May 27, 2012, 6:43 pm
Source: CIA World Factbook
Content Cover Image

Bamako on the Niger River. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Mali is a landlocked nation of fourteen-and-a-half million people in western-Africa, southwest of Algeria and six other countries also border it. Its north is dominated by the Sahara Desert and is mostly flat to rolling plains covered by sand.

There is savanna in south where Mali include part of the belt of land extending across Africa called the Sahel and which in this part of the continent include the Niger River. There are rugged hills in the northeast.

Mali's major environmental issues include:


It is susceptible to a hot, dust-laden harmattan haze which is common during dry seasons; to recurring droughts; and, accasionally to Niger River flooding.

The Sudanese Republic and Senegal became independent of France in 1960 as the Mali Federation.

When Senegal withdrew after only a few months, what formerly made up the Sudanese Republic was renamed Mali.

Rule by dictatorship was brought to a close in 1991 by a military coup - led by the current president Amadou Toure - enabling Mali's emergence as one of the strongest democracies on the continent.

President Alpha Konare won Mali's first democratic presidential election in 1992 and was reelected in 1997.

In keeping with Mali's two-term constitutional limit, Konare stepped down in 2002 and was succeeded by Amadou Toure, who was subsequently elected to a second term in 2007. The elections were widely judged to be free and fair.

A military coup overthrew the government in March 2012, claiming that the government had not adequately supported the Malian army's fight against an advancing Tuareg-led rebellion in the north. Heavy international pressure has forced coup leaders to accelerate the transition back to democratic rule and, to that end, Dioncounda Traore was installed as interim president on 12 April.


Location: Western Africa, southwest of Algeria

Geographic Coordinates: 17 00 N, 4 00 W

Area: 1.24 million km2 (1.22 million km2 land and 20,000 km2 water)

arable land: 3.76%
permanent crops: 0.03%
other: 96.21% (2005) 

Land Boundaries: 7,243 km. Border countries: Algeria 1,376 km, Burkina Faso 1,000 km, Guinea 858 km, Cote d'Ivoire 532 km, Mauritania 2,237 km, Niger 821 km, Senegal 419 km

Coastline: 0 km (landlocked)

Maritime Claims: none (landlocked)

Natural Hazards: hot, dust-laden harmattan haze common during dry seasons; recurring droughts; occasional Niger River flooding

Terrain: Mostly flat to rolling northern plains covered by sand; savanna in south, rugged hills in northeast. Its lowest point is the Senegal River (23 metres) and its highest point is Hombori Tondo (1,155 metres).

Climate: Subtropical to arid; hot and dry (February to June); rainy, humid, and mild (June to November); cool and dry (November to February)

Topography of Mali. Source: Wikimedia Commons


Satellite view of Mali. Source: The Map Library

Ecology and Biodiversity

Source: World Wildlife Fund

  1. Sahara desert
  2. South Saharan steppe and woodlands
  3. West Saharan montane xeric woodlands
  4. Sahelian acacia savanna
  5. Inner Niger Delta flooded savanna
  6. West Sudanian savanna

See also:

People and Society

Population: 14,533,511 (July 2012 est.)

Mali's population consists of diverse sub-Saharan ethnic groups, sharing similar historic, cultural, and religious traditions. Exceptions are the Tuaregs and Maurs, desert nomads, related to the North African Berbers. Although each ethnic group speaks a separate language, nearly 80% of Malians communicate in Bambara, the common language of the marketplace. Historically, good interethnic relations throughout much of the country were facilitated by easy mobility on the Niger River and across the country's vast savannahs. Each ethnic group was traditionally tied to a specific occupation, all working within close proximity. The Bambara, Malinke, and Dogon are farmers; the Fulani, Maur, and Tuareg are herders; the Soninkes or Saracoles are traders; while the Bozo are fishers. In recent years, this linkage has shifted as ethnic groups seek diverse, nontraditional sources of income.

The Tuaregs have had a history of struggle since Mali’s independence in 1960. A series of rebellions, which were the result of a struggle for greater autonomy, to preserve traditional Tuareg ways of life, and to share in the benefits of a modernizing Malian state, led to clashes with the military from 1963 to 1964 and 1990 to 1996. Peace accords, signed in 1992, aimed to allow greater autonomy in the north and increase government resource allocation to the impoverished region. The peace agreement was celebrated in 1996 in Timbuktu during an official and highly publicized ceremony called Flamme de la Paix--peace flame. Since then, some Tuareg groups have criticized the government for failing to fully implement the terms of the agreement.

Ethnic groups: Mande 50% (Bambara, Malinke, Soninke), Peul 17%, Voltaic 12%, Songhai 6%, Tuareg and Moor 10%, other 5%

Age Structure:

0-14 years: 47.3% (male 3,372,717/female 3,325,188)
15-64 years: 49.7% (male 3,438,687/female 3,605,143)
65 years and over: 3% (male 199,862/female 218,307) (2011 est.)

Population Growth Rate: 2.613% (2012 est.)

Birth Rate: 45.15 births/1,000 population (2012 est.)

Death Rate: 13.94 deaths/1,000 population (July 2012 est.)

Net Migration Rate: -5.08 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2012 est.)

Life Expectancy at Birth: 53.06 years

male: 51.43 years
female: 54.73 years (2012 est.)

Total Fertility Rate: 6.35 children born/woman (2012 est.)

Languages: French (official), Bambara 80%, numerous African languages

Literacy (2003 est.): 46.4% (male: 53.5% - female: 39.6%)

Urbanization: 36% of total population (2010) growing at a 4.4% annual rate of change (2010-15 est.)


Malians express great pride in their ancestry and pride themselves on a long history of peaceful coexistence among ethnic groups. Mali is the cultural heir to the succession of ancient African empires--Ghana, Malinke, and Songhai--that occupied the West African savannah. These empires controlled Saharan trade and were in touch with Mediterranean and Middle Eastern centers of civilization.

The Ghana Empire, dominated by the Soninke or Saracole people and centered in the area along the Malian-Mauritanian frontier, was a powerful trading state from about A.D. 700 to 1075. The Malinke Kingdom of Mali had its origins on the upper Niger River in the 11th century. Expanding rapidly in the 13th century under the leadership of Soundiata Keita, it reached its height about 1325, when it conquered Timbuktu and Gao. Thereafter, the kingdom began to decline, and by the 15th century, it controlled only a small fraction of its former domain.

The Songhai Empire expanded its power from its center in Gao during the period 1465-1530. At its peak under Askia Mohammad I, it encompassed the Hausa states as far as Kano (in present-day Nigeria) and much of the territory that had belonged to the Mali Empire in the west. It was destroyed by a Moroccan invasion in 1591. Timbuktu was a center of commerce and of the Islamic faith throughout this period, and priceless manuscripts from this epoch are still preserved in Timbuktu. The United States and other donors are making efforts to help preserve these priceless manuscripts as part of Mali's cultural heritage.

French military penetration of the Soudan (the French name for the area) began around 1880. Ten years later, the French made a concerted effort to occupy the interior. The timing and resident military governors determined methods of their advances. A French civilian governor of Soudan was appointed in 1893, but resistance to French control did not end until 1898, when the Malinke warrior Samory Toure was defeated after 7 years of war. The French attempted to rule indirectly, but in many areas they disregarded traditional authorities and governed through appointed chiefs. As the colony of French Soudan, Mali was administered with other French colonial territories as the Federation of French West Africa.

In 1956, with the passing of France's Fundamental Law (Loi Cadre), the Territorial Assembly obtained extensive powers over internal affairs and was permitted to form a cabinet with executive authority over matters within the Assembly's competence. After the 1958 French constitutional referendum, the Republique Soudanaise became a member of the French Community and enjoyed complete internal autonomy.

In January 1959, Soudan joined Senegal to form the Mali Federation, which became fully independent within the French Community on June 20, 1960. The federation collapsed on August 20, 1960, when Senegal seceded. On September 22, Soudan proclaimed itself the Republic of Mali and withdrew from the French Community.

President Modibo Keita--whose party Union Soudanaise du Rassemblement Democratique Africain (US/RDA) had dominated preindependence politics--moved quickly to declare a single-party state and to pursue a socialist policy based on extensive nationalization. A continuously deteriorating economy led to a decision to rejoin the Franc Zone in 1967 and modify some of the economic excesses.

On November 19, 1968, a group of young officers staged a bloodless coup and set up a 14-member Military Committee for National Liberation (CMLN), with Lt. Moussa Traore as President. The military leaders attempted to pursue economic reforms but for several years faced debilitating internal political struggles and the disastrous Sahelian drought.

A new constitution, approved in 1974, created a one-party state and was designed to move Mali toward civilian rule. However, the military leaders remained in power. In September 1976, a new political party was established, the Democratic Union of the Malian People (UDPM), based on the concept of democratic centralism. Single-party presidential and legislative elections were held in June 1979, and Gen. Moussa Traore received 99% of the votes. His efforts at consolidating the single-party government were challenged in 1980 by student-led, anti-government demonstrations, which were brutally put down, and by three coup attempts.

The political situation stabilized during 1981 and 1982 and remained generally calm throughout the 1980s. The UDPM spread its structure to cercles and arrondissements (administrative subdivisions) across the land. Shifting its attention to Mali's economic difficulties, the government approved plans for cereal marketing liberalization, reform in the state enterprise system, and new incentives to private enterprise, and worked out a new structural adjustment agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). However, by 1990, there was growing dissatisfaction with the demands for austerity imposed by the IMF's economic reform programs and the perception that the President and his close associates were not themselves adhering to those demands.

As in other African countries, demands for multiparty democracy increased. The Traore government allowed some opening of the system, including the establishment of an independent press and independent political associations, but insisted that Mali was not ready for democracy. In early 1991, student-led, anti-government rioting broke out again, but this time government workers and others supported it. On March 26, 1991, after 4 days of intense anti-government rioting, a group of 17 military officers arrested President Traore and suspended the constitution. Within days, these officers joined with the Coordinating Committee of Democratic Associations to form a predominantly civilian, 25-member ruling body, the Transitional Committee for the Salvation of the People (CTSP). The CTSP then appointed a civilian-led government. A national conference held in August 1991 produced a draft constitution (approved in a referendum January 12, 1992), a charter for political parties, and an electoral code. Political parties were allowed to form freely. Between January and April 1992, a president, National Assembly, and municipal councils were elected. On June 8, 1992, Alpha Oumar Konare, the candidate of the Alliance for Democracy in Mali (ADEMA), was inaugurated as the President of Mali's Third Republic.

In 1997, attempts to renew national institutions through democratic elections ran into administrative difficulties, resulting in a court-ordered annulment of the legislative elections held in April 1997. The exercise, nonetheless, demonstrated the overwhelming strength of President Konare's ADEMA Party, causing some other historic parties to boycott subsequent elections. President Konare won the presidential election against scant opposition on May 11. In the two-round legislative elections conducted on July 21 and August 3, 1997, ADEMA secured more than 80% of the National Assembly seats.

General elections were organized in June and July 2002. President Konare did not seek reelection since he was serving his second and last term as required by the constitution. All political parties participated in the elections. In preparation for the elections, the government completed a new voter's list after a general census was administered a few months earlier with the support of all political parties. Retired General Amadou Toumani Toure, former head of state during Mali's transition (1991-1992) became the country's second democratically elected President as an independent candidate in 2002, and was reelected to a second 5-year term in 2007. The next round of presidential elections is scheduled for April 2012.


Government type: Republic

Under Mali's 1992 constitution, the president is chief of state and commander in chief of the armed forces. The president is elected to a 5-year term, with a limit of two terms. The president appoints the prime minister as head of government. The president chairs the Council of Ministers (the prime minister and currently 28 other ministers, including 5 women), which adopts proposals for laws submitted to the National Assembly for approval.

The National Assembly is the sole legislative arm of the government. It currently consists of 147 members. Representation is apportioned according to the population of administrative districts. Election is direct and by party or independent list. The term of office is 5 years. The Assembly meets for two regular sessions each year. It debates and votes on legislation proposed either by one of its members or by the government and has the right to question government ministers about government actions and policies. Sixteen political parties, aggregated into five parliamentary groups, are represented in the Assembly. In legislative elections held in July 2007, the ADEMA Party regained the majority it lost in 2002, winning 51 seats, ahead of another party aligned with President Toure, the Union for Republic and Democracy (URD), which won 36. The former majority party at the National Assembly, the Rassemblement Pour le Mali (RPM) of former Prime Minister Ibrahim B. Keita, won 11 seats. Other than the RPM, President Toure has the support of most of the political parties represented in the National Assembly.

Mali's constitution provides for a multiparty democracy, with the only restriction being a prohibition against parties based on ethnic, religious, regional, or gender lines. In addition to those political parties represented in the National Assembly, others are active in municipal councils.

Capital: Bamako - 1.628 million (2009)

Administrative Divisions:
Administratively, Mali is divided into eight regions and the capital district of Bamako, each under the authority of an appointed governor. Each region consists of five to nine districts (or cercles), administered by prefets (commandants). Cercles are divided into communes, which, in turn, are divided into villages or quarters. Since independence, successive governments have shown varying levels of commitment to a process of decentralization, whereby local governments would have greater control over resource allocation. Under the current administration, this process is ongoing, with the establishment of 702 elected municipal councils, headed by elected mayors. Election of local officials took place; greater local control over finances and the reduction of administrative control by the central government are being implemented.

8 regions (regions, singular - region), 1 district*; District de Bamako*,

  1. Gao,
  2. Kayes,
  3. Kidal,
  4. Koulikoro,
  5. Mopti,
  6. Segou,
  7. Sikasso,
  8. Tombouctou (Timbuktu)

Source: Wikimedia Commons


Independence Date: 22 September 1960 (from France)

Legal System: based on French civil law system and customary law; judicial review of legislative acts in Constitutional Court; has not accepted compulsory ICJ jurisdiction.

Mali's legal system is based on codes inherited at independence from France. New laws have been enacted to make the system conform to Malian life, but French colonial laws not abrogated still have the force of law. The constitution provides for the independence of the judiciary. However, the Ministry of Justice appoints judges and supervises both law enforcement and judicial functions. The Supreme Court has both judicial and administrative powers. Under the constitution, there is a separate constitutional court and a high court of justice with the power to try senior government officials in cases of treason.

Suffrage: 18 years of age; universal

International Environmental Agreements

Mali is party to international agreements on: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Ozone Layer Protection, Wetlands, and Whaling.


Total Renewable Water Resources: 100 cu km (2001)

Freshwater Withdrawal: Total: 6.55 cu km/yr (9% domestic, 1% industrial, 90% agricultural). Per capita: 484 cu m/yr (2000)

Access to improved sources of drinking water: 56% of population

Access to improved sanitation facilities: 36% of population


Agricultural Products: cotton, millet, rice, corn, vegetables, peanuts; cattle, sheep, goats

Irrigated Land: 2,360 sq km (2003)


Natural Resources: gold, phosphates, kaolin, salt, limestone, uranium, gypsum, granite, hydropower; note: bauxite, iron ore, manganese, tin, and copper deposits are known but not exploited.


Energy in Mali
  Production Consumption Exports Imports Reserves
Electricity 490 million kWh
(2008 est.)
455.7 million kWh
(2008 est.)
0 kWh
(2009 est.)*
0 kWh
(2009 est.)
Oil 0 bbl/day
(2010 est.)
6,000 bbl/day
(2010 est.)
0 bbl/day
(2009 est.)
4,507 bbl/day
(2009 est.)
0 bbl
(1 January 2011 est.)
Natural Gas 0 cu m
(2009 est.)
0 cu m
(2009 est.)
0 cu m
(2009 est.)
0 cu m
(2009 est.)
0 cu m
(1 January 2011 est.)
Source: CIA Factbook

*Mali may be providing electricity to Senegal and Mauritania


Mali's estimated 2010 per capita gross domestic product (GDP) of $691 placed it among the world's 10 poorest nations. Its potential wealth lies in mining and the production of agricultural commodities, livestock, and fish. Agricultural activities occupy 70% of Mali's labor force and provide about 33% of the GDP. Cotton, gold, and livestock made up 80%-90% of total export earnings in Mali in 2006. Small-scale traditional farming dominates the agricultural sector, with subsistence farming--of cereals, primarily sorghum, millet, and maize--on about 90% of the 1.4 million hectares (3.4 million acres) under cultivation. The high cost of petroleum products, the fall in the world market price for cotton and gold, and corresponding loss of customs revenues put pressure on the economy and led the government to be very tight on cash disbursements in recent years. A landlocked country, Mali’s economy remains vulnerable to external shocks, including political crisis in neighboring countries. The recent political crisis in Cote d'Ivoire increased transportation costs and put pressure on the fragile Malian economy. Nonetheless, a focus on quality cotton production and double-digit increases in cereal and gold production boosted real GDP growth from 3.2% in 2000 to an estimated 4.5% in 2010.

The most productive agricultural area lies along the banks of the Niger River between Bamako and Mopti and extends south to the borders of Guinea, Cote d'Ivoire, and Burkina Faso. Average rainfall varies in this region from 50 centimeters per year (20 in.) around Mopti to 140 centimeters (55 in.) in the south near Sikasso. This area is most important for the production of cotton, rice, millet, corn, vegetables, tobacco, and tree crops.

Rice is grown extensively along the banks of the Niger between Segou and Mopti, with the most important rice-producing area at the Office du Niger, located north of Segou toward the Mauritanian border. Using water diverted from the Niger, the Office du Niger irrigates about 80,000 hectares of land for rice and sugarcane production. About one-third of Mali's paddy rice is produced at the Office du Niger.

The Niger River also is an important source of fish, providing food for riverside communities; the surplus--smoked, salted, and dried--is exported. Due to drought and diversion of river water for agriculture, fish production has steadily declined since the early 1980s. The government has started plans to develop fish breeding, mainly in the Niger delta, in order to boost fish production.

Sorghum is planted extensively in the drier parts of the country and along the banks of the Niger in eastern Mali, as well as in the lakebeds in the Niger delta region. Farmers near the town of Dire have cultivated wheat on irrigated fields for hundreds of years during the dry season. Peanuts are grown throughout the country but are concentrated in the area around Kita, west of Bamako.

Mali's resource in livestock consists of millions of cattle, sheep, and goats. Approximately 40% of Mali's herds were lost during the great drought in 1972-74. The level was gradually restored, but the herds were again decimated in the 1983-85 drought. The overall size of Mali's herds is not expected to reach pre-drought levels in the north of the country, where encroachment of the desert has forced many nomadic herders to abandon pastoral activities and turn instead to farming. The largest concentrations of cattle are in the areas north of Bamako and Segou extending into the Niger delta, but herding activity is gradually shifting southward, due to the effects of previous droughts.

With the technical support of U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded projects, private cooperatives developed a regional border market in the southern city of Sikasso. Livestock professionals contributed to a steady increase in cattle exports. Sheep, goats, and camels are raised to the exclusion of cattle in the dry areas north and east of Timbuktu.

Until the mid-1960s, Mali was self-sufficient in grains--millet, sorghum, rice, and corn. Diminished harvests during bad years, a growing population, changing dietary habits, and, most importantly, policy constraints on agricultural production resulted in grain deficits almost every year from 1965 to 1986. Production has rebounded since 1987, however, thanks to agricultural policy reforms undertaken by the government and supported by the Western donor nations. Liberalization of producer prices and an open cereals market have created incentives to production. These reforms, combined with adequate rainfall, successful integrated rural agriculture programs in the south, and improved management of the Office du Niger, have led to surplus cereal production over the past 5 years. In recent years, Mali has invested in its cotton industry, which employs an estimated three million Malians directly and indirectly, in an attempt to boost production.

Mining is still a growing industry in Mali, with gold accounting for some 80% of mining activity. There are considerable proven reserves of other minerals not currently exploited. In 2002, gold briefly became Mali's number one export, before cotton and livestock. There are two large private investments in gold mining: Anglo-American ($250 million) and Randgold ($140 million), both multinational South African companies located respectively in the western and southern part of the country.

During the colonial period, private capital investment was virtually nonexistent, and public investment was devoted largely to the Office du Niger irrigation scheme and to administrative expenses. Following independence, Mali built some light industries with the help of various donors. Manufacturing, consisting principally of processed agricultural products, accounted for about 24% of GDP in 2005.

Tourism is Mali’s third-largest export, comprising 2.4% of GDP. The sector, which is vulnerable to external shocks, has suffered from the security situation in northern Mali. Mali's national parks, its ancient cities and archeological sites, Niger River cruises, cultural festivals, and magnificent desert landscapes are major attractions. Mali also is home to a rare herd of elephants that continues its unique annual migration to the edges of the Sahara Desert in the northern part of the country.

Economic Reforms
With the encouragement of the major donors and international financial institutions, the Government of Mali initiated a series of adjustment and stabilization programs beginning in 1982. Measures were introduced to reduce budgetary deficits, public enterprise operating losses, and public sector arrears.

Under the economic reform program implemented in collaboration with the World Bank and the IMF in 1988, the government has taken a number of steps to liberalize the regulatory environment and attract private investment. For example, investors can now consult a one-stop shop, or guichet unique, which streamlines the process for opening a business. Price controls, import quotas, and export taxes on consumer goods have been eliminated. The Commerce Code was revised in 1991 to remove impediments to commercial activity. The investment and the mining codes also were revised in the early 1990s in order to present a good investment climate. Also in 1991, a system of commercial and administrative courts was established to handle private trade complaints and claims against the government. Together, these reforms have improved the business environment. In the 2010 Doing Business Report, Mali ranked 156 of 183 countries, an improvement of six points from the previous year.

Furthering structural reform, the government has sought to privatize a number of parastatal companies. The cotton seed oil factory (Huilerie Cotonniere du Mali, or Huicoma), was privatized 2005; the telecommunications company, Societe de Telecommunications du Mali (SOTELMA) was privatized in 2009; and the Cotton Ginning Company (CMDT) is in the process of being privatized.

Foreign Aid
Mali is a major recipient of foreign aid from many sources, including multilateral organizations (most significantly the World Bank, the African Development Bank, and Arab Funds), and bilateral programs funded by the European Union, France, United States, Canada, Netherlands, Denmark, and Germany, among others. Before 1991, the former Soviet Union had been a major source of economic and military aid, including construction of a cement plant and the Kalana gold mine. Currently, aid from Russia is restricted mainly to training and provision of spare parts. Chinese aid remains high, and Chinese-Malian joint venture companies became more numerous during the period 1999-2002, leading to the opening of a Chinese investment center. China is a major participant in the textile and the sugar refinery industries and in large-scale construction projects, including irrigation infrastructures in the Niger Valley Authority (Office du Niger), a bridge across the Niger, a conference center, an expressway in Bamako, a new national stadium in Bamako, four regional stadiums completed for the Africa Cup competition in 2002, a hospital in Mopti, and a highway interchange and third bridge in Bamako.

GDP (Purchasing Power Parity): $18.26 billion (2011 est.)

GDP (Official Exchange Rate): $11 billion (2011 est.)

GDP- per capita (PPP): $1,300 (2011 est.)

GDP- composition by sector:

agriculture: 38.8%
industry: 21.9%
services: 39.3% (2011 est.)

Population Below Poverty Line: 36.1% (2005 est.)

Industries: food processing; construction; phosphate and gold mining

Currency: Communaute Financiere Africaine franc (XOF)

Ports and Terminals: Koulikoro






Agency, C., Fund, W., & Department, U. (2012). Mali. Retrieved from


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