Background Note: Mali

PA Source: Office of Public Communication, Bureau of Public Affairs Description: Historical, Political and Economic Overviews of the Countries of the World Date: Apr, 15 19934/15/93 Category: Country Data Region: Subsaharan Africa Country: Mali Subject: Travel, History, International Organizations, Trade/Economics, Military Affairs, Cultural Exchange, State Department [TEXT]

Official Name:

Republic of Mali


1,240,278 sq. km. (474,764 sq. mi); about the size of Texas and California.
Capital--Bamako (pop. 880,000). Other cities--Segou (85,000), Mopti (75,000), Kayes (50,000), Gao (40,000).
Savannah and desert.
Semitropical in the south; arid in the north.
Noun and adjective--Malian(s).
Population (1991 est.):
8.3 million.
Annual growth rate:
2. 9%.
Ethnic groups:
Mande (Bambara or Bamana, Malinke, Sarakole) 50%, Peul 17%, Voltaic 12%, Songhai 6%, Tuareg and Moor 5%.
Islam 90%, indigenous 9%, Christian 1%.
French (official) and Bambara (spoken by about 80% of the population).
Attendance--21% (primary); 9% (secondary). Literacy--15%.
Infant mortality rate--173/1,000. Life expectancy--48 yrs.
Work force (3.5 million):
Agriculture--75%. Services-- 13%. Industry and commerce--12%.
Sept. 22, 1960.
Approved by referendum January 12, 1991.
Executive--president (chief of state and commander-in-chief of the armed forces), prime minister (head of government). Legislative--unicameral National Assembly. Judicial--Supreme Court with both judicial and administrative powers.
Political parties:
Mali is a multi-party democracy; 11 political parties are represented in the National Assembly; others are active in local government.
Universal at 18.
Administrative subdivisions:
8 regions and capital district.
Central government budget (1992):
Revenues--$825 million. Expenditures--$869 million; $44 million deficit.
Three vertical bands--green, yellow, and red.
GDP (1991):
$2.8 billion.
Annual growth rate (1988-91):
Per capita income (1991):
Annual skilled worker's salary:
Average inflation rate (1991):
Natural resources:
Gold, phosphate, kaolin, salt, and limestone currently mined; deposits of bauxite, iron ore, manganese, lithium, and uranium are known or suspected.
Agriculture (40% of GDP):
Products--millet, sorghum, corn, rice, livestock, sugar, cotton, groundnuts (peanuts), and tobacco.
Industry (19% of GDP):
Types--food processing, textiles, cigarettes, fish processing, metalworking, light manufacturing, plastics, and beverage bottling.
Trade (1991):
Exports--$430 million: cotton and cotton products, animals, fish, tannery products, groundnuts, diamonds, and gold. Major markets--France, Germany, and other European countries. Imports--$610 million: food, machinery and spare parts, vehicles, petroleum products, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, textiles. Major suppliers-- France, Cote d'Ivoire, Belgium, Luxembourg, the US ($26 million), Germany, and Japan.
Official exchange rate (1991):
Communaute Financiere Africaine 282 = US $1.


Mali's population consists of diverse sub-Saharan ethnic groups, sharing similar historic, cultural, and religious traditions. Exceptions are the Tuaregs and Maurs, desert nomads, related to the North African Berbers. The Tuaregs traditionally have opposed the central government. Starting in June 1990, armed attacks in the North by Tuaregs seeking greater autonomy and by bandit groups led to clashes with the military. In April 1992, the government and most opposing factions signed a pact to end the fighting and restore stability in the north. Its major aims are to allow greater autonomy to the north and increase government resource allocation to what has been a traditionally impoverished region. Historically, good inter-ethnic relations throughout the rest of the country were facilitated by easy mobility on the country's vast savannahs. Each ethnic group was traditionally tied to a specific occupation, all working within close proximity. The Bambara, Malinke, Sarakole, and Voltaic were farmers; the Peulh, Moor, and Tuareg, herders; and the Bozo, fishers. In recent years, this linkage has shifted as ethnic groups seek diverse, non-traditional sources of income. Along the Niger River between Timbuktu and Gao, the Songhai farm and fish. Until droughts in the mid-1970s, the Tuaregs were the principal herders in this region. Although each ethnic group speaks a separate language, nearly 80% of Malians communicate in Bambara, the common language of the marketplace. Malians enjoy a relative harmony rare in African states.


Malians express great pride in their ancestry. Mali is the cultural heir to the succession of ancient African empires-- Ghana, Malinke, and Songhai--that occupied the West African savannah. These empires controlled Saharan trade and were in touch with Mediterranean and Middle Eastern centers of civilization. The Ghana Empire, dominated by the Soninke people and centered in the area along the Malian-Mauritanian frontier, was a powerful trading state from about A.D. 700 to 1075. The Malinke Kingdom of Mali had its origins on the upper Niger River in the 11th century. Expanding rapidly in the 13th century under the leadership of Soundiata Keita, it reached its height about 1325, when it conquered Timbuktu and Gao. Thereafter, the kingdom began to decline, and by the 15th century, it controlled only a small fraction of its former domain. The Songhai Empire expanded its power from its center in Gao during the period 1465-1530. At its peak under Askia Mohammad I, it encompassed the Hausa states as far as Kano (in present-day Nigeria) and much of the territory that had belonged to the Mali Empire in the west. It was destroyed by a Moroccan invasion in 1591. French military penetration of the Soudan (the French name for the area) began around 1880. Ten years later, the French made a concerted effort to occupy the interior. The timing and method of their advances were determined by resident military governors. A French civilian governor of Soudan was appointed in 1893, but resistance to French control did not end until 1898, when the Malinke warrior Samory Toure was defeated after 7 years of war. The French attempted to rule indirectly, but in many areas they disregarded traditional authorities and governed through appointed chiefs. As part of the colony of Soudan, Mali was administered with other French colonial territories as the Federation of French West Africa. In early 1957, as a result of France's Basic Law (Loi Cadre), the Territorial Assembly obtained extensive powers over internal affairs and was permitted to form a cabinet with executive authority over matters within the assembly's competence. After the 1958 French constitutional referendum, Soudan became a member of the French Community and enjoyed complete internal autonomy. In January 1959, Soudan joined Senegal to form the Mali Federation, which became fully independent within the French Community on June 20, 1960. The federation collapsed on August 20, 1960, when Senegal seceded. On September 22, Soudan proclaimed itself the Republic of Mali and withdrew from the French Community. President Modibo Keita, whose party, the Union Soudanaise, had dominated preindependence politics, moved quickly to declare a single-party state and to pursue a socialist policy based on extensive nationalization. A continuously deteriorating economy led to a decision to rejoin the Franc Zone in 1967 and modify some of the economic excesses. On November 19, 1968, a group of young officers staged a bloodless coup and set up a 14-member Military Committee for National Liberation (CMLN), with Lt. Moussa Traore as president. The military leaders renounced socialism and attempted to pursue economic reforms, but for several years faced debilitating internal political struggles and the disastrous Sahelian drought. A new constitution, approved in 1974, created a one-party state and was designed to move Mali toward civilian rule. However, the military leaders remained in power. In September 1976, a new political party was established, the Democratic Union of the Malian People (UDPM), based on the concept of non-ideological democratic centralism. Single- party presidential and legislative elections were held in June 1979, and Gen. Moussa Traore received 99% of the votes. His efforts at consolidating the single-party government were challenged in 1980 by student-led anti-government demonstrations, which were brutally put down, and by three coup attempts. The political situation stabilized during 1981 and 1982, and remained generally calm throughout the 1980s. The UDPM began attracting additional members as it demonstrated that it could counter an effective voice against the excesses of local administrative authorities. Shifting its attention to Mali's economic difficulties, the government approved plans for cereal marketing liberalization, reform in the state enterprise system, new incentives to private enterprise, and an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). However, by 1990, there was growing dissatisfaction with the demands for austerity imposed by the IMF's economic reform programs and the perception that the president and his close associates were not themselves adhering to those demands. As in other African countries, demands for multi-party democracy increased. The Traore Government allowed some opening of the system, including the establishment of an independent press and independent political associations, but insisted that Mali was not ready for democracy. In early 1991, student-led anti-government rioting broke out again, but this time it was supported also by government workers and others. On March 26, 1991, after 4 days of intense anti- government rioting, a group of 17 military officers arrested President Traore and suspended the constitution. Within days, these officers joined with the Coordinating Committee of Democratic Associations to form a predominantly civilian, 25-member ruling body, the Transitional Committee for the Salvation of the People (CTSP). The CTSP then appointed a civilian-led government. A national conference held in August 1991 produced a draft constitution (approved in a referendum January 12, 1992), a political parties charter, and an electoral code. Political parties were allowed to form freely. Between January and April 1992, a president, National Assembly, and municipal councils were elected. On June 8, 1992, Alpha Oumar Konare, the candidate of the Association for Democracy in Mali (ADEMA), was inaugurated as the President of Mali's Third Republic.


Under Mali's new constitution, the president is chief of state and commander-in-chief of the armed forces. Presidents are elected to 5-year terms, with a limit of two terms. The president appoints the prime minister as head of government. The president chairs the Council of Ministers (the prime minister and 19 other minister, which adopts proposals for laws submitted to the National Assembly for approval. The National Assembly is the sole legislative arm of the government. It currently consists of 116 members, but an additional 13 seats have been allocated to Malians abroad, and 4 to Malian Tuaregs displaced by the rebellion. Representation is apportioned according to the population of administrative districts. Election is direct and by party list. The term of office is 5 years. The Assembly meets for two regular sessions a year. It debates and votes on legislation proposed either by one of its members or by the government and has the right to question government ministers about government actions and policies. Eleven political parties, aggregated into four parliamentary groups, are represented in the Assembly. ADEMA (the president's party) currently holds the majority; minority parties are represented in all committees and in the Assembly directorate. Mali's new constitution provides for a multi-party democracy, with the only restriction being a prohibition against parties based on ethnic, religious, regional, or gender lines. In addition to those political parties represented in the National Assembly, others are active in municipal councils. Administratively, Mali is divided into eight regions and the capital district of Bamako, each under the authority of an appointed governor. Each region consists of five to nine districts, or cercles, administered by commandants. Cercles are divided into arrondissements, which, in turn, are divided into villages. Plans for decentralization have begun with the establishment of a number of elected municipal councils, headed by elected mayors. Further plans envision election of local officials and the reduction of administrative control by the central government. Mali's legal system is based on codes inherited at independence from France. New laws have been enacted to make the system conform to Malian life, but French colonial laws not abrogated still have the force of law. The new constitution provides for the independence of the judiciary. However, the Ministry of Justice appoints judges and supervises both law enforcement and judicial functions. The Supreme Court has both judicial and administrative powers. Under the constitution, there is a separate constitutional court and a high court of justice with the power to try senior government officials in cases of treason.
Principal Government Officials
President--Alpha Oumar Konare Prime Minister--Younoussi Toure Minister of External Relations--Mohamed Alhousseyni Toure Ambassador to the US--Siragatou Ibrahim Cisse Ambassador to the United Nations--Nouhoum Samassekou Mali maintains an embassy in the United States at 2130 R Street, NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202-332-2249), and a permanent mission to the United Nations at 111 E. 69th Street, New York, NY 10020.


Mali's per capita GDP of $300 places it among the world's 10 poorest nations. Its potential wealth lies in mining and the production of agricultural commodities, livestock, and fish. Agricultural activities occupy 75% of Mali's labor force and provide 40% of the gross domestic product (GDP). Cotton and livestock make up 80-85% of Mali's annual exports. Small- scale traditional farming dominates the agricultural sector, with subsistence farming (of cereals, primarily sorghum, millet, and maize) on about 90% of the 1.4 million hectares (3.4 million acres) under cultivation. The most productive agricultural area lies along the banks of the Niger River between Bamako and Mopti and extends south to the borders of Cote d'Ivoire and Burkina Faso. Average rainfall varies in this region from 50 centimeters per year (20 in.) around Mopti to 140 centimeters (55 in.) in the south near Bougouni. This area is most important for the production of cotton, millet, corn, vegetables, tobacco, and tree crops. Rice is grown extensively along the banks of the Niger between Segou and Mopti, with the most important rice- producing area at the Office du Niger, located north of Segou toward the Mauritanian border. Using water diverted from the Niger, the Office du Niger irrigates about 40,000 hectares of land for rice and sugarcane production. About one-third of Mali's paddy rice is produced at the Office du Niger. The Niger River also is an important source of fish, providing food for riverine communities; the surplus--smoked, salted, and dried--is exported. Due to drought and diversion of river water for agriculture, fish production has steadily declined since the early 1980s. Sorghum is planted extensively in the drier parts of the country and along the banks of the Niger in eastern Mali, as well as in the lake beds in the Niger delta region. During the dry season, farmers near the town of Dire have cultivated wheat on irrigated fields for hundreds of years. Peanuts are grown throughout the country but are concentrated in the area around Kita, west of Bamako. Mali's greatest resource is livestock, consisting of millions of cattle, sheep, and goats. Approximately 40% of Mali's herds were lost during the great drought in 1972-74. The level was gradually restored, but the herds were again decimated in the 1983-85 drought. The overall size of Mali's herds is not expected to reach pre-drought levels in the north of the country, where encroachment of the desert has forced many nomadic herders to abandon pastoralism and turn instead to farming. The largest concentrations of cattle are in the areas north of Bamako and Segou extending into the Niger delta, but herding activity is gradually shifting southward, due to the effects of previous droughts. Sheep, goats, and camels are raised to the exclusion of cattle in the dry areas north and east of Timbuktu. Until the late-1960s, Mali was self-sufficient in grains-- millet, sorghum, rice, and corn. Diminished harvests during bad years, a growing population, changing dietary habits, and, most importantly, policy constraints on agricultural production resulted in grain deficits almost every year from 1965 to 1986. Production has rebounded since 1987, however, thanks to agricultural policy reforms undertaken by the government and supported by the Western donor nations. Liberalization of producer prices and an open cereals market have created incentives to production. These reforms, combined with adequate rainfall, successful integrated rural agriculture programs in the south, and improved management of the Office du Niger, have led to surplus cereal production over the past 5 years. Annual rainfall--amount and duration--is critical for Mali's agriculture. Rainfall has increased since the 1983-85 drought. The 1991-92 cereal harvest reached a record 2.5 million tons. Mining is a rapidly growing industry in Mali, with gold accounting for some 80% of mining activity. There are considerable proven reserves of other minerals not presently exploited. Gold has become Mali's third largest export, after cotton and livestock. The largest private investment in gold mining in Mali is that of BHP Minerals, a multinational American-Australian company. An agreement was signed in 1992 for an expansion of the company's mine at Syama in southern Mali. With this expansion, the total BHP investment will reach $140 million. During the colonial period, private capital investment was virtually nonexistent, and public investment was devoted largely to the Office du Niger irrigation scheme and to administrative expenses. Following independence, Mali built some light industries with the help of various donors. Manufacturing, consisting principally of processed agricultural products, accounted for about 8% of the GDP in 1990.
Economic Reform
With the encouragement of the major donors and the international financial institutions, the Government of Mali initiated a series of adjustment and stabilization programs in 1982. Measures were introduced to reduce budgetary deficits, public enterprise operating losses, and public sector arrears. Substantial progress was made in the first few years of the adjustment program, but the pace of reform slowed considerably in 1987 and required the intervention of donors to avert a financial crisis. Under the economic reform program signed with the World Bank and the IMF in 1988, the government has taken a number of steps to liberalize the regulatory environment and thereby attract private investment. For example, applications for the establishment of business enterprises now enjoy "one window" (guichet unique) processing through a single ministry, allowing a business to be established in a matter of days. In addition, price controls on consumer goods have been eliminated steadily; the last price control, on petroleum products, was removed on July 1, 1992. Import quotas were eliminated in 1988, and export taxes were dropped in 1991. The Commerce Code was revised in 1991 to remove impediments to commercial activity. Also in 1991, a system of commercial and administrative courts was established to handle private trade complaints and claims against the government. Another major element of reform is the government's disinvestment from the public enterprises which dominated commerce immediately after independence. Already 20 of the 50 state-supported enterprises identified for disinvestment have been sold or liquidated, thus reducing government expenditure on this element of the public sector.
Foreign Aid
Mali is a major recipient of foreign aid from many sources, including multilateral organizations (most significantly the World Bank), Western nations (led by France and including the United States), China, and Arab donors. Before 1991, the former Soviet Union had been a major source of economic and military aid, including construction of a cement plant and the Kalana gold mine. Currently, aid from Russia is restricted mainly to training and provision of spare parts. Chinese aid and Chinese-Malian joint venture companies have become more numerous in the last 3 years. The Chinese are major participants in the textile industry and in large-scale construction projects, including a bridge across the Niger, completed in April 1992. Private voluntary organizations (including several based in the US) are very active in Mali. In 1991, US assistance to Mali reached $51 million. This included $34 million in project and budget support through United States Agency for International Development (USAID) programs. USAID is Mali's fourth largest bilateral donor after France, Italy, and Japan. Mali also received $5 million in PL 480 Title III (Food for Peace) commodities and $8 million in Title II commodities, primarily to meet food needs in the North. Other US programs funded in FY 1991 include democratization ($1.1 million), Peace Corps ($2.7 million), and the Ambassador's Special Self-Help fund ($135,000). In addition, $260,000 was allocated to Mali under the International Military Education Training (IMET) program.


Since independence in 1960, Malian governments have shifted from an ideological commitment to socialism to a pragmatism that welcomes all aid donors and encourages private investment. The present government, which assumed office in June 1992, professes its commitment to economic reform, structural adjustment, free market policies, and regional integration. Mali's relations with the United States and other Western nations are good. Mali is a member of the UN and many of its specialized agencies, including the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank; International Labor Organization; International Telecommunications Union; Universal Postal Union; Senegal River Valley Development Organization (OMVS); Organization of African Unity (OAU); Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC); Non-Aligned Movement (NAM); Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS); West African Monetary Union (WAMU); West African Economic Community (CEAO); is an associate member of the European Community (EC); African Development Bank (ADB); and INTELSAT. Mali is active in the OAU and ECOWAS. It participates in the Liptako-Gourma Authority, which seeks to develop the contiguous areas of Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso; the Niger River Commission; and the Permanent Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel (CILSS).


Mali's armed forces number some 7,000 and are under the control of the Minister of Defense. The gendarmerie (paramilitary police) and local police forces (under the Ministry of Territorial Administration) maintain internal security. Mali's army and air force until recently relied primarily on the Soviet Union for materiel and training. A few Maliansreceive military training in the United States, France, and Germany. Military expenditures total about 2% of GNP.


The United States wishes to see Mali pursue its national goals in an atmosphere of stability and freedom from outside interference. The US Agency for International Development and Peace Corps share the joint goal of promoting sustainable economic development. US programs are active in the areas of economic policy reform, agriculture and natural resources management, health and family planning, and education. Specifically, the United States works with the Malian Government to: -- Achieve food security and help break the cyclical connection between low agricultural production and poor health; -- Support private-sector development through policy change and institutional development; and -- Improve management and planning. In addition, the United States helps address recurrent problems of drought, disease, and insect infestations.
Principal US Officials
Ambassador--Herbert Donald Gelber Counselor of the Embassy--Peggy Blackford Political Officer--David Alarid Economic Officer--Rob Merrigan Public Affairs Officer (USIS)--William G. Crowell Director, AID Mission--Chuck Johnson Director, Peace Corps--Howard Anderson The US embassy is located at Rue Mohamed V and Rue Rochester NY, Bamako, tel. (223) 22-54-70, Fax: (223) 22-37-12, telex No. 2448 MJ. The mailing address is BP 34, Bamako. Hours are 7:30-4:00 Monday through Friday.


A visa is required for entry and may be obtained at any Malian embassy abroad. Yellow fever inoculations are required prior to arrival.
Suppressants for chloroquine-resistant malaria are strongly recommended. Emergency medical care is available in Bamako, but medical facilities are limited. Bring an adequate supply of personal prescription medicines and health-care products, including insect repellent and sun screen. Tap water must be boiled and filtered. Bottled water is available. Meats should be thoroughly cooked. Inquire at the US Public Health Service prior to departure from the United States for latest health information and requirements.
Climate and clothing:
Summer clothing is suitable for Bamako. Wash-and-wear clothing and sturdy shoes are recommended. Hats and sunglasses should be worn outdoors to protect against over-exposure to the sun.
Long-distance telephone and telegraphic service is limited. Public-use telephone, telex, and FAX facilities are available. Mali is on Greenwich Mean Time, 5 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time.
Money and Banking:
Banks are open from 7:30-11:30 A.M. and from 1:15-3:30 P.M. Monday through Thursday and from 7:30- 12:00 noon on Fridays. Personal checks and credit cards cannot be used for banking transactions, though the major hotels in Bamako do accept credit cards for payment of hotel bills.
Privately owned automobiles are the principal means of transportation in Bamako for Americans. Bus service within Bamako and to the suburbs was started in 1992. Taxis are also readily available, and vehicles (with drivers) may be chartered for long trips. Roads between major cities in Mali are paved. Bamako is serviced by international flights from Paris, Brussels, and from New York via Dakar. One private airline (Malitas) offers regularly-scheduled internal flights, and two charter airline companies operate in Mali.


Published by the United States Department of State -- Bureau of Public Affairs -- Office of Public Communication -- Washington, DC -- April 1993 -- Managing Editor -- Peter A. Knecht -- Editor: Anita Stockman Department of State Publication 8056 Background Notes Series -- This material is in the public domain and may be reprinted without permission; citation of this source is appreciated. For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, US Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402. (###)