History & Politics

Mali’s early history

Terra-cotta statues have been unearthed along the inland delta of the River Niger. Dating from around AD800, they show communities have long settled in this fertile area.

Muslim traders began arriving in the region about this time. Gold, ivory, slaves and other goods travelled from Mali via trans-Saharan caravans to North Africa.

Powerful ancient kingdoms

Timbuktu – a seat of Islamic learning

Djinguereber Mosque, Timbuktu, by KaTeznik (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.0-fr (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/fr/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons

The Djinguereber mosque (shown in the photo) is home to one of Timbuktu's renowned Islamic madrassas.

The first major kingdom of the region was the Empire of Mali which flourished along the upper and middle Niger in the 14th/15th centuries.

The Songhai Empire then became powerful in the 15th century. Timbuktu and Djenné were major centres of trading during this time, as well as renowned seats of Islamic scholarship.

Morocco invaded northern regions of Mali in 1591 and took control of large areas. Following the invasion, Timbuktu's scholars were exiled or executed and the town declined in importance.

The Moroccans were eventually driven out of Mali during the 1700s and 1800s.

The French era

By the middle of the nineteenth century (1855 onwards), the French began conquering the area, which came to form part of ‘French West Africa’. By 1946, it was known as the ‘French Sudan’, an overseas territory of the French Union.

Many Malian soldiers fought for the French during the World Wars and the Bambara units were noted for their bravery.

In 1958, the country was joined with Senegal to form the Mali Federation. However Senegal split from this union and in 1960 the independent Republic of Mali was born.

Modern-day Mali

Democracy restored

Mr Touré was the army general who overthrew the military regime in 1991. Handing the country back to an elected form of government, he was nicknamed the “soldier of democracy”.

As the country struggled economically, unpopular governments were overthrown by the military in 1968 and 1991, when civilian government was restored.

Democratic multiparty elections were then held every five years. But in 2012, an uprising by Tuareg groups and takeover of the north led to unrest. The government of Amadou Toumani Touré (elected in 2002 and 2007) was overthrown by the army.

With the help of French troops, control over the north of Mali was regained in 2013. After presidential polls, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita was sworn in as Mali's new president in September 2013.