Mali was formerly a member of three West African empires that dominated trans-Saharan trade: the Ghana Empire, the Mali Empire (after which Mali was called), and the Songhai Empire. Mathematics, astronomy, literature, and art flourished throughout its golden period. At its height in 1300, the Mali Empire included a territory almost twice the size of modern-day France and extended all the way to Africa’s west coast. During the Scramble for Africa in the late nineteenth century, France took control of Mali, including it into French Sudan. French Sudan (formerly known as the Sudanese Republic) merged with Senegal in 1959, becoming the Mali Federation in 1960. Following Senegal’s exit from the federation, the Sudanese Republic proclaimed independence as the Republic of Mali. Following a lengthy era of one-party control, a coup in 1991 resulted in the creation of a new constitution and the emergence of Mali as a democratic, multi-party state.
An armed conflict erupted in northern Mali in January 2012, which Tuareg rebels gained control of by April and announced the independence of a new state, Azawad. The crisis was exacerbated by a military coup in March and subsequent combat between Tuareg and Islamist rebels. In January 2013, the French military started Opération Serval in reaction to Islamist territory advances. A month later, Malian and French soldiers had retaken the majority of the north. Presidential elections were conducted on July 28, 2013, with a second round run-off on August 11, and parliamentary elections on November 24 and December 15, 2013.