Freedom in the World
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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, the events have left an enduring situation of insecurity.
- Fighting among militant groups persisted in northern and central Mali, hindering the delivery of basic services, interfering with political activities including the year’s local elections, and undermining the rule of law in the affected areas.
- Protests in Kidal in April and Gao in July culminated in deadly confrontations between demonstrators and UN peacekeeping forces and Malian security forces, respectively.
- In September, the parliament passed a bill to amend the electoral code, despite criticism from opposition parties that the provisions favored established parties and were thus undemocratic.
- Local elections were held in most of the country’s communes in November, despite objections and boycotts by opposition parties and other groups.
In 2016, Mali continued to struggle with recovery from the rebellion in the north, which erupted in 2012 and was led by Tuareg rebels but complicated by the involvement of Islamist militants. A 2015 peace agreement, negotiated under the auspices of the United Nations and Algeria, called for the creation of regional elected bodies but stopped short of establishing federalism for northern Mali, which was the rebels’ main demand. In 2016, its implementation continued to be delayed, and violence among various armed groups, including multiple Islamist militant factions that were not involved in the peace process, continued in northern and, increasingly, in central Mali. The violence hindered the delivery of basic services, interfered with political activities including the year’s local elections, and undermined the rule of law in the affected areas.
The government held local elections in most of the country’s 703 communes in November 2016, though voting was canceled in 58 northern and central communes for security reasons, and some opposition parties and militant groups that had signed the 2015 peace agreement called for the polls to be delayed, citing inadequate preparations, instability, or the risk of electoral fraud. Nevertheless, the vote was generally considered credible in regions where it was held, despite some reports of violence and intimidation.
In September 2016, parliament passed a bill to amend the electoral code, despite complaints by opposition parties that the provisions favored candidates from major parties. The amendments require every candidate for president to collect the signatures of at least 10 deputies or 5 municipal councilors from each region, as well as from Bamako. They also fixed the deposit amount required of presidential candidates at 25 million CFA francs ($42,000) rather than 10 million ($17,000), as provided by the old electoral law.
Corruption remains a major problem. In August, the Malian government announced that it had identified 13,000 nonexistant or irregular government employees; Information Minister Mountaga Tall said their removal from the government payrolls would save approximately $50 million.
The constitution guarantees freedom of assembly, but the risk of violence during public gatherings persists, especially in northern and central Mali. In April 2016, a protest in Kidal that followed French forces’ detention of people suspected of having links to regional militants culminated in a confrontation with UN peacekeeping forces, and two demonstrators were killed. In July, Malian forces in the northern city of Gao fired into a demonstration against the installation of interim local authorities, killing three people and wounding at least 31 others.
Separately, in late November, the trial of Amadou Sanogo—the former army captain who staged a military coup in Mali in 2012—and 16 codefendants began on charges related to the abduction and killing of killing 21 soldiers. The trial was soon adjourned until 2017.
Conditions in northern Mali have left many refugees unable or unwilling to return. According to the United Nations, there were more than 138,000 Malian refugees outside the country as of December 2016, and more than 36,000 people displaced inside the country as of October 2016.
This country report has been abridged for Freedom in the World 2017. For background information on political rights and civil liberties in Mali, see Freedom in the World 2016.