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Useful Notes / Mali

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Mali, also known officially as the Republic of Mali (French: République du Mali), is a West African country in the western Sahara very close to the Atlantic coast, although it doesn't reach it. Like other Saharan states, it's huge (8th biggest in Africa), but has a comparatively small population of about 14 million, which are concentrated in the fertile south since the triangular-shaped northern part is nothing but gigantic patches of desert and dry valleys.

Has an Islamic-majority population. However, despite being wedged between two definitely Arab and Maghreb worldsnote , it's not considered either; it isn't part of the Arab League or the Arab Maghreb Union, for example. The northern part might be considered an Arab-Maghreb zone, since Arabs do inhabit it, alongside the Tuaregs/Berbers. Actually, this kind of situation is what causes the country, even if abiding by the same religion, to be divided in two, since power was and still is wrestled in the hands of the Bambaras and their fellow Niger-Congo peoples in the south. Their influence drags the country closer to its West African neighbors, including joining regional Economic Community and adopting CFA franc as a currency.

The country's name was taken from the historical Mali Empire (c.1235-1600), a vast polity that stretched from the Atlantic coast deep into the Sahara. Beforehand, Ghana Empire had dominance in Western Mali. Later, the Songhai Empire, which had its start at northern Nigeria, incorporated the declining Mali Empire's territories into its own. All three empires are considered the Golden Age of Western African culture, with trans-Saharan trade flourishing that saw exchanges of gold, crafts, and other commodities. When the Islamic influence reached in through contact with the Almoravids, the northern city of Timbuktu in the Saharan region became the center of Islamic learning and astronomy, and writings containing this knowledge are preserved there; today, the entire city is designed a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


All of this blew out of the window when the Europeans discovered seafaring as a swift way to trade, which rendered desert-crossing obsolete, followed by them arriving at coastal Western Africa to begin their incursion as part of the Scramble. Though most of the territories were still under nominal rule by the sultans and kings, the French won the area in the late 19th century and incorporated it as the French Sudan colony. In the mid-1950s, it was renamed the Sudanese Republic and united with the Senegal Colony to its west. The union gained independence from France together in 1960 as the Mali Federation, but Senegal opted out a few months afterward, leaving Mali on its own.

Socialist influence dominated the country in the first several decades after independence, with first president Modibo Keïta doing all kinds of suppression typical of a dictatorship. A coup led by Moussa Traoré deposed him in 1968 (celebrated as the Liberation Day), but he proved to be no better as the country endured quite possibly its hardest period, with droughts and famine supplementing the dictatorship. It ended with the 1991 Revolution.


Democracy was implemented beginning with the presidential election of 1992, and it went on for the better part of the decade and The Noughties. At the same time, however, the increased human rights allowed the Tuaregs to move back to their (traditional) homeland: the Sahara, sparking yet another unpleasant period as the Tuaregs declared an independent state, Azawad, in the Saharan part of the country with the support of Islamist rebels including al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which somehow happened when the country experienced its first coup in exactly 20 years. And then the Islamists decided to turn their backs on the Tuaregs so they can implement their true goal: implementing sharia in the country. Things went so bad that the figures who did the coup relented for a transitional government, which demanded help from the country's colonial masternote  to combat the radicals. Most of the north had been retaken in early 2013, democracy was restored in late 2013, and a peace deal was signed with the Tuaregs in 2015, though it's still a long way to go before full stability can be achieved.

A famous cultural icon of the country is the jelis, also known as the "Keeper of Memories", who are basically storytellers reciting oral traditions and stories. In the times past, the jelis also served as advisers to the kings.

In the West, the best-known aspect of Mali is the city of Timbuktu. This fame originated in the sixteenth century with a Christianized Moor named Leo Africanu. His description of Timbuktu's wealth caught the attention of European explorers, who spent centuries trying unsuccessfully to reach the city. During this time, Europeans came to regard Timbuktu as a fabled City of Gold, an African El Dorado. In the early nineteenth century, Westerners finally reached the city only to find that it had gone into decline since the time of Leo Africanu and that its fabled riches did not exist. Nevertheless, Timbuktu is still often evoked in Western culture as a quasi-mythical place and thus may be subject to the Eskimos Aren't Real trope. It's especially common for Timbuktu to be used as a shorthand for a faraway place, e.g. the phrase "from here to Timbuktu".

Works set in Mali


  • Timbuktu is about the 2012-2013 occupation of the city by radical jihadists.
  • In The Aristocats, Edgar attempts to mail the cats to Timbuktu. The movie incorrectly places Timbuktu in French Equatorial Africa. In 1910, when the film takes place, Timbuktu would have been located in French West Africa.


  • The story of Sundiata, Mali's most famous king, is the national epic, passed along as an oral tradition by the griots (or "jelis"). Probably the most famous version is that told by the griot Mamadou Kouyaté and transcribed and published by Djibril Tamsir Niane as Sundiata, An Epic of Old Mali.

Live-Action TV

  • In SEAL Team season 2 episode 19, Bravo Team deploys to Mali to recover the body of an American soldier who was killed in an ambush before a local jihadist group can use it for propaganda videos.

Video Games

  • One of the missions in Where in Time Is Carmen Sandiego? involves helping Mansa Musa get some salt for his pilgrimage to Mecca, after the original was stolen by Carmen's thief.

The Malian Flag
The tricolor, which contains pan-African colors, consists of green, yellow, and red, symbolizing fertility, mineral wealth, and the blood of the martyrs for independence, respectively. The flag had the same origin as the flag of Senegal (which also contains the tricolor in the same order), both originating from the flag of the Mali Federation, except that Mali did away with the human figure in the center, while Senegal replaced it with a green star.


Example of: