The original Mali Empire covered a large portion of western Africa and peaked in the 14th century. At its centre was the fabled Timbuktu, an important centre of world scholarship during the 15th and 16th centuries.
In 1959 the Sudanese Republic and Senegal joined to form the Mali Federation, but Senegal withdrew the following year, leaving the Sudanese Republic to form the independent state of Mali in 1960. Mali would continue as a one-party state until a coup in 1991 led to the first free and democratic elections.
With a mainly agriculturally-based economy, Mali's chief export is cotton.