Mali country profile
Once home to several pre-colonial empires, the landlocked, arid West African country of Mali is one of the largest on the continent. For centuries, its northern city of Timbuktu was a key regional trading post and centre of Islamic culture.
But this prominence has long since faded.
After independence from France in 1960, Mali suffered droughts, rebellions, a coup and 23 years of military dictatorship until democratic elections in 1992.
In 2013, France intervened militarily upon the government's request following the capture of the town of Konna and its troops overran Islamist strongholds.
Authorities agreed a United Nations-sponsored ceasefire with Tuareg separatists in 2015, but parts of the country remain tense, with Tuareg rebels sporadically active.
Meanwhile, a jihadist insurgency in Mali's north and central regions continues, with al-Qaeda-linked militants carrying out attacks.
Mali is renowned worldwide for having produced some of the stars of African music, most notably Salif Keita.
Republic of Mali
Population 18.5 million
Area 1.25 million sq km (482,077 sq miles)
Major languages French, Bambara, Berber, Arabic
Religions Islam, indigenous beliefs
Life expectancy 57 years (men), 84 years (women)
Currency CFA (Communaute Financiere Africaine) franc
Outgoing president: Ibrahim Boubacar Keita
Ibrahim Boubacar Keita took office in September 2013, promising to help unify the country after a rebellion, a coup and an Islamic insurgency.
He won the first election held since mutinous soldiers overthrew long-time President Amadou Toumani Toure early in 2012.
The son of a civil servant, Keita was born in 1945 in the southern industrial city of Koutiala, the declining heartland of cotton production in the country.
He served as prime minister from 1994 to 2000 and as Speaker of the National Assembly from 2002 to 2007.
- Mr Keita is seeking a second term in the 29 July 2018 election.
Mali's broadcast and print media were long hailed as being among the freest in Africa.
But the media were dealt a blow by the 2012 military coup and an insurgency in the north.
Radio is the top medium. There are hundreds of stations, run by the state as well as by private and community operators.
Some key dates in Mali's history:
11th century - Empire of Mali becomes dominant force in the upper Niger basin.
14th-15th centuries - Decline of the Empire of Mali, which loses dominance of the gold trade to the Songhai Empire.
Late 16th century - Moroccans defeat the Songhai, make Timbuktu their capital and rule until their decline in the 18th century.
1898 - France completes conquest of Mali, then called French Sudan.
1960 - Mali becomes independent with Modibo Keita as president. It becomes a one-party, socialist state.
2012 - Coup after which Islamist fighters capture several towns. France intervenes militarily and recaptures key towns from the rebels.
2015 November - Islamist gunmen attack the Radisson Blu hotel in the capital Bamako.