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Mali - Introduction

Mali faces many challenges, including its status as one of the poorest nations in the world, poor literacy and health indicators, food security concerns and the presence of terrorist elements in the country's sparsely populated northern regions. Mali has a strong human rights record, and is one of the few members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) rated as free by Freedom House. Mali is also a responsible and engaged international partner. Mali had tried socialism from 1960 to 1968, a planned economy and military dictatorship from 1968 to 1991, and democracy from 1991 to the present, all without success. Malis media is considered among the freest in Africa.

Since independence from France in 1960, Mali has struggled against both natural and human problems. Natural disasters include severe periodic droughts and years of uneven rainfall. Human problems center on unsatisfactory government policies, ethnic and social unrest, and economic downturns. First, Mali followed Marxist policies, under President Modibo Keita, until he was overthrown in a coup d'tat in 1968. Government control of the economy provided few incentives for development. In addition, oppressive military governments, attempted coups and corruption dominated the country until 1992, when a democratically elected government came to power. However, political, ethnic and social tensions remain. Tensions, exacerbated in January 1994 by the 50 percent devaluation of the currency (the CFA franc), erupted into rioting in parts of the country.

Mali's armed forces number some 7,000 and are under the control of the Minister of Defense and Veterans, as is the National Guard. The Gendarmerie and local police forces are under the Ministry of Security and Civil Protection. The police and gendarmes share responsibility for internal security; the police are in charge of urban areas only. In the 1960s and 1970s, Mali's Army and Air Force relied primarily on the Soviet Union for materiel and training. A few Malians receive military training in the United States, France, and Germany. Under TSCTP, the United States provides equipment and training to Malis military with the aim of increasing Malis capacity to meet its own security challenges in the vast expanse of the Sahel.

While Mali does have laws criminalizing forced labor, servitude, bodily harm, kidnapping, and hostage taking, there are no laws regarding slavery. Since the existence of slavery is recognized in both Mauritania and Niger, the claim that slavery somehow skipped over Mali - despite the evident cultural and social links between Mauritania, Mali and Niger - is becoming less and less tenable.

Ethnic tensions between the Tuaregs and the government turned to violence in 1990 as the government imposed a state of emergency and repressive measures in the Gao and Timbuktu regions in response to its claim that the Tuareg rebels were attempting to establish a secessionist state. Unrest continued until 1995, after which significant numbers of refugees began returning to the country. However, clashes have continued in the northern part of the country and have also broken out in the Kayes region in the west between Soninke farmers and Fulani herders over access to water and pasture.

Economically, France has continued to aid its former colony, but overall the country remains desperately poor. Drought, changes in the terms of international trade, poor government policies and corruption, as well as political instability have all taken their toll. Economic progress was erratic during the early 1990s, but improved toward the end of the decade. However, a decrease in both the price and the volume of exports of cotton, Mali's main export (accounting for about one-half of total export earnings), coupled with increases in world petroleum prices in the late 1990s caused great hardship (Mali has to import all its petroleum). Mali remains among the world's poorest countries, with a per capita GNP of only about $270 in 2000. Its infrastructure is also poorly developed and many areas have no electricity. Mali is considered one of the "heavily indebted poor countries" of the world and thus eligible for debt relief in exchange for implementing adjustment policies under the supervision of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

Mali's population, 7,696,000 at the census of April 1987, has been increasing at an average rate of 3.2 percent, with women typically bearing 7 children each. It is thought that the current population of Mali is about 11 million. About 5 percent are nomadic, and 27 percent urban, with people living especially in Bamako, the capital and other regional capitals. Two-thirds of the people live in the rural areas. Subsistence agriculture remains the dominant economic activity, with an estimated 82 percent of the total labor force involved in agriculture. Millet and sorghum, together with some rice, continue to provide the basic food crops.

Mali continues to have large quantities of animals - more than 6.2 million cattle, and 14.6 million sheep and goats. About three million Malians work abroad, in other African countries, but especially in France. Their remittances are important to Mali's economy. Mali ranks 153 out of 162 countries on the human development index developed by the United Nations. Literacy is only 39.8 percent (32.7 percent for females;47.3 percent for males). In other words, only one of every three women can read. Life expectancy is a low 51.2 years (compared with 76.8 in the United States). Infant mortality claims 123 of every 1,000 live births (compared with 7.1 in the United States).

It is sad to realize that the people of the Sudan who so ably met the challenges of their harsh environment in the past, whose kingdoms were considered among the wealthiest in the known world, whose thriving market towns and great cities were known internationally as centers of commerce and learning in the Middle Ages, and whose kings were acclaimed as brilliant and heroic leaders, should be reduced to living today in one of the poorest regions on earth. It is to be hoped that both urban and rural people can combine their ancient skills and knowledge of farming, fishing, and livestock management with modern technology to reach higher standards of living in the years ahead.

Medical facilities are extremely limited, especially outside of Bamako. U.S.-standard care does not exist. Most U.S. medicines are unavailable; European medications are more easily found, and can be obtained at pharmacies throughout Bamako.

Many vehicles are not well-maintained, and headlights are either extremely dim or not used at all, while rear lights or reflectors are often missing or broken. Driving conditions in the capital of Bamako can be particularly dangerous due to limited street lighting, the absence of sidewalks for pedestrians, and the number of motorcycles, mopeds, and bicycles.

Mali has paved roads leading from Bamako to most major cities in the south and east. During the rainy season from mid-June to mid-September, some unpaved roads may be impassable. Four-wheel drive vehicles with spare tires and emergency equipment are recommended. Professional roadside service is not available. It is imperative to carry sufficient quantities of drinking water and food. Drivers should ensure that their gas tanks are at least half-full at all times, as gas stations are not widely available.

Travelers after dark on roads outside of urban centers are subject to attack by kidnappers and terrorists, and more commonly regular banditry, as roads are poorly lit or traveled. Road travel between Gao Kidal, and Menaka, and outside Timbuktu should be avoided as they are common sites for improvised explosive devices (bombs) and ambushes by armed assailants.





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