Freedom in the World 2008

Ratings Change: 

Mali’s civil liberties rating declined from 2 to 3 due to the government’s efforts to restrict media freedoms and rising levels of insecurity associated with the insurgency in the north.


President Amadou Toumani Toure won a second term in an April 2007 presidential election, and the progovernment coalition, the Alliance for Democracy and Progress (ADP), secured 113 of 147 seats in July legislative elections. In contrast to previous years, the authorities in 2007 took action against several independent journalists for coverage deemed insulting to the government. Separately, between August and September, a Tuareg rebel group clashed with security forces in the north. Although rebels released some Malian soldiers held hostage since the outbreak of conflict in August, a number of hostages remained in rebel hands at year’s end.

Following independence from France in 1960, Mali was ruled by military and 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 the military. Traore was sentenced to death in 1993 for ordering troops to fire on the protesters, and in 1999, both he and his wife received death sentences for embezzlement; the sentences were later commuted to life imprisonment.

After the 1991 coup, 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 reelection in 1997, fending off a single weak challenger amid an opposition boycott. Several opposition parties also boycotted that year’s National Assembly elections, with ADEMA securing 128 of 147 seats.

Konare pledged to leave office after his second term, despite efforts by his supporters to waive term limits. 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 with the backing of civic organizations and smaller parties. He was elected with 64 percent of the second-round vote, leaving the ADEMA candidate with 36 percent. The coalition Hope 2002 gained 66 seats in the July National Assembly elections, while an ADEMA-led coalition won 51 seats. Smaller parties captured the remainder. Despite administrative irregularities, most observers considered the 2002 polls to be generally free and fair. Communal 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 a candidate of the Alliance for Democracy and Progress (ADP), secured a second term in the April 2007 presidential election with 71 percent of the vote. In the July National Assembly elections, the ADP secured 113 seats, with 51 going to its largest party, ADEMA. The main opposition coalition, the Front for Democracy and the Republic (FDR), won 15 seats, including 11 for the Rally for Mali (RPM) party. One smaller party and independents won the remaining 19 seats.

Rebel activity in the north of the country continued in 2007. Although a 1991 agreement had brought over a decade of peace between the government and the ethnic Tuareg rebels, violence broke out again in May 2006, when a rebel group attacked army barracks in the Kidal region. The insurgents demanded greater autonomy and development assistance for their area. A peace deal was concluded in July 2006, but a rebel force led by Ibrahim Bahanga launched renewed attacks in late August 2007. Between August and September, the guerrillas kidnapped as many as 60 soldiers and civilians, 8 people died in a rebel attack on a military base, and a land mine explosion killed 11. While a truce was reached in late September and rebels released some Malian soldiers who were captured since the fighting began in August, the rebels still held several hostages at year’s end.

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 October 2006, the U.S.-funded Millennium Challenge Corporation approved a compact to fund poverty-reduction projects. Approximately 65 percent of the country is desert or semidesert, and 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 conflict in Cote d’Ivoire.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Mali is an electoral democracy. Despite opposition allegations of fraud during the April 2007 presidential election, voting was peaceful, and international observers declared the results valid. The Constitutional Court invalidated results in three districts after the July legislative elections, causing ADEMA to lose four seats.

The president is elected by popular vote to serve a five-year term, and may be reelected once. He is the head of state and of the military, and appoints the prime minister. Members of the 147-seat unicameral National Assembly serve five-year terms, with 13 seats reserved to represent Malians living abroad. Fifteen women were elected to the legislature in 2007, and 7 of the 27 cabinet members are women. An ethnic Tuareg was selected to head the Ministry of Culture. Fifteen parties and 15 independents are represented in the new legislature, and additional parties are active in local government structures. The constitution prohibits parties based on ethnic, religious, regional, or gender affiliations.

The eradication of corruption is a priority for President Amadou Toumani Toure’s government, which has launched initiatives including the creation of the Office of the General Auditor. Although several civic associations are engaged in raising the public’s awareness of corruption, it continues to be a problem, particularly in public procurement and contracting. Mali was ranked 118 out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2007 Corruption Perceptions Index.

Over a dozen newspapers are regularly published in Bamako. The government controls the only television station and 1 of the more than 125 radio stations in the country. State-controlled and private broadcast media present a wide range of views, including those critical of the government. Community radio outlets provide a critical link for isolated rural populations, particularly given Mali’s adult illiteracy rate of over 80 percent. The government does not restrict internet access.

Although Mali’s media have a reputation for being among the freest in Africa, recent actions against independent journalists have cast doubt on the authorities’ commitment to media freedom. Libel is a criminal offense, and in March 2007, a Bamako court sentenced two editors of Kabako, a privately owned monthly, to suspended four-month prison sentences for defaming a government minister. Also in March, a privately owned radio station, Radio Jamakan, was evicted from its office in a state-owned building following critical coverage of the president. On June 14, authorities arrested Bassirou Kassim Minta, a tenth-grade teacher who assigned his students a fictitious essay about a presidential sex scandal, on charges of offending the president, along with Seydina Oumar Diarra, the editor of the private daily Info-Matin who reported on the story. On June 20, authorities arrested four other editors who republished the story. Diarra was sentenced to 13 days in prison and fined approximately US$400; the other editors’ sentences were suspended although they were subject to similar fines. Minta was sentenced to two months in jail, fined approximately $US1,200, and was banned from teaching. In another incident, a broadcaster with Radio Kafo-Kan was attacked by a local politician in July over coverage of his June electoral performance.

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 and freedoms of assembly and association are respected. Many civic groups and nongovernmental organizations, including human rights groups, operate without interference. The constitution guarantees workers the right to unionize, with the exception of the security forces; nearly all salaried employees are unionized.

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.

Mali’s human rights record is generally good. Although there are reports of police brutality, courts have convicted some of those guilty of abuses. The government permits human rights monitors to visit prisons, but at least one group has complained that cumbersome administrative procedures make investigations difficult. Prison conditions are harsh. The government recently passed strict antiterrorism legislation in the wake of the renewed rebel conflict in the north. At year’s end, the legislature was considering a bill to abolish the death penalty.

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 periodic political instability.

Domestic violence against women is tolerated and common. Women have limited access to legal services, and family law favors men. 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 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 working to improve conditions for women in Mali.

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 labor. Mali now requires children under 18 to carry travel documents. A 2002 law criminalized child trafficking, but adult trafficking is not criminalized. While the government investigated at least four trafficking cases during the year ending in March 2007, no suspects were convicted.

2008 Scores



Freedom Rating

(1 = best, 7 = worst)

Civil Liberties

(1 = best, 7 = worst)

Political Rights

(1 = best, 7 = worst)