The territory known as Mali can be traced back to the fourth century of the Common Era when south west Mali was part of the Empire Of Ghana. By the thirteenth century the Ghana empire was in rapid decline and the Mali Empire was born from an area within the Ghana Empire known as Manden which had been ruled in Ghana's name. This came about as the Sosso people under their King Soumaoro Kante, who had leapt to fill the void of the collapsed Ghana Empire, conquered the Mandinka kingdoms of what is now Mali. The Mali warlords then formed a pact and turned to one Sundiata Keita, born 1217CE, to liberate the Mandinkas and their homeland.
Keita took up the fight and roundly defeated King Soumaoro Kante at the Battle of Kirina in 1235CE establishing his pre-eminence in the area. By 1240 Sundjata Keita had conquered and destroyed what was left of the Ghana Empire and established his own Mali Empire taking the title of Mansa, emperor, and bringing the other Mandinke clan rulers under his leadership in exchange for the title 'farbas' (commander) allowing them to rule their old kingdoms in the name of himself, the Mansa. Sundjata Keita established his capital at Niani, which in turn became an important financial and trading centre not least because it was located near the Bure goldfields, a significant resource that led to the rise and wealth of the Mali Empire. Further territorial expansion took place together with the development of trade with the new empire's neighbours making it the envy of the region. In 1255 Mansa Uli, Sundiata Keita's only biological son, succeeded his father after the emperor reportedly drowned in the Sankarani River. Uli I, a highly ambitious prince expanded the empire further to the east and set about increasing agricultural production. When he died in 1270 he left no heirs resulting in a power struggle between his adopted brothers Mansa Ouati (Wati) Keita and Mansa Khalifa Keita with Wati becoming Mansa and forcing his brother into exile.
Wati ruled (badly) for just four years before being succeeded by his adopted brother, a former freed slave, Khalifa Keita. In turned out that Khalifa was to be an even worse leader reportedly spending time shooting passers by with arrows for sport. It was an ugly precedent as he ended up being assassinated and succeeded by his uncle and Sundjata Keita's brother, Abubakari I, who had previously been appointed to serve as regent until Uli was old enough to serve as Mansa, but was usurped by Uli claiming the throne early. The reign of Abubakari I (1275 - 1285) saw the restoration of Mali's fortune's after the mismanagement of his nephews. He was succeeded by former slave and army general Mansa Sakura who seized the throne in 1285 who reinforced the Mali empire's military position including the conquest of Gao. However he was assassinated in 1350 and succeeded by Sundjata Keita's sister' son, Gao. Gao ruled until 1305 when he was succeeded by his son Mohammed ibn Gao who himself ruled for a further five years before being succeeded by his uncle Abubakari II in 1310. Abubakari II himself abdicated in favour of exploration and there were unsubstantiated reports that he had actually discovered the New World.
By this time the Mali rulers had converted to Islam and Abubakari II's successor, following his abdication, Musa I, was a devout Muslim, who made an historic pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324, promoting Mali along the way as a prosperous, educated and awe inspiring empire. On his return, Musa started a building program, constructing mosques and universities across his fiefdom. By this time ancient Mali was the source of half the world's gold ands its territory had expanded north and west to the Atlantic ocean and, by the fourteenth century, was about the size of Western Europe and the envy of many other African nations. The reign of Musa is widely regarded as being ancient Mali's most powerful period. He was succeeded by his son Maghan (1337 - 1341) who, in turn, was succeeded by his uncle and father's brother Suleyman who ruled until 1360. However these and subsequent kings were widely regarded as weak and unable to maintain the integrity of the empire.
Over these and subsequent years Mali became fragmented and after the death of Mahmud IV in 1610, there was no clear ruler with his three sons fighting over his legacy. The Empire of Mali was effectively over. There followed a long period of various groups running the area which changed in shape and size over the centuries until Mali came under French colonial rule in 1892 as part of the Scramble for Africa. The area, then known as French Sudan, became the autonomous state of the Sudanese Republic in 1958 and gained full independence from France in 1960, forming, together with Senegal, the Federation of Mali. However months later Senegal withdrew from the federation and the Sudanese Republic was renamed the Republic of Mali.
Ancient Mali: Volunteer in Mali
Ancient Mali: Life in Mali
Ancient Mali: Child Sponsor Mali
Ancient Mali: Mali Country Profile
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