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.
Interim head of state: Assimi Goïta
The military council that seized power in August 2020 is led by Colonel Assimi Goïta.
At first he put an interim president and prime minister in place, but ousted them in May 2021 in a dispute over their attempt to replace two Goïta allies in the cabinet.
West African leaders have expressed concern over the lack of opposition and civilian representation in the planned 18-month 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 Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, who took office in September 2013, proved unable to unify the country or face down the insurgency, and was ousted in the August 2020 coup.
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 Keïta 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.
2020 - President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta ousted in coup.