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Area: 1.25 million sq km
Population: 13 million
Languages: French, Bambara, Berber, Arabic
Religions: Muslim, Indigenous beliefs
GNI per capita: US$580
Currency: 1 CFA (Communaute Finance Africaine) franc = 100 c
Mali was conquered by the French in the middle of the 19th century. In 1958 it was proclaimed the Sudanese Republic and the following year it became the Mali Federation, after uniting with Senegal. However, Senegal seceded and Mali became independent in 1960. Since 1992, when its first democratically-elected president took power, Mali has had a civilian government. 
The country is located in the transitional zone between the Sahara desert to the north and tropical Africa to the south. Three-quarters of the land in Mali, which is the second largest country in Africa, is covered by the ever-expanding desert. It has only two seasons: the rainy season, from June to September, and the dry season, from October to May.
Mali is saddled with a chronic foreign trade deficit, making it heavily dependent on foreign aid and the money sent home from emigrants working abroad. Mali is one of the continent's biggest cotton producers.
Mali is plagued by frequent drought and insufficient food supplies. Of the 13 million residents, 63 percent live below the poverty line. Adult illiteracy is among the highest in the world, and infant and child mortality rates are also unusually high. Many children lack access to health care, safe water, education, and a stable food supply.