Officially the Republic of Mali is a landlocked country in West Africa, a region geologically identified with the West African Craton. Mali is the eighth-largest country in Africa, with an area of just over 1,240,000 square kilometres (480,000 sq mi).
The population of Mali is 18 million. Its capital is Bamako. Mali consists of eight regions and its borders on the north reach deep into the middle of the Sahara Desert, while the country’s southern part, where the majority of inhabitants live, features the Niger and Senegal rivers.
The country’s economy centers on agriculture and fishing. Some of Mali’s prominent natural resources include gold, being the third largest producer of gold in the African continent and salt.
About half of the population lives below the international poverty line of $1.25 (U.S.) a day. A majority of the population (90%) are Muslims.
Present-day Mali was once part of three West African empires that controlled trans-Saharan trade: the Ghana Empire, the Mali Empire (for which Mali is named), and the Songhai Empire.
During its golden age, there was a flourishing of mathematics, astronomy, literature, and art. At its peak in 1300, the Mali Empire covered an area about twice the size of modern-day France and stretched to the west coast of Africa. In the late 19th century, during the Scramble for Africa, France seized control of Mali, making it a part of French Sudan.
French Sudan (then known as the Sudanese Republic) joined with Senegal in 1959, achieving independence in 1960 as the Mali Federation. Shortly thereafter, following Senegal’s withdrawal from the federation, the Sudanese Republic declared itself the independent Republic of Mali.
After a long period of one-party rule, a coup in 1991 led to the writing of a new constitution and the establishment of Mali as a democratic, multi-party state.
In January 2012, an armed conflict broke out in northern Mali, in which Tuareg rebels took control of a territory in the north, and in April declared the secession of a new state, Azawad.
The conflict was complicated by a military coup that took place in March and later fighting between Tuareg and Islamist rebels. In response to Islamist territorial gains, the French military launched Opération Serval in January 2013. A month later, Malian and French forces recaptured most of the north.
Presidential elections were held on 28 July 2013, with a second-round run-off held on 11 August, and legislative elections were held on 24 November and 15 December 2013.
The name Mali is taken from the name of the Mali Empire. The name was originally derived from the Mandinka or Bambara word Mali, meaning “hippopotamus”, but it eventually came to mean “the place where the king lives”. The word carries the connotation of strength.
Guinean writer Djibril Niane suggests in Sundiata: An Epic of Old Mali (1965) that it is not impossible that Mali was the name given to one of the capitals of the emperors.
14th-century Moroccan traveler Ibn Battuta reported that the capital of the Mali Empire was called Mali. One Mandinka tradition tells that the legendary first emperor Sundiata Keita changed himself into a hippopotamus upon his death in the Sankarani River, and that it’s possible to find villages in the area of this river, termed “old Mali”, which have Mali for a name.
This name could have formerly been that of a city. In old Mali, there is one village called Malika which means “New Mali.”
Another theory suggests that Mali is a Fulani pronunciation of the name of the Mande peoples. It is suggested that a sound shift led to the change, whereby in Fulani the alveolar segment/shifts to /l/ and the terminal vowel denasalises and raises, thus “Manden” shifts to /Mali/.