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Ethinic Tuareg rebels continued to attack Malian military installations during 2008. The government signed a peace agreement with a Tuareg rebel alliance in July, but several Tuareg nomads were killed by an anti-Tuareg militia group in September, and new rebel violence broke out toward the end of the year.
Mali was ruled by military and one-party regimes for more than 30 years following independence from France in 1960. After soldiers killed more than 100 demonstrators demanding a multiparty system in 1991, President Moussa Traore was overthrown by the military.
Alpha Oumar Konare of the Alliance for Democracy in Mali (ADEMA) won the presidency in 1992 elections that were deemed credible by most observers. He won a second and final term in 1997 amid a boycott by most of the opposition. Several opposition parties also boycotted that year’s National Assembly elections, in which ADEMA secured 128 of 147 seats.
In the May 2002 presidential election, Amadou Toumani Toure, a popular former general who had led Mali during the post-Traore transition period, ran as an independent and won with 64 percent of the second-round vote against the ADEMA candidate. During legislative elections in July of that year, the Hope 2002 coalition secured 66 seats, topping the ADEMA-led coalition’s 51 seats. Despite administrative irregularities, most observers considered the 2002 polls to be generally free and fair. Local elections in 2004 were orderly and transparent, and ADEMA won nearly 30 percent of the seats in Mali’s more than 700 communes.
Toure, running as the candidate of the Alliance for Democracy and Progress (ADP) coalition, was reelected with 71 percent of the second-round vote in the April 2007 presidential election. The ADP secured 113 seats, with 51 going to ADEMA, its largest constituent party, in elections for the National Assembly in July. The main opposition coalition, the Front for Democracy and the Republic (FDR), won 15 seats, with a smaller party and independents securing the remaining 19 seats.
Rebel activity in the north of the country continued in 2007. The government had negotiated a peace agreement with ethnic Tuareg rebels in 1991 that included efforts to integrate rebel fighters into the military and enhance development initiatives. However, in May 2006, a group of Tuareg army deserters attacked military barracks in Kidal region, seizing weapons and demanding greater autonomy and development assistance. Tensions abated two months later after the government and a rebel coalition, the Democratic Alliance for Change, signed a new peace agreement that restated the government’s commitment to providing economic incentives for the region. The North Mali Tuareg Alliance for Change, a rebel faction led by Ibrahim Bahanga that did not support the 2006 agreement, attacked a military post in Kidal in May 2007, killing one gendarme. Between August and September 2007, the group took 36 soldiers hostage, and its landmines killed 10 people. Following talks between the two sides, the rebels released the captured soldiers between December 2007 and March 2008.
Nevertheless, Bahanga’s rebel faction continued to attack military targets and abduct soldiers in 2008, and a ceasefire signed in April gave way to further rebel assaults in May and June. A separate Tuareg rebel faction attacked a police base in the town of Tessalit on July 19, abducting three gendarmes. Two days later, the government and a coalition of rebel groups called the May 23 Democratic Alliance for Change signed a peace agreement based on the 2006 pact, and by early September, both sides had released the last of their captives. However, four Tuareg nomads were killed that month by an anti-Tuareg militia, Ganda Izo, made up primarily of members of the Peulh and Sonrai ethnic groups. The government responded by arresting the militia’s leader and dozens of suspected members. In late December, some 20 people were killed when the Bahanga faction, which did not sign the July peace deal, staged a new attack on a military base.
Although it is one of the world’s least developed countries, Mali has undertaken significant political and economic reforms since the early 1990s, including a decentralization program that gave greater autonomy to local communities. Mali has benefited from international debt relief, and in 2006, it was approved for poverty-reduction projects by the U.S.-funded Millennium Challenge Corporation. Approximately 80 percent of the labor force is engaged in subsistence agriculture.
Mali is an electoral democracy. Despite opposition allegations of fraud during the 2007 presidential election, voting was peaceful, and international observers declared the results valid. The president, who appoints the prime minister, is elected by popular vote to serve up to two five-year terms. Members of the 147-seat unicameral National Assembly serve five-year terms, with 13 seats reserved to represent Malians living abroad. The constitution prohibits parties based on ethnic, religious, regional, or gender affiliations. Numerous political parties operate in shifting electoral coalitions, and in practice they are often organized around leading personalities, patronage, and ethnic or regional interests. The largest party is ADEMA, currently part of the ruling ADP coalition.
President Amadou Toumani Toure’s government has launched anticorruption initiatives including the creation of the Office of the General Auditor. Although several civic associations also work to raise awareness of corruption, it remains a problem, particularly in public procurement and contracting. Mali was ranked 96 out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2008 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Mali’s media have been considered among the freest in Africa, although authorities in 2007 invoked criminal libel laws in several cases. In the most prominent, authorities arrested a school teacher for assigning his students a fictitious essay about a presidential sex scandal, along with five newspaper editors who covered the story. All six were fined and received short or suspended jail sentences. There were no such libel prosecutions in 2008. However, a journalist with the daily Les Echos was detained for a night in September on charges of possessing a camera on public transportation. This followed the journalist’s encounter with a police officer who was demanding money from bus passengers who could not produce identity cards. Over a dozen privately owned newspapers are published in Bamako, in addition to the state-owned L’Essor, and a variety of public and private radio and television stations present diverse viewpoints, including those that are critical of the government. The government does not restrict internet access, although less than 1 percent of the population had access in 2008.
Mali’s population is predominantly Muslim. However, the state is secular, and minority religious rights are protected by law. Religious associations must register with the government. Academic freedom is respected.
Freedoms of assembly and association are respected. Many civic groups and nongovernmental organizations, including human rights groups, operate without interference. However, clashes between government and rebel forces in March and April 2008 forced some humanitarian organizations to temporarily curtail their activities in the north. The constitution guarantees workers the right to unionize, with the exception of the security forces; nearly all salaried employees are unionized. In February 2008, the government paid back salaries to teachers following protests and strikes in late 2007.
The judiciary is not independent of the executive, though it has shown increased autonomy in rendering decisions that are unfavorable to the government, which has in turn respected the judgments. 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.
Although there are reports of police brutality, courts have convicted some perpetrators. Prison conditions are harsh. The government permits human rights monitors to visit prisons, but at least one group has complained that cumbersome administrative procedures make investigations difficult.
No ethnic group predominates in the government or security forces. Long-standing tensions between the marginalized Moor and Tuareg pastoralist groups on the one hand,and the more populous nonpastoralist ethnic groups on the other, have fueled intermittent Tuareg rebellions and other instability, including the anti-Tuareg militia attacks of September 2008.
Women are underrepresented in high political posts; 14 were elected to the National Assembly in 2007, and 5 of 27 cabinet ministers are women. Domestic violence against women is widespread. Women have limited access to legal services, and family law favors men. A proposed revision of the family code was released for public comment in early 2008, but faced criticism from some Islamic groups. Despite legislation giving women equal property rights, traditional practice and ignorance of the law prevent many from benefiting. Female genital mutilation (FGM) is common—an estimated 95 percent of adult women have undergone the practice—and although it is prohibited in publicly financed health centers, it is not illegal. The government is pursuing measures, including an educational campaign, to eliminate FGM. A number of women’s rights groups are active in Mali.
Although the constitution prohibits forced labor and a 2002 law criminalized child trafficking, adult trafficking is not criminalized. The U.S. State Department classifies Mali as a source, transit point, and destination country for women and children trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation and forced labor. Laws now require children under 18 to carry travel documents. In late March 2008, a smuggler attempting to transport 26 children, mostly Guineans, into Mali was intercepted by border police. Slavery is a problem in Mali, particularly in the north, and according to some rights groups, there may be thousands living in conditions of servitude.