FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT MALI, WEST AFRICA
The Republic of Mali is a landlocked country in the center of West Africa. It is bordered by Algeria, Niger, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Senegal and Mauritania. It is the size of Texas and California combined.
The Niger River traverses the country from the savanna in the south to the desert in the north. Mali’s Sahelian climate ranges from subtropical to arid. It is hot and dry from February to June; rainy, humid, and mild from June to November and cool and dry from November to February.
Natural resources include gold, phosphates, salt, limestone, gypsum, granite, and hydropower. Mali is one of the largest producers of cotton in Africa. It is also a regional meat exporter.
The regional focus of Mali Nyeta within the Circle of Kita
The first school to which Mali Nyeta has contributed is located between the villages of Djangoula — Djangoula Malinke and Djangoula Foulala — that are southwest of Kita. Representatives from fourteen neighboring villages are also engaged in discussions related to the school, as well as the health center.
Mali’s population comprises a number of different peoples, including the Bamana (who are the largest single segment), the Songhai, Mandinka, Senoufo, Fula, Soninke and Dogon. The majority of Mali’s people are Muslim, and the official language is French. Bamanankan, however, is the country’s true lingua franca. Approximately 20 other languages reflect Mali’s ethnic diversity.
Mali was the site of three Great Empires: Ghana (Wagadu), Mali and Songhay. The first of these empires was the Wagadu which from the 4th to the 11th century grew rich from cattle and gold.
The Mali Empire reached its pinnacle of power and wealth during the 14th century, extending over almost all of West Africa and controlling virtually all of the rich trans-Saharan gold trade. It was during this period that Mali’s great cities, Timbuktu and Djenne, became fabled centers of wealth, learning, and culture. At its peak (1200-1300), the Mali Empire extended across West Africa to the Atlantic Ocean and incorporated an estimated 40 to 50 million people.
The wealth of the Mali Empire is illustrated by the Mali emperor Mansa Musa’s pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324. His entourage reportedly included thousands of soldiers, officials and attendants. He distributed so much gold on his pilgrimage that he depressed the world gold price for several years.
In the 15th century the Mali empire fell to the Songhai, who had established their capital at Gao. The old empires of Mali and Ghana are not the same as the present-day countries of Mali and Ghana.
In the late nineteenth century, Mali became a French colony, and gained its independence in 1960. Since then, it has had a socialist government for eight years under President Modibo Keita and then suffered 23 years of dictatorship. In 1991, a popular uprising led to the reestablishing of democracy.
Since 1992, Mali has had a new Constitution and an elected government. Mali’s constitution provides for a multi-party democracy, with the only restriction being a prohibition against parties based on ethnic, religious, regional, or gender lines. Mali has a tripartite system of government consisting of executive, judicial and legislative branches. Alpha Oumar Konare was the president of Mali from 1992- 2002. Amadou Toumani Toure was president from 2002 to 2012.
In March 2012 there was a coup d’etat in Mali and the three regions in the north of Mali are under the control of several groups of rebel armies.
Timbuktu is in Mali. Although many people think that it is an imaginary place at the end of the earth, it was an important center of commerce and learning in the Middle Ages. Timbuktu has been a natural meeting point of Songhai, Wangara, Fulani, Tuareg and Arabs.
Timbuktu has three of the oldest mosques in the world. It is a sister city to Djenne and an important Islamic intellectual and spiritual center. Merchants from northern African cities traded salt and cloth for gold in the markets of Timbuktu. According to the inhabitants of Timbuku, gold came from the south, the salt from the north and divine knowledge, from Timbuktu.
During the early 15th century, a number of Islamic institutions were erected. The most famous of these is the Sankore mosque, also known as the University of Sankore. It had 25,000 students in the 16th century and became the center of the Islamic scholarly community in Timbuktu.
University of Sankore was composed of a series of independent schools or colleges, each run by a single master. Students associated themselves with a teacher, and courses took place in the open courtyards of mosque complexes or private residences.
The most outstanding treasures in Timbuktu are the 100,000 manuscripts kept by the great families from the town. These manuscripts, some of them dated from pre-Islamic times and 12th century, have been preserved as family secrets in the town and in other villages nearby. Most were written in Arabic or Fulani, by wise men coming from the Mali Empire. Their contents are didactic, especially in the subjects of astronomy, music, and botany. More recent manuscripts deal with law, sciences and history (with unique records from the 16th and 17th century), religion, trading, etc.
The Ahmed Baba Institute, founded in 1970 by the government of Mali, with collaboration of Unesco, holds some of these manuscripts in order to restore and digitize them. More than 18,000 manuscripts have been collected by the Ahmed Baba centre, but there are an estimated 300,000-700,000 manuscripts in the region.
Private libraries in Timbuktu have also been preserving these manuscripts: Mamma Haidara Library ; Fondo Kati Library (with approximately 3,000 records of Andalusian origin, the oldest dated from 14th and 15th centuries); Al-Wangari Library; and Mohamed Tahar Library, among them. At one time there were 120 libraries with manuscripts in Timbuktu and surrounding areas. The full extent of the manuscripts is unknown.
In the 13th century, Djenné rivaled Timbuktu in prosperity and Muslim culture. Djenné, a city of mud- brick houses lining narrow, winding streets, continues to be an important center of Islamic learning.
Djenné is known for its Grande Mosque, the largest adobe building in the world. Constructed of blocks made from a mixture of rice husks, earth, and water, it is an impressive four story high structure, with three minarets almost 60 feet high.
Djenné and Jenné-jeno (‘ancient Jenné) are successive tell settlements in the upper inland Niger delta of Mali, which together span over 2000 years of continuous occupation. Both have been designated World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.
Jenné-jeno is a 33-hectare mound three kilometres southeast of Djenné. Scientific excavations in the 1970s and 1980s, by Rod and Susan McIntosh of Rice University, penetrated six metres of deposits to reveal that Jenné-jeno was founded c. 250 B.C. by iron-using peoples who cultivated rice and millet, herded stock, fished, and hunted.
The settlement grew rapidly, reaching its maximum size by A.D. 850. Other excavations and surface investigations document the development during this same period of most of the 69 nearby tells.
The natural floodplain environment was effectively transformed into a culturally constructed landscape of large, man-made, seasonal islands. This created a remarkable concentration of population (10 000–27 000 people) within the integrated, multisite system known as the Jenné-jeno Urban Complex.
The appearance of exotic trade goods, such as copper and stone, suggest that population growth went hand-in-hand with increasing trade.
These discoveries effectively refuted the assumption that urban settlements and long-distance trade in West Africa were secondary to the development of trans-Saharan trade by North African Arabs after the ninth century.
Settlement at Jenne-jeno started to decline around A.D. 1200, and the settlement was definitely abandoned by A.D. 1400.
Most of the nearby mounds followed the same pattern. This abandonment was approximately concurrent with early settlement at Djenné.
Today, Djenné’s stunning adobe architecture in distinctive Sudanic style, exemplified by the Great Mosque, is a legacy of Jenné’s trade links with North Africa. The original Great Mosque was built in the 13th century; the current one was re-constructed by the French in the early 20th-century, using local masons. Recent archaeological research has revealed that the mound on which Jenné is built consists of more than six metres of cultural deposits that began to accumulate c. 1200 A.D.
Thousands of students come to every year to study in Djenne ‘s Koranic schools. Djenne is a spiritual center with great impact on the teachings of Imams and Marabouts in all of West Africa. Here students learn the Koran by heart plus – reading and writing, geography, mathematics and law.
Bandiagara is the site of an outstanding landscape of cliffs and sandy plateaux with beautiful architecture (houses, granaries, altars, sanctuaries and Togu Na, or communal meeting-places). Age-old social traditions live on in the region (masks, feasts, rituals, and ceremonies involving ancestor worship). The geological, archaeological and ethnological interest, together with the landscape, make the Bandiagara plateau one of West Africa’s most impressive sites.
The sandstone cliff rises about 500 meters above the lower sandy flats to the south. It has a length of approximately 150 kilometers. The area of the escarpment is inhabited today by the Dogon people.
Before the Dogon the escarpment was inhabited by the Tellem. The cave-dwelling Tellem, an ethnic group later pushed out by the arrival of the Dogons, used to live in the slopes of the cliff. The Tellem legacy is evident in the caves and dwellings in the cliffs.
Villages are located along bottom of the cliff as well as at the bottom near the plain below. Most of the Dogon live in more than 700 small villages scattered over 15,000 square miles in the Bandiagara region of north central Mali, an area of high cliffs and natural caves.
Some live on a sandstone plateau above the cliffs and the rest live in the sandy plains below. Until 1930, the Dogon were isolated from the rest of the world and were opposed to foreign influences on their culture and society. For many years, this protected them from attacks by outsiders. The Dogon are famous for their distinctive village architecture, beautifully carved wooden masks, and granary doors.
The Hogon is the spiritual leader of the village. He is in charge of all religious and agrarian rituals that are to guarantee sufficient future crops and by extension to ensure the perpetuation of his people.
A) A few demographic and public health statistics
About 13 million people live in this country of roughly 480,000 square miles — or about 25 people in each square mile. As a point of reference, US population density is approximately 84 people/square mile, while in France, the comparable figure is 289 [108/square kilometer in France; 29.7/square kilometer in the USA; and 8.5/square kilometer in Mali].
Almost all Malians– about 90% — are Muslim, while Christians (1%) and animists (9%) account for the remaining. Life expectancy is 51 years (according to the UN Development Programme, 2011), while in the US, it is 78.5, and in France, it is 81.5.
The mortality rate among children under 5 years was 178/1000 in 2010, according to the UN. In the U.S., the mortality rate for children under 5 was 8/1000 in 2010, also according to UN, while in France, the comparable figure was 4/1000.
Government leaders in Mali face the challenge of improving the health-care system in a nation affected by economic hardship, malnutrition, and high mortality rates. On average, a few more than one child in five does not live to see his fifth birthday—currently the sixth worst national circumstance in the world. Malnutrition affects up to 15 percent of children under five in most areas of the country. Locust infestation and poor rainfall totals have caused a decline in the nutritional status for children. Also, malaria, meningitis, cholera, and tuberculosis are prevalent in Mali. One physician for every 12,500 people compounds the problem.
B) Education, literacy and economic indicators
By many other measures than health statistics, the people of Mali bear the burdens of poverty. The United Nations has recently ranked Mali as the world’s fifth poorest country, based also on education and economic indicators. Only 15 percent of boys and 11 percent of girls attend secondary school, and most withdraw from classes by the age of 12. With such low adult literacy rates as a result —more common among women than men—it is particularly difficult to break the cycle of poverty. Nearly two-thirds of the country lives below the poverty line, and 74 percent lives on less than $2 a day.
Approximately 80 percent of Malians engage in agriculture as a source of income, producing cotton, millet, sorghum, and rice. Taken together, three countries in West Africa — Mali, Benin and Burkina Faso — comprise the second-largest cotton exporting group in the world, second only to the U.S.. Subsidies for American cotton growers continue to skew the world market, putting the Malians and their fellow West Africans at a disadvantage.
Gold is the primary mining product in the country. Mali ranked among the top 10 gold-producing countries worldwide in 2006, but by 2009, had dropped to #16, according to the British Geological Survey (http://www.bgs.ac.uk/mineralsuk/statistics/worldStatistics.html)
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