Mali was colonized by France during the scramble for Africa in the second half of the 19th century. Known as French Sudan under colonial rule, it was a part of French Occidental Africa.
The process of Malian independence began in November 1958, when the “Sudanese Republic” became an autonomous republic within the French Community, the organization created by France to attempt to manage decolonization. For a brief time, it seemed that Mali may unite with neighboring Senegal to form a larger federal state. Mali and Senegal did unite as the Mali Federation in January 1959, formally gaining independence from the French Community in June 1960. Senegal would quickly leave the federation in August 1960, turning the Sudanese Republic into the Republic of Mali on September 22 1960, which became Mali’s official independence day.
Mali came under the rule of Mobido Keita, who had been the premier of the Mali Federation since 1959. Keita was an African Socialist, who quickly turned Mali into a one-party dictatorship under his party, the US-RDA. He developed ties with the Soviet Union. A number of unpopular policies, such as the establishment of a popular militia that was deemed the cause of many crimes, led to Keita being overthrown by Moussa Traoré, a lieutenant in the Malian Army, in 1968. Traoré would become the military dictator of Mali, a position he maintained until 1991, and banned all political parties, including Keita’s US-RDA. Despite overthrowing a Socialist, Traoré maintained cordial relations with the Soviet Union, and would continue to overwhelmingly equip the Malian Army with Soviet equipment, with occasional purchases from China or Egypt. Traoré also took Mali into one war, the 5-day-long Agacher Strip War over a disputed strip of land with Burkina Faso, in the last week of 1985.
The Cold War Malian Army’s first armored fighting vehicles were Soviet T-34/85s. Over the next four decades, the country would buy a fairly large variety of Soviet military vehicles, though typically in small quantities, including T-54Bs, PT-76s, BMP-1s, BRDM-2s (and derived 9P133 ATGM carriers), ZSU-23-4 Shilkas, BTR-40s, BTR-152s, and BTR-60PBs. As for other providers, Mali also purchased 18 Type 62 light tanks from the People’s Republic of China (alongside infantry armament) and a small number of Fahd APCs from Egypt.