Known as “The Jewel of West Africa’s Crown,” Mali is a landlocked country located in West Africa, bounded on the north by Algeria, on the east by Niger and Burkina Faso, on the south by Côte d’Ivoire and Guinea, and on the west by Senegal and Mauritania. Mali is the eighth-largest country on the continent. The area that is now Mali was once part of the three great precolonial Sudanic empires: Ghana Empire, Mali Empire, and Songhai Empire. Mali Empire dated from c. 1230 to 1670. The empire was founded by Sundiata Keita and became renowned for the wealth of its rulers. The empire began as a small Mandinka kingdom. During the 11th and 12th centuries it began to develop as an empire following the decline of the Ghana Empire to the north. During this period, trade routes shifted southward to the savanna, stimulating the growth of states. For centuries, caravans crossed the Sahara desert from North Africa while others came from the forest regions to the south, meeting at the crossroads of Timbuktu. Timbuktu was a major trading and learning center.
UNESCO Heritage sites in Mali includes:
Starting out as a seasonal settlement, Timbuktu became a permanent settlement early in the 12th century. After a shift in trading routes, Timbuktu flourished from the trade in salt, gold, ivory and slaves. It became part of the Mali Empire early in the 14th century.
2. Tomb of Askia
The Tomb of Askia, in Gao, Mali, is believed to be the burial place of Askia Mohammad I, one of the Songhai Empire’s most prolific emperors. UNESCO describes the tomb as a fine example of the monumental mud-building traditions of the West African Sahel. The complex includes the pyramidal tomb, two mosques, a cemetery and an assembly ground.
3. Old Towns of Djenné
Inhabited since 250 BCE, the city was an important link in the trans-Saharan gold trade. It contains 2,000 traditional houses.
4. Cliff of Bandiagara (Land of the Dogons)
The sandy plateau and cliffs of Bandiagara outline the site, featuring houses, granaries, altars, sanctuaries, and Togu-Na meeting-places. Age-old social traditions such as masks, feasts, rituals, and ancestral worship also add to its cultural significance.
Mali has a wealth of natural resources such as gold, cotton and salt.
Mali is the third largest gold producer on the continent, and gold and cotton counts for the most of the country’s exports. Many other mineral deposits such limestone, Bauxite deposits, Manganese and phosphate deposits. Iron is the most widespread, with deposits found in the west near the Senegal and Guinea borders. Lithium and uranium deposits have been also discovered. There are also small quantities of tungsten, tin, lead, copper, and zinc.
Upon gaining independence from France on June 200th 1960 Mali suffered from droughts, rebellions, a coup ad twenty-three years of military dictatorship under Moussa Traoré until democratic election in 1992 according to the BBC. In 1992, Alpha Oumar Konaré won Mali’s first democratic, multi-party presidential election, before being re-elected for a second term in 1997, which was the last allowed under the constitution. In 2002 Amadou Toumani Touré, a retired general who had been the leader of the military aspect of the 1991 democratic uprising, was elected. During this democratic period Mali was regarded as one of the most politically and socially stable countries in Africa. The current president is Ibrahim Boubaccar Keita who took office in 2013.
There are over forty languages spoken in Mali and the Bambara, Soninké, Khassonké, and Malinké (also called Mandinka), all part of the broader Mandé group, collectively constitute 50 percent of Mali’s population. Other significant groups are the Fulani 17%, Voltaic 12%, Songhai 6%, and Tuareg and Moor 10%. In Mali as well as Niger, the Moors are also known as Azawagh Arabs, named after the Azawagh region of the Sahara. In the far north, there is a division between Berber-descendent Tuareg nomad populations and the darker-skinned Bella or Tamasheq people, due to the historical spread of slavery in the region. The official language is French, although maority of the population can communicate in Bambara, serving as an important lingua franca.
Malian cuisine includes rice and millet as staples of Mali, a food culture heavily based on cereal grain. Dishes such as, Fufu, Jollof rice, and Peanut Butter Sauce, Capitaine Sangha, Gumbo, Saga Saga.
Mali’s music has always claim international status popularized by one of the great voices that have come out of the continent – Salif Keita. Literary tradition is passed mainly by word of mouth, with jalis reciting or singing histories and stories known by heart. Amadou Hampâté Bâ, Mali’s best-known historian, spent much of his life writing these oral traditions down for the world to remember. The best-known novel by a Malian writer is Yambo Ouologuem’s Le devoir de violence, which won the 1968 Prix Renaudot. Other well-known Malian writers include Baba Traoré, Modibo Sounkalo Keita, Massa Makan Diabaté, Moussa Konaté, and Fily Dabo Sissoko.