In modern times, drought, dictatorship and rebellion, and a decline in historic trades such as gold and salt (now more likely arms and drugs) have left Mali's people among the world's poorest.
Around 10% of the population are nomadic peoples. The Tuareg in the north have engaged in sporadic battles with Mali's army over land and cultural rights issues.
Mali's most famous location is the fabled, historic desert town of Timbuktu. Mali's only major urban centre, the capital Bamako in the south-west, is one of the world's fastest-growing cities, with an economy based on food processing, fisheries and textiles.
Agriculture (notably cotton which, along with gold, is Mali's main export) and fishing are largely confined to locations (including Bamako) that are irrigated by the Niger river. Nevertheless Mali is - drought-permitting - largely self-sufficient in essential crops and foods.
Christians in Mali
While Mali is a secular state with freedom of religion, most of the population is Muslim and there is much opposition to the gospel within society. Yet concerted evangelistic activity has brought encouraging signs of church growth in local areas and among specific people groups such as the Bambara.