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African Kingdoms

West Africa


Mandingo Kingdom of Kangaba
c.AD 1050 - 1235

Built out of a confederation of African Mandinka tribes, the kingdoms in Mali existed for several centuries before they were unified as a small state just to the south of Old Ghana. The city state of Ka-ba (modern Kangaba) was a vassal of the Ghana empire, but became more powerful itself in the thirteenth century and broke away.

c.1050 - c.1090



Old Ghana is critically weakened by warfare against the Almorivids, and it loses control of the Mandika tribes in Mali.

c.1090 - c.1150


c.1150 - c.1190


c.1190 - c.1200

Di Jigi Bilali

c.1200 - c.1218

Keita Nari fa Majan

c.1218 - 1228

Danagaram Tumo

1228 - 1235



Soninke's successor quickly creates a Mali empire out of the kingdom.

Mali Empire / Manding / Manden Kurufa
AD 1235 - 1645

Evolving from the Mandingo kingdom of Kangaba, the empire was founded by Sundiata Keita as a medieval Islamic West African state of the Mandinka from 1235 to 1645. At its height it stretched from the West African coast at Mauretania, bordering on Murabit Islamic territory, to Timbuktu and Gao on the River Niger. It became renowned for the wealth of its rulers, especially Mansa Musa I. It also had many profound cultural influences on West Africa, allowing the spread of its language, laws and customs along the Niger.

The Mali emperors were almost all of the Keita dynasty, and they traced their lineage back to Muhammed's faithful muezzin (the caller to prayers), Bilal. Oral chroniclers preserved a list of each Keita ruler from Lawalo (supposedly one of Bilal's seven sons who settled in Mali) to Maghan Kon Fatta (the father of Sundiata Keita), although the details may be fairly dubious in places.

1235 - 1255

Mari Jata I / Sondjata / Sundjata / Sundiata

Created the empire.


Old Ghana falls to Mali.

1255 - 1270

Uli / Ouali

c.1260 - 1275

Mali occupies the Songhai empire.

1270 - 1274

Wati / Ouati



1274 - 1285

Abu Bakr I / Abubakari

1285 - 1300

Sakura / Sakoura

1300 - 1305

Qu / Gao

1305 - 1310

Mohammed ibn Gao


1310 - 1312

Abu Bakr II / Abubakari

1312 - 1337

Musa I / Mansa (Kankan) Musa


Mali occupies the Songhai empire. The Mali empire is extended to the Atlantic.

1337 - 1341

Magha I

1341 - 1360

Suleiman / Souleyman


Qasa / Camba

1360 - 1374

Mari Jata II

1374 - 1387

Musa II

1387 - 1388

Magha II

1388 - 1390


1390 - 1404

Mahmud / Magha III

1404 - c.1440

The throne is vacant.


Musa III


Uli / Ouali II


The empire is in decline, and former subjects break away. The Songhai empire occupies Timbuktu, an important trading post on the trans-Saharan trading route. Songhai also gains dominance in the gold trade, further weakening Mali.


Mahmud II


Mahmud III


Mahmud IV


A Moroccan invasion hastens the decline of the Songhai empire. The Songhai forces are routed at the Battle of Tondibi by the Saadi gunpowder weapons despite vastly superior Songhai numbers. Gao, Timbuktu, and Jenne (Djenné), are sacked and the Songhai are destroyed as a regional power. The Saadi Moroccans takes over control of Mali while the bulk of the Songhai themselves retreat to the Dendi region of what is now Niger and reform a smaller kingdom. One member of the Songhai ruling dynasty, Sulayman, remains in Timbuktu as its Saadi puppet ruler, spawning a dynasty of his own there.


Mama Maghan

1630 - 1645

Shortly after the Songhai empire has fallen to the Moroccans, the remnants of the Mandinka also fall to the Bamana of Jenne (formerly a city within the Songhai empire which had been sacked in 1591).

Tukulor Empire
AD 1854 - 1894

This was a short-lived empire formed from the splinter states in Mali, but it was quickly overrun by the invading French.

1854 - 1864

Omar al-Hajj

1864 - 1893



The French establish their first presence in the region which they term the 'Upper River'. Joseph Galliéni is sent there to survey land between the River Niger and Dakar prior to the building of a railway. A military fort is also founded. (Galliéni later becomes 'famous' for abolishing the monarchy and becoming the first governor of French Madagascar.) Colonisation creeps in over the course of the next decade and-a-half.


With Louis Archinard tackling the various resistance fighters in the region, the kingdom has effectively been conquered by the French. It becomes French Sudan, more formally known as the Sudanese republic.

French Sudan / Sudanese Republic
AD 1893 - 1960

The Tukulor empire was conquered by the French in 1893. Its territory was incorporated into a new construction which was initially under French military control - technically from 1890 - which was named French Sudan. A more formal civilian administration was put in place by the mid-1890s, and this governed French Sudan as part of French West Africa. It also began to place restrictions on native freedoms, especially in the areas of agriculture and religion, whilst also striving to suppress slavery.

The region's name was changed more than once during the course of its existence. It had been known as Upper River from the first French entry in 1879/1880. On 18 August 1890 it was organised more formerly as French Sudan, even in the face of Tukulor resistance. A capital was also organised, at Kayes on the River Senegal in the furthest western reaches of modern Mali. In 1899 it was renamed when the southern areas being attached to French coastal colonies, while the rest became two administrative regions known as Middle Niger and Upper Senegal. These were re-merged in 1902 as Senegambia & Niger, and renamed in 1904 as Upper Senegal & Niger. The final change came in 1921 when French Sudan was restored. A very short-lived replacement - the Mali Federation - just about saw the region reach independence from France in 1960. This western Sudan should not be confused with the modern state named Sudan or its eastern African predecessor, Colonial Sudan, which was largely under British control.

(Additional information from An Early Experiment in the Reorganisation of Agricultural Production in the French Soudan (Mali), 1920-1940, Laurence C Becker (1994), and from Slavery and Colonial Rule in French West Africa, Martin A Klein (1998).)

1892 - 1893

Louis Archinard

French military governor. Reassigned to French Indochina.


In the role of commandant-superior, Archinard has been so intent on pursuing the resistance fighters in the region that he has largely ignored the costs involved in his campaigns. With these now escalating, he is replaced by a civilian governorship of French Sudan.

Battle of Kousseri 1900
Despite the loss of Commandant Lamy, in 1900 the French managed to join up all of their West African possessions at the Battle of Kousséri, which took place on the banks of the River Chari, dividing modern Chad and Cameroon

1893 - 1895

Louis Alphonse Grodet

French civilian governor.

1895 - 1899

Louis Edgard de Trentinian

French civilian governor.

1899 - 1904

Civilian governorship is temporarily ended when the entire colony is reorganised so that eleven of the southern districts are parcelled out to various French coastal territories, including Dahomey, French Guinea, and Ivory Coast. The remainder is split into two administrative regions - Middle Niger and Upper Senegal - which are subservient to the authority of other French colonies. In 1902 the two regions are re-merged as Senegambia & Niger, and renamed in 1904 as Upper Senegal & Niger when a direct governorship is re-established. This may also affect the former territory of the Dendi kingdom which has also recently come under French colonial rule.

1904 - 1908

William Merlaud-Ponty

Former delegate. First French lieutenant-governor. Died 1915.


The colony's capital is moved from Kayes on the River Senegal, in the furthest western reaches of modern Mali. Bamako is selected to replace it. This lies on the River Niger, close to the rapids which divide the upper and middle Niger valleys in the south-west of modern Mali.

1908 - 1915

Marie François Joseph Clozel

Died 1918.


Having jointly guaranteed in 1839 to support the neutrality of Belgium, when the country is invaded by Germany, Belgium's allies, Britain, France, and Russia, are forced to declare war at midnight on 4 August against Imperial Germany and Austria in what becomes known as the Great War or First World War. The German armies head towards Paris before being halted and retreating to what becomes the Western Front just inside French territory. The French army includes units from its various colonial territories, including Algeria, French Sudan, and Tunisia.


Philippe Marius Henry

Acting lieutenant-governor in June only. Died 1915.

1915 - 1916

Louis Thiebaut François Vincent Digue

Acting lieutenant-governor. Died 1926.

1916 - 1917

Raphaël Valentin Antonetti

Acting lieutenant-governor. Died 1938.


Albert Nebout

Acting lieutenant-governor. Died 1939.

1917 - 1918

Louis Eugène Periquet

Acting lieutenant-governor. Died 1929.


A ceasefire is agreed with the remnants of the Austro-Hungarian empire by British, French, and Italian forces on 3 November. Germany, now alone, sees its emperor abdicate on 9 November, and an armistice is agreed to come into effect on the eleventh hour of 11 November, signalling the end of the war, although many less widespread wars continue as a result of the upheavals caused by it.

Tirailleurs Senegalais
Troops from French West Africa participated in the Great War of 1914-1918, often in supporting roles behind the lines, although these Tirailleurs Senegalais are clearly equipped for combat

1918 - 1919

Auguste Brunet

Lieutenant-governor. Died 1957.

1919 - 1921

Marcel Achille Olivier

Died 1945.

1921 - 1930

Jean Henri Terrasson de Fougères

Acting governor to 26 Feb 1924. Full governor after. Died 1930.

1930 - 1931

Joseph Urbain Court

Acting governor. Died 1948.


Gabriel Omar Descemet

Acting governor. Died 1961.


The French colony of Upper Volta (modern Burkina Faso) is dissolved and the territory is merged into French Sudan. By now the colony's general raid-fed agriculture is being supplanted in places by cotton-growing ventures. These are made possible thanks to new irrigation projects in various locations. Ultimately the ventures largely fail because farmers refuse to be relocated to these new farms without being given ownership of the land, something that the colonial administration refuses.

1933 - 1935

Louis Jacques Eugène Fousset

Governor. Died 1949.


Félix Sylvestre Adolphe Éboué

Acting governor. Died 1944.

1935 - 1936

Matteo Mathieu Maurice Alfassa

Died 1942.

1936 - 1938

Ferdinand Jacques Louis Rougier

Acting governor until 4 Dec 1936. Died 1940.

1938 - 1940

Jean Desanti

Acting governor until 15 Nov 1940. Died 1944.

1939 - 1944

The Nazi German invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939 is the trigger for the Second World War. With both France and Britain pledged to support Poland, both countries have no option but to declare war on 3 September. After a lightening march through the Netherlands and Belgium, France is occupied by the Nazi war machine in 1940, ending the Third Republic. Vichy (Fascist) rule is allowed as a puppet state in southern France (and Algeria). The French Protectorate in Vietnam ends, while in 1942, Britain takes temporary control of the Madagascar colony.

1940 - 1942

Jean Alexandre Léon Rapenne

Acting governor. Died 1952.

1942 - 1946

Auguste Marie Léon Calvel

Acting governor until 29 Dec 1942. Died 1946.

1944 - 1947

A provisional government is established in France following the liberation of Paris on 25 August 1944. During the existence of the provisional government, in 1943 Lebanon gains full independence from France, in 1945 France re-establishes its protectorate in Vietnam (which lasts until 1954), and Syria gains independence in 1946. Change is also coming to French Sudan.

1946 - 1952

Edmond Jean Louveau

Died 1973.


Upper Volta is re-established and the territory taken back from French Sudan. The territory governed by the latter is now largely the same as that of modern Mali.


Camille Victor Bailly

Apr-Jul only. Died 1984.

1952 - 1953

Salvador Jean Etchéber

Acting governor. Died 1967.


Albert Jean Mouragues

Last full governor. Died 1976.

1953 - 1956

Lucien Eugène Geay

Acting governor until 10 Feb 1954. Died 1976.

1956 - 1958

Henri Victor Gipoulon

High commissioner. Died 1989.

1958 - 1960

Jean Charles Sicurani

Last high commissioner. Died 1977. Mali now independent.

1959 - 1960

French Sudan becomes the Mali Federation as Senegal is united with it. This brief experiment with a federal state survives long enough to see the region gain independence from France on 20 June 1960, but fails when Senegal withdraws in August 1960. Now master of its own fate, the remainder of the Sudanese republic is entirely independent as the republic of Mali.

Modern Mali
AD 1960 - Present Day

A landlocked state in West Africa, the republic of Mali is largely sustained by the fertile Niger river basin in the south and east of the country. Its capital is at Bamako, which was established as such in 1908 by the French colonial government. The historic city of Timbuktu (which used to be spelled variously as Timbuctoo or Timbuktoo) is located twenty kilometres north of the River Niger, on the southern edge of the Sahara Desert. Mali is neighboured by Algeria to the north, Niger to the east, Burkino Faso and Ivory Coast to the south, and Guinea, Senegal, and Mauritania to the west.

Modern Mali was formed out of the various splinter states that had existed in the region since the collapse of the Mali empire in the seventeenth century. That empire had grown to greatness in the thirteenth century after shrugging off the Old Ghana empire. It had expanded to include the centre and south of the modern state as well as a similarly-sized strip to the Atlantic coast. Decline set in during the fifteenth century and the empire fractured in the seventeenth, leaving it ripe for takeover by the French. Upon independence the twentieth century Mali republic became a one-party socialist state.

One of the world's poorest countries, Mali suffered after independence, from drought, rebellion, military coups, and military dictatorship. In the 1990s it experienced a period of economic growth. This encouraged and supported a flourishing democracy and relative social stability. All of this was put at risk by the steady collapse of central authority in the north of the country and the rise of al-Qaeda-related Islamic fighters. An inconclusive coup and French military intervention against the Islamists made matters even more complicated.

(Additional information from External Links: BBC Country Profiles, and The New York Times.)


Despite the new sense of hope that may have been offered by independence, in fact the economy has been declining steadily. President Modibo Keita is ousted in a bloodless coup that is led by Lieutenant Moussa Traoré. This event, on 19 November, is subsequently celebrated as 'Liberation Day'. All political activity is banned and a police state is introduced.

1968 - 1991

Moussa Traoré

President of a military committee. Born 1936.


Former President Keita dies in prison in mysterious circumstances. Protests erupt when the news reaches the populace, and a large crowd attends his funeral, but Traoré cracks down hard on any further demonstrations of protest, often violently.

Moussa Traoré
Moussa Traoré started as a second-lieutenant in the army and ended up as a virtual dictator of Mali during the 1970s and 1980s before being deposed and replaced by democratic elections


The new constitution paves the way for elections. Lieutenant Traoré is re-elected president in a contest of only one candidate. This is repeated in 1985 when he is also specially exempted from the normal limit of two terms of office.


The nomadic Tuareg of northern Mali begin an insurgency over land and cultural rights. A previous uprising in the 1960s had ended in an uneasy peace. Central government attempts at military and negotiated solutions fail continuously to resolve the situation over the next few years.

1991 - 1992

Traoré puts down a huge protest march in Bamako, with up to three hundred people being killed. Four days later, Traoré is deposed by a military coup led by the commander of his personal guard. He is replaced by a transitional committee and military rule is ended by democratic elections.


A peace agreement with the Tuareg tribes leads to the return of thousands of refugees. Major fighting against the Tuareg ends, although the region is never truly at peace.

2006 - 2007

In June the government signs an Algerian-brokered peace deal with the Tuareg rebels who are seeking greater autonomy for their northern desert region. The rebels loot weapons from the town of Kidal in May, raising fears of a new rebellion. The insurgency gathers pace in 2007. Government soldiers are abducted in separate incidents near the Niger and Algerian borders and the Tuareg are blamed.

2008 - 2009

Tuareg rebels kill seventeen soldiers in a May attack on an army post in the north-east, despite a ceasefire being agreed just a month earlier. In December, at least twenty people are killed and several taken hostage in an attack by Tuareg rebels on a military base in northern Mali. The following year, the government states that the army has taken control of all bases of the most active Tuareg rebel group. A week later, seven hundred rebels surrender their weapons in a ceremony that marks their return to the peace process. In May, Algeria begins sending military equipment to Mali in preparation for a joint operation against Islamic militants that are linked to al-Qaeda.


The Tuareg benefit from an influx of arms from the recent Libyan civil war. The Saharan branch of al-Qaeda is quick to move into this increasingly lawless area as a direct rival to the Tuareg.

2012 - 2013

The government has steadily been losing control over the north of the country to Islamic fighters. Army officers who are angry at the level of support they have received in the fight against the Tuareg overthrow the democratically-elected government of President Amadou Toumani Toure in March. In the chaos that follows, the Tuareg seize control of the north before being ousted by al-Qaeda-linked groups who imposed a brutal interpretation of Islamic law on the local population, carrying out amputations and executions.

Tuareg fighter
Despite being traditionalist nomads, the modern Tuareg are virtually a match for the government forces which have been struggling to suppress them

At a meeting in Nigeria in November 2012 the West African regional grouping, Ecowas, agrees to launch a coordinated military expedition to recapture the north, with UN backing. The Islamists seize the initiative and begin to advance towards the government heartland in the south-west. Alarmed at the capture of the town of Konna, the government in Bamako asks France to intervene militarily. French troops rapidly overrun Islamist strongholds in the north, bringing the insurgency to an end and freeing the captured cities, including historic Timbuktu. The north remains tense, however, with both Tuareg separatists and Islamists sporadically active. Civilian rule in the north is re-established in 2013. Ibrahim Boubacar Keita takes office in September, in the first free elections since the coup.


A fragile truce with Tuareg separatists breaks down and the fighting continues. It is sporadic and relatively ineffectual, and does not force a rethink of the gradual withdrawal of French troops.

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