Mali is a landlocked country located in interior Western Africa, southwest of Algeria, north of Guinea, Cote d'Ivoire, and Burkina Faso, west of Niger. Mali is about the size of Texas and California combined, with a population of 14.1 million (2011 est.). The major cities of Mali are: Bamako (Capital - pop. 1,728,444), Segou, Sikasso, Mopti, Gao, Kayes, and Timbuktu. The official language of Mali is French, however Bambara is spoken by about 80% of the population. Mali's climate is cool and dry (November - February), hot and dry (February - June) and rainy, humid and mild (June to November). Its terrain is mostly flat to rolling northern plains, covered by sand. In the south there is a savanna; in the northeast there are rugged hills.
Mali's population consists of diverse sub-Saharan ethnic groups, sharing similar historic, cultural, and religious traditions; the Tuaregs and Maurs (desert nomads) are related to the North African Berbers and are the exception. Although each ethnic group speaks a separate language, Bambara is the common language of the marketplace. Historically, good interethnic relations throughout much of the country were facilitated by easy mobility on the Niger River and across the country's vast savannahs. Each ethnic group was traditionally tied to a specific occupation, all working within close proximity. The Bambara, Malinke, and Dogon are farmers; the Fulani, Maur, and Tuareg are herders; the Soninkes or Saracoles are traders; while the Bozo are fishers.
Malians express great pride in their ancestry and pride themselves on a long history of peaceful coexistence among ethnic groups. Mali is the cultural heir to the succession of ancient African empires (Ghana, Malinke, and Songhai). These empires controlled Saharan trade and were in touch with Mediterranean and Middle Eastern centers of civilization.
Mali's estimated 2010 per capita gross domestic product (GDP) of $691. Its potential wealth lies in mining and the production of agricultural commodities, livestock, and fish. The natural resources of Mali include: gold, phosphates, kaolin, salt, limestone, uranium, gypsum, granite, and hydropower. The natural hazards facing Mali are: hot, dust-laden harmattan haze common during dry seasons, recurring droughts, and the occasional Niger River flooding.
CIA World Factbook; U.S. State Department Background Notes, 3/2012; 1/2012