Official name: Republic of Mali
Area: 1,240,000 square kilometers (478,767 square miles)
Highest point on mainland: Mount Hombori Tondo (1,155 meters/3,789 feet)
Lowest point on land: Sénégal River (23 meters/75 feet)
Hemispheres: Northern and Western
Time zone: Noon = noon GMT
Longest distances: 1,852 kilometers (1,151 miles) from east-northeast to west-southwest; 1,258 kilometers (782 miles) from north-northwest to south-southeast
Land boundaries: 7,243 kilometers (4,661 miles) total boundary length; Algeria 1,376 kilometers (855 miles); Burkina Faso 1,000 kilometers (621 miles); Côte d'Ivoire 532 kilometers (331miles); Guinea 858 kilometers (533 miles); Mauritania 2,237 kilometers (1,390 miles); Niger 821 kilometers (510 miles); Senegal 419 kilometers (260 miles)
Territorial sea limits: None
Mali, a landlocked nation, is located in western Africa and is crossed by the Niger River. The country's terrain is mostly flat, arid, and sandy. With an area of 1,240,000 square kilometers (478,767 square miles), Mali is almost twice as large as the state of Texas. Mali is divided into eight administrative regions.
Mali has no territories or dependencies.
Temperatures range by season and region. In Bamako in the southwest, temperatures in June through September average 20°C (68°F). In the hot, dry season from February to May, temperatures average 35°C (95°F). In the Sahelian region, the average annual temperature is 30°C (86°F). The rainy season is from June to September, although this really only applies to the south: the northern regions rarely receive any rainfall. Average annual rainfall in the south is approximately 140 centimeters (55 inches); in the north, rainfall averages only 20 centimeters (8 inches). Precipitation varies considerably from year to year, however. It is not uncommon for less than 8 centimeters (3 inches) of rain to fall annually in the far northern Sahara Desert area.
Mali can be roughly divided into three geographic regions: the southern region, where rainfall is the heaviest; the Sahel, the semi-desert region in the center of the country; and the Sahara Desert region of the far north.
The Sénégal River flows through the western section of the county. The Niger, one of Africa's major rivers, forms a semicircle in the south-central region, separating the semi-arid Sahel from the highlands. Oases dot the desert region of the north; these wateringholes were stopovers for caravans that traveled the Sahara Desert in ancient times. Most of the population lives in the southern region, in the cities and towns along the Niger, Baoulé, and Bani Rivers.
Mali is a landlocked nation.
The only two perennial lakes of any real size are located in the center of the country on either side of the Niger River. To the east of the river sits Lake Niangay, and northwest of this lake is the larger Lake Faguibine. Lake Faguibine is the largest lake in Mali, with a rainy-season surface area of 590 square kilometers (228 square miles). After the September-through-December rainy season, the delta region of the Niger—about 30,000 square kilometers (19,000 square miles) in total area—is flooded. Grasslands become green, and the seasonal lakes—Debo, Fati, Teli, Korientze, Tanda, Niangay, Do, Garou, Aougoundou, and others—are filled with water.
Two main rivers cut through Mali: the Niger and the Sénégal. The Niger River traverses Mali for 1,700 kilometers (1,060 miles), nearly one-third of its total length of 4,185 kilometers (2,600 miles). Beyond the town of Ségou, the Niger forms a vast inland delta and then joins with its main tributary, the Bani, at Mopti. Beyond Mopti the Niger breaks up into two channels, the Bara Issa and the Issa Ber, that spread out in a broad flood plain covering 103,600 square kilometers (40,000 square miles) before rejoining just above Diré, between Lakes Niangay and Fagubine.
In western Mali, the Sénégal River is formed at the small town of Bafoulabé through the confluence of the Bafing and Bakoye Rivers. The Falémé River lies along the border with Senegal. It joins other tributaries to become the Sénégal. The Gorgol River, which originates in Mauritania, joins it about 200 kilometers (125 miles) downstream.
The Niger River Valley forms the southernmost extent of the Sahara Desert. Northern Mali lies completely within the Sahara Desert. The Erg Chech, which straddles Mali and Algeria in the extreme north, is characterized by ergs—deep, shifting parallel dunes in the sand. This region also contains two vast plains known as the Tanezrouft, whose reddish sandstone formations lead to the Ahaggar Mountains of Algeria, and Taoudenni, where salt has been mined for centuries. In the oases (low-lying places where water allows some vegetation to grow) of the Sahara, small stands of trees may be found.
The central part of Mali, lying between Mauritania and Niger, is the semi-arid Sahel, the name for the region between the Sahara Desert and the forests closer to the Atlantic coast. Historically, the Sahel was dedicated to grazing, but years of drought have caused much of the central area to begin the transition to desert. In the upper southern region, the Niger and Bani Rivers join to form a rich inland delta with green grasses during the wet season.
In the south, the Futa Djallon Highlands and the Manding Mountains provide a barrier that separates Mali from Guinea. These mountains are relatively low, with deep valleys formed by the rivers and their tributaries. The eastern region contains two spectacular mountain ranges: the Bandiagara Plateau and the Hombori Mountains, the highest points of which are the holy mountain called the Hand of Fatima, and Mount Hombori Tondo. Mount Hombori Tondo is the highest point in Mali, with an elevation of 1,155 meters (3,789 feet).
In the south-central area, dramatic sandstone cliffs (600 meters/2,000 feet high) in the area of Bandiagara run from southwest to northeast. The Dogon people have built villages into the sheer faces of escarpments in the steep sandstone cliffs of southern Mali. These pyramidal or rectangular structures are built of mud, with wood supports protruding at regular intervals. The Dogon sleep on the flat roofs of their dwellings and bury their dead in caves dug into the escarpment.
Other than the Bandiagara Plateau there are two plateau regions in Mali. The Adrar des Iforas is an eroded massif (sandstone plateau) that rises to 800 meters (2,640 feet) in northeastern Mali near the Niger and Algeria borders. It is part of the Hoggar Mountain System that extends into Algeria. In the opposite corner of the country, the Mandingue Plateau runs along the border with Senegal, turning south and extending into Guinea.
A canal connecting the Niger River with Lake Faguibine, which had become blocked with silt from droughts in the 1970s and 1980s, was dredged and reopened in the mid-1990s. With help from the International Red Cross, 5,000 hectares (12,355 acres) of the surrounding land—double the previous area—was reclaimed from river flooding. The canal now provides the irrigation water that is vital to support agriculture in central Mali.
Tomboucou (Timbuktu) has been a center of Islamic learning since the seventeenth century. The city's Sankore Mosque, of golden clay with its protruding wooden support structure, is a well-known landmark and center for Islamic study in Africa.
Bingen, R. James, David Robinson, and John Meters Staatz, eds. Democracy and Development in Mali. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2000.
Celati, Gianni. Adventures in Africa. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.
Durou, Jean-Marc. Sahara. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2000.
Keenan, Jeremy. Sahara Man: Travelling with the Tuareg. London: J. Murray, 2001.
Scott, Chris. Sahara Overland: A Route and Planning Guide. Surrey, UK: Trailblazer Publications, 2000.
Embassy of Mali in Washington, DC. http://www.maliembassy-usa.org/index.html (accessed April 24, 2003).
"The Sahara." PBS Online. http://www.pbs.org/wnet/africa/explore/sahara/sahara_overview_lo.html (accessed April 24, 2003).