PARIS – Mali is a landlocked West African country of 15 million people, covering 1,240,000 square kilometers (478,800 square miles), three-quarters of it desert. In the fourteenth century, the powerful Mali Empire included parts of modern-day Senegal, Guinea, and Niger. Defeated and divided, it became a French colony in the nineteenth century, regaining independence in 1960.
Mali’s population is diverse: desert nomads, notably Tuaregs, in the north, and a majority of sedentary black populations in the south. Many languages are spoken, but Islam, to which almost 95% of the population adheres, is a unifying factor. Agriculture is the main economic activity, notably in the vast internal delta of the Niger River, home to many tribes, including the Dogon, a people remarkable for their sculpture and architecture.