Sunday, January 30, 2011

A Jewel of West Africa

Thinking about the country being formed in Southern Sudan made me realize how little I know about the countries of Africa.  So I looked at the globe that rests on my bookshelf to select a country to research a bit - to discover some place new.  Here’s where I looked and a few things that I learned about my country of the week:  Mali.  It's:

Located in Western Africa.  It's landlocked, surrounded by neighbors that include Algeria, Burkina Faso, Senegal and Cote d’Ivoire.

About the size of California and Texas combined with a population slightly larger than that of the state of Illinois.

A republic with a President elected by the population.  The President serves a 5 year term and the current President’s term runs through 2012.   It's citizens can vote at 18.

An associate member of the European Union.  Plus: 

The US has diplomatic relations with Mali. The US Embassy and Ambassador are located in the capital city of Barmako.

It’s home to the famous city of Timbukto (Timbouctou) located on the Niger River, a key place on the trans-Saharan trade routes.

While the official language is French,  80% of the populations speaks Bambara, most commonly used in daily activities.

It’s one of the 25 poorest countries in the world with an economy based largely on agriculture and fishing.  There is a  a small tourism industry said to have significant potential.  But then -

The Lonely Planet guide book ( calls Mali  “a jewel of West Africa.”

Where to find this basic information (and much more)?  There’s Wikipedia for an overview.  For facts and figures read through the CIA World Fact Book ( and the Background Notes prepared by the US Department of State ( - check the section on Countries and Regions.  Add to those basics a Google search for Mali and uncover a variety of sites including Geographia ( that tells us “Mali is a nation of unusual interest and charm.”

Small, poor, landlocked, member of the EU, engaged with the US and a jewel of interest and charm.  A multi faceted country.  It's place to explore on paper now and some day - to visit in person.

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