Freedom House (Autor)
The government of President Alpha Oumar Konaré continued to consolidate its democracy with new laws on party financing and the media in 2000. The media law included reduced penalties for libel, replacing jail terms with fines. In preparation for 2002 legislative and presidential elections, officials are revising logistical details for voter rolls and polling. A new government was formed in January, following the resignation of the prime minister. The media had persistently called for him to step down, saying his efforts to revitalize the economy were insufficient. Konaré, in January, quelled a mutiny by discontented soldiers who were demanding reportedly unpaid bonuses for peacekeeping duties in Sierra Leone and the Central African Republic.
After achieving 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 Traoré was overthrown by his own military. Traoré and his wife, Mariam, were sentenced to death in January 1999 for embezzlement. Traoré had received the death sentence in 1993 as well for ordering troops to fire on demonstrators in 1991. All of the sentences have been commuted to life imprisonment. After the 1991 coup, a national conference organized open elections that most observers judged free and fair. Konaré and his Alliance for Democracy in Mali (ADEMA) won the presidency in April 1992.
Despite steady economic growth, Mali remains desperately poor with about 65 percent of its land area desert or semidesert. About 80 percent of the labor force is engaged in farming and fishing. Principal exports are cotton, livestock, and gold. Hundreds of thousands of Malians are economic migrants across Africa and Europe. Privatization of major state enterprises continues. An anticorruption commission published its fourth report in 2000, revealing embezzlement and mismanagement in several state-owned companies and public bodies.
Mali's people first chose their government freely and fairly in presidential and legislative elections in 1992. In 1997, little more than a quarter of registered voters participated as Konaré was overwhelmingly reelected against a weak candidate who alone broke an opposition boycott of the presidential contest. The first round of legislative elections in 1997 was voided by the constitutional court, although international observers saw incompetence rather than fraud as the principal problem. ADEMA holds 130 of 147 national assembly seats and allied parties hold 12. The opposition occupies 5.
ADEMA won 61.6 percent of the localities in local elections in 1999, while moderate opposition groups won most of the remainder. Radical opposition parties boycotted the polls, as they did in earlier presidential and parliamentary elections. One group, however, broke ranks and won ten localities. The central government in the capital, Bamako, stopped administering land use, schools, health centers, transport systems, and other services after the 1999 local elections.
Since the end of military rule, Mali’s domestic political debate has been open and extensive. The government holds an annual Democracy and Human Rights Forum in December, in which citizens can air complaints in the presence of the media and international observers.
The judiciary is not independent of the executive, but has shown considerable autonomy in rendering anti-administration decisions, which President Konaré has in turn respected. 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. 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. Prisons are characterized by overcrowding, inadequate medical care, and limited food. The government permits visits by human rights monitors. Independent human rights groups, including the Malian Association for Human Rights and a local chapter of Amnesty International, operate openly and freely.
No ethnic group predominates in the government or the security forces, and political parties are not based on ethnicity. There are, however, longstanding tensions between the marginalized Moor and Tuareg pastoral groups and the more populous pastoral groups. A 1995 agreement ended the brutal multisided conflict among Tuareg guerrillas, black ethnic militias, and government troops. Former guerrilla fighters have been integrated into the national army.
Mali’s media are among Africa's most open. Approximately 40 independent newspapers operate freely, and at least 60 independent radio stations, including community stations broadcasting in regional languages, operate throughout the country. There is no locally produced independent television. The government controls one television station and many radio stations, but all present diverse views, including those critical of the government. Legislation in July 2000 provided for reduced penalties for libel, replacing jail terms with fines. The editor of the private newspaper La Nation was convicted of defaming Mali’s armed forces minister in November 2000 and ordered to pay a fine.
Mali, predominantly Muslim, 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.
Most formal legal advances in 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. Women, however, hold some key portfolios in the cabinet, including the ministry of commerce and industry. 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.
Workers are guaranteed the right to join unions. Nearly all salaried employees are unionized. The right to strike is guaranteed, although there are some restrictions. Labor unions played a leading role in the pro-democracy movement and remain politically active. Although the constitution prohibits forced labor, Malian children have been sold into forced labor in Côte d’Ivoire by organized traffickers. The government is taking steps to halt the practice and repatriate the children. Hereditary servitude relationships link different ethnic groups, mainly in the north.