Mali

Not Free
32
100
PR Political Rights 8 40
CL Civil Liberties 24 60
Last Year's Score & Status
33 100 Not Free
Global freedom statuses are calculated on a weighted scale. See the methodology.

header1 Overview

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 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, insecurity and political tensions persisted in the years that followed, culminating in two military coups in 2020 and 2021.

header2 Key Developments in 2021

  • In May, the military staged a coup d’état—the second in nine months—and arrested the acting president, Bah N’Daou, and his prime minister, Moctar Ouane. Colonel Assimi Goïta, who was also the leader of the 2020 coup, became the new transitional president.
  • In June, Goïta appointed a civilian prime minister, Choguel Maïga. He was a leading figure in the June 5th Movement–Rally of Patriotic Forces (M5-RFP) coalition, which had been at the forefront of protests against the regime of then president Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta prior to the 2020 coup.
  • Despite plans to transition to civilian rule within 18 months of the 2020 coup, the new transitional government announced in November that elections scheduled for February 2022 would be delayed. The following month, transitional authorities proposed extending the transition period and postponing elections for up to five years.

PR Political Rights

A Electoral Process

A1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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 the head of state, is normally elected by popular vote and may serve up to two five-year terms. However, in August 2020, in the wake of mass antigovernment protests, a group of military personnel known as the National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP) launched a coup d’état. They abducted President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta—who had been reelected in 2018 with 67 percent of the vote—and compelled him to resign. In September 2020, 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.

In May 2021, after the government announced a new cabinet that excluded two key military leaders, another coup d’état took place: the military arrested both N’Daou and Prime Minister Moctar Ouane, and Goïta declared himself transitional president. The move was confirmed by the Constitutional Court a few days later. N’Daou and Ouane were released from house arrest in August.

The prime minister, the head of government, is appointed by the president. Boubou Cissé was appointed in April 2019, but was removed by the CNSP in the August 2020 coup. Ouane, his successor, was appointed in September 2020 and removed from office following the May 2021 coup. In June, Goïta appointed a new civilian prime minister—Choguel Maïga, a leading member of the M5-RFP coalition that had spearheaded the anti-Keïta protest movement.

A2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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 opposition Union for the Republic and Democracy (URD) won 17, and the third-largest party, the Alliance for Democracy (ADEMA), won 16.

Overdue parliamentary elections were held in two rounds in March and April 2020, but the process was marred by violence, low turnout, and disagreement over the results. Soumaïla Cissé was kidnapped days before the first round and 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 affected the balloting. A group of civil society observers reported a first-round turnout figure of 7.5 percent.

Keïta dissolved the National Assembly in August 2020 after he was detained by the CNSP, along with then prime minister Boubou Cissé and other officials.

A 121-member National Transitional Council (CNT) was appointed in December 2020, with CNSP member Colonel Malick Diaw named as its president. Security forces directly controlled 22 seats, while political parties and organizations were granted 11. The M5-RFP, an alliance of opposition parties and civil society groups, separately held 8 seats.

A3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 1.001 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 2020 and offered to organize a rerun of the invalidated contests. New judges were appointed in early August 2020, though the news that a Keïta ally was involved in their selection was met with criticism.

In September 2021, transitional authorities announced the creation of a single election management body, the Independent Election Management Authority (AIGE). However, two months later, the transitional government postponed elections that had been scheduled for February 2022. In response, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which had been pressing for a return to elected civilian rule, imposed economic and travel sanctions on members of the transitional authority. In December, the Malian leadership nevertheless proposed further extending the transition period and suspending elections for up to five years.

Score Change: The score declined from 2 to 1 because the military-led government indefinitely postponed scheduled elections and pursued electoral-management changes via undemocratic means.

B Political Pluralism and Participation

B1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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 functioning of political parties are governed 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 usually built around a particular personality, and policy differences between them are not always clear. Moreover, parties are often poorly funded, which hampers their ability to effectively organize and win voter support.

B2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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 adopted, over the objections of opposition parties, amendments to the electoral code that favored establishment and majority parties by requiring presidential candidates to make a significant financial deposit and receive support from a certain number of incumbent elected officials.

Opposition figures faced violent attacks during the March and April 2020 parliamentary elections. URD leader Soumaïla Cissé and members of his entourage were kidnapped by militants while traveling through the town of Niafunké, and one bodyguard was killed. Several of the abductees were freed a day later, and Cissé himself was freed in October 2020 after the military government agreed to release 200 individuals suspected of militant activity, though Cissé died of COVID-19 that December.

B3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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, citizens’ political choices were relatively free, though they were occasionally influenced by the promise of patronage appointments or other benefits in exchange for political support. The military junta that first took power in 2020 and consolidated its authority in the May 2021 coup has since appointed key officials and set election timetables without meaningful public consultation.

B4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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 political rights for members of minority groups, 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 2018 presidential election, Djeneba N’Diaye was the sole female candidate. While a 2015 gender quota law mandates that 30 percent of elected and appointed positions are to be filled by women, only 25 percent of the CNT’s seats are held by women, and the 25-member cabinet that was established in June 2021—after the second coup d’état—included only six women.

C Functioning of Government

C1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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, and the National Assembly that took office in 2013 was also freely elected. That parliament remained in place beyond the end of its mandate, however, with elections eventually held in March and April 2020. The August 2020 coup d’état replaced an elected national government with a military regime; a second coup in May 2021 reinforced the military’s hold on power, causing renewed uncertainty about the reintroduction of civilian rule. A civilian, Choguel Maïga, was appointed as prime minister in June, but several key government positions were filled by military leaders.

The volatile security situation in northern and central Mali has limited the effective territorial reach of government authority.

C2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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 agency responsible for analyzing public spending, but despite its identification of sizable cases of embezzlement, very few prosecutions have taken place. The office’s 2018 annual report, submitted to Keïta in July 2019, highlighted significant financial irregularities.

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.

In August 2021, former prime minister Soumeylou Boubèye Maïga and former finance minister Bouaré Fily Sissoko were arrested on fraud charges in connection with the 2014 purchase of a presidential plane and $40 million in military equipment contracts. Several businessmen were arrested on related charges later in the year.

C3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 1.001 4.004

Government operations remain generally opaque, and Mali does not have a comprehensive legal framework for freedom of information. While numerous laws do provide for public access to some official documents and information, such laws are replete with extensive and vague exceptions, and journalists have faced obstacles when attempting to obtain information, particularly about military expenditures.

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 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development to fight tax evasion and improve transparency.

CL Civil Liberties

D Freedom of Expression and Belief

D1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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. Several journalists were arrested between August and December 2020; many were accused of criminal defamation for engaging in government-related reporting. In April 2021, journalist Mohamed Bathily—who had been detained in December 2020 on charges of conspiracy and “insulting the head of state”—was released from prison after authorities dropped all charges against him. Bathily was rearrested less than a month later for allegedly insulting members of the judiciary; he was released on bail in June and later received a fine and a one-year suspended prison sentence.

During 2021, transitional authorities began to seek justice for past instances of violence against members of the media. In July, the transitional government arrested General Moussa Diawara, former head of the General Directorate of State Security (DGSE), and issued an international arrest warrant for Karim Keïta, son of the former president, in connection with the 2016 disappearance of journalist Birama Touré.

D2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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 in the north shattered the image of Mali as a religiously tolerant country. Armed extremist groups have since terrorized northern and central Mali, attacking those whom they perceive as failing to follow their strict interpretation of Islam. Such groups 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.

D3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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.

D4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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 such expression is more restricted in areas with a militant presence or where intercommunal violence has flared.

E Associational and Organizational Rights

E1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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 for 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 2020, with some participants engaging in looting. The authorities responded with lethal force, resulting in at least 14 deaths in Bamako over three days. Despite continued violence, protests largely persisted through August 2020, when President Keïta and Prime Minister Cissé were detained by the CNSP.

Several protests took place in 2021 and were largely peaceful. Regular demonstrations against foreign—especially French—military involvement in Mali were held throughout the year without being disrupted. Similar protests also occurred as part of a progovernment march held in Bamako in September.

E2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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 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 counted more than 130 security incidents affecting humanitarian NGOs in the country during 2021.

E3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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 workers in essential services 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), the country’s largest trade union, held two strikes in November and December 2020 over pay disagreements. The UNTM and the military government held negotiations on the matter that December, though the union briefly suspended its participation after President N’Daou harshly criticized the strike activity in a speech. In May 2021, the UNTM began a nationwide strike following failed negotiations with the government over wages, bonuses, and allowances. The strike ended after the transitional government was removed by the coup later that month.

F Rule of Law

F1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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.

In July 2020, Keïta announced the removal of Constitutional Court judges as part of an effort to resolve the country’s postelection political impasse. That 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.

F2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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. After a deadly 2015 terrorist 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 2020.

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 freed on bail until late January 2020, though his release was criticized by human rights groups. In March 2021, the court dropped the charges against Sanogo and 15 other soldiers accused in the case, citing a 2019 reconciliation law that grants pardons or amnesty for certain crimes committed during the 2012 political crisis.

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 detained generals were released in October 2020 with the warning that they “remain at the disposition of the courts.” In September 2021, Oumar Samaké, a special forces commander imprisoned for his alleged role in the July 2020 death of 14 antigovernment protesters, was freed by armed police who stormed the prison where he was being held. The transitional government condemned Samaké’s forcible release, and human rights groups and magistrates’ unions criticized the incident as “an attack on democracy and the rule of law.” Samaké voluntarily surrendered to authorities and was returned to prison less than a week later. In October, Issa Kaou N’Djim, a vice president of the transitional parliament, was arrested after he criticized the government’s decision to expel ECOWAS’s special envoy in Mali. In December, N’Djim was given a six-month suspended sentence and fined 500,000 francs ($900).

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. In 2021, the commission held public hearings in April and September, giving victims of violent conflict and human rights abuses the opportunity to testify about their experiences.

F3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 0.000 4.004

Islamist militant groups that were not party to a 2015 peace agreement continue to carry out acts of violence against civilians in the northern and central regions. Since 2012, militant groups affiliated with the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) have regularly enforced brutal punishments—including stoning and amputation—on civilians they accuse of crimes.

Ongoing instability has contributed to the spread of organized crime and accompanying violence and kidnappings. In 2020, in return for its release of late opposition leader Soumaïla Cissé, French aid worker Sophie Pétronin, and two Italian hostages, the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM), a militant group with reported links to Al-Qaeda, secured the government’s release of 200 individuals suspected of militant activity. In April 2021, French journalist Olivier Dubois was abducted by the GSIM; he had not been freed at year’s end.

More than 1,000 violent attacks against civilians by suspected Islamist militants took place in 2021; nearly 600 civilians were killed, and more than 500 were abducted. In August, three villages in central Mali were attacked by assailants who killed 51 civilians in apparent retaliation for the arrest of several jihadist leaders in a nearby town.

Malian military personnel have been known to engage in human rights violations. In 2021, the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) reported that Malian forces were responsible for abuses including extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, and arbitrary arrests, many of them in the regions of Mopti and Ségou. International human rights groups also reported many such violations by the Malian military between the August 2020 coup and December 2021.

In March 2021, MINUSMA investigators reported that a French military air strike carried out in January in central Mali had mainly killed civilians, contrary to claims by French authorities that the air strike had targeted and killed militants.

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.

F4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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 by family members that is meant as a corrective punishment.

Although the constitution nominally guarantees equal rights and prohibits discrimination based on sex, men and women do not have the same legal status, 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 Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) counted almost 160,000 Malian refugees living in asylum countries and more than 400,000 internally displaced persons as of November 2021.

G Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights

G1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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 constrained by insecurity, especially in northern and central Mali. Educational facilities have been targeted in militant attacks, and according to the United Nations, 1,664 schools were closed as of August 2021.

G2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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 engage in private enterprise, 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 inheritance.

G3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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

The law puts women at a disadvantage on personal status issues including marriage and divorce. 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. Same-sex couples cannot form civil unions, marry, or adopt children in Mali.

G4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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.

The government has taken steps to eliminate child labor, but 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 Score

    32 100 not free