Mali experienced a political transition away from authoritarian rule beginning in the early 1990s, and gradually built up its democratic institutions for about 20 years. However, the country displayed characteristics of state fragility along the way that eventually contributed to a 2012 military coup, and a rebellion in northern Mali that erupted the same year. Though constitutional rule was restored and a peace agreement signed in the north in 2015, the events have left an enduring situation of insecurity.
- In March, the Fulani village of Ogossagou in Mali’s central region of Mopti was attacked by alleged Dogon hunters who killed some 160 people, among them women, children, and elderly people. In June, the Dogon village Sobane-Kou was attacked by unidentified armed assailants, and some 95 people were killed.
- In April, the government led by Prime Minister Soumeylou Boubèye Maïga resigned under pressure from protesters angry about authorities’ inability to address insecurity and violence. Former finance minister Boubou Cissé was appointed the new prime minister.
- In December, the president opened the Inclusive National Dialogue (DNI), despite a boycott by the opposition. The meetings, over the course of a week, brought together stakeholders from all parts of the country in an effort to find nonmilitary responses to the security crisis that has afflicted Mali since 2012, and ended with a set of resolutions on topics including future elections and a referendum on revision of the constitution.
- In June, legislative elections originally due in 2018 were again postponed. Separately, a national state of emergency in force since a 2015 terrorist attack was extended for another year in October.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||2.002 4.004|
The president, who is chief of state, is elected by popular vote and may serve up to two five-year terms. In a two-round presidential election in 2018, Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, the incumbent president known by his initials, IBK, took 67 percent of the vote; he defeated Soumaïla Cissé, a former finance minister, who took 33 percent. International election observers said polling was relatively well conducted. However, a fragile security situation led to very low turnout in parts of northern and central Mali. Approximately 20 percent of polling stations were affected by violent disruptions nationwide, according to authorities, and 3 percent were closed entirely. Additionally, internet access was blocked ahead of the runoff vote, and authorities refused to answer journalists’ questions about the disruption.
Although Keïta received international recognition as the election’s winner, the political opposition, led by Soumaïla Cissé, rejected the election’s results as fraudulent and boycotted Keïta’s inauguration in September 2018.
Despite the election’s relative success, the political system remains fragile due to the security situation, and as the country continues to address the aftermath of the 2012 coup.
The prime minister is head of government, and is appointed by the president. In April 2019, Prime Minister Soumeylou Boubèye Maïga resigned along with his entire cabinet in the aftermath of the massacre of approximately 160 Fulani herders in Ogossagou by members of a rival community in March. Although no specific reason was given, the resignation came after lawmakers discussed a possible motion of no confidence in the government, which had come under sustained public criticism for failing to disarm nonstate armed groups. President Keïta appointed Boubou Cissé, a former finance minister, as the new prime minister later in April.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||1.001 4.004|
Members of the 147-seat unicameral National Assembly serve five-year terms. Thirteen seats are reserved to represent Malians living abroad. IBK’s Rally for Mali (RPM) party won 66 seats in legislative elections held in 2013, and its allies took an additional 49 seats. Soumaïla Cissé’s Union for the Republic and Democracy (URD) won 17 seats, and the third-largest party, the Alliance for Democracy (ADEMA), won 16.
The original mandate of the incumbent legislature has expired. Parliamentary elections were initially scheduled for November and December 2018. They were again moved by the Council of Ministers to April 2019, then to June 2019, before being postponed in June 2019 until 2020.
Score Change: The score declined from 2 to 1 because legislative elections due in 2018 had still not been held by the end of 2019, and the original mandate of the incumbent legislature has expired.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||2.002 4.004|
Electoral operations are divided among three administrative bodies in Mali—the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Decentralization, the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI), and the General Office of Elections (DGE). The Constitutional Court also participates in the electoral process by validating election results and resolving disputes.
Electoral bodies have struggled to establish secure polling places in areas where armed groups operate. Voters have been disenfranchised due to delays in the distribution of electoral identity cards, and an outdated voter registry.
In December 2019, the president opened the Inclusive National Dialogue (DNI), despite a boycott by the opposition. The meetings, over the course of a week, brought together stakeholders from all parts of the country in an effort to find nonmilitary responses to the security crisis that has afflicted Mali since 2012, and ended with a set of resolutions on topics including future elections and a referendum on revision of the constitution.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||2.002 4.004|
The creation and the functioning of political parties are determined by a legal framework known as the Political Parties Charter, which is generally fair. The Charter prohibits the creation of political parties on an “ethnic, religious, linguistic, regionalist, sexist, or professional basis.”
There are more than 100 registered political parties in Mali, though fewer than 20 are active. Parties are relatively weak, and are usually based around support for a particular personality, and policy differences between parties are not always clear. Parties are often poorly funded, which hampers their ability to effectively organize and win voter support.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||2.002 4.004|
Electoral competition is open to opposition forces. A 2014 law institutionalized specific privileges for opposition parties in the parliament, such as the ability to choose an official leader of the opposition. However, in 2016 the ruling majority passed, over the objections of opposition parties, amendments to the electoral code that favored establishment and majority parties by requiring candidates to make a significant financial campaign deposit, and to receive support from national councilors. Even so, more than 20 candidates were able to run in the 2018 presidential election.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||2.002 4.004|
Political choices remain the privilege of the Malian people, though these choices are occasionally influenced by the promise of patronage appointments or other benefits in exchange for political support.
Insecurity has restricted people’s ability to vote in northern and central Mali, including during the 2018 presidential election. Approximately 20 percent of polling stations saw violent disruptions nationwide, and about 3 percent were closed due to security risks, according to authorities. A polling officer was shot and killed in Arkodia during the presidential runoff by armed men authorities described as “jihadists.” Additionally, many of the roughly 500,000 people displaced within and outside Mali were unable to exercise their voting rights in 2018.
Nevertheless, it appeared that more polling stations in regions affected by ongoing insecurity remained opened during the 2018 presidential election, compared to the 2016 local polls.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, religious, gender, LGBT, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||2.002 4.004|
No law limits the political rights of minorities, and no single ethnic group dominates the government or security forces. Tuareg pastoralist groups in the north have historically occupied a marginal position in national political life, but members from these groups hold at least 16 National Assembly seats.
Societal attitudes can discourage women from participating in political processes. Only about 14 percent of candidates in the 2013 legislative elections were women, and women occupy less than 10 percent of National Assembly seats. In the country’s 2018 presidential election, Djeneba N’Diaye was the sole female candidate.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||2.002 4.004|
The president was elected in 2018 polls that were generally credible but marred by violence in some areas. National Assembly members were freely elected in the 2013 polls, though at the end of 2019 they remained seated beyond their constitutional mandate, with new polls scheduled for the first half of 2020. The prime minister is generally able to set national policy, and the parliament to enact new laws. However, the executive branch has exhibited influence on the other branches of government.
The volatile security situation in northern and central Mali limits government activity there.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||1.001 4.004|
Corruption remains a problem in government, notably in public procurement. Bribery and embezzlement of public funds is common and impunity for corrupt officials is the norm. The Office of the Auditor General is an independent office responsible for analyzing public spending, but despite identifying sizable embezzlement cases, very few prosecutions have been made. Its 2018 annual report, submitted to President IBK in July 2019, highlighted significant financial irregularities. The arrest of the mayor of Bamako in October 2019 as part of a corruption investigation, as well as the detention of other state officials, may reflect a new resolve to tackle corruption.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||1.001 4.004|
Government operations remain generally opaque. Mali does not have a comprehensive freedom of information regime, although numerous laws do provide for public access to some official documents and information. However, such laws are replete with extensive and vague exceptions, and journalists have faced obstacles when attempting to obtain information, particularly about military expenditure.
|Are there free and independent media?||2.002 4.004|
The media environment in Mali’s capital, Bamako, and in the rest of the south is relatively open, though there are sporadic reports of censorship, self-censorship, and threats against journalists. Reporting on the situation in the north remains dangerous due to the presence of active militant groups. Defamation is a crime that can draw fines or prison time.
Elections in Mali are often accompanied by an uptick in press freedom violations. In June 2018, as campaigning was ramping up, a number of journalists were chased off by police as they attempted to cover a banned opposition demonstration. On several occasions, the government violated the freedom of the press by unilaterally closing media stations, and bypassing the High Authority for Communication (HAC), Mali’s media regulator, which is the only authority with power to issue legal rulings on media content.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||2.002 4.004|
Freedom of religion is constitutionally guaranteed in Mali, which is a secular state, and discrimination of the basis of religion is prohibited. The population is predominantly Sunni Muslim, and Sufism plays a role in the beliefs of most residents.
The 2012 Islamist uprising has shattered the image of Mali as a religiously tolerant country. Armed extremist groups have terrorized northern and central Mali, and have attacked those whom they perceive as failing to follow their strict interpretation of Islam. They have occasionally carried out targeted kidnappings of Christians and subjected them to sometimes violent harassment. In 2017, several Christian churches in central Mali were attacked by alleged Islamist gunmen.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||3.003 4.004|
Academic freedom is upheld in areas with a consolidated government presence, but restricted in areas with a heavy militant presence.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||3.003 4.004|
Private discussion is generally open and free in areas under government control, but is more restricted in areas with a militant presence or where intercommunal violence has flared.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||2.002 4.004|
The constitution guarantees freedom of assembly, but participants in public gatherings risk violence by state security forces, and the government has occasionally restricted social media use to prevent activists from organizing protests. In December 2017, one person was killed and 15 were injured after the police opened fire on demonstrators in Konsiga who had blocked the city hall for a week in an attempt to force the mayor’s resignation. In June 2018, 16 people were injured when police broke up a peaceful demonstration in Bamako organized by the opposition, which had been prohibited by the government. However, in April 2019, a mass protest in Bamako in April against the government’s failure to address violence and insecurity in the north went forward peacefully, and drew an estimated 30,000 people, according to police; organizers said the crowd reached 50,000.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||2.002 4.004|
Many nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) operate in Mali without state interference. However, large, established NGOs with ties to the political elite are influential, and can overshadow smaller and more innovative groups, particularly in the competition for funding. Ongoing insecurity in some parts of the country hampers NGO efforts to provide aid and services to returning refugees and others affected by instability. In August 2019, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) announced that it would temporarily suspend its activities in Timbuktu, in the north of Mali, due to the growing insecurity in the region.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||2.002 4.004|
The constitution guarantees workers the right to form unions and to strike, with some limitations for essential services workers, and requirements involving compulsory arbitration. The government has broad discretionary power over the registration of unions and recognition of collective bargaining, and the authorities do not effectively enforce laws against antiunion discrimination.
In March 2019, several thousand striking teachers held demonstrations across Mali, demanding subsidies for teacher housing, funding for schools, and increases in their wages. The teachers’ strike ended in May, after five months.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||2.002 4.004|
The judiciary is beholden to the executive, despite constitutional guarantees of judicial independence. Judges are appointed by the president, while the minister of justice supervises both law enforcement and judicial functions. Additionally, the overall efficiency of the judicial system remains low.
Militant attacks against judicial personnel have prompted some judges to vacate their posts. In November 2017, Malian judge Soungalo Koné was kidnapped in central Mali by armed men who asked for the release of detained militants in exchange for his freedom. In February 2019, the magistrates’ union announced that he had died the previous month, still in captivity, from an illness.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||1.001 4.004|
Due process rights are inconsistently upheld. Detainees are not always charged within the 48-hour period set by law, and arbitrary arrests are common. Since a deadly 2015 hotel attack in Bamako, a national state of emergency has remained in force, and was extended in October 2019 for another year. The emergency designation gives security services greater authority to search homes without a warrant, detain suspects, and restrict protests. There are also reports of authorities disregarding due process when making arrests in connection with the violent attacks that took place in Mopti 2019, as well of reprisals for violence that are taken outside of any judicial structures.
The trial of Amadou Sanogo, the former army captain who staged a military coup in Mali in 2012, and more than a dozen codefendants began in late 2016 on charges related to the abduction and killing of 21 soldiers. The trial was quickly adjourned, and at the end of 2019 Sanogo remained in detention while awaiting the trial’s reopening, which was scheduled for early 2020. In addition, Makan Doumbia, a Malian prefect who had been kidnapped in central Mali in May 2018, was released in February 2019 along with a journalist in exchange for 18 jihadists, one of whom had been sentenced in August 2017 to ten years in prison for aggravated assault, criminal conspiracy, and other charges. Separately, in September 2019, International Criminal Court (ICC) judges ordered Al Hassan Ag Abdoul Aziz Ag Mohamed Ag Mahmoud, a former member of the militant Islamist group Ansar Dine, to stand trial for crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Timbuktu between 2012 and 2013. He was handed over to the ICC by the Malian government in April 2018.
The Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission created in 2014 is responsible for investigating human rights violations committed since 1960, but its activities are restricted by the rise of terrorist activities and intercommunal tensions within Mali’s borders.
Score Change: The score declined from 2 to 1 due to the continued erosion of due process rights, including of those accused of carrying out acts of violence in the Mopti Region.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||0.000 4.004|
Islamist militant groups not party to Mali’s 2015 peace agreement continued to carry out acts of violence against civilians in the northern and central regions. Ongoing instability has contributed to the spread of organized crime, and accompanying violence and kidnappings. Scores were killed and many more were displaced in 2019 in incidents of intercommunal violence. In June 2019, in an overnight attack, approximately 95 people were killed and 19 went missing in the ethnic Dogon village of Sobane-Kou, in the Mopti region. This mass killing was viewed as retaliation for a similarly brutal massacre in March, during which a group identified as a Dogon militia attacked the predominantly Muslim Fulani village of Ogossagou, near the border with Burkina Faso, and killed approximately 160 people, including women, children, and elderly people. In September 2019, three people, including two children, were shot and killed during intercommunal violence in Timbuktu, as ethnic tensions between sedentary populations in the region and Tuareg and Arabs continued to rise. An October 2019 report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) found that members of Mali’s military had committed serious acts of ill-treatment during counterterrorism operations. The military has been accused of committing summary executions in the past.
Prisons are characterized by overcrowding, insufficient medical care, and a lack of proper food and sanitation. The government made some effort in 2017 to improve conditions by holding staff trainings and building a new prison with a capacity of about 2,500 prisoners.
Score Change: The score declined from 1 to 0 because clashes between Dogon hunters and seminomadic Fulani herders resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people during the year.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||1.001 4.004|
Members of a northern caste known as black Tamasheqs face societal discrimination, including slavery-like treatment and hereditary servitude. Authorities sometimes deny them official documents or discriminate against them in housing, schooling, and police protection.
Same-sex sexual acts are legal, but LGBT+ people face discrimination, including cases of violence from family members meant as a corrective punishment.
Although equal rights are provided for in the constitution, the law does not provide for the same legal status for women and men, and women are required by law to obey their husbands. Sexual harassment is not prohibited by law and is a common practice in schools and the workplace.
Conditions in northern Mali have left many refugees unable or unwilling to return, as continuing insecurity in the region complicates resettlement. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there were more than 138,000 Malian refugees in Burkina Faso, Mauritania, and Niger at the end of December 2019.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||1.001 4.004|
Freedom of movement and choice of residence remain affected by insecurity, especially in northern and central Mali. According to UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 1,113 schools were closed as of December 2019. Schools have been targeted in militant attacks.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||1.001 4.004|
Citizens have the right to own property and conduct business activity, but these rights are not consistently respected and widespread corruption hampers normal business activities. It is generally necessary to pay bribes in order operate a business.
Traditional customs sometimes undermine the right of women to own property. The law discriminates against women in matters of marriage, divorce, and inheritance.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||1.001 4.004|
Rape and domestic violence against women are widespread, and most such crimes go unreported. There are no specific laws prohibiting spousal rape or domestic violence. Female genital mutilation is legal and commonly practiced in the country. LGBT+ couples cannot adopt children in Mali.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||1.001 4.004|
Although trafficking in persons is a criminal offense, prosecutions are infrequent. Many judicial officials remain unaware of the antitrafficking law, and the police lack adequate resources to combat trafficking. Traditional forms of slavery and debt bondage persist, particularly in the north, with thousands of people estimated to be living in such conditions.
Although the government has taken steps to eliminate child labor, it is a significant concern, especially in the agricultural and artisanal gold-mining sectors. Armed groups also regularly recruited and use child soldiers.
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Global Freedom Score41 100 partly free