Market-day in Djenne. The mudbrick mosque was declared UNESCO world cultural heritage.
Photo: A. Wilcke


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A visit to the West African Sahel country of Mali is like a journey into the past. Today, the clay architecture and cultures in Djenne, Mopti and Timbuktu still reflect most impressive artisanship as well as the prosperity of past kingdoms. In order to also benefit tourism with these treasures, Mali has invested heavily in the tourist sector. But owing to travel warnings issued by European countries and renewed attacks by Al Qaida au Maghreb, tourist numbers are in steady decline, especially in the North. The attacks launched by the Tuareg in January 2012 are putting a further severe strain on the tourism sector in the North of Mali.

From the 15th to the 17th century, the ancient Kingdom of Mali was regarded as “El Dorado”, the country of gold, by the Europeans and Arabs. In legendary Timbuktu, on the edge of the Sahara, the roads are said to have been paved with gold. Only little has remained of this splendour. Today, Mali is among the poorest countries in the world. In the United Nations Human Development Index 2010, Mali was 160th out of 169 countries But a journey there, to the ancient royal cities of Timbuktu, Segou, Djenne and Mopti, offers an encounter with unique clay architecture and the traditions of the country’s numerous tribes, who have been living together peacefully since the country’s independence 50 years ago.

Gold continues to be an important source of income for Mali, which is Africa’s third largest gold producer. However, the most important economic sector is agriculture, providing around 80 percent of the Gross Domestic Product.

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