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.
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
Interim President: Bah Ndaw
The military council that seized power in August 2020 named former army officer Bah Ndaw as interim president of Mali the following month.
Coup leader Colonel Assimi Goita will serve as his deputy.
Mr Ndaw, a retired colonel-major, served as defence minister under ousted President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.
West African leaders have demanded the appointment of an interim president to oversee a planned 18-month-long transition to elections.
Mali has struggled with mass protests over corruption, electoral probity, and a jihadist insurgency that has made much of the north and east ungovernable.
President Keita, who took office in September 2013, proved unable to unify the country or face down the insurgency.
The media environment in Bamako and the south is relatively open, but the presence of armed militant groups in the north poses dangers for media workers, says Freedom House.
Radio is the leading medium. There are hundreds of stations, run by the state as well as by private 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.
2018 - Ibrahim Boubacar Keita re-elected for a second term as president.
2020- Military coup ousts President Keita.