Flag Of Mali: History And Meaning

The flag of Mali is the national symbol of this African republic. Its composition consists of three vertical stripes of equal size. From left to right, its colors are green, yellow, and red. It is the only official flag that the country has had since its independence from France in 1961.

The conventional flags arrived in Mali with the Europeans, although there were already symbols that identified tribal and Islamic groups. However, and with the brief exception of the Wassolou Empire, France has been the most relevant in the process, bringing its tricolor flag.
Mali flag. (SKopp [Public domain]).

With the creation of the Sudanese Republic within the French Community, antecedent of present-day Mali, a new flag was approved. This kept the French tricolor, but added a kanaga mask, used by the Dogon who live in the country.

Later, that flag was reconverted to the Pan-African colors. But, when the Federation of Mali ended, only a flag of the Republic of Mali remained as a flag with three stripes without other additional symbols.

Article index

  • one

    History of the flag

    • 1.1

      Mali Empire

    • 1.2

      Successor kingdoms and empires

    • 1.3

      Tukelor Empire and Wassolou Empire

    • 1.4

      French colonization

    • 1.5

      French Sudan

    • 1.6

      Sudanese Republic

    • 1.7

      Mali Federation

    • 1.8

      Republic of Mali

  • two

    Meaning of the flag

    • 2.1

      Meaning by stripe

  • 3


History of the flag

Although, according to remains found, it is estimated that the Malian territory has been populated by humans since at least 5000 BC, the organization into civilizations and state entities took much longer.

There is no great record of ancient history in this region of Africa, but one of the first empires to be recognized was that of Ghana or Ouagadou, which disintegrated around the year 1076, after the Berber expansion.

Mali Empire

The great predecessor state of present-day Mali was the Mali Empire, which was created in the 11th century and unified by the 13th century under Soundiata Keita. In this empire, one of the first texts in the history of humanity that enshrined human rights was promulgated: the Letter of Mandén.

The Mali Empire extended to the Atlantic coast and became a state with Islamic rulers and heavy trade. The decline began with the consolidation of the Tuareg in the north of the territory, as well as with the arrival of the Portuguese on the coast. The favorite symbol of the empire was the falcon.

Successor kingdoms and empires

The Tuareg rule did not last long, as the Kingdom of Songhaï replaced it at the beginning of the 14th century. The following two centuries, it returned to recover the territories of present-day Mali. Islam also came to power in this empire, which lasted until 1591 when it fell against Moroccan troops.

Songhaï was succeeded by different small kingdoms such as Ségou, Kaarta, Macina and Kénédougou. None of them had flags as we know them today. In turn, they were succeeded by different states.

Tukelor Empire and Wassolou Empire

The warrior Oumar Tall was convinced that the creation of a Muslim theocratic state was necessary. For this reason, he formed an army that by the middle of the 19th century began to take over territory in the area, which was growing. In this way, what was called the Tukelor Empire was established.

By 1880, the French occupied a large part of the area, but promised not to interfere in the Tukelor territories, but ten years later they ended up entering.

On the other hand, the leader and warrior of Islam Samory Touré had founded the Wassoulou Empire in 1878. This empire was the product of the Mandingo wars and was established on the current border between Guinea, Ivory Coast and Mali. Its existence implied the greatest resistance on the part of the French forces to the colonial establishment in the region.

Its flag consisted of a flag with three stripes of dark blue, light blue and white. A red triangle with a seven-pointed white star was included on the left side.

Flag of the Wassoulou Empire. (1879-1898). (Par An Encore Performance From The Boys In The Band [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons).

French colonization

As in most of West Africa, French colonization was late. In the case of the arrival of the French to Mali, the origin was in the conquerors who left Senegal. The initial idea of ​​the conquerors was to reach Sudan by another route than the arid desert of Algeria.

From 1878 with the conquest of Sabouciré until the taking of Gao in 1899, the occupation of the region was developed through the agreement and the invasion of different kingdoms. The resistance in the first years of conquest was very strong.

One of the first to face off was the kingdom of Logo. This was also reflected in the Wassoulou Empire, whose leader, Samory Touré, fell and was deported to Gabon. Peace under total French rule did not come until the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The formal creation of the Upper Senegal-Niger colony occurred in 1895. It was part of French West Africa. The flag that was used in this territory was the French tricolor.
Flag of France. (Par Deutsch: Diese Grafik wurde von SKopp erstellt.English: This graphic was drawn by SKopp.Español: This file was made by user SKopp.Suomi: Tämän grafiikan on piirtänyt SKopp.Filipino: Ginuhit ni SKopp ang grapikong ito.Portugu This graphic was unpacked using SKopp.Slovenčina: Tento obrázok bol vytvorený redaktorom SKopp.Tagalog: Ginuhit ni SKopp ang grapikong ito. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons).

French Sudan

By 1920, the Upper Senegal-Niger colony was renamed French Sudan. This new entity developed a strong centralism that tried to mix different ethnic groups. The situation deteriorated even within the Second World War, in which the African colonies played an important role.

As a consequence of the end of the war, by 1955 communes of ethnic peoples began to have autonomy. This was the beginning of the path to autonomy and later independence.

Sudanese Republic

The colonial situation after the Second World War did not normalize in French Sudan either. Different political parties emerged, linked to the tribal groups themselves, as well as to French parties. The Sudanese Democratic Party was close to the French communists while the Sudanese Democratic Bloc was linked to the French labor movement.

The conquest of mayors and seats in legislative assemblies by local groups was the product of increased autonomy. By 1946, the French constitution established the creation of the French Union, which endowed the colonies with autonomy. French Sudan still belonged to French West Africa and its now elected institutions.

Federalism was growing in support among the newly elected politicians of the colony of French Sudan. It was not until 1958, with the approval of the new constitution proposed by Charles de Gaulle and the creation of the French Community, that the perspective of this colony was definitely changed. In this way, the French Sudan became an autonomous entity within the French Community, known as the Sudanese Republic.

Flag of the Sudanese Republic

The French tricolor remained as the hallmark of the new Sudanese Republic. However, within the central white stripe, the distinctive symbol changed to something else. This was a Kanaga mask, used by the Dogon ethnic group in funeral ceremonies. Its color was black, which contrasted with the white of the background.
Flag of the Sudanese Republic. (1958-1959). (Akiramenai [Public domain]).

Mali Federation

At the time of the creation of the French Community, in 1958 parties like Rassemblement démocratique africain (RDA) defended the total independence of the territories and not an autonomy in the French state.

On December 29 and 30, 1958, the Barnako Conference took place, in which representatives of Senegal, the Sudanese Republic, Upper Volta and Dahomey agreed to the birth of the Federation of Mali, within the French Community. By January, the French Sudan and Senegal approved the constitution, but Upper Volta and Dahomey withdrew, under pressure from France and the Ivory Coast.

The new entity was recognized as part of the French Community by de Gaulle in May 1959. In 1960, the French powers were transferred in a dizzying way to the Federation of Mali, including in defense matters. Finally, on June 20, 1960, independence was proclaimed.

Flag of the Federation of Mali

The pan-African colors were present when choosing the flag of the nascent Federation of Mali. However, the structure of the flag of the Sudanese Republic remained. The big change was the substitution of the French tricolor by the Pan-African, when it became green, yellow and red. However, the black kanaga mask in the central stripe remained.

Flag of the Federation of Mali. (1959-1961). (User: SKopp [Public domain]).

Republic of Mali

The Federation of Mali as an independent state was short-lived. Great conflicts arose between Sudanese and Senegalese, until in August 1960 Senegal proclaimed its independence. It was a forced movement that led to the closure of borders and the end of rail transit. By September, France recognizes the independence of Senegal.

Finally, on September 22, 1960, the national leader Modibo Keïta declared the independence of the Sudanese Republic under the name of the Republic of Mali. In this way it has remained until today, with the same flag since January 21, 1961.

This symbol is made up of three vertical stripes of green, yellow and red. It is the same from the Mali Federation, but without the kanaga mask in the center.

This was withdrawn due to pressure from Islamic groups who argued that there should not be human images, such as the one in the mask, that could be worshiped. Since its establishment, it has had no changes.

Meaning of the flag

The meanings attributed to the Malian flag are varied. The three colors together represent Pan-Africanism. Being shared with the great part of African countries, the flag represents the union and encounter between the peoples of the continent.

Meaning by stripe

In the case of the green stripe, it is related to the color of hope, in addition to the nature of the country. This would be made up of meadows and fields, as well as the soil that produces food and allows different animals to graze. For some, it would also be a representation of Islam.

For its part, the yellow color is the one that is identified with the sun and the rich gold in the subsoil of the country, as well as all the mineral wealth. Also, some understand yellow as the color that represents the collective memory and inherited heritage of the country.

Finally, the color red and as is frequent in vexillology, represents the blood shed for the defense of the country and its liberation from the yoke of the French colony. For this reason, it serves as a memorial to the fallen, but it is also a symbol of struggle for all those who would shed their blood for the country in the present. On the other hand, others link it to the need to protect national cultures, their arts and representations.


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  2. Garnier, C. (1961). La grande déception du Mali et les États Unis d’Afrique. Revue des deux mondes (1829-1971), 546-560. Recovered from jstor.org.
  3. Niane, D. (1974). Histoire et tradition historique du Manding. Présence africaine , 89 (59-74). Recovered from cairn.info.
  4. Le Frontal. (sf). Drapeau du Mali: Histoire et signification. Le Frontal . Recovered from lefrontal.com.
  5. Smith, W. (2018). Flag of Mali. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc . Recovered from britannica.com.

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