Gold turns to sand
Sand is indeed a key word in Mali. Gone are the glory days of the empire it is named after and the gold which was in abundance. Today Mali is among the poorest countries in the world, with 65% of its land area desert or semidesert. There is no state religion; the Constitution of Mali defines the country as a secular state and allows for religious practices that do not pose a threat to social stability and peace.
Mali is a West African nation that had often been cited as a democratic model until soldiers overthrew the elected government of President Amadou Toumani Touré in March 2012. They appeared to cede power three weeks later to an interim government. By that time, a long-simmering rebellion in the north had split the country in two.
Mali, a former French colony, was the latest country to face turmoil as a consequence of the Arab Spring, though in this case it did not come through popular uprisings or protests for democracy. To the contrary, Mali was preparing to hold elections in April 2012, and the president, adhering to the Constitution, announced he would not seek another term.
But the downfall of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi in Libya sent a flood of weapons into Mali, bolstering a longstanding Tuareg rebel movement in the country’s vast desert north and delivering many defeats to Malian forces. The mutinous soldiers who led the coup, low-ranking officers and enlisted men, said on state television that they had been fed up with the way Mali’s government was confronting the rebellion, complaining about being under-equipped for the fight.
Yet in the days after the military coup, the Tuareg rebels made some of their most significant gains yet, taking control of towns like Gao and Kidal before seizing Timbuktu. The rebels have secular and Islamist factions. The Islamist faction, Ansar Dine, announced that it would impose Islamic law in Timbuktu.
On April 5, the rebels declared a cease-fire, saying they had completed military operations after achieving their objectives — the capture of a string of settlements in the desert north. The next day, the rebels declared an independent state called Azawad, cementing the division of Mali.
General Information on Mali
Official Name: Republic of Mali
Government Type: Republic
Population: 11.995 million
Area: 474,764 square miles; the size of Texas and California combined
Languages: French (official), Bambara, numerous African languages
Literacy: Total Population: [19%] Male: [27%]; Female: [12%]
Year of Independence: 1960
Photo: Getti Images