Developments in Mali

Updated: 2 September 2014

Mali is a country with roots reaching back to the 14th century that has been characterized by political stability and good relations with neighbouring countries. After the Tuareg rebellion and coup d’état in 2012, the country is undergoing a deep crisis.

Mali, with an area more than twice the size of France, covers several climatic zones, from the Sahara Desert in the north to relatively rainy agricultural areas in the south. Only one twentieth of the country’s area is arable land, while three quarters of the population live off agriculture and animal husbandry.

Recurrent droughts in the last decades have affected a significant part of the population, especially in the north. The northern regions are populated by Tuaregs (though they are not in majority) and other ethnic groups such as Arabs, Songhai and Peul. Tense relations between nomadic herders and sedentary farmers have been a cause of conflicts. Neglected development of the northern regions in terms of social services and infrastructure, including water, electricity and sanitation, has created discontent and led to groups, particularly within the Tuareg society, demanding autonomy for the northern regions.

The level of education in Mali is very low; only about one in four people can read and write. The country is among the world's poorest and nearly three out of four Malians live on less than two dollars a day. Malnutrition and lack of health care reduces life expectancy to one of the lowest in the world.

Most women in Mali are subjected to genital mutilation, which is not prohibited by law. The population growth rate is very high and children are sold abroad into forced labour. Child trafficking can now be punished by up to 20 years in prison. A controversial Family Code, adopted in 2011, stipulates that a wife must obey her husband and that girls have the legal right to marry at the age of 16.


Mali has over the past decade emerged as a good example of a country in Africa where democracy has developed in a region characterized by undemocratic seizure of power and cross-border conflicts. Recurrent elections have been held, but the voter turnout has been low. One political class has been dominating in power. Corruption is widespread and there is a considerable legal insecurity with a corrupt judicial system and extended impunity.

This situation, together with the neglected development of the northern regions, sparked a new Tuareg rebellion in the beginning of 2012, which was followed by an occupation of the northern regions from armed, Islamist groups and a coup d'état. Northern Mali has for many years been a kind of no man's land for organised crime engaged in transit trade in drugs, weapons and people. Unrest in the north has forced hundreds of thousands of people to escape and both rebel groups and the Malian army have been guilty of abuses against civilians.

When the Islamists planned an expansion of control to the south in beginning of 2013, France stepped in with a military intervention supported by the international community and regained control of the northern regions.

A plan for the future

In late January 2013, the Malian National Assembly adopted a roadmap for the restoration of territorial integrity and the return to democratic rule through democratic elections. The government has presented a plan for economic and social recovery in 2013-2014.

In addition to a solution to the political crisis and the restoration of peace and security, Mali has many challenges, including a limited export industry, dominated by gold and cotton, an agriculture characterized by traditional farming methods and low productivity, and a very high population growth rate. Forests and farmland are being overused, resulting in land degradation, which has serious negative impact on a long-term sustainable development, despite significant potentials in terms of access to land and water.

Mali's poverty reduction strategy is the country's reference document for poverty reduction. After the coup d’état, many of the international donors stopped their aid to the government and the state. During the spring of 2013, most donors have resumed aid. At an international conference in Brussels in May 2013, the international community showed a strong support for Mali and pledged EUR 3.2 billion for reconstruction and restoration of legitimate and democratic governance, after presidential and parliamentary elections have been held in 2013.

Sweden’s focus areas in Mali: 

  • Economic development for the poor
  • Democratic governance and social development
  • Sustainable development of land management.

Read more about our work in Mali

Page owner: Department for Africa

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