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 savannah. These empires controlled
Saharan trade and were in touch with Mediterranean and Middle Eastern centers
The Ghana Empire, dominated by the Soninke or Saracolé people
and centered in the area along the Malian-Mauritanian frontier, was a powerful
trading state from about A.D. 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 Soundiata 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 domain.
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. Timbuktu was a center of commerce and of
the Islamic faith throughout this period, and priceless manuscripts from
this epoch are still preserved in Timbuktu. The United States and other
donors are making efforts to help preserve these priceless manuscripts
as part of Mali's cultural heritage.
French military penetration of the Soudan (the French name for the area)
began around 1880. Ten years later, the French made a concerted effort
to occupy the interior. The timing and resident military governors determined
methods of their advances. A French civilian governor of Soudan 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.
As the colony of French Soudan, Mali 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 1958 French constitutional referendum,
the Republique Soudanaise became a member of the French Community and enjoyed
complete internal autonomy.
In January 1959, Soudan 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 preindependence 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
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 toward 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. The UDPM spread its structure to cercles
and arrondissements (administrative subdivisions) 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, and 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 themselves adhering
to those demands.
As in other African countries, demands for multiparty democracy increased.
The Traore government allowed some opening of the system, including the
establishment of an independent press and independent political associations,
but insisted that Mali was not ready for democracy. In early 1991, student-led,
anti-government rioting broke out again, but this time government workers
and others supported it. On March 26, 1991, after 4 days of intense anti-government
rioting, a group of 17 military officers 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 Konare, the candidate of the
Alliance 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 Konare's
ADEMA Party, causing some other historic parties to boycott subsequent
elections. President Konare won the presidential election against scant
opposition on May 11. In the two-round legislative elections conducted
on July 21 and August 3, 1997, ADEMA secured more than 80% of the National
General elections were organized in June and July 2002. President Konare
did not seek reelection since he was serving his second and last term as
required by the constitution. All political parties participated in the
elections. In preparation for the elections, the government completed a
new voter's list after a general census was administered a few months earlier
with the support of all political parties. Retired General Amadou Toumani
Toure, former head of state during Mali's transition (1991-92) became the
country's second democratically elected President as an independent candidate.
President Toure was inaugurated on June 8, 2002.