Land locked sub-Saharan nation of West Africa bordered by Algeria to the NE, Mauritania and Senegal to the W, Guinea and Burkina Faso to the S, and Niger to the E.
Mali’s history is linked with the great trans- Saharan trade route of slaves, salt, and gold that passed through its borders. The immensely lucrative trade gave rise to a succession of important medieval powers that dominated West Africa. The empires of Ghana, Mali, and Songhai wielded great power from the eighth to the 16th centuries, and the fabled Saharan cities of Timbuktu, Gao, and Djenne flourished as seats of learning and commerce.
Songhai was destroyed by invaders from Morocco in the late 16th century, and the country was fragmented into minor power centers led by local chieftains. During the 19th century France began to expand its colonial dominion into Mali and encountered fierce resistance. In 1898 French dominion became complete over the area, which was renamed the French Sudan. The colony languished as an impoverished agricultural territory under French rule until 1959, when French Sudan and Senegal joined together to form the Federation of Mali. This union collapsed in 1960, and French Sudan became the independent Republic of Mali. The new nation closely allied itself with China and attempted to develop a Maoist-influenced socialist state. In 1968 a military coup against strongman Modibo Keita took power with Lieutenant Moussa Traore as president and immediately had to contend with the ravages of the devastating sub-Saharan drought, which caused widespread starvation and death.
Keita died in prison in 1977, touching off a series of protests. In 1979, a new constitution led to elections and Traore was elected president. He was reelected in 1985, but removed in a coup in 1991, and replaced by Amadou Toumani Toure. In 1992, Alpha Oumar Konare of the Alliance for Democracy became Mali’s first president elected in free elections. In the mid-1990s there was conflict with the Tuareg people in the N of the country. Konare was reelected in 1997, but in 2002, Toure, the former interim military ruler, was elected president as an independent candidate.