After the kingdom of Ancient Ghana, the next great West African Empire to emerge was the kingdom of Ancient Mali. Ancient Mali and Ghana shared a number of different features; however they also were extremely distinct from each other in many ways as well. For example, unlike Ghana, a great deal more information and written records about the kingdom of Mali still exist. With the resources that have endured a much better understanding of Mali can be established. Like Ghana, however, most of the information that is known about Mali comes from Islamic scholars and travelers. In fact, some of the same the Muslim historians and scholars that have written about Ghana have also provided a written record of Mali. For example, Ibn Khaldun, a Muslim scholar working out of Islamic Spain in the 15th century, wrote about both Ghana and Mali. Islamic scholars must have paid a great of attention to Mali because its rulers converted to Islam, and subsequently spread it throughout Africa. The richness of the historical record of Mali allows a history of this great civilization to be reconstituted.
Malians express great pride in their ancestry. Mali is the cultural heir to the succession of ancient African empires -- Ghana, Malinké, and Songhai -- that occupied the West African savanna. These empires controlled Saharan trade and were in touch with Mediterranean and Middle Eastern centers of civilization.
The Ghana Empire, dominated by the Soninke people and centered in the area along the border of the modern states of Mali and Mauritania, was a powerful trading state from about AD 700 to 1075. The Malinke Kingdom of Mali had its origins on the upper Niger River in the 11th century. Expanding rapidly in the 13th century under the leadership of Sundiata Keita, it reached its height about 1325, when it conquered Timbuktu and Gao. Thereafter, the kingdom began to decline, and by the 15th century, it controlled only a small fraction of its former territory.
The Songhai Empire expanded its power from its center in Gao during the period 1465-1530. At its peak under Askia Mohammad I, it encompassed the Hausa states as far as Kano (in present-day Nigeria) and much of the territory that had belonged to the Mali Empire in the west. It was destroyed by a Moroccan invasion in 1591.
French military penetration into the area began around 1880. Ten years later, the French made a concerted effort to occupy the interior. The timing and method of their advances were determined by resident military governors. A civilian governor of French Sudan, as it was called, was appointed in 1893, but resistance to French control did not end until 1898, when the Malinké warrior Samory Touré was defeated after 7 years of war. The French attempted to rule indirectly, but in many areas they disregarded traditional authorities and governed through appointed chiefs. The colony of French Sudan was administered with other French colonial territories as the Federation of French West Africa.
In 1956, with the passing of France's Fundamental Law (Loi Cadre), the Territorial Assembly obtained extensive powers over internal affairs and was permitted to form a cabinet with executive authority over matters within the Assembly's competence. After the October 4, 1958 French constitutional referendum, the "République Soudanaise" became a member of the French Community and enjoyed complete internal autonomy.
In January 1959, French Sudan joined Senegal to form the Mali Federation, which became fully independent within the French Community on June 20, 1960. The federation collapsed on August 20, 1960, when Senegal seceded. On September 22, Soudan proclaimed itself the Republic of Mali and withdrew from the French Community.
President Modibo Keita, whose party (Union Soudanaise du Rassemblement Democratique Africain --US/RDA) had dominated pre independence politics, moved quickly to declare a single-party state and to pursue a socialist policy based on extensive nationalization. A continuously deteriorating economy led to a decision to rejoin the Franc Zone in 1967 and modify some of the economic excesses.
On November 19, 1968, a group of young officers staged a bloodless coup and set up a 14-member Military Committee for National Liberation (CMLN), with Lt. Moussa Traore as president. The military leaders attempted to pursue economic reforms, but for several years faced debilitating internal political struggles and the disastrous Sahelian drought.
A new constitution, approved in 1974, created a one-party state and was designed to move Mali towards civilian rule. However, the military leaders remained in power. In September 1976, a new political party was established, the Democratic Union of the Malian People (UDPM), based on the concept of democratic centralism. Single-party presidential and legislative elections were held in June 1979, and Gen. Moussa Traore received 99% of the votes. His efforts at consolidating the single-party government were challenged in 1980 by student-led anti-government demonstrations, which were brutally put down, and by three coup attempts.
The political situation stabilized during 1981 and 1982, and remained generally calm throughout the 1980s. In late December 1985, however, a border dispute between Mali and Burkina Faso over the mineral rich Agacher strip erupted into a brief war. The UDPM spread its structure to Cercles and Arrondissements across the land. Shifting its attention to Mali's economic difficulties, the government approved plans for cereal marketing liberalization, reform in the state enterprise system, new incentives to private enterprise, and worked out a new structural adjustment agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
However, by 1990, there was growing dissatisfaction with the demands for austerity imposed by the IMF's economic reform programs and the perception that the president and his close associates were not adhering to those demands.
As in other African countries, demands for multi-party democracy increased. The Traore government allowed some opening of the system. In early 1991, student-led anti-government rioting broke out again, but this time it was supported also by government workers and others. On March 26, 1991, after 4 days of intense anti-government rioting, a group of 17 military officers, led by current President Amadou Toumani Touré, arrested President Traore and suspended the constitution. Within days, these officers joined with the Coordinating Committee of Democratic Associations to form a predominantly civilian, 25-member ruling body, the Transitional Committee for the Salvation of the People (CTSP). The CTSP then appointed a civilian-led government. A national conference held in August 1991 produced a draft constitution (approved in a referendum January 12, 1992), a charter for political parties, and an electoral code. Political parties were allowed to form freely. Between January and April 1992, a president, National Assembly, and municipal councils were elected. On June 8, 1992, Alpha Oumar Konaré, the candidate of the Association for Democracy in Mali (ADEMA), was inaugurated as the president of Mali's Third Republic.
In 1997, attempts to renew national institutions through democratic elections ran into administrative difficulties, resulting in a court-ordered annulment of the legislative elections held in April 1997. The exercise, nonetheless, demonstrated the overwhelming strength of President Konaré's ADEMA party, causing some other historic parties to boycott subsequent elections. President Konaré won the presidential election against scant opposition on May 11. In the two-round legislative elections conducted on July 21 and August 3, ADEMA secured over 80% of the National Assembly seats. In 2002, Konaré was succeeded in democratic elections by Amadou Toumani Touré.
The richness of the historical record of Mali allows a history of this great civilization to be reconstituted. Founded out of the ruins of Ancient Ghana, Ancient Mali expanded down the Niger River capturing several cites and sizing control of the river itself. The cities that Mali ruled over included Timbuktu, Dejenne, and Kawkaw (modern-day Goa). The capture of these cities and the Niger River allowed Mali to control tarns-Saharan trade routs along with trade to North Africa. The control of trade and large cavalry allowed Mali to build an impressive feudal empire, but the senseless spending of a king in 14th century nearly brought Mali to destruction. Despite internal clashes, and attacks from the outside Mali survived. In addition to an impressive government and economy, Mali boasted a thriving culture that included a mix of traditional African customs and Islamic practices.
The vast majority of Malians are employed in farming, herding, or fishing. Cotton and peanuts are the country's only significant cash crops, with rice, corn, sorghum, millet, and cassava being the major food crops. Agriculture and herding have been increasingly hurt by the encroaching desert. Mali's industries are mainly limited to the processing of farm commodities, construction, and the manufacture of basic consumer goods. Gold, phosphate, salt, and limestone are mined, and the country has extensive unexploited mineral resources, including bauxite, manganese, iron ore, lithium, uranium, tin, copper, and diamonds. Remittances from Malians working abroad are also an important source of income. The Manantali Dam on the Bafing River (a Senegal tributary) produces hydroelectric power.
Below is an analysis of Mali according to The 2005 Index of Economic Freedom, The Heritage Foundation Heritage and The Wall Street Journal:
Category: Mostly Unfree
Total area: 1,240,000 sq. km
GDP: $3.5 billion
GDP growth rate: 4.4 %
GDP per capita: $1.4 billion
Major exports: gold, cotton, livestock
Exports of goods and services: $1.4 billion
Major export trading partners: Thailand 13.9%, Italy 9.9%, India 7.7%, Brazil 5.6
Major imports: capital goods, petroleum, foodstuffs, textile
Imports of goods and services: $1.7 billion
Major import trading partners: Ivory Coast 17.5%, France 13.9%, Senegal 4.2%, Germany 3.9%
Foreign direct investment (net): $83 million
The 2005 Index of Economic Freedom, The Heritage Foundation Heritage and The Wall Street Journal
By Purity Njeru
Ms. Njeru is an African Executive staff writer
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