Mali is a landlocked nation in West Africa, located southwest of Algeria and extending south-west from the southern Sahara. It is bordered by Niger on the east, Burkina Faso and the Côte d'Ivoire to the south, Guinea on the south-west, and Senegal and Mauritania on the west. With a total area of 1,240,192km² it is the seventh largest country in Africa and comparable in size to South Africa or Angola. Mali's territory encompasses three natural zones: the southern cultivated Sudanese zone, central semiarid Sahelian zone, and northern arid Saharan zone. The terrain is flat to rolling plains or higher plateau (elevation 200–500m) that is primarily savanna in the south and sand-covered in the north. There are rugged hills, the Adrar des Ifoghas, in the northeast with elevations of up to 1,000m (highest point: Hombori Tondo 1,155m). Desert or semi-desert covers about 65% of the country’s area. The Niger and Senegal rivers drain the country's southern region, where the majority of inhabitants live. The Niger River creates a large and fertile inland delta as it arcs northeast through Mali from Guinea before turning south. It is generally described as Mali’s lifeblood, a source of food, drinking water, irrigation, and transportation.

About 10% of the country's population are nomadic. Mali is among the 25 poorest nations in the world with about half the population living below the international poverty line. The country's economic infrastructure is centred on agriculture and fishing. 


Mali is underlain by two cratonic nuclei, extensions of the West African Craton and the Tuareg Shield, which were welded together during the Neoproterozoic Pan-African orogenic event. The West African Craton outcrops at the border with Senegal, in southern Mali as part of the Leo Shield and in the far north as part of the Reguibal Shield. It comprises basal granulites, charnockites, amphibolites and migmatiites succeeded by marbles, ferrugineous quartzites and paragneiss; these assemblages are intruded by metagabbros-anorthosites and serpentinites and syntectonic granites are abundant in the eastern part of the outcrop. The Tuareg Shield outcrops in the east in the Adrar des Iforas mountains and is dominated by high-grade granulitic assemblages unconformably overlain by Neoproterozoic volcano-clastic units. Neoproterozoic–Palaeozoic sediments of the extensive intra-cratonic Taoudeni Basin underlie most of Mali and large parts of northern and eastern Mali are covered by Cretaceous and Tertiary clastic sediments.