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Tuesday 5th March
Mali Information - Page 2
The Sahara was not always a desert: there was a time when the region was green and fertile and people farmed and hunted where there is now only sand.

In the history of Mali there have been three great empires: the Ghana Empire, the Mali Empire and the Songhay Empire.

During the Middle Ages the Muslim empire of Mali covered most of West Africa. In the reign of the Emperor Mansa Musa, at the beginning of fourteenth century, Arab architects and administrators were brought to Timbuktu.

The empires developed because of trade in gold and salt and other goods. Slaves were also transported along this route. Their control of the trans-Saharan trade route was finally broken by European traders. By the end of the nineteenth century France annexed the country and Mali joined French West Africa. Mali became a republic in 1960.

In the 1990s Mali came close to civil war as a result of a Tuareg rebellion in the north.

Mali is one of the poorest countries in the world and receives foreign aid. Droughts have increased the spread of desertification and caused a scarcity of food aggravating the country's economic problems.

The River Niger is important for the transportation of goods as well as irrigation of land.

Much of Mali is desert and Sahel with only a very small percentage of land suitable for crops. Although so little of the land area is arable, eighty percent of the labour force works in agriculture and fishing.

Farming is mainly at a subsistence level. Crops cultivated are millet, rice, corn, vegetables and groundnuts. Cotton is grown for export. Livestock rearing is an important sector of the economy and provides profitable exports for Mali. The Niger and Senegal Rivers are also important food sources because of their fish stocks.

Gold is another export and other minerals are mined. Industries are construction and food processing. Local crafts include carpets and jewellery and help to earn tourist revenues.

In the 1970s Mali set up a national tourist organization. As the tourism industry develops it is hoped that it will prove a substantial earner of foreign currency. (2008)

African art has a history as long as that of European and Asian art. African art was often a collective work rather than by one artist.

Most African art objects were in fact produced for some particular use - they were not art for its own sake. For instance the Bambara people are famous for making ceremonial masks and Dogon craft is well known especially the carved wooden doors on their grain stores.

Music and dance play an important part in rituals and ceremonies.

Storyteller families in Mali are called "djeli". Legends and stories are passed down the generations through song.

Traditional music in Africa is being increasingly influenced by Western music. Toumani Diabate is a well known player of the kora, a 21-stringed harp dating back to the thirteenth century. Other Malian musicians who are popular outside the country are Salif Keita and Ali Farka Toure.

Football is probably the most popular sport in Africa and Mali takes part in international competitions.

As the majority of the population are Muslim, Islamic holy days are celebrated. These include the end of Ramadan, the Feast of the Sacrifice and the Prophet Mohammed's Birthday. There is also a celebration for the Muslim New Year.

There is a national holiday for the Anniversary of the Proclamation of the Republic on 22 September.

News from Mali can be found in Newslink.

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