Mali is a quit big country which measures 1.24 million km2 (2 times the size of France) and consists mainly of desert (70 %), mainly in the north-eastern part. Only 1.6 % is water, mainly the river Niger (Djoliba is the local name). The people in this country are very poor (it belongs to the five poorest countries in the world) and most people earn their money by farming, fishing or tourism. Their income is less than 400 US$ annually. 90 % of the 13.5 million inhabitants (2005) are Muslim. The population consists out of several tribes: Bambara (32%), Fulani or Peul (14%), Senufo (12%), Soninke (9%), Touareg (7%), Songhai (7%) and the Malinke or Mandingo, Mandinke (7%). Some people live as nomads like the Bozo (fishing). There are an estimated 20 tribes all over the country.
Mali is the largest country in West Africa and not connected to any ocean. It is surrounded by the following countries: Algeria, Burkino Faso, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Mauritania, Niger, and Senegal. It is mostly flat plain land with the Sahara Desert in the north. Mali is one of the countries of the Sahel - the region where the desert and the savannah meet. The climate is mainly hot all year long ranging from subtropical to arid. During the dry season (October to July), dusty winds, called Harmattan, blow from the north. The main languages are French and Bambara.
The history of Mali goes back as far the 4th century, although there are traces found indicating that around 400 BC people were already living in Mali. It always has been part of bigger kingdoms. From the 4th to the 11th century Mali was a part of the Ghana empire. The main trading center in the early days was Timbuktu in the center of the country. This place is now difficult to reach and for most tourists the ultimate destination.
In 1893 the French occupied the area and called it French Sudan. On September 22 1960 the country became independent, together with Senegal, and was called Federation of Mali. After a couple of month Senegal withdrawn itself from the federation and the name Mali was born. The first president of the new republic, Modibo Keita, introduced a socialist system. In 1968 military forces took the power in the country, which lasted to 1991 when Amadou Toumani TourÃ© took the power and installed a temporary government. In 1992 the first democratic election took place. The government is now fighting corruption.
The best time to visit the country is December till March. The rainy season is June/ July through September. During the rainy season a lot of people are growing rice. Although the remainder of the year is dry, the south-western part of the country is still green. The north of the country is desert and the number of reports of tourist being robbed in this area is significant. The more touristy south is relative safe. The capital is Bamako (which is not really touristy and most visitors leave the town as quickly as possible). In earlier days Segou was the capital (of the empire).
The currency is CFA (Colonies FranÃ§aises d'Afrique Franc) and is pronounced as "ceefa" and is also used in other French countries in western Africa such as Senegal, Ivory Coast, Benin, Burkina Faso, Niger, Togo and Guinea-Bissau. The exchange rate for 1 euro is about 650 CFA (black market) and the US$ about 570 CFA (rate February 2006). In 2010 a new currency will be introduced, called Ecowas. It is very complicated to change money or traveller cheques at banks. In Bamako is the only ATM of the country. The best way is to change cash money on the black market.
Medical care is poorly organized. In most places there are no hospitals or doctors. The best thing to do is to bring your own medicines and other medications. Ask your local doctor about vaccinations against yellow fever, hepatitis A/B and anti malaria tablets (remember that malaria is still one of the diseases causing most people to die, together with HIV/ AIDS).
Most people live in small houses, mostly build out of mudstone. In the main towns there is electricity (220 volts, European plugs), but in the rural places most of the time there is not. Because people are poor, there is not very much attention for environmental problems. A lot of trees are chopped down for building, firewood and building boats. There are no replant initiatives. Also the use of water becomes more and more a problem. Most people depend on water wells. Also the amount of water in the Niger (one of the biggest rivers in Africa) is shrinking, since 1970 by almost 30 %. In the dry season some parts of the river can't be used for heavy transport. Also the life in the water (fish) is threatened, which also causes a food problem.
The cultural life of Mali is very rich. The country has a lot of good musicians and due to the different tribes, the music varies quit a lot. As a tourist you will be confronted by hand painted clothing/ textile/ blankets etc. Also there is a lot of jewellery and pottery. If you want to buy something, always bargain. In most cases you can reduce the price by 40 %, so don't be afraid to start your bargain at 30 or 40 % of the first offered price, but give a reasonable price, these people are very poor!