About Mali


Mali is a landlocked, predominantly desert country in West Africa and, at 1.25 million km², it is one of the largest countries on the continent. For centuries, its northern city of Timbuktu was a centre of Islamic culture and a main trading post in the region. Its arid landscapes, magnificent monuments, and remote Dogon villages, which cling to the cliffs, are a sight to behold. However, most of Mali's extensive offerings are now off-limits to travellers, and the country is struggling to look after its 18 million citizens.

After Mali's independence from France in 1960, the country suffered droughts, a coup, and over two decades of military dictatorship until democratic elections were held in 1992. Since then, the political situation has continued to be volatile, and security is a real concern ' Tuareg MNLA separatist rebels remain sporadically active, and a jihadist insurgency continues in Mali's northern and central regions. Militants that are linked to al-Qaeda still carry out attacks on UN forces and the Malian army making the country one of the most dangerous places to work for the UN.

Historically, Islam in Mali was moderate and pluralistic, co-existing peacefully alongside other belief systems, such as Christianity and Animism or Sufism. Different ethnic groups had also always lived in relative harmony, and over 50 languages are still spoken, although French is the official one and Bambara is the most widespread. However, the uprisings by radical Islamist groups in the north have shattered any reputation the country's reputation for tolerance, and the conflicts have threatened the country's once-inclusive culture.

Service delivery in this large but sparsely populated country is challenging and heightens the lack of social cohesion. In spite of the country's considerable agricultural potential and the gifts of the Niger River, which provides irrigation for agriculture and plenty of fish, high population growth and drought have fuelled food insecurity and poverty.

As a result of having a highly undiversified economy ' agriculture and gold are its primary sectors and contribute about 40% to the GDP ' Mali is vulnerable to commodity price fluctuations and the effects of climate change. Security is critical for ensuring economic recovery, which is less likely to be achieved if the peace agreement collapses or if there are any lapses in governance. The tourism and hospitality sectors have already borne the full brunt of the recent crises. However, to date, extensive agriculture, public investment, and gold mining activities have helped the country to maintain a relatively steady growth rate in spite of its issues.

Mali's industrial sector remains limited, consisting mainly of privately-owned small enterprises and a few large cotton milling, electricity, and mining companies. However, there are still some opportunities for expatriates as Mali's economy is projected to grow between 2017 and 2019, and the recent surge in international aid should start to reduce. This favourable economic outlook will hopefully encourage a functioning democracy and a stable political and security situation, where Mali can return to being known for its unique architecture and captivating music, with Ngoni and Kora musicians playing to dancing crowds from all ethnicities in the capital of Bamako.