Freedom in the World
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The government of President Amadou Toumani Toure was reshuffled in 2004. Nearly 100 political parties competed for control of more than 700 communes across the country in elections in May.
Following independence from France in 1960, Mali was ruled by military or one-party dictators for more than 30 years. After soldiers killed more than 100 demonstrators demanding a multiparty system in 1991, President Moussa Traore was overthrown by his own military. Traore and his wife, Mariam, were sentenced to death in January 1999 for embezzlement. Traore had also received the death sentence in 1993 for ordering troops to fire on demonstrators two years earlier. Sentences for both Traore and his wife have been commuted to life imprisonment.
After the 1991 coup, a national conference organized open elections that most observers judged to be free and fair, with Alpha Oumar Konare of the Alliance for Democracy in Mali (ADEMA) party winning the presidency in 1992. In 1997, a little more than a quarter of registered voters participated as Konare was overwhelmingly reelected against a weak candidate who alone broke an opposition boycott of the presidential contest.
Konare's ADEMA party suffered a split in 2001, adding more competition to the May 2002 presidential election, in which 24 candidates participated. Toure, a former general who led Mali during the transition period to multiparty politics in the early 1990s, ran as an independent. After the first round of voting, the Constitutional Court canceled more than 500,000 ballots cast, citing voting by nonregistered voters and missing election reports as some of the irregularities. Several presidential candidates had petitioned the court to annul the results entirely, alleging fraud and vote rigging. Toure and Soumaila Cisse, of ADEMA, went to a second round of voting, with Toure securing 64 percent of the vote compared with 36 percent for Cisse. International observers said the polls were well managed and conducted in a spirit of transparency, although they also noted several logistical and administrative irregularities.
The Hope coalition dominated voting for National Assembly elections in July 2002, gaining 66 seats, while a coalition led by ADEMA won 51 seats. Smaller parties captured the remainder of the seats.
A government reshuffle in 2004 followed Toure's dissatisfaction with his prime minister. The new cabinet, like the previous one, was ethnically and politically broad based. The cabinet was expanded from 18 posts to 28.
The conduct of communal elections held in May 2004 was orderly and transparent. It was the first time the government had organized the simultaneous urban and communal elections. ADEMA won nearly 30 percent of seats in the more than 700 communes.
Toure, like his predecessor, has a strong international profile for having been active in regional peace and humanitarian efforts as a UN envoy. (In 2003, Konare took office as chairman of the African Union, which was formerly the Organization of African Unity.) Mali was working closely with the United States in 2004 as part of the Pan-Sahel Initiative to stem the growth of terrorist organizations across the vast Sahel region.
Despite steady economic growth, Mali remains desperately poor. About 65 percent of its land is desert or semi-desert, and about 80 percent of the labor force is engaged in farming or fishing. Hundreds of thousands of Malians are economic migrants across Africa and Europe.
Citizens of Mali can choose their government democratically. Since the end of military rule, Mali's domestic political debate has been open and extensive. Despite some irregularities noted by international observers, the 2002 presidential elections were regarded as having been well managed and conducted in a spirit of transparency. The president is elected for a five-year term. Elections for 147 National Assembly seats in 2002 were also regarded as being free and fair despite some administrative irregularities.
In 2004, some larger opposition political parties formed a coalition with the aim of boosting their chances in subsequent parliamentary and presidential elections.
Decentralization, which began in 1999, remained controversial. The process changed traditional power relationships between government and the governed and relieved formerly powerful civil servants of their authority. The government has passed many laws that allow greater financial autonomy in the areas of education, health, and infrastructure. The government has established a special commission to help eradicate corruption. Mali was ranked 77 out of 146 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2004 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Although libel is still considered a criminal offense and press laws include punitive presumption-of-guilt standards, Mali's media are among Africa's most open. At least 40 independent newspapers operate freely, and more than 100 independent radio stations, including community stations broadcasting in regional languages, broadcast throughout the country. The government controls one television station and many radio stations, but all present diverse views, including those critical of the government. Three reporters from a private radio station were jailed for two weeks in 2003 on charges of defaming an attorney, in what was essentially a contempt-of-court proceeding. The government does not impede access to the Internet.
Mali is predominantly Muslim. However, it is a secular state, and minority and religious rights are protected by law. Religious associations must register with the government, but the law is not enforced. Sectarian violence occasionally flares between Muslim groups. Academic freedom is guaranteed and respected.
Many civic groups and nongovernmental organizations, including human rights groups, operate without interference. Freedom of assembly is guaranteed and respected. Workers are guaranteed the right to join unions, and nearly all salaried employees are unionized. The right to strike is guaranteed, with some restrictions. Public school teachers in December 2003 went on strike for two days to press for better working conditions and higher salaries.
Although the judiciary is not independent of the executive, it has shown considerable autonomy in rendering anti-administration decisions, which the government has in turn respected. The UN Human Rights Committee praised Mali in 2003 for its progress in improving human rights, citing the country's extensive legislative reform and a moratorium on capital punishment. Local chiefs, in consultation with elders, decide the majority of disputes in rural areas. Detainees are not always charged within the 48-hour period set by law, and there are often lengthy delays in bringing people to trial. Mali's human rights record is generally good, although there are reports of police brutality. The government permits visits by human rights monitors to prisons, which are characterized by overcrowding and inadequate medical care and food.
No ethnic group predominates in the government or the security forces, and political parties are not based on ethnicity. Long-standing tensions between the marginalized Moor and Tuareg pastoralist groups on the one hand and the more populous nonpastoralist groups on the other have been a main cause of political instability and violence, including the Tuareg rebellions of the early 1990s. A 1995 agreement ended the brutal, multisided conflicts between Tuareg guerrillas, black ethnic militias, and government troops.
Although the constitution prohibits forced labor, thousands of Malian children have been sold into servitude on coffee and cocoa plantations in neighboring Cote d'Ivoire by organized traffickers. Mali now requires children under 18 to carry travel documents; a law that made child trafficking punishable by up to 20 years in prison was enacted in 2001.
The UN Human Rights Committee concluded in 2003 that further work needs to be done to improve women's rights, specifically regarding marriage, divorce, inheritance, land ownership, and domestic violence. Most formal legal advances in the protection of women's rights have not been implemented, especially in rural areas. Societal discrimination against women persists, and social and cultural factors continue to limit their economic and educational opportunities. Legislation gives women property rights, but traditional practices and ignorance prevent many from taking advantage of the laws. Violence against women, including spousal abuse, is tolerated and common. Female genital mutilation remains legal, although the government has conducted educational campaigns against the practice. Numerous groups promote the rights of women and children.