Freedom in the World
In 2010, the government’s decision to release imprisoned members of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in exchange for a French hostage strained Mali’s diplomatic ties with Algeria and Mauritania. Relations improved in September after Mali became involved in regional collaborative efforts to fight AQIM. The Party for Economic and Social Development, a successor party to President Amadou ToumaniTouré’s Citizen Movement, was established in July in preparation for the 2012 presidential election.
Mali was ruled by military and one-party regimes for more than 30 years following independence from France in 1960. After soldiers killed more than 100 demonstrators demanding a multiparty system in 1991, President Moussa Traoré was overthrown by the military.
Alpha Oumar Konaré of the Alliance for Democracy in Mali (ADEMA) won the presidency in the 1992 elections, which were deemed credible by most observers. He secured a second and final term in 1997 amid a boycott by most of the opposition. Several opposition parties also boycotted that year’s National Assembly elections, in which ADEMA captured 128 of 147 seats.
In the 2002 presidential election, independent candidate Amadou Toumani Touré, a popular former military officer who had led Mali during the post-Traoré transition period, defeated his ADEMA opponent. During legislative elections that year, the opposition Hope 2002 coalition, led by the Rally for Mali (RPM) party, emerged victorious over the ADEMA-led coalition.
In the April 2007 presidential election, Touré—running as the candidate of the Alliance for Democracy and Progress (ADP) coalition—was reelected with 71 percent in the second round of voting. In elections for the National Assembly held in July, the ADP secured a total of 114 seats, with 51 going to ADEMA, its largest constituent party. The main opposition coalition, the Front for Democracy and the Republic (FDR), captured 15 seats, while a smaller party and a number of independents secured the remaining 19 seats.
The April 2009 municipal elections were conducted without government restrictions on the opposition. Turnout was approximately 45 percent of registered voters. ADEMA won all but one of Bamako’s six communes and almost 30 percent of the seats contested nationwide.
Violence between government forces and the marginalized ethnic Tuareg minority has flared up in recent years. Following a 1991 peace agreement and more than a decade of relative calm, a group of Tuareg army deserters attacked military barracks in 2006, demanding greater autonomy and development assistance. Fighting continued between 2006 and 2008 amid a series of negotiations and ceasefires with the government. Clashes escalated at the end of 2008 as a rebel faction, the North Mali Tuareg Alliance for Change (ATNMC), increased its insurgency efforts. However, the Malian army responded forcefully, and the ATNMC signed a peace treaty in April 2009. By 2010, the group was working cooperatively with government troops to police drug-smuggling routes. In December 2010, the government announced that a joint operation with Mauritanian forces had dismantled the largest trafficking network in the Sahel.
The terrorist organization Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) continued to threaten security in the north throughout 2010. A number of international aid workers and European tourists have been kidnapped since 2008, and several have been killed. In February 2010, Mali liberated four AQIM fighters to secure the release of a French hostage, prompting Algeria and Mauritania to recall their ambassadors from Bamako. In July, the Malian government criticized a Mauritanian-French operation that included attacks against AQIM on Malian soil. However, regional cooperation improved following a September meeting at which military representatives from Mali, Mauritania, Algeria, and Niger signed an agreement on the creation of a shared intelligence command.
Although it is one of the world’s least developed countries, Mali has undertaken significant political and economic reforms since the early 1990s, including a decentralization program that gave greater autonomy to local communities. Mali has benefited from international debt relief, and is currently working with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to improve its budget and meet the targets under the Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility.
Political Rights and Civil Liberties:
Mali is an electoral democracy. During the 2007 presidential election, voting was peaceful, and the results were deemed valid by domestic and international observers. The president, who appoints the prime minister, is elected by popular vote to serve up to two five-year terms. Members of the 147-seat unicameral National Assembly serve five-year terms, with 13 seats reserved to represent Malians living abroad.
Nearly 70 political parties operate in shifting electoral coalitions and are often organized around leading personalities. The largest party, ADEMA, participated in the coalition to back President Amadou Toumani Touré during the 2007 elections. A new political party, the Project for Economic and Social Development (PDES), was formed in July 2010 in preparation for the 2012 presidential election. PDES was established as a successor to the Citizen Movement, Touré’s nonpartisan political association.
A number of anticorruption initiatives have been launched under Touré’s administration, including the creation of the Office of the General Auditor. However, corruption remains a problem, particularly in public procurement and contracting. In September 2010, members of the Health Ministry were arrested for embezzling $4 million from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. Two related grants were suspended, resulting in the loss of more than $22 million in aid.Mali was ranked 116 out of 178 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index, and 153 of 183 countries in the World Bank’s 2011 Doing Business report.
Mali’s media have been considered among the freest in Africa. Dormant criminal libel laws have not been invoked by authorities since 2007, and there were no reports of harassment or intimidation of journalists in 2010. The government does not restrict internet access, although less than 1 percent of the population had access in 2010.
While Mali’s population is predominantly Muslim and the High Islamic Council has a great deal of influence over politics, the state is secular, and minority religious rights are protected by law. Academic freedom is respected.
Freedoms of assembly and association are respected. Many civic groups and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), including human rights groups, operate without interference. However, AQIM’s activity in the north has complicated the work of NGOs in the affected region. The constitution guarantees workers the right to unionize, with the exception of those who provide “essential services,” such as security force personnel or school principals.
The judiciary is not independent of the executive and is too weak to provide an adequate check on the other two branches of government. Traditional authorities decide the majority of disputes in rural areas. In July 2010, the National Assembly passed a law calling for the establishment of Centers for Access to Rights and Justice, which would provide citizens with information about their legal rights and judicial procedures. The centers were not yet operational at year’s end.Detainees are not always charged within the 48-hour period set by law, and there are lengthy delays in bringing defendants to trial. Police brutality has been reported, though courts have convicted some perpetrators. Prison conditions are harsh, and while human rights monitors are permitted to visit prisons, cumbersome administrative procedures reportedly make investigations difficult.
No ethnic group predominates in the government or security forces. Long-standing tensions between the more populous nonpastoralist ethnic groups and the marginalized Moor and Tuareg pastoralist groups have fueled intermittent instability.
Women are underrepresented in high political posts; 15 were elected to the National Assembly in 2007, and 5 of 27 cabinet ministers are women. Women’s representation at the local level increased from 6.5 percent in 2004 to 8.7 percent in 2009. Domestic violence against women is widespread, and cultural traditions have hindered reform.
Forced labor is prohibited, and child trafficking is punishable by 20 years in prison. However, adult trafficking is not criminalized, and Mali remains a source, transit, and destination country for women and children trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation and forced labor. Prosecution of suspected traffickers has been weak; most are briefly detained and released without charges. Traditional forms of slavery persist, particularly in the north, and according to some rights groups there may be thousands of people living in conditions of servitude.