a country in western africa, east of mauritania and north of sudan. Its capital is bamako. Its earlier names give a clue to its african and overseas connections: 1904-1920 it was known as upper senegal-niger; prior to 1958, as french sudan; 1958-1960 as the sudanese republic and 1959-1960 it joined senegal in the mali federation. It became an independent republic in 1960 but the government is at present in transition. Mali was the name of a former empire, extinct from the 17th century. It may be derived from malinke, an indigenous people of this region or from a mandingo word meaning hippopotamus.