Most of Mali, in West Africa, lies in the Sahara. A landlocked country four-fifths the size of Alaska, it is bordered by Guinea, Senegal, Mauritania, Algeria, Niger, Burkina Faso, and the Côte d"Ivoire. The only fertile area is in the south, where the Niger and Senegal rivers provide water for irrigation.
Caravan routes have passed through Mali since A.D. 300. The Malinke empire ruled regions of Mali from the 12th to the 16th century, and the Songhai empire reigned over the Timbuktu-Gao region in the 15th century. Morocco conquered Timbuktu in 1591 and ruled over it for two centuries. Subjugated by France by the end of the 19th century, the land became a colony in 1904 (named French Sudan in 1920) and in 1946 became part of the French Union. On June 20, 1960, it became independent and, under the name of Sudanese Republic, was joined with the Republic of Senegal in the Mali federation. However, Senegal seceded from the federation on Aug. 20, 1960, and the Sudanese Republic then changed its name to the Republic of Mali on Sept. 22.
In the 1960s, Mali concentrated on economic development, continuing to accept aid from both Soviet bloc and Western nations, as well as international agencies. In the late 1960s, it began retreating from close ties with China. But a purge of conservative opponents brought greater power to President Modibo Keita, and in 1968, the influence of the Chinese and their Malian sympathizers increased. The army overthrew the government on Nov. 19, 1968 and brought Mali under military rule for the next 20 years. Mali and Burkina Faso fought a brief border war from Dec. 25 to 29, 1985. In 1991, dictator Moussa Traoré was overthrown, and Mali made a peaceful transition to democracy. In 1992, Alpha Konaré became Mali"s first democratically elected president.
In the early 1990s, the government fought the Tuaregs, nomads of Berber and Arab descent who inhabit the northern desert regions of Mali and have little in common with Mali"s black African majority. The Tuaregs accused the government