In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Mali

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African Studies Mali
Susanna Wing
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 May 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 May 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846733-0104


Mali is a landlocked state located in the Sahel region of West Africa. Ghana, Mali, and Songhai empires were all part of what is now Malian territory. Timbuktu, in northern Mali, was a fabled center for learning whose golden age was in the 15th and 16th centuries. (See also the separate Oxford Bibliographies article on Early States of the Western Sudan.) The territory was colonized by the French and was part of l’Afrique Occidentale Française (French West Africa, or AOF). The Atlantic slave trade spread north into Malian territory and did not draw to a close until the early 20th century. French colonial rule altered the political economy of the region with vast agricultural development projects as well as the introduction of legal codes and state administration that endure to this day. Mali gained independence from France in 1960 as the Mali Federation (joined with Senegal), before separating and becoming the Republic of Mali in September 1960. Its population is estimated at 15 million people, who speak over fifty languages. Thirteen languages have the status of national languages; however, Bambara and French are the most widely spoken. Modibo Keita was Mali’s post-independence president, and he pursued a socialist path to development. In 1968 General Moussa Traoré overthrew Modibo Keita and presided over an increasingly repressive regime. In 1991 General Moussa Traoré was overthrown by a military coup led by Col. Amadou Toumani Touré (ATT). ATT was deemed a “soldier of democracy” because he opened the path for a sovereign national conference and a transition government that then led the country to elections. Mali’s Third Republic was established in 1992, and Alpha Oumar Konaré was elected president and served two five-year terms in office. ATT was elected president in 2002, but he was overthrown by a coup d’état in March 2012 just a month before presidential elections were to be held to determine his successor. Since the coup, Mali’s secular government has been threatened by political infighting and the reinvigoration of various jihadist elements in the north following a flood of arms into the country in the aftermath of the fall of Libya’s leader, Muammar Qadhafi. After two decades of relative stability, Mali is witnessing a humanitarian crisis, with over four hundred thousand refugees and internally displaced peoples. Mali’s tremendous cultural heritage is at risk as unrest envelops the occupied north, where venerated mausoleums have been destroyed by armed jihadists seeking to purify the practice of Islam in Mali.

General Overviews

There are two excellent general sources on Mali. Both are updated regularly so they provide the most recent information on political and economic affairs. Lansdorf 2012, an entry in the Political Handbook of the World, is thorough and provides particularly useful insight into contemporary political affairs. The CIA World Factbook is a good source for information on the population, the government, and the economy, along with other basic data. The Economist Intelligence Unit also provides valuable information on Malian economic activities.

  • CIA World Factbook: Mali.

    This is a reliable source for basic information on the economy, geography, and the current government in Mali.

  • Economist Intelligence Unit: Mali.

    This is a regularly updated and useful resource for general information on Mali and detailed information on the economy.

  • Lansdorf, Tom. “Mali.” In Political Handbook of the World 2012. Edited by Tom Lansdorf, 903–910. Thousand Oaks, CA: CQ Press, 2012.

    This source provides a comprehensive overview of government and politics in Mali, including a list of political parties and government ministers.

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