Freedom in the World
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Mali’s government signed a new peace agreement with ethnic Tuareg rebels in 2006 following attacks on government barracks and rebel demands for economic concessions and greater local autonomy. Meanwhile, the U.S.-funded Millennium Challenge Corporation approved a five-year, $460.8 million compact to fund Mali’s poverty reduction efforts, and political parties regrouped in advance of a presidential election scheduled for 2007.
Following independence from France in 1960, Mali was ruled by military or one-party regimes 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. He was sentenced to death in 1993 for ordering the troops to fire on protesters, and in January 1999, both Traore and his wife received death sentences for embezzlement. The sentences for the couple were later commuted to life imprisonment.
After the 1991 coup, a national conference organized open elections that most observers judged to be credible, with Alpha Oumar Konare of the Alliance for Democracy in Mali (ADEMA) winning the presidency in 1992. He won reelection in 1997, fending off a weak challenger who had been alone in breaking an opposition boycott of the contest. Little more than a quarter of registered voters participated.
Konare declared his intent to leave office at the end of his second term, despite efforts by his supporters to set aside constitutionally mandated term limits. In the May 2002 presidential election, Amadou Toumani Toure, a popular former general who had led Mali during the transition period following Traore’s overthrow, ran as an independent with the backing of numerous civic organizations and smaller political parties, facing 23 other candidates. In the second round of voting, Toure secured 64 percent of the vote, compared with 36 percent for ADEMA candidate Soumaila Cisse. The coalition “Espoir 2002” gained 66 seats in the July 2002 National Assembly elections, while an ADEMA-led coalition won 51 seats. Smaller parties captured the remainder. Communal elections in May 2004 were orderly and transparent, with ADEMA winning nearly 30 percent of seats in the more than 700 communes.
The Malian government had negotiated a peace agreement with ethnic Tuareg rebels in 1991 that included efforts to integrate rebel fighters into the military and step up development initiatives. In May 2006, after over a decade of peace, a group of Tuareg army deserters attacked government barracks in the northeastern region of Kidal, seizing weaponry and publicly demanding increased economic assistance and greater local autonomy for the Tuareg population. Tensions abated in July after the signing of a new peace agreement in Algiers that restated the government’s commitment to providing economic incentives for the region.
One of the world’s least developed countries, Mali has undergone significant political and economic reforms since the early 1990s, and recently launched a decentralization program that has given more authority and financial resources to local communities. Mali has benefited from considerable international debt relief. In October 2006, the U.S.-funded Millennium Challenge Corporation approved a five-year, $460.8 million compact to fund poverty reduction projects. Approximately 65 percent of the country is desert or semidesert, and approximately 80 percent of the labor force is engaged in farming or fishing. Hundreds of thousands of Malians live as economic migrants across Africa and Europe, and many have been disadvantaged by the ongoing conflict in Cote d’Ivoire.
Toure earned international praise for his efforts to promote regional peace and development as a UN envoy before standing for office in 2002, while Konare’s service since 2003 as chairman of the African Union is a source of national pride. Since 2004, Mali has worked closely with the United States on programs intended to stem the growth of terrorist organizations across the vast desert region.
Mali is an electoral democracy. Despite irregularities noted by international observers, the 2002 presidential election was regarded as credible, as were the legislative elections that followed. The president is elected by popular vote to a five-year term, with a limit of two terms. The president is both chief of state and commander in chief of the armed forces and appoints the prime minister as head of government. Members of the 147-member, unicameral National Assembly also serve five-year terms, with 13 seats reserved to represent Malians living abroad. Fourteen members represent historically marginalized pastoralist and nomadic ethnic minorities in the National Assembly, and the cabinet includes two representatives from these northern communities.
Sixteen political parties, aggregated into five parliamentary groups, are represented in the legislature. Additional parties are active in local government structures. Mali’s constitution includes a prohibition against parties based on ethnic, religious, regional, or gender affiliations. A figure of both national and international stature, President Toure portrays himself as politically independent. This strategy has weakened Mali’s nascent multiparty system, as many parties are reticent to criticize Toure’s administration or offer opposing points of view. In advance of the 2007 elections, however, several parties have begun to mobilize supporters in anticipation of challenging Toure for the presidency.
The eradication of corruption is a priority of Toure’s government, and a number of initiatives have been launched since he took office, such as the creation of the Office of the General Auditor. Although several civic associations are engaged in building public awareness of corruption, it continues to be a problem and is especially evident in public procurement and contracting. Mali was ranked 99 out of 163 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2006 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Mali’s broadcast and print media are considered among the freest in Africa. Over a dozen different newspapers are regularly published in Bamako, some appearing daily or weekly. The government controls the only television station and one of the more than 125 radio stations. State-controlled and private broadcast media present a wide range of views, including those critical of the government. In addition to commercial radio stations, private or community radio outlets provide a critical link for isolated rural populations. Libel is considered a criminal offense, and press laws include punitive presumption-of-guilt standards, but these laws are rarely invoked. In 2005, unidentified persons kidnapped a private radio talk-show host as he left his radio station. He was severely beaten but released several hours later. Despite a government investigation, no charges were ever filed. The government does not restrict access to the internet.
Mali’s population is predominantly Muslim, though the state is secular, and minority and religious rights are protected by law. Religious associations must register with the government. Sectarian violence occasionally flares between Muslim groups.
Academic freedom and freedoms of assembly and association are respected. Many civic groups and nongovernmental organizations, including human rights groups, operate without interference. Workers are guaranteed the right to join unions, and nearly all salaried employees are unionized. Citing the prohibition of associations deemed immoral, the governor of the District of Bamako refused official recognition to a homosexual association in 2005.
Although the judiciary is not independent of the executive, it has shown increased autonomy in rendering antiadministration decisions that have been respected by the government. Local chiefs decide the majority of disputes in rural areas. Detainees are not always charged within the 48-hour period set by law, and there are lengthy delays in bringing defendants to trial.
Mali’s human rights record is generally good, although there are reports of police brutality. The government permits human rights monitors to visit prisons, though at least one group has complained that cumbersome administrative procedures make investigating and reporting on possible human rights abuses difficult. Prison conditions are harsh.
No ethnic group predominates in the government or the security forces. Long-standing tensions between the marginalized Moor and Tuareg pastoralist groups on the one hand and the more populous nonpastoralist groups on the other were a main cause of political instability and violence in the past, including during the Tuareg rebellions of the early 1990s.
Domestic violence against women, including spousal abuse, is tolerated and common. Women have limited access to legal services, and family law favors men, leaving women at a disadvantage in cases involving divorce, child custody, and inheritance rights. Despite legislation giving women equal property rights, traditional practice and ignorance of the law prevent women from benefiting. Female genital mutilation is common despite being banned in publicly financed health centers. The practice has been carried out on an estimated 95 percent of adult women but is reportedly declining in urban areas. The government is pursuing measures, such as a countrywide educational campaign, to eliminate the practice by 2008. Abortion is prohibited except in cases of rape or incest. A number of women’s rights groups are active in highlighting and advocating solutions for the legal and socioeconomic problems facing women in Malian society.
Although the constitution prohibits forced labor, Mali is a source, transit point, and destination country for women and children trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation and forced domestic, agricultural, and commercial labor. 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, though there have been no prosecutions under the statute.