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Mali

Where is it?:

In the interior of western Africa, landlocked by Algeria and the Sahara Desert on the north; Mauritania, Senegal and Guinea to the west; Cote d'Ivoire and Burkina Faso to the south; and Niger to the east. According to the CIA World Factbook, Mali is slightly smaller than twice the size of the state of Texas. The majority of residents don't live in the northern Sahara region, but in the southern part of the country where the Niger and Senegal rivers flow. Ironically, it was a coup that led to Mali being a multiparty, democratic state, and a coup that halted this political system in March 2012.

Capital:

Bamako, also the largest city in Mali with a population of 1.8 million. Situated along the Niger River, it's one of the fastest-growing cities in Africa -- its population today is more than 18 times what it was in 1960. The swelling population, much of it rural residents looking for work in the city, has led to congestion, sanitation and pollution issues. The diverse region has been continuously inhabited for more than 150,000 years, and hosted key universities and mosques in medieval times. The city has a hot and humid climate.

National symbols:

The national motto is "Un Peuple, Un But, Une Foi" (One People, One Goal, One Faith), which is emblazoned on the national emblem under the rising sun, the mosque of Djenne and a vulture in flight. The national anthem is "Le Mali," penned in 1962 and advocating a united Africa.

Language:

French is the official language. Eighty percent speak Bambara, and there are also numerous other African languages spoken in the country.

Population:

More than 14.5 million, which is composed of a number of ethnic groups: the Mande, which include Bambara, Malinke and Soninke, comprise 50 percent; the Peul are 17 percent; the Voltarc are 12 percent; Songhai, 6 percent; Tuareg and Moor, 10 percent; and five percent other. Ninety percent of the population is Muslim, 1 percent are Christian and the other 9 percent ascribe to indigenous religions (the state is secular under the constitution). Life expectancy is just 53 years on average, with the median age of the population just over 16 years old. The risk of infectious diseases is very high, with 44 percent of population using untreated drinking water and 54 percent having unimproved sanitation. Just over 46 percent of the population can read and write.

History:

The Mali Empire, one of three that controlled Saharan trade routes, reached the height of its power in the 14th century. In the 18th century the region suffered a devastating famine; in the 19th century it came under French control. The country came into being 1960 when, after independence from France, the Sudanese Republic and Senegal formed the Mali Federation, and Senegal's withdrawal from the partnership left Mali. The first elected president, Modibo Keita, turned Mali into a socialist one-party state. The regime was overthrown in a 1968 coup, which is now celebrated on Liberation Day. Another coup in 1991 led to the March Revolution and the country's first multiparty, democratic elections in 1992. In March 2012, rebel forces inside the military staged a coup against the government of President Amadou Toumani Toure.

Economy:

Mali is among the 25 poorest countries in the world. About half of Mali's population live below the poverty line. The main industries are gold mining and agriculture. With IMF direction, the country has been diversifying by developing its cotton and iron ore industries. The unemployment rate is estimated to be about 30 percent.

Military:

The Malian Armed Forces consists of the Army, Air Force and National Guard. The compulsory service age is 18 with a two-year conscript service obligation. Nearly 4 million men and women are deemed fit for military service.

Type of government:

A republic with universal voting rights at age 18. The president is elected for a maximum of two five-year terms and appoints the prime minister. National Assembly members are elected by popular vote for five-year terms.
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