Mali: Rubles for Timbuctoo

Though it is twice the size of Texas West Africa's arid, landlocked Mali Republic (pop. 3,700,000) has little claim to fame beyond being the place where Timbuctoo is. Last week the news from Timbuctoo, now a crumbling mud village on the edge of the Sahara, was that the Russians would soon be there.

Back in the days when it was still the French Sudan, Mali eked out a tenuous living on French colonial subsidies. When the Sudanese were granted autonomy from France in 1958, they sought to solve their economic problems by joining neighboring and more prosperous Senegal in the...

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