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Despite its enormous land mass, Mali is economically poor but politically more prosperous. Economic activity is limited to the regions around the Niger Delta-90% of the population live in the South of the country. The rest of the country is comprised by a large chunk of the Sahara desert. The country is largely undeveloped, with 80% of the population engaged in fishing or agriculture and over 50% of living below the poverty line.

Mali has however been a significant benefactor of foreign aid. The successful implementation of IMF structural adjustment programmes has increased its GDP growth to an average annual rate of 5% in the period 1996-2008. Infrastructural improvements, including a programme of road building, finally connecting Mali to all its neighbouring countries, have in recent years begun to attract the attention of international investors.  Cotton is Mali’s biggest agricultural export and the industry was hit hard when prices collapsed in 2003. This blow to the economy was however compensated by an increase in mining activity. Since 1991, a relaxation of mining regulations has attracted international mining corporations, and Mali is now Africa’s third biggest exporter of Gold, after South Africa and Ghana.

Despite its underdevelopment and widespread poverty, Mali has a relatively strong democratic tradition, and has had almost eighteen years of free and open elections. President Traoré ran a one party dictatorship from 1968 to 1992 but was stifled in his attempts to improve the economy by a restless and critical civil society and by chronic famine which killed thousands of people between 1968 and 1975.  Traoré survived three coups, but was eventually overthrown in 1991 by the military, led by Amadou Toure. Toure implemented a new constitution but then immediately relinquished power. Free and open democratic elections were held in 1992 and Alpha Konare was elected president. Konrare served his maximum of two terms and was replaced in 2002 by coup leader Amadou Toure who was returned to power, this time as a democratically elected President.

90% of Mali’s population is Muslim and  is comprised of numerous ethnic groups, speaking over 40 languages between them. 80% of the population can speak Bambara, which is used for trade and commerce. Mali has a reputation for its music. It has produced many artists with continental and international recognition including Ali Farka Touré, the late blues and roots guitarist, the band Tinariwen, and several Afro-pop artists including Salif Keita and Habib Koité. It’s most prominent authors include Massa Makan Diabaté, Moussa Konate and Fily Dabo Sissoko.

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