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What is Mali?

The name of an ancient empire--The Mali Empire.
The name of a modern state--The Republic of Mali.

Where is Mali?

Mali is on the continent of Africa.  

A continent is a landmass.  Africa is one of seven continents.  Mali is located in West Africa.

Mali is in the Tropics.

The Tropics of the Northern Hemisphere lie between the equator--0° latitude--and the Tropic of Cancer--23½° north latitude.  Mali is a tropical country, which suggests that it is hot.  Why is it so hot?  

  • Because the sun's rays are more directly overhead, thus very intense over much of the year.
  • Because there is little cloud cover most of the year.

The sun passes directly overhead on two days each year.

Mali stretches across the Sahel and the Sahara.

Sahara means "desert" in the Arabic language; Sahel means "shore."  Both zones stretch all the way across Africa.  The Sahel, with its short grasses and scrubby bushes, is the shore of the desert--the shore of a "sea of sand."  Mali is located partly in the Sahel, although the most productive part is in the grasslands south of the Sahel. Ancient Mali stretched north into the desert and south through the short and tall grasslands to the edge of the forest zone.

Mali is landlocked.

Ancient Mali was landlocked; so is modern Mali.  It has no coastline on the ocean. This makes a difference today because so much international commerce goes by sea (because it is less expensive).  This did not make a difference prior to 1500 A.D. because so much international commerce went overland, in Mali's case, across the Sahara.

Ancient Mali was at the crossroads of trade.

Ancient Mali was located astride one of the world's most lucrative trade routes; modern Mali is not.  Camels, known as the "ships of the desert," carried salt from the northern mines in the desert to be traded for gold and other goods such as kola nuts and grain from the southern part of the Mali Empire.


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