The landlocked West African country of Mali is one of the world’s poorest nations. Since independence from France in 1960 it has suffered droughts, rebellions, a coup and 23 years of military dictatorship.
But since 1992, when its first democratically-elected president took power, Mali has had a civilian government.
The core of ancient empires going back to the fourth century, Mali was conquered by the French in the middle of the 19th century.
In 1958 it was proclaimed the Sudanese Republic and the following year it became the Mali Federation, after uniting with Senegal. However, Senegal seceded and Mali became independent in 1960. Although swathes of Mali are barren, the country is self-sufficient in food thanks to the fertile Niger river basin in the south and east.
Mali is one of the continent’s biggest cotton producers. Along with other African exporters it has lobbied against subsidies to cotton farmers in richer countries, particularly the US. It argues that these depress prices and restrict Malian farmers’ access to export markets.
Mali is saddled with a chronic foreign trade deficit, making it heavily dependent on foreign aid and the money sent home from emigrants working abroad.
In 1985 Mali fought a brief border war with Burkina Faso, and relations continue to be strained. In the early 1990s the army was sent to the north to quell a rebellion by nomadic Tuareg tribes over land, cultural and linguistic rights. However, Mali remains relatively peaceful.
Mali has produced some of the stars of African music. The Festival in the Desert, held every year in Essakane, a Saharan oasis, celebrates this talent.
Full name: The Republic of Mali
Population: 12.7 million (UN, 2008)
Area: 1.25 million sq km (482,077 sq miles)
Major languages: French, Bambara, Berber, Arabic
Major religions: Islam, indigenous beliefs
Life expectancy: 52 years (men), 57 years (women) (UN)
Monetary unit: 1 CFA (Communaute Financiere Africaine) franc = 100 centimes
Main exports: Cotton, gold, livestock
GNI per capita: US $500 (World Bank, 2007)
Internet domain: .ml
International dialling code: +223
President: Amadou Toumani Toure
Amadou Toumani Toure, the army general credited with rescuing Mali from military dictatorship and handing it back to its people, won presidential elections in May 2002. He was re-elected in 2007.
He first came to power in 1991, overthrowing military ruler Moussa Traore after his security forces killed over 100 pro-democracy demonstrators.
He gained widespread respect, and the nickname “soldier of democracy”, for handing power to elected civilians the next year.
Born in 1948, Mr Toure is also known popularly by his initials “ATT”. He has no official party but went into the first round of the elections with the backing of numerous support groups and 22 minor parties.