Consisting of eight regions, Mali's borders on the north reach deep into the middle of the Sahara, while the country's southern region, where the majority of inhabitants live, features the Niger and Senegal rivers. The country's economic structure centers around agriculture and fishing. Some of Mali's natural resources include gold, uranium, and salt. Present-day Mali was once part of three West African empires that controlled trans-Saharan trade: the Ghana Empire, the Mali Empire (from which Mali is named), and the Songhai Empire. In the late 1800s, Mali fell under French control, becoming part of French Sudan. Mali gained independence in 1959 with Senegal, as the Mali Federation. A year later, the Mali Federation became the independent nation of Mali. After a long period of one-party rule, a 1991 coup led to the writing of a new constitution and the establishment of Mali as a democratic, multi-party state.
Bamako, population 1,690,471 (2006), is the capital and largest city of Mali, and currently estimated to be the fastest growing city in Africa (6th fastest in the world). It is located on the Niger River, near the rapids that divide the Upper and Middle Niger Valleys, in the southwestern part of the country. Bamako is the nation's administrative center, with a river port located in nearby Koulikoro, and a major regional trade and conference center. Bamako is the 7th largest West African urban center after Lagos, Abidjan, Kano, Ibadan, Dakar and Accra. Manufactures include textiles, processed meat, and metal goods. There is commercial fishing on the Niger River. The name Bamako comes from the Bambara word meaning "crocodile river".
Ségou (Seku, Segu) is a city in south-central Mali, lying 235 kilometres (146 mi) northeast of Bamako on the River Niger, in the region of Ségou. It was founded by the Bozo people in 1620, on a site about 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) from the present town. With 100,000 inhabitants, it is the third largest city in Mali.
Capital of the Bambara Empire in the past, Ségou is now the capital of Mali’s fourth largest administrative region of Ségou. It is known also as the city of “Balanzan”, named after the local tree acacia albida. Segou has faced numerous conquests and changes of administration, but has always benefited from trade with nearby commercial centres such as Djenne and Timbuktu, and been an administrative center and commercial center for cereal and cattle.
Sikasso is a city in the south of Mali and the capital of the Sikasso Region. With 130,700 residents, Sikasso recently passed Ségou to become Mali's second-largest city.
Mopti (Pronounced Mohti) is a city at the confluence of the Niger and the Bani in Mali, between Timbuktu and Ségou. The city lies on three islands linked by dykes: the New Town, the Old Town and Medina Coura. As a result it is sometimes known as the "Venice of Mali".