In 1620, Bozo settlers founded the town of Ségou, later the capital of the Bambara Empire which stretched along the Niger River. The Empire based its economy on the slave trade and was therefore often at war with its neighboring tribes.
In 1861, El Hadj Oumar Tall, a Muslim Tukulor from Senegal, defeated the Bambara and forced the population to convert to Islam. El Hadj Oumar Tall often left his son Ahmadu in charge of Ségou while he continued his conquest of neighboring towns and tribes, until one day he blew himself up with his own dynamite. Ahmadu ruled Ségou until the French, in league with his local adversaries, chased him away and took control in 1890.
In Mali, El Hadj Oumar Tall is blamed for wrecking the region through brutal warfare and preparing the way for French victory.
Today, Ségou is an important agricultural region. Its people excel in pottery made from the mud of the Niger River and weave the locally grown cotton and wool into cloth, blankets, and carpets. Most people live on less than $2.00 per day.
Early in the eighteenth century, the founder of the Bambara Empire, Biton Mamary Coulibaly, established Bla as a supply outpost for ammunition and grain. The verb, “ka bila,” literally means “leave behind.”
Today, the small town of Bla serves as a crossroads for goods heading north and south.