The area occupied by the modern state of Mali (and parts of Niger and Senegal) was one of the most imortant trade and gold empires in the first centuries AD. Up to mediaeval times, it continued to be one of the most important trading centres of the entire Islamic world. It began as the ancient Ghana Empire early in the new era (AD) mainly among the Soninke of the Mande-speaking group who lived at a crossroads of trade between the oasis people of the Sahara, the Berbers, and the gold and ivory producing blacks of the grassland and forest country to the south.

3rd-4th century AD : the Ghana empire, located from the Upper Niger and Senegal rivers to the northern curve of the Niger Bend coalesced into a mighty power with kings described by an Arab historian  ‘as the richest in the world because of their gold’.

8th-9th century : Islam firmly established as the religion of trade, leaving traditional beliefs of paramount importance even to this day. Islam also brought with it an accepted system of law and order which enabled trade to thrive.

1076 : The Ghana empire falls to the Almoravides Berbers, a fighting corps formed and sent by Abdullah Ibn Yasin of Mauritania, in a holy war against all who in Western Africa refused to heed the call of ortodox Islam. These were the same people who conquered Moorish Spain. But they were unable to hold power for long.

1230: Sundiata Keita, a leader of the Mandinka people who converted to Islam as a gesture of good-will to the trading partners in the north, founded what became the new Empire of Mali with its capital at Niani. It reached the heights of its power under Emperor Mansa Musa (1312-1332) when it stretched from the Atlantic to the borders of present-day Nigeria.

1400: The empire reached its golden age of prosperity and peace. It was counted as one of the great empires of Islam and was well recognized by the maritime nations of southern Europe. A 1375 atlas of Africa shows the Lord of Mali seated in majesty upon his throne while the traders of all North Africa march steadily towards his markets. But after the death of Mansa Musa succeeding emperors weakened and came under threat from the Songhai people (who surivive to this day farming, fishing and trading along the Niger river).

1464 : Under the leadership of Sunni Ali, the Songhai conquered Niani in 1400 and systematically destroyed the Empire of Mali. The Songhai also converted to Islam but took care to preserve the traditional beliefs of the peasants. However, the Songhai were rapidly eclipsed by the Muslim traders from the north whose systems of belief promoted centralized rule and long-distance trade and credit.

1591 : A Moroccan invasion and an internal uprising, combined with growing maritime trade with Europe, brought down the Songhai empire, ending most of the trans-Saharan trading routes. Much of the culture and learning was destroyed. The Tuaregs of the north took and held Timbuktu and prosperity throughout the old empire began to seriously decline.

1700-1800:   The collapse of the empire resulted in various states being established and collapsing as the coastal areas became integral to the European slave trade and constantly at war with each other. The only cohesion that was maintained was through Islam which maintained its political and religious power.

1900 : In the second half of the 19th century El Hadj Omar, leader of a Muslim reform movement briefly established the Tokolor empire but this fell to the French in 1880 who went on to capture Timbuktu and other Malian cities, calling the whole territory French Sudan, which it remained until independence. The people were forced into cultivating cash crops, mainly groundnuts, cotton and gum arabic.

1946: The rebel Rassemblement Démocratique Africain (RDA) was formed which led the fight for independence in France’s West African colonies. Its Malian section was led Modibo Keita, socialist and anti-imperialist. In 1958 French Sudan became an autonomous state within France and in 1959 briefly federated with Senegal to achieve independence on June 20, 1960.

1959 : Sudan joined Senegal to form the Federation of Mali, which achieved independence on June 20, 1960.

September 22, 1960 : Because of the conflicting goals of Senegal’s Leopold Senghor and Mali’s Modibo Keita the federation collapsed within three months and Mali was proclaimed an independent republic. Keita nationalized agriculture and other industries and also left the French economic zone, leading to his increased unpopularity.

1968 : President Keita is overthrown in a bloodless military coup and the country was led by Colonel Moussa Traore and other the leaders of that coup until 1992. Traore declared himself president in 1969. Keita died in prison in 1977 under mysterious circumstances.

1991: President Traoré is ousted in another coup led by a fellow coup-plotter, Lt.-Colonel Amadou Toumani Toure. He, however, quickly became a national hero by holding free and democratic elections in 1992 and then stepping down in favour of a civilian who won the election.

1992: This democratic election brought President Alpha Oumar Konare to power, while Toure became a general and head of the army.

1997 : Chaotic and botched elections returned Konare to power but the opposition boycotted Parliament accusing the ruling party of rigging the election results. The boycott continued during Konare’s entire five-year term but Mali’s successful hosting of the Africa Cup football extravaganza in 2002 redeemed Konare’s image.

2002 : Another free election returns Mali’s former military dictator and national hero, General Amadou Toumani Toure to the presidency as elected head of state.


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