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 and political tensions that culminated in another coup in 2020.
- The government of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, which was weakened by a March and April parliamentary contest marred by violence and low turnout, was overthrown in a coup d’état in August. The military government, which named a new president and prime minister in September and named members of an unelected transitional legislature in December, remained in power at year’s end.
- Before the civilian administration was overthrown, Malians held major antigovernment protests between June and August. Security forces killed at least 14 protesters over a three-day period in Bamako in July, which sparked continued protests against the Keïta government.
- Malian authorities initiated a COVID-19-related lockdown in March, but notably allowed that month’s parliamentary contests to go ahead. The military government declared a COVID-19-related state of emergency in December, citing a rise in cases; the World Health Organization reported 7,029 COVID-19 cases and 269 deaths at the end of the year.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||0.000 4.004|
The president, who is chief of state, is normally elected by popular vote and may serve up to two five-year terms. In a two-round presidential election in 2018, incumbent president Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta took 67 percent of the vote; he defeated the late Soumaïla Cissé, a former finance minister, who took 33 percent. International election observers said the polling was relatively well conducted.
Keïta’s hold on the presidency weakened after the flawed March and April 2020 parliamentary elections, the March kidnapping of Soumaïla Cissé, and a violent response to protests ended with at least 14 fatalities over three days in July. In August, a group of military personnel known as the National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP) launched a coup d’état, abducted Keïta, and compelled him to resign. In September, the CNSP selected Bah N’Daou, a former military officer and Keïta-era defense minister, as acting president. Colonel Assimi Goïta, the CNSP’s leader, was made vice president.
The prime minister is head of government, and is appointed by the president. Boubou Cissé was appointed in April 2019, but was removed by the CNSP in August 2020. Former foreign minister Moctar Ouane was named prime minister by N’Daou in September.
Score Change: The score declined from 2 to 0 because the elected president and prime minister were overthrown in a coup d'état.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||0.000 4.004|
Members of the 147-seat unicameral National Assembly normally serve five-year terms. Thirteen seats were reserved to represent Malians living abroad. Keïta’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, and the third-largest party, the Alliance for Democracy (ADEMA), won 16.
A two-round parliamentary contest was held in March and April 2020, but the contest was marred by violence, low turnout, and disagreement over the results. Opposition leader Soumaïla Cissé was kidnapped days before the first round and was not released until October. Voters, especially in the north and center of Mali, were subjected to intimidation, while observers reported vote-buying incidents. COVID-19 restrictions, which were introduced in March, also impacted the poll. A group of civil society observers reported a first-round turnout figure of 7.5 percent.
The National Assembly was dissolved by Keïta in August after he was detained by the CNSP along with then prime minister Cissé and other officials. The coup d’état was condemned by regional and international actors including the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which called on the CNSP to appoint civilian transitional leaders and commit to the reintroduction of civilian rule.
A 121-member National Transitional Council (CNT) was formed in December, with CNSP member Colonel Malick Diaw named as its president. Security forces control 22 seats, while political parties and organizations hold 11. The June 5th Movement—Rally of Patriotic Forces (M5-RFP), an alliance of opposition parties and civil society groups, separately holds 8 seats.
Score Change: The score declined from 1 to 0 because an elected parliament was replaced by an unelected transitional body as the result of a coup d’état.
|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 normally divided among three administrative bodies in Mali—the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Decentralization, the Independent National Electoral Commission, and the General Office of Elections. The Constitutional Court also participates in the electoral process by validating election results and resolving disputes.
The Constitutional Court overturned the results for 31 parliamentary seats in late April 2020, increasing the RPM’s representation by 10 seats in the interim. Protests over the court’s decision were held that same month. Keïta dismissed several Constitutional Court judges in July, following a ECOWAS proposal to resolve the political impasse, and offered to organize a rerun of the invalidated contests. New judges were appointed in early August, though the news that a Keïta ally was involved in their selection was met with criticism.
|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?||1.001 4.004|
Electoral competition is normally 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.
Opposition figures faced violent attacks during the March and April 2020 parliamentary elections. Late URD leader Soumaïla Cissé and members of his entourage were kidnapped while traveling through the town of Niafunké, and one bodyguard was killed. Several people were freed a day later, and Cissé himself was freed in October after the military government agreed to release 200 individuals suspected of militant activity. (Cissé died of COVID-19 in December.)
Score Change: The score declined from 2 to 1 because opposition leaders and candidates faced physical violence and intimidation during the March and April parliamentary elections, limiting their ability to fully participate in the contest.
|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?||0.000 4.004|
Before the August 2020 coup d’état, political choices were the privilege of the Malian people, though these choices were occasionally influenced by the promise of patronage appointments or other benefits in exchange for political support. The military government that took power has since appointed key officials, including the acting president, vice president, and prime minister. The same military government initially sought to govern Mali for three years, though it subsequently agreed to hold new elections within 18 months.
Score Change: The score declined from 2 to 0 because a military-led transitional government superseded the ability of voters to make meaningful political choices.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, 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.
Societal attitudes can discourage women from participating in political processes. In the country’s 2018 presidential election, Djeneba N’Diaye was the sole female candidate. While a 2015 gender quota bill mandates that 30 percent of elected and appointed positions are to be filled by women, the military government named only four women to a 25-member cabinet in October 2020, and 27 percent of the CNT’s seats are held by women.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||0.000 4.004|
President Keïta was elected in a generally credible poll in 2018, while the National Assembly elected in 2013 was also freely elected. That parliament remained in place beyond the end of its mandate, however, with elections held in March and April 2020. The August coup d’état replaced an elected national government with a military one, which remained in power at year’s end.
The volatile security situation in northern and central Mali has limited government activity there.
Score Change: The score declined from 2 to 0 because an elected government was overthrown during the year and was therefore unable to determine policy.
|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 Keïta in July 2019, highlighted significant financial irregularities. The arrest of the mayor of Bamako that October as part of a corruption investigation, as well as the detention of other state officials, may have reflected a new resolve on the part of the civilian government to tackle corruption. After the August 2020 coup d’état, the CNSP launched a crackdown on apparent abuses by government officials, but took little action to fight corruption within the military.
|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.
In February 2020, the civilian government joined the Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information for Tax Purposes, a working group backed by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development to fight tax evasion and improve transparency.
|Are there free and independent media?||2.002 4.004|
The media environment in 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.
Journalists and media outlets covering antigovernment protests faced detention, transmission disruptions, and acts of vandalism in July 2020. Protesters occupied the headquarters of public broadcaster Office de Radio-Télévision du Mali (ORTM), which briefly went off the air, and stole equipment during the demonstrations. A Liberté TV journalist was arrested by police while filing a report on the protests that month, though she was released a day later. Social media services were disrupted for several days in July.
Press freedom was restricted after the August 2020 coup d’état. Sud FM correspondent Sory Ibra Maiga was forced to leave a September press conference after asking about the deployment of law enforcement agents to secure a transitional government meeting. Later that month, journalist Ibrahim Adiawiakoye was arrested after publishing an article commenting on former youth minister Harouna Touré’s ties to the CNSP. Adiawiakoye was released a day later after Touré withdrew a defamation complaint. Journalists Adama Diarra and Seydou Oumar Traoré were detained in October and November, respectively, after they were accused of criminally defaming members of the judiciary.
|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 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.
Protesters rallied against the late April 2020 Constitutional Court decision to overturn the election results in 31 parliamentary seats that month, and regular antigovernment protests were held beginning in early June, days after the M5-RFP’s formation was announced. Protests grew violent during a three-day period in July, with some participants engaging in looting. The authorities responded with force, resulting in at least 14 deaths in Bamako over three days. Several high-ranking M5-RFP members were also detained in July, but were released several days later.
Despite the violence, protests largely continued through August; security forces forcibly dispersed another rally in Bamako that month, using tear gas and water cannons to clear a city square. On August 17th, opposition groups vowed to launch daily protests, but President Keïta and Prime Minister Cissé were detained by the CNSP the next day.
|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. A European Commission report issued in October 2020 counted 150 incidents affecting humanitarian NGOs in the first eight months of the year.
|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.
The National Union of Workers of Mali (UNTM) held two strikes in November and December 2020 over pay disagreements. The UNTM and military government held negotiations on the matter in December, though the UNTM briefly suspended its participation after President N’Daou harshly criticized the strike in a speech.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||2.002 4.004|
Judges are appointed by the president, while the minister of justice supervises both law enforcement and judicial functions. The judiciary is beholden to the executive, despite constitutional guarantees of judicial independence. Additionally, the overall efficiency of the judicial system remains low.
In July 2020, Keïta announced the removal of Constitutional Court judges as part of an effort to resolve the country’s political impasse. In August, nine judges were appointed to the court; three were named by Keïta, three by National Assembly president Moussa Timbine, and three by a judicial council. The appointments were met with criticism due to the involvement of a Keïta ally in the judges’ installation.
Militant attacks against judicial personnel have prompted some judges to vacate their posts. In 2017, 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 remained in force for several years, and was last extended in October 2019. The emergency designation gave security services greater authority to search homes without a warrant, detain suspects, and restrict protests. The military government suspended that state of emergency after taking power in August 2020, though a COVID-19-related state of emergency was declared in late December.
Detainees face extended pretrial detention periods. The trial of Amadou Sanogo, who staged a coup d’état in 2012 and was accused of killing 21 soldiers who sought to oppose him that year, began in 2016 but was quickly adjourned. Sanogo was not bailed until late January 2020, though his release was criticized by human rights groups; the case against him remained pending at year’s end.
Due process rights were not consistently upheld for high-ranking officials detained by the military in the August 2020 coup d’état. Former prime minister Sissé, former National Assembly president Timbine, and eight generals who were detained were released in October, but were warned that they “remain at the disposition of the courts.”
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.
|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 a 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. Late opposition leader Soumaïla Cissé, who was abducted in March 2020, was released by the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM), a militant group with reported links to al-Qaeda, in October. In return for the release of Cissé, French aid worker Sophie Pétronin, and two Italian hostages, the GSIM secured the release of 200 individuals.
Several violent attacks occurred during 2020. In October, 13 soldiers and 12 civilians were killed in a terrorist attack in the central region of Mopti. Several days later, one UN peacekeeper was killed and another was injured in separate attacks. That same month, at least 20 people from the central village of Farabougou were abducted by suspected Islamist militants, and the town was effectively blockaded. A search party looking for the abducted residents came under fire days later; six people were killed and 22 were injured in that incident. The military liberated Farabougou in late October, though access to the village remained limited at year’s end. In November, unidentified assailants killed an imam in the town of Débougou.
Malian military personnel have been known to engage in human rights violations, and have been accused of committing summary executions. In June 2020, the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali reported that Malian forces were responsible for 119 extrajudicial killings, 32 forced disappearances, and 116 arbitrary arrests, many of them in the regions of Mopti and Ségou, in the first three months of the year.
Prisons are characterized by overcrowding, insufficient medical care, and a lack of proper food and sanitation. The COVID-19 pandemic also affected prisons, with the authorities releasing or pardoning over 1,600 prisoners to reduce the spread of the virus in 2020.
|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.
Arabs and Tuaregs also face discrimination. In October 2020, Arab and Tuareg merchants in the city of Timbuktu rallied against attacks on their businesses, with participants saying they commonly faced blame for criminal and jihadist activity in the region.
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. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) counted 140,000 Malian refugees living in asylum countries and nearly 251,000 internally displaced persons in May 2020.
|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 the UN Children’s Fund, 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 to 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 recruit and use child soldiers.
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Global Freedom Score29 100 not free