Mali was the site of a number of medieval kingdoms—Ghana, Mali, and Songhai—which gained wealth from trans-Saharan trade. The cities of Timbuktu, Gao, and Djenné, centers of learning and commerce, were captured by Morocco in 1591. French conquest began in 1879; the region became French Sudan in 1920.

Mali Empire in 1337.Mali Empire in 1337. This map shows the location of the area controlled by the Mali Empire at the height of its power in 1337. Mali controlled an area in West Africa that included most of what are now Gambia, Guinea, Senegal, and Mali and parts of present-day Burkina Faso, Mauritania, and Niger.

French Sudan became a territory within the French Union in 1946 and a republic within the French Community in 1958. In 1960 the state gained independence as the Republic of Mali and withdrew from the French Community.

Mali's economy was crippled by severe inflation in the 1960's and by widespread drought in the early 1970's and the mid-1980's. Meanwhile, in 1968 the elected government was overthrown in a military coup led by Lieutenant Moussa Traoré, who made himself dictator. He made himself a general in 1978 and ruled as president beginning in 1979. In 1991, Traoré was overthrown in a military coup.

A democratic constitution was adopted in 1992, and in free elections Alpha Oumar Konaré was elected president. A new National Assembly was also elected.

In 1993, former President Traoré was convicted for his government's actions against antigovernment protests in 1991. Traoré was convicted of embezzlement in 1999. He was granted a full pardon for his crimes in 2002 by Konaré, shortly before Konaré left his post as president.

In 2002 and 2007, Amadou Toumani Toure was elected president. He helped lead the coup that ousted Traoré in 1991.