Mali's centrality in African history goes back thousands of years. Many civilizations flourished including mighty kingdoms built on the richness of gold. For centuries, the wealth and power of Mali was known to Africa and as far away as Europe but its importance dimmed by about 1400 with the rise of the Songhai empire centered in Gao and Timbuktu. The Moroccans destroyed Timbuktu in 1591 which precipitated the collapse of the Songhai empire and its subsequent fragmentation. France took over the region in 1896, but it was not until 1946 that the people of Mali were offered French citizenship and a measure of self-rule. In 1960, Mali became an independent republic nd eight years later, the government was ousted by a group of military officers. The military ruled until 1991 when another coup ushered in a civilian government. Though for the most part peace has prevailed, concerns about the possibility of renewed political instability have continued.