Malians express great pride in their ancestry. Mali is the cultural
heir to the succession of ancient African empires--Ghana, Malinke, and
Songhai--that occupied the West African savannah. These empires
controlled Saharan trade and were in touch with Mediterranean and Middle
Eastern centers of civilization.
The Ghana Empire, dominated by the Soninke people and centered in the
area along the Malian-Mauritanian frontier, was a powerful trading state
from about A.D. 700 to 1075. The Malinke Kingdom of Mali had its
origins on the upper Niger River in the 11th century. Expanding rapidly
in the 13th century under the leadership of Soundiata Keita, it reached
its height about 1325, when it conquered Timbuktu and Gao. Thereafter,
the kingdom began to decline, and by the 15th century, it controlled
only a small fraction of its former domain.
The Songhai Empire expanded its power from its center in Gao during the
period 1465-1530. At its peak under Askia Mohammad I, it encompassed
the Hausa states as far as Kano (in present-day Nigeria) and much of the
territory that had belonged to the Mali Empire in the west. It was
destroyed by a Moroccan invasion in 1591.
French military penetration of the Soudan (the French name for the area)
began around 1880. Ten years later, the French made a concerted effort
to occupy the interior. The timing and method of their advances were
determined by resident military governors. A French civilian governor
of Soudan was appointed in 1893, but resistance to French control did
not end until 1898, when the Malinke warrior Samory Toure was defeated
after 7 years of war. The French attempted to rule indirectly, but in
many areas they disregarded traditional authorities and governed through
appointed chiefs. As part of the colony of Soudan, Mali was
administered with other French colonial territories as the Federation of
French West Africa.
In early 1957, as a result of France's Basic Law (Loi Cadre), the
Territorial Assembly obtained extensive powers over internal affairs and
was permitted to form a cabinet with executive authority over matters
within the assembly's competence. After the 1958 French constitutional
referendum, Soudan became a member of the French Community and enjoyed
complete internal autonomy.
In January 1959, Soudan joined Senegal to form the Mali Federation,
which became fully independent within the French Community on June 20,
1960. The federation collapsed on August 20, 1960, when Senegal
seceded. On September 22, Soudan proclaimed itself the Republic of Mali
and withdrew from the French Community.
President Modibo Keita, whose party, the Union Soudanaise, had dominated
preindependence politics, moved quickly to declare a single-party state
and to pursue a socialist policy based on extensive nationalization. A
continuously deteriorating economy led to a decision to rejoin the Franc
Zone in 1967 and modify some of the economic excesses.
On November 19, 1968, a group of young officers staged a bloodless coup
and set up a 14-member Military Committee for National Liberation
(CMLN), with Lt. Moussa Traore as president. The military leaders
renounced socialism and attempted to pursue economic reforms, but for
several years faced debilitating internal political struggles and the
disastrous Sahelian drought.
A new constitution, approved in 1974, created a one-party state and was
designed to move Mali toward civilian rule. However, the military
leaders remained in power. In September 1976, a new political party was
established, the Democratic Union of the Malian People (UDPM), based on
the concept of non-ideological democratic centralism. Single-party
presidential and legislative elections were held in June 1979, and Gen.
Moussa Traore received 99% of the votes. His efforts at consolidating
the single-party government were challenged in 1980 by student-led anti-
government demonstrations, which were brutally put down, and by three
The political situation stabilized during 1981 and 1982, and remained
generally calm throughout the 1980s. The UDPM began attracting
additional members as it demonstrated that it could counter an effective
voice against the excesses of local administrative authorities.
Shifting its attention to Mali's economic difficulties, the government
approved plans for cereal marketing liberalization, reform in the state
enterprise system, new incentives to private enterprise, and an
agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
However, by 1990, there was growing dissatisfaction with the demands for
austerity imposed by the IMF's economic reform programs and the
perception that the president and his close associates were not
themselves adhering to those demands.
As in other African countries, demands for multi-party democracy
increased. The Traore Government allowed some opening of the system,
including the establishment of an independent press and independent
political associations, but insisted that Mali was not ready for
democracy. In early 1991, student-led anti-government rioting broke out
again, but this time it was supported also by government workers and
others. On March 26, 1991, after 4 days of intense anti-government
rioting, a group of 17 military officers arrested President Traore and
suspended the constitution. Within days, these officers joined with the
Coordinating Committee of Democratic Associations to form a
predominantly civilian, 25-member ruling body, the Transitional
Committee for the Salvation of the People (CTSP). The CTSP then
appointed a civilian-led government. A national conference held in
August 1991 produced a draft constitution (approved in a referendum
January 12, 1992), a political parties charter, and an electoral code.
Political parties were allowed to form freely. Between January and
April 1992, a president, National Assembly, and municipal councils were
elected. On June 8, 1992, Alpha Oumar Konare, the candidate of the
Association for Democracy in Mali (ADEMA), was inaugurated as the
President of Mali's Third Republic.
source: U.S. State Department Background Notes 1993
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