.

The agro-industry is the most important for Mali, with the textile industry (cotton) in second place. These industries mainly focus on the processing of domestic raw materials. Poor harvests therefore have a direct negative impact on these industrial activities.

Energy supply

Energy is extracted from thermal power plants, but mainly from hydroelectric power plants. The production and distribution of the electricity is in the hands of the company Énergie du Mali. Energy is also still extracted from firewood. Due to extensive deforestation, other forms of energy supply are becoming increasingly important.

For example, the number of hydropower plants has not long ago expanded at the Selingué dam and one in the Bafing, a tributary of the Senegal. The intention of these investments is to ultimately provide for its own energy needs, but for the time being this is limited to the capital Bamako and Ségou. In addition to traditional forms of energy production, there is a desire to exploit solar energy economically. However, this modern way of energy production is not yet getting off the ground due to the high price of the imported solar panels.

Trade and development cooperation

Export MaliExport MaliPhoto: R Haussmann, Cesar Hidalgo, et. al CC 3.0 no changes made

The trade deficit has always been very large, but has become somewhat more favorable in recent years.

The main exports of Mali are cotton, groundnuts, livestock and fish. In the year 2017, $ 3 billion dollars were exported mainly to Switzerland and the Gulf countries. Imported are machines and equipment, petroleum products, foodstuffs and stimulants. In the year 2017, $ 3.6 billion was imported from Ivory Coast, France, Senegal and China in particular.


Timbuktu Airport in MaliTimbuktu Airport in MaliPhoto: Upyernoz CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

Three-quarters of passenger and goods traffic is done by road. The road network is 20,000 kilometers long, of which only just over 2500 kilometers is asphalted. The main road is that from the capital Bamako via Ségou and Mopte to Gao in Eastern Mali. Road connections with neighboring countries are generally very poor, sometimes no more than caravan tracks.

Since 1994, the main railway line has been that from Dakar in Senegal to Bamako. After Bamako, the railway continues for several tens of kilometers to the port city of Koulikoro. The north of Mali is hardly accessible.

The rivers Senegal and Niger are easily navigable at high tide, and the Niger in particular is Mali's main arterial road. It is then possible for the big Niger steamers to sail from Koulikoro to Gao. All important cities are therefore located on the Niger. In total, with favorable weather conditions and sufficient rainfall, approximately 1815 kilometers is navigable. The main port is Koulikoro.

There are international airports in Bamako-Segou and Mopti. The state-owned company Air Mali was disbanded in 1988 and Mali became a member of the Air Afrique group in 1992.

Holidays and Sightseeing

When visiting Mali, pay close attention to the security advice given by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Timbuktu, MaliTimbuktu, MaliPhoto: Mousssa NIAKATE CC 4.0 International no changes made

One of Mali's main tourist attractions is Timbuktu. This desert city has 15 mosques, one more impressive than the other and a wonderful collection of ancient writings in the Mama Haidara library. These writings were saved from the hands of the Islamists by the local population in early 2013 and were largely released with the help of donkeys. Timbuktu is the city of the Tuaregs, a traveling desert people who often pitch their camps just outside the city. They sell many authentic swords and jewelry.

Dogon village in MaliDogon village in MaliPhoto: Robin Elaine CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

The Dogon valley is another reason to visit Mali. The Dogon live in an area known as the Bandiagara Plateau, a sheer cliff face amidst a landscape of vast expanses of sand. It forms a fascinating landscape of rocks and sandy plateaus with a unique architecture (houses, granaries, altars, shrines and Togu Na, or communal meeting places). Several ancient social traditions live on in this region (masks, feasts, rituals and ceremonies including ancestor worship). Its geological, archaeological and ethnological importance, along with its landscape, make the Bandiagara plateau one of West Africa's most impressive sights.

Market in front of the great mosque of Djenné in MaliMarket in front of the great mosque of Djenné in MaliPhoto: Ferdinand Reus CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

Djenné is a place with only traditional buildings in the typical clay architecture style. The big attraction here is the great mosque of Djenné. It is the largest clay building in the world and has an area of 50 x 50 meters. This attraction was put on the World Heritage List by UNESCO in 1988.

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Te gast in Mali
Verre Reizen

Velton, R. / Mali

Vlugt, B. / Mali

Westen, G. van / Mali : mensen, politiek, economie, cultuur
Koninklijk Instituut voor de Tropen

CIA - World Factbook

BBC - Country Profiles

Last updated December 2021
Copyright: Team Landenweb