The west African country of Mali has an ancient and fascinating history that informs who and what the country and its people is today. With these 74 facts about Mali, let’s learn more about its geographic features, ethnic groups and cultures, plus plant and animal life that combine to make it an interesting place to visit.
Geography and Climate
1. The landlocked country named the Republic of Mali is the world’s 24th-largest country.
2. Mali is the eighth-largest country in Africa, comparable in size to the nation of South Africa and almost twice the size of the U.S. state of Texas.
3. Mali’s three natural land zones include the arid Saharan zone, the semiarid central Sahelian zone, and the southern cultivated Sudanese, where the majority of the country’s population lives.
4. The thermal equator crosses Mali, making it one of the hottest countries in the world. Rainfall is negligible and droughts are frequent.
5. Most of Mali’s land is flat, rising to rolling plains in the north that are covered with sand. The majority of the country is located in the southern part of the Sahara Desert.
6. Mali is divided into eight large regions and one district, the Bamako Capital District. These regions are Kayes, Koulikoro, Sikasso, Ségow, Gao, Mopti, Kindal and Tombouctou (also known as Timbuktu).
7. The lowest geographic point in Mali is the Senegal River. Its highest point is Mount Hombori Tondo.
8. The Senegal and Niger Rivers make the south of Mali the country’s most fertile region.
9. The prime meridian marker is located in Gao, Mali. Here you can literally stand on the edge of two different hemispheres at the same time.
10. Mali’s climate is subtropical to arid, with February to June being the hot, dry season. June to November is rainy, humid and mild. November to February is the cool, dry season.
11. Historically Mali was part of three different West African empires that controlled all the trans-Saharan trade.
12. Settled as long ago as 50,000 B.C., its Ghana, Songhai and Mali empires saw mathematics, literature, art and astronomy flourish.
13. Mali’s Ghana Empire was West Africa’s first black empire. The empire’s wealth came mainly from the country’s position in the cross-Sahara trade routes.
14. Sundiata, Mali’s Lion King (or Lion Prince) was the founder and first ruler of the Mali Empire from which the country today takes its name. In his reign from 1235 to 1260 the empire stretched all the way to the western coast of Africa.
15. When the Malian Empire’s 14th century emperor, Mansa Musa, made his impressive pilgrimage to Mecca, he traveled with over 70,000 people and up to 50 pounds of gold. He built a mosque every Friday on his entire trip.
16. France seized control of Mali in the late 19th century colonial period in Africa, and it became part of the French Sudan. After almost a century of French rule, Mali joined with Senegal to achieve independence in 1960 as the Mali Federation.
17. Later Senegal withdrew from the Federation and the country became the Republic of Mali. In 1991 Mali changed from a socialist state to a democratic one and adopted a new constitution.
18. Since the dawn of the 21st century, the northern Mail Tuareg tribes have led multiple military and political rebellions against different incarnations of the Mali central government.
19. The Tuareg MNLA and the Islamic group Ansar Dine merged in the last few years and declared northern Mali to be the new Islamic state of Azawad. They even opened an embassy of their own in the Netherlands.
20. United Nation peacekeepers were deployed in 2013 and more than 100 have been killed in Mali since then. It is considered one of the deadliest U.N. assignments.
21. Mali’s president requested aid from France in 2013 as Islamist fighters captured many of the main northern cities, including the city of Timbuktu, and began destroying many ancient shrines.
22. The French troops stayed for several years and killed the leading al-Qaeda commanders with the rebels. A new peace accord was reached and signed in May of 2015.
23. Thirty nine people are killed in two separate hotel attacks in Mali in 2015. One was in August and one in November. Several hotels throughout the country close until the troubles cease.
24. A new Islamist group emerged in central and southern Mali in the last two years and recruits by protecting local villages from bandits and corruption in the government.
Economy and Environment
25. Mali’s most frequently exported natural resources include gold, phosphates, salt, limestone, kaolin, uranium, and granite. Mali depends on agricultural exports and gold mining for its main revenue.
26. Gold is mined in Mali’s southern region and generates the third highest total gold production in all of Africa, after South Africa and Ghana.
27. Mali’s economic stability fluctuates with agricultural commodity and gold prices. Cotton, the country’s annual harvest, and gold exports represent 80 percent of Mali’s earnings.
28. Thirty four percent of the land is used as agricultural land, with 5.6 percent in arable land and 28.4 percent in permanent pastureland. Forests occupy ten percent of Mali.
29. Most of Mali’s economic activity is conducted in the area of the country the Niger River irrigates. The other 65 percent of the country is desert or semi desert land.
30. Almost half of Mali’s population lives below the international poverty line. Mali is one of the 25 poorest countries in the world. The average annual salary of a Malian is $1,500 (U.S. dollars) annually.
31. Mali’s environment concerns include deforestation, soil erosion, desertification and an inadequate potable water supply.
32. Natural environmental hazards/challenges include recurring droughts, infrequent flooding of the Niger River, and dust-laden hot haze that is common during the dry seasons.
Flag of Mali
People and Culture
33. Mali’s total population is expected to double by 2035. The Malian capital of Bamako is one of the fastest-growing cities in Africa.
34. The average birthrate of six children per Mali woman is the third highest in the world. This insures continued rapid population growth for the foreseeable future.
35. Mali’s infant, child and maternal mortality rates are among the highest in sub-Saharan Africa due to a variety of factors, including poor health care and unattended births.
36. Many Malians from rural areas migrate for work purposed during the annual dry period. Ten percent of the population is naturally nomadic.
37. Mali’s long history of seasonal migration and emigration is driven by unemployment, internal conflicts, food insecurity, and droughts.
38. Since the early 1990s, Mali’s role as a transit country for regional migration flows has grown and now funnels illegal migration as far as Europe as well.
39. Human smugglers and traffickers use these same migration routes to move their own contraband. Human trafficking is on the rise in Mali.
40. The unemployment rate is thirty percent in Mali. Agriculture employs 80 percent of the people and 20 percent work in services and industries.
41. Mali has more than ten ethnic groups, including the Bambara (34%), Fulani (15%), Sarakole (11%) and Senufo (10%).
42. French is Mali’s official language but Bambara is the most frequently spoken language in Mali. There are a dozen other national languages.
43. Mali’s geographic and ethnic diversity is reflected in its everyday culture. Malians commonly wear colorful boubous (flowing robes). The bogalanfini cloth is only produced in this part of Africa. This handcrafted cloth is dyed with mud. Women wear matching head covers.
44. Malians frequently participate in traditional ceremonies, dances and festivals. The country has unique musical traditions.
45. Dance has an important role in Mali. Ceremonial events are celebrated with traditional mask dances. The Dogon people of central Mali have more than 75 different ritual masks.
46. Historically a lively African intellectual center, Mali’s literary tradition is passed primarily by word of mouth. “Jalises” recite stories or histories of a community by heart.
47. The most popular sport in Mali is football (soccer) and its most popular teams are based in the country’s capital. The game called “wari” is a common pastime as well.
48. The Mali women’s national basketball team competed at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
49. School enrollment is at 61 percent for primary school enrollment and 15 percent for secondary school enrollment. Literacy rates among the Mali people range from 27 to 46 percent, with men more literate than women.
50. Woman do all the work for the family but they are held in high regard. Women are always consulted, particularly in community decisions, because they symbolize harmony and peace.
51. The staples of Malian cuisine are millet and rice, with couscous added in the north. Sauces made from edible plants, such as baoboas, spinach, and peanuts, are added.
52. Mali’s cuisine varies by its different regions. Street food sold in carts and small shops is tasty and economical. Menu choices include fried rice, meatballs, beef kebabs, fish, potatoes, and various fried dough treats.
53. A wide variety of fresh fruits is available but should be washed in bleach water before peeling. These include papaya, guava, mangoes, watermelons, oranges and bananas.
54. The largest cities have some “western” restaurants and in the capital city of Bamako can be found Vietnamese, Lebanese, Chinese and Italian cuisines, among others.
55. Legal drinking age in Mali is 18. Since it is a predominately Muslim nation, however, locals discourage drinking alcohol even though it is not prohibited. Some arrests and beatings of both locals and foreigners have been reported.
56. Djablani is a local specialty drink. It is made from the juice of the hibiscus or the baobab tree mixed with ginger. This juice is often sold in polythene bags and is said to be very refreshing.
Animals and Plants
57. There are two critically endangered, three endangered, ten vulnerable, and three near-threatened species of the 146 mammal species found in Mali.
58. Among these endangered species are the addax, the dame gazelle, the chimpanzee, the rhim gazelle, and the African wild dog.
59. Mali lions are now only found around the Faleme River. Manatees in the Niger River are no longer hunted for their meat due to their threatened status and protection laws.
60. Animals endemic to only Mali include the Mali Fire finch, the Mali Screeching Frog, the Bata Marsh Toad and the freshwater elephant fish.
61. A species of legume in the Fabacear family is found only in Mali. Cram cram and other grasses are scattered throughout Mali.
62. Fishing is an important food industry and there are approximately 200 species of fish in Mali. The most popular is capitaine.
63. The Inner Delta of the Niger River is rich in heron species. Seventeen Important Bird Areas (IBAs are designated in Mali, ten of which include wetlands (nine of which are in the Inner Delta).
64. Termites are found in many uncleared locations in their “castles of clay”. Alates or flying white ants are the termite populations housed in these.
65. Because of the continuing conflicts between the Islamic factions and the government, a large variety of hotels throughout the country have temporarily closed (including the high end ones).
66. There are a variety of accommodations available ranging from hotels to room rentals to auberges and homestays.
67. There are two UNESCO World Heritage sites in Mali. One is the Great Mosque of Djinné, which was built in 1906 completely of mud. Three towers and five stories comprise this adobe building, which is unfortunately not open to the public.
68. The other is the historic town of Timbuktu with its three great mosques and centuries of history. It is still an important stop for salt caravans even today.
69. The capital Bamako on the Niger River had wonderful local markets to explore. The harbor town of Mopti offers river adventures in a pinasse (locally built watercraft).
70. The largest national park and reserve in Mali is the Bouche du Baoulé National Park, northeast of Bamako. Monkeys are the only animals here now where giraffes, lions, chimps and gazelles used to roam. Poaching and the encroachment of man has decimated the rest.
71. The Reserve de Ansongo Menaka is near the Nigerian border in the southeast. The Reserve de Douantze has the most interesting wildlife remaining.
72. Other notable areas are the Wongo and Kouroufring National Parks, home of desert elephants that migrate with the seasons. The Bafing Biosphere Reserve hosts the Bafing Chimpanzee Sanctuary.
73. The Bandiagara Cliffs are a beautiful area for hiking. The Dogon people who live in this region have a fascinating culture.
74. Visit Gao for the Mausoleum of Askia the Great, a strange 16th century edifice that looks similar to a step pyramid.
The expansive country of Mali offers an ancient history and many ethnic and cultural experiences to visitors.
Some quick facts about Mali
|Independence||22 September 1960 (from France)|
|Area||1,240,192 sq km|
|Population||17,467,108 (July 2016 est.|
|Religion||Islam (98%) and Christianity (2%)|
|National Anthem||"Le Mali" (Mali)|
|National symbol||Great Mosque of Djenne|
|National color||green, yellow, red|
|Life Expectancy (2016)||55.8 Years|
|GDP - per capita (PPP) (est. 2015)||$2,300 (2016 est.)|
|Birth rate||44.4 births/1,000 population (2016 est.)|
|Death rate||12.6 deaths/1,000 population (2016 est.)|
|Sex ratio||0.95 male(s)/female (2016 est.)|
|Government type||semi-presidential republic|
|Natural resources||gold, phosphates, kaolin, salt, limestone, uranium, gypsum, granite, hydropower|
|Currency||West African CFA franc (XOF)|
|Time Zone||GMT (UTC+0)|
|Internet country code||.ml|
|Drives on the||Right|