When did the history of West Africa begin?
For thousands of years, African history was oral history. It was told and passed on from generation to generation by the griots or storytellers. Because there were no written records until the 10th century, in fact, Europeans thought sub-Saharan Africa had no history at all. It was with the Arab expansion across the Sahara that written records began to be made of Africa's past. We have now uncovered documents in the Arabic language dating back to 970 A.D., but for centuries they remained unknown to Europeans. In general, these documents lend credence to oral histories told over the centuries. Still, many details of African civilization in the centuries before contact with Arabs and Europeans are not known. What is known is that some of the world's great empires arose in sub-Saharan Africa, most notably, the Ghana Empire, the Mali Empire, and the Songhai Empire. They represented a culmination of cultural development that took thousands of years.
Around the end of the second millennium B.C., it is thought that people changed from hunting, gathering, and fishing to herding animals and cultivating wild grasses -- sorghum, millet, and rice. The Soninke people, who now live in Mali, Gambia, and Senegal, believe that during the second or third century A.D. their ancestors settled in the wide valley that lay between the Senegal River to the west and the Niger River to the east. This area was part of a vast territory called the Bilad es Sudan, the "land of the blacks" by the Arabs. This region, over time, became known as the Sudan (not to be confused with the present-day country of Sudan). It was in the Sudan that the Ghana, Mali, and Songhai Empires developed.
What is history?
In the Virginia Standards of Learning, history and its role in the curriculum are presented this way:
"History should be the integrative core of the curriculum, in which both the humanities (such as art and literature) and the social sciences (political science, economics, and geography) come to life. Through the study of history, students can better understand their own society as well as others. By understanding the relationship between past and present, students will be equipped to deal with problems that might arise in the future. Students will understand chronological thinking and the connections between causes and effects and between continuity and change. History enables students to see how people in other times and places have grappled with the fundamental questions of truth, justice, and personal responsibility, to understand that ideas have real consequences, and to realize that events are shaped both by ideas and the actions of individuals."
The Ghana Empire
The Ghana Empire began when the Soninke people joined forces to resist the raids of pastoral nomads.
Nomads herding animals in the fringes of the desert, the Sahel, posed a threat to the early Soninke who lived south of the Sahara as agriculturalists. During times of drought, the nomads would raid the villages to the south in search of water and pastures for their herds. To protect themselves from these raids, the communities of African farmers joined forces, possibly to form a loose federation of states that eventually became the kingdom of Ghana.
During the third century A.D., it is probable that a Soninke chief succeeded in uniting the Soninke people (the northernmost Mande peoples) and possibly founded the city of Kumbi Saleh (in present-day western Mali). Kumbi Saleh was an oasis along an important north-south trade route. This chief belonged to the royal clan of Ouagadou, and the Soninke first named their kingdom after this royal family. He was known as the Kaya maghan, "king of the gold," and as Ghana, or "war chief." Over time, the land of the Ouagadou (Wagadu) became known (by the Arabs) as Ghana; they also associated it with gold. Rulers of the state kept extending their borders in order to gain control of the trade routes by conquering neighboring territories. By the fifth century, the Soninke kingdom of Ghana had been established. This kingdom lasted about six centuries before being conquered by new forces from the east.
The Ghana Empire survived and prospered because it was located on major trade routes.
Ghana was well placed to take advantage of trade. It was located midway between the desert, the main source of salt, and the goldfields of the upper Senegal River in the savannah woodlands in the south. Camel caravans crossing the Sahara brought goods such as copper and dried fruit, as well as salt that was mined at Taghaza in present-day northern Mali. The caravans also brought clothing and other manufactured goods, which they exchanged for kola nuts, hides, leather goods, ivory, gold, and slaves. Taxes collected on every trade item entering the kingdom were used to pay for government, a huge army which protected the kingdom's borders and trade routes, and the upkeep of the capital city and major markets. However, it was control of the gold fields in the southwest that was essential to Ghana's political control and economic prosperity. The location of these goldfields was kept strictly secret by the Soninke. By the tenth century, Ghana was an immensely rich and prosperous empire, probably controlling an area the size of Texas or Nigeria in what is now eastern Senegal, southwest Mali, and southern Mauritania. The ruler was acclaimed as the "richest king in the world because of his gold" by Arab traveler Ibn Haukal, who visited the region in about 950 A.D. Demand for gold increased in the ninth and tenth centuries for minting into coins by the Islamic states of North Africa. As the trans-Saharan trade in gold expanded, so did the state of Ghana. The trans-Sahara trade also brought Islam to the empire, initially to the rulers and townspeople.
Locally obtained iron ore was used to make tools, which made agriculture easier and more efficient, and permitted the growth of larger settled communities. Iron-tipped spearheads, lances, knives, and swords gave ancient Soninke soldiers technological superiority over their neighbors who used bone and wood. The Soninke were thus able to capture more farming and grazing land from their weaker, less-organized neighbors. The Soninke were also able to obtain horses from the Saharan nomads with whom they were in contact, which enabled them to move farther and faster.
The Ghana Empire collapsed under the onslaught of invaders from the north and west and because of economic pulls to the east and south.
In the eleventh century, shortly after Ghana reached its zenith, the city of Kumbi Saleh fell to the Berber Almoravids (1076), who swept across the desert from present-day Mauritania in an effort to control the gold trade and to purify Islam, as it was practiced in Ghana. The invaders subsequently withdrew, but the kingdom of Ghana was weakened. Later invasions by the Takrur people from the west (the Senegal valley) and others, together with secessionist movements from many rebellious sub-kingdoms which had previously paid regular tribute to the Ghanaian king, gradually made the trade routes through Ghana too dangerous. As a result, the Muslim merchants moved eastward, and with the loss of trade, the kingdom of Ghana began to crumble. In addition, in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, the Bure goldfields were opened up to the south, also drawing traders further east. A terrible drought further compounded the suffering and accelerated the deterioration of the environment--degradation that was probably accentuated also by overgrazing. By the mid-thirteenth century, the once great empire of Ghana had disintegrated.
The Mali Empire
The Mali Empire began when a small Malinke kingdom within the Ghana Empire grew ever more powerful.
Mali began as a small Malinke kingdom around the upper areas of the Niger River. It became an important empire after 1235 when Sundjata organized Malinke resistance against a branch of the southern Soninke, who made up the center of the older kingdom of Ghana. The empire developed around its capital of Niani, the city of Sundjata's birth in the southern savannah country of the upper Niger valley near the gold fields of Bure. Unlike the people of the older kingdom of Ghana, who had only camels, horses, and donkeys for transport, the people of Mali also used the river Niger. By river, they could transport bulk goods and larger loads much more easily than by land. Living on the fertile lands near the Niger, people suffered less from drought than those living in the drier regions further north. Food crops were grown on the level areas by the river, not only for local people but for those living in cities farther north on the Niger River and in oasis towns along the trade routes across the desert. Thus the Niger River enabled the kingdom of Mali to develop a far more stable economy than Ghana had enjoyed and contributed to the rise of the Mali empire.
Sundjata built up a vast empire that stretched eventually from the Atlantic coast south of the Senegal River to Gao on the east of the middle Niger bend (see the map of Mali). It extended from the fringes of the forest in the southwest through the savannah (grassland) country of the Malinke to the Sahel and southern Saharan "ports" of Walata and Tadmekka. It included the gold fields of Bumbuk and Bure and the great cities of Timbuktu, Djenne, and Gao on the Niger River and extended to the salt mines of Taghaza. Many different peoples were thus brought in to what became a federation of states, dominated by Sundjata and the Malinke people. Under Sundjata's leadership, Mali became a relatively rich farming area.
The Mali empire was based on outlying areas--even small kingdoms--pledging allegiance to Mali and giving annual tribute in the form of rice, millet, lances, and arrows. Slaves were used to clear new farmlands where beans, rice, sorghum, millet, papaya, gourds, cotton, and peanuts were planted. Cattle, sheep, goats, and poultry were bred.
The Mali Empire grew and prospered by monopolizing the gold trade and developing the agricultural resources along the Niger River.
Like Ghana, Mali prospered from the taxes it collected on trade in the empire. All goods passing in, out of, and through the empire were heavily taxed. All gold nuggets belonged to the king, but gold dust could be traded. Gold was even used at times as a form of currency, as also were salt and cotton cloth. Later, cowrie shells from the Indian Ocean were introduced and used widely as currency in the internal trade of the western Sudan.
The Mali Empire's most famous king was Mansa Musa.
Mali prospered only as long as there was strong leadership. Sundjata established himself as a great religious and secular leader, claiming the greatest and most direct link with the spirits of the land and thus the guardian of the ancestors. After Sundjata, most of the rulers of Mali were Muslim, some of whom made the hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca). The most famous haji (pilgrim to Mecca) was Mansa Musa, king of Mali and grandson of one of Sundjata's sisters. In 1324, accompanied by some 60,000 people and carrying large quantities of gold, Mansa Musa traveled from Niani along the Niger to Timbuktu and then across the Sahara via the salt mines of Taghaza from oasis to oasis, to reach Cairo. From there he went on to Mecca and Medina.
Mansa Musa was an exceptionally wise and efficient ruler. He divided the empire into provinces, each with its own governor, and towns that were administered by a mochrif or mayor. A huge army kept the peace, putting down rebellions in the smaller kingdoms bordering the central part of the empire, and policing the many trade routes. Timbuktu became a center of learning, luxury, and trade, where river people met with the desert nomads, and where scholars and merchants from other parts of Africa, the Middle East, and even Europe came to its universities and bustling markets.
The Mali Empire collapsed when several states, including Songhai, proclaimed and defended their independence.
The empire of Mali reached in zenith in the fourteenth century but its power and fame depended greatly on the personal power of the ruler. After the death of Mansa Musa and his brother Mansa Sulayman, Timbuktu was raided and burned. Several states revolted and seized their independence, including the Tuareg, Tukulor, and Wolof. The Mossi attacked trading caravans and military garrisons in the south. In the east, the Songhai gathered strength. Mali lasted another 200 years, but its glory days were over. By 1500, it had been reduced to little more than its Malinke heartland. By the seventeenth century, Mali had broken up into a number of small independent chiefdoms.
The Songhai Empire
The Songhai Empire began when the Songhai king took advantage of a weakened Mali Empire to extend control over ever more territory.
The Songhai people had long settled along the middle region of the Niger River, using the river for transport, fishing, hunting, and agriculture. By the ninth century this middle region of the Niger had been integrated into the state of Songhai, with its capital at Kukiya. Merchants traded with villages along the Niger and as far as the town of Gao, which had been founded by Berber and possibly even Egyptian merchants, attracted by the Bumbuk gold trade of Ghana. In 1009, the fifteenth king of Songhai converted to Islam and decided to live in Gao. Gao attracted Muslim merchants and scholars and became the most important settlement and commercial center and in due time the capital.
It was in the fifteenth century, when the empire of Mali was greatly weakened, that Songhai was able to expand its territory. Sunni Ali Ber (Ali the Great) extended his rule from Gao to Timbuktu and Djenne in the mid-fifteenth century, and then conquered the whole kingdom of Mali, using a powerful army of horsemen and a fleet of war canoes. He made Songhai the largest and most powerful of all the Sudanese kingdoms. Eventually Timbuktu was restored to its former status as a great center of Islamic learning. Gao became a prosperous city of 10,000 inhabitants under Askia Mohammed Touré, a Soninke and devout Muslim. After his elaborate pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina, he expanded the empire through a series of jihads (holy wars), extending his rule farther east to the Hausa states near Lake Chad and the Mossi kingdom to the south. He used Islam to reinforce his authority, to unite the far-flung empire, and to revitalize trans-Saharan trade. He did not force Islam on the ordinary people, most of whom retained their traditional religious beliefs. Within a few years, the Songhai empire was considerably larger than Mali and occupied almost the entire western Sudan (see map of Songhai).
The Songhai Empire survived and prospered by centralizing administrative power, revitalizing the trans-Sahara trade, and by using Islam as a unifying force.
The administration of Songhai was more centralized than that of Mali. Traditional rulers were replaced by royal appointees who owed their positions directly to the king. The Songhai empire was divided into five large provinces, each with its own governor, Islamic courts, and professional fighting force to ensure that farmers of the province paid regular tribute to the king. The main sources of government income were thus tribute from the provinces, produce from the royal farms in the Niger flood plain and the Songhai heartland, and taxes on trade. Gold, kola nuts, and slaves were traded for salt, cloth, cowries, and horses. Cloth was woven from local Sudanese cotton and in towns like Djenne, Timbuktu, and Gao, woolen cloth and linen from north Africa were unraveled and re-woven to meet local tastes.
The Songhai Empire collapsed when the Moroccans used superior weaponry to seize power and when maritime trade routes replaced trans-Sahara trade routes.
The Songhai kingdom did not last long. The Moroccans seized the salt mines at Taghaza in 1585 and conquered Gao and Timbuktu, thanks to their gunfire which easily overcame the swords, spears, and arrows of the Songhai, even thought the latter had far larger numbers. Moorish soldiers occupied the Songhai cities, beginning a reign of terror that lasted well into the eighteenth century. The trade routes were no longer safe. Drought and disease also weakened the economy. In the east, the growth of Hausa states, Bornu, and the Tuareg sultanate of Aïr drew trans-Saharan trade away from Songhai and the western routes. The Songhai Empire broke into several separate states. As the Moorish civilization in North Africa declined, the demand for gold and other trade goods declined and trade became less lucrative. The Sahara became more of a barrier between the Sudan and Europe. Meanwhile the Portuguese began arriving in the Gulf of Guinea in the mid-fifteenth century and began trading with coastal Africans, first in gold (thus diverting gold from the trans-Saharan trade routes) and then in slaves.
French Conquest of the Western Sudan
With no central power to keep order in the Sudan, agriculture declined. Refugees fled both the slave trade and the warring armies of rival states. Later, Europeans entered the area, seeking raw materials and markets for their manufactured goods. The French took most of the western Sudan - Timbuktu in 1894 and Gao in 1898. Africans were required to produce more raw materials for France, such as cotton and peanuts. Roads and railways were built primarily to transport trade goods to the sea. Little effort was make to develop the interior or to build trade networks with other nations. Communication and education were kept to the bare minimum. A head tax was imposed on every adult male.
Changes in the Borders and Name of Mali Since 1890
The present boundaries of Mali are the legacy of 70 years of French colonial rule, from 1890-1960. During this period, a number of major changes were made to the country's borders.
Mali became known as Soudan Francais (French Soudan).
Mali administratively merged with what is now Senegal and parts of present-day Mauritania, Niger, and Burkina Faso, called Senegambie et Niger. Parts of the country transferred to French Guinea.
Mali and parts of present-day Niger, Mauritania, and Burkina Faso renamed Haut Senegal et Niger (Upper Senegal and Niger).
Mali again became known as Soudan Francais (French Sudan).
Frontier altered again when some districts given to the newly recreated colony of Upper Volta (later renamed Burkina Faso) and to Mauritania.
French Sudan opted for internal autonomy within the French Community and became known as Republique Soudanaise (Sudanese Republic). Along with Senegal, the Sudanese Republic formed a federation--the Federation du Mali, taking its name from the ancient empire of Mali.
The Federation became independent on June 30, but broke apart August 20 because of serious political differences that existed between Senegal and the Sudanese Republic. On September 22, the Sudanese Republic declared itself independent and took the name Republique du Mali, with its capital, Bamako, on the banks of the Niger River.
Since independence from France in 1960, Mali has struggled against both natural and human problems. Natural disasters include severe periodic droughts and years of uneven rainfall. Human problems center on unsatisfactory government policies, ethnic and social unrest, and economic downturns. First, Mali followed Marxist policies, under President Modibo Keita, until he was overthrown in a coup d'état in 1968. Government control of the economy provided few incentives for development. In addition, oppressive military governments, attempted coups and corruption dominated the country until 1992, when a democratically elected government came to power. However, political, ethnic and social tensions remain. Tensions, exacerbated in January 1994 by the 50 percent devaluation of the currency (the CFA franc), erupted into rioting in parts of the country.
Ethnic tensions between the Tuaregs and the government turned to violence in 1990 as the government imposed a state of emergency and repressive measures in the Gao and Timbuktu regions in response to its claim that the Tuareg rebels were attempting to establish a secessionist state. Unrest continued until 1995, after which significant numbers of refugees began returning to the country. However, clashes have continued in the northern part of the country and have also broken out in the Kayes region in the west between Soninke farmers and Fulani herders over access to water and pasture.
Economically, France has continued to aid its former colony, but overall the country remains desperately poor. Drought, changes in the terms of international trade, poor government policies and corruption, as well as political instability have all taken their toll. Economic progress was erratic during the early 1990s, but improved toward the end of the decade. However, a decrease in both the price and the volume of exports of cotton, Mali's main export (accounting for about one-half of total export earnings), coupled with increases in world petroleum prices in the late 1990s caused great hardship (Mali has to import all its petroleum). Mali remains among the world's poorest countries, with a per capita GNP of only about $270 in 2000. Its infrastructure is also poorly developed and many areas have no electricity. Mali is considered one of the "heavily indebted poor countries" of the world and thus eligible for debt relief in exchange for implementing adjustment policies under the supervision of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.
Mali's population, 7,696,000 at the census of April 1987, has been increasing at an average rate of 3.2 percent, with women typically bearing 7 children each. It is thought that the current population of Mali is about 11 million. About 5 percent are nomadic, and 27 percent urban, with people living especially in Bamako, the capital and other regional capitals. Two-thirds of the people live in the rural areas. Subsistence agriculture remains the dominant economic activity, with an estimated 82 percent of the total labor force involved in agriculture. Millet and sorghum, together with some rice, continue to provide the basic food crops. Mali continues to have large quantities of animals - more than 6.2 million cattle, and 14.6 million sheep and goats. About three million Malians work abroad, in other African countries, but especially in France. Their remittances are important to Mali's economy. Mali ranks 153 out of 162 countries on the human development index developed by the United Nations. Literacy is only 39.8 percent (32.7 percent for females;47.3 percent for males). In other words, only one of every three women can read. Life expectancy is a low 51.2 years (compared with 76.8 in the United States). Infant mortality claims 123 of every 1,000 live births (compared with 7.1 in the United States).
It is sad to realize that the people of the Sudan who so ably met the challenges of their harsh environment in the past, whose kingdoms were considered among the wealthiest in the known world, whose thriving market towns and great cities were known internationally as centers of commerce and learning in the Middle Ages, and whose kings were acclaimed as brilliant and heroic leaders, should be reduced to living today in one of the poorest regions on earth. It is to be hoped that both urban and rural people can combine their ancient skills and knowledge of farming, fishing, and livestock management with modern technology to reach higher standards of living in the years ahead.
Trade Routes of Ancient Mali
Each of the many ethnic groups in Mali has its own language.
Linguistic diversity was a characteristic of the ancient Mali Empire, just as it is of modern Mali. In fact, the political structure of the Mali Empire perpetuated that linguistic diversity: peoples were organized into kingdoms that retained their own leaders provided they paid tribute and swore loyalty to the mansa, or leader, of the Mali Empire. Most of the indigenous languages of Mali belong to the Niger-Congo language family, making them distant cousins.
To this day, along the Niger River, different ethnic groups live in separate villages, each with its own language and culture. Thus a Bambara village is next to a Bozo village, which is next to a Fulani village, and so on. Each ethnic group in Mali has its own special characteristics. Historically, for example, the Bozo were fishers, the Fulani herders, the Tuareg desert nomads, and the Dogon farmers, famous for their intensive agriculture.
The name "Mali" originates in one of the languages of the Western Sudan.
"Mali" comes from the name of the ethnic group Malinke. The Malinke organized the resistance movement against rule by the southern Soninke, who were dominant in the Ghana Empire.
The Arabic language was introduced to the Western Sudan as a result of trade.
Arab (and Arabized Berber) traders from the north brought their Arabic language with them, and their alphabet, too. With the Arabic alphabet, writing was introduced to the indigenous cultures, and a written history evolved as a companion to the long-established oral history of the region. Because Arabic is the language of the Koran (the holy book of Islam), it is still heard in the mosques of Mali and whenever the Koran is read or recited. Arabic is a member of the Afro-Asiatic language family, and thus completely unrelated to Mali's indigenous languages.
The Bambara language is the most widely understood indigenous language in modern Mali.
In modern Mali, about 80 percent of the population speak, or at least understand Bambara. The Bambana ethnic group is the largest in modern Mali, although they make up only 23 percent of Mali's population. The Bambara language is almost identical to Dioula, the market language of neighboring Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea, and Burkina Faso.
The official language of the Republic of Mali is French.
Between 1890 and 1960, Mali was under the control of France. It was during that time that the French language was taught in the schools and became the medium of governmental administration. Even after independence, French remained the official language. All education and government activities are conducted in French. Despite the negative association with colonialism, French is today considered a neutral language among the many ethnolinguistic groups in the country. French is in the Indo-European language family.
The traditional religions of the Western Sudan were polytheistic and often referred to as animistic.
The many ethnic groups in West Africa, traditionally believed in the "spirits of the land," who were thought to ensure the success of their crops. Since it was the ancestors who had developed the original arrangement with the spirits, spiritual contact with ancestors was considered essential. The village head or chief--the mansa in the Malinke language--had the most direct link with the spirits of the land and was thus the guardian of the ancestors. He was thus both the religious and the secular leader. Throughout the centuries of the Mali empire, peasant farmers in rural areas continued with these traditional beliefs, since they were so closely dependent on the good will of the "spirits of the land" for their well-being. Today, rural dwellers continue to honor their ancestors and revere the spirits of the land.
Islam came to Mali as a result of trans-Sahara trade.
In the thirteenth century, Islam began to penetrate western Sudan. After Sundjata, the founder of the Mali Empire, most of the rulers of Mali were Muslim. Islam was introduced by traders who brought not only material goods but a new religion. As one historian expressed it:
"For the merchant princes of Gao, Timbuktu, and other cities, Islam offered membership in a highly privileged, international trading club. Their journeys to Mecca put them in touch with merchants from Egypt, Arabia, and Asia, and vastly increased the import/export market." (Mann, p. 55)
The most famous haji (pilgrim to Mecca) was by Mansa Musa, king of Mali, and grandson of one of Sundjata’s sisters. In 1324, he rode more than 3,000 miles across the desert to Mecca, accompanied by some 60,000 escorts, including his senior wife. In both Mecca and Medina and on his way back, he dispensed vast amounts of gold. Indeed, Musa put so much gold into circulation that its value on the Cairo market fell sharply and took 12 years or more to recover its previous value.
Great Islamic universities were established by the Muslims, including the world-famous ones in Timbuktu, close to the Niger River, and Djenne on the Bani river, a tributary of the Niger.
Islam thus became the religion of the kings and chiefs, traders and townspeople--people who had strong political and economic motives for converting. However, for centuries Islam did not replace traditional beliefs but thrived alongside them. It is also thought that even the Islamic rulers of Mali never totally rejected their traditional animistic beliefs. Going on the hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) opened up avenues of knowledge for pilgrims – knowledge of geography, literature, history, mathematics, astronomy, and other areas of science, especially medicine. All enriched the culture and people of the Mali Empire.
Islam is still the predominant religion in Mali.
Brief Chronology of the West African Empires and Modern Mali
Soninke people possibly united by a Soninke chief. Town of Kumbi Saleh possibly founded.
Beginnings of the Ghana Empire.
The Songhai establish markets at Kukiya and Gao on the Niger River.
Ibn Haukal, an Arab geographer, describes Ghana and its capital Kumbi Saleh.
Ghana reaches its zenith.
Muslim Almoravids from Morocco conquer Ghana. Beginning of decline of Ghana Empire.
Timbuktu begins as a seasonal nomad camp.
Sundjata Keita becomes king of Mali.
Sundjata Keita defeats Soumangourou of Sosso.
Sundjata Keita conquers and destroys the Ghana Empire and establishes the Mali Empire.
Modern Djenne develops.
Mansa Moussa becomes emperor of Mali. The Mali Empire expands westward to the Atlantic and eastward to the Adrar des Iforas.
Mansa Moussa starts his pilgrimage to Mecca via the Sahara and Cairo, carrying large quantities of gold. On his return in 1325 he stops at Gao to receive the submission of the Songhai king. The Mali empire reaches its zenith.
Ibn Batuta, a north African geographer and scholar, visits the Mali empire.
Decline of the Mali Empire.
Sunni Ali Ber becomes emperor of the Songhai Empire. Under him the empire grows in size and strength.
Askia Mohammed Touré deposed by his relatives
Reign of Askia Daoud of the Songhai Empire. Under him the empire reaches its zenith.
Moroccan invasion of the Songhai Empire. Beginning of the Moroccan occupation of the western Sudan. Anarchy and decline ensue.
Mungo Park, Scottish explorer, visits Kaarta and Segou, and explores much of what is now western Mali.
Réné Caillié enters Timbuktu, becomes the first then known European to visit the city and return alive.
Faidherbe, governor of Senegal, negotiates a commercial treaty with Amadou Tall, head of the Tukulor Empire.
French decree constituting the region of the Upper Senegal a distinct territory under a French military officer, subordinate to the governor of Senegal, but enjoying a considerable measure of administrative freedom.
Decree changing the title of the territory to Soudan Français; to be under the general direction of the governor of Senegal but with its own budget.
French Sudan given complete autonomy, directly under the home government.
French Sudan broken up: six districts transferred to French Guinea, two to Dahomey (now Benin), three to Ivory Coast. Remainder divided into three military territories. Territories of the Upper Senegal and Niger become a dependency of Senegal.
Upper Senegal and Middle Niger became the Territories of Senegambie et Niger (Senegambia and Niger).
Afrique Accidentale Française (AOF), a Federation of French West African territories created. French Sudan became the colony of Haut Sénégal et Niger (Upper Senegal and Niger), with its own lieutenant governor and of exactly the same status as the other colonies of the Federation. The capital is transferred to Bamako.
Decree creating the Upper Volta colony and detaching seven provinces from Upper Senegal and Niger.
Decree restoring the name of Soudan Français (French Sudan) to the colony.
Decree abolishing the colony of the Upper Volta and restoring to French Sudan some parts of the provinces taken earlier.
Colony of Upper Volta re-created, with former provinces detached again from the French Sudan.
The French Sudan becomes the République Soudanaise (Sudanese Republic) within the French community.
Mali Federation established with Senegal and the Sudanese Republic as members.
Breakup of the Mali Federation. République du Mali (Republic of Mali) proclaimed in Bamako. Full independence.
Source: Imperato, Pascal J. Historical Dictionary of Mali. 2nd edition Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1986.