Peace within reach
Mali is situated in the Sahel where the disintegration of Libya, presence of international terrorist groups, transnational organized crime and trafficking are destabilizing factors that play into and exacerbate existing conflict lines. There are historic divides between the densely populated South and the inaccessible and sparsely populated North. Since independence in 1960 Mali has seen several armed rebellions followed by unfulfilled peace agreements.
The risk of armed groups taking over the entire country in 2013 led to an unprecedented international engagement in Mali aimed at stabilizing the country. At the request of the government of Mali and backed by the UN Security Council and the entire international community, MINUSMA plays a key civil and military role in the Malian peace process and will continue to do so for the time to come.
After a lengthy process, the Algiers Peace Agreement was signed during May and June, 2015. It seeks to address important root causes to the conflict such as weak security forces, exclusion, inequalities and lack of representation as well as reconciliation and immediate humanitarian needs, whereas other root causes such as corruption are not addressed. The peace accord presents Mali with a unique opportunity to build a peaceful country and will be at the centre of stabilisation and development efforts in the years to come. Mali is more than 25 times the size of Denmark but with only three times the number of inhabitants. Effective control of the vast territories by weak security forces is extremely difficult. Transnational organized crime will thus continue to fuel conflict and instability and remain a critical obstacle to peace and development.
The humanitarian situation caused by the violent conflict continues to be serious with about 78,000 internally displaced persons and 138,000 Malians refugees in neighbouring Niger, Mauritanian and Burkina Faso (2015). In addition, Mali and the entire Sahel region are regularly affected by drought and malnutrition is endemic in Mali.
Weak democratic structures
After the end of authoritarian rule in the 1990s, democracy and rule of law seemed well-established in Mali. However, the 2012 crisis revealed deep fractures in the Malian society – also in the South – that contributed to the apparently sudden disintegration of the state when the then government was ousted by the military coup. External factors and the Northern rebellion were catalysts for the 2012 crisis. But the crisis also illustrated that years of poor governance and weak democratic institutions, including poor enforcement of rule of law, weak security forces, endemic corruption and impunity, have been detrimental to social and national cohesion and have provided fertile ground for instability.
Mali’s decentralisation process that was launched in the 1990s lost momentum in the early years of the new millennium. The main reasons were the previous governments’ reluctance to transfer power and resources and the inadequacy of the financial and human resources available to local governments. The profound decentralisation reform foreseen in the peace agreement is an important new opportunity to deepen Mali’s democratic transition. The progress of other key reforms such as security sector reform, legal sector reform and public financial management reform will also be essential to restore the legitimacy of the state and strengthen social cohesion.
Although Mali has ratified most international and regional human rights instruments, including women’s and children’s rights, key challenges remain, particularly related to the conflict in the North. Despite some progress women and girls are still largely deprived of their equal rights and status, including the lack of access to sexual and reproductive health and rights as well as the exclusion from political decision making and economic activities. Given the breadth and depth of human rights violations in Mali, human rights must be at the core of Mali’s development.
Trapped in a circle of poverty
Mali is ranked 176th out of 188 countries in the Human Development Index and is on target to meet only three of the 2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), i.e. eradicating hunger, combat HIV/AIDS, and access to safe drinking water, whereas it is unlikely that other MDG’s will be achieved. More than 50% of the Malian population live on less than 1.25 USD per person per day.
With a population growth of 3% per year the population will double in 24 years, leaving current growth rates insufficient to effectively combat poverty. 70% of the population is below 30 years and every year an estimated 300,000 new young people enter a labour market with few job opportunities. The young population presents Mali with numerous challenges in terms of combatting poverty and creating conditions conducive to the growth and employment in order to avoid social unrest, crime, radicalisation and irregular migration. Mali has not yet started the demographic transition which in other Sub-Saharan countries has yielded a demographic dividend from a rising share of the working age population. However, the potential of the demographic dividend also represents a significant opportunity if realised.
Migration for economic reasons is a traditional response to the lack of opportunities in the poorest countries in West Africa, including Mali. Most Malian migrants travel to the richer neighbours along the African coast or to the Maghreb countries. There is free movement in the entire West African region. Mali benefits from the emigration of a large part of its unemployed youth as well as from substantial remittances which surpass the flow of development aid. Following the collapse of Libya, new routes towards Europe have opened up from the West African region through Mali and Niger. Mali has thus become both a migrant producing and a transit country for migration towards Europe. Human traffickers are of increasing importance to transport people over the dangerous Sahara desert, Libya and the Mediterranean Sea.
The Malian economy is heavily dependent on cotton and mining as the main export products and is thus vulnerable to world market prices. Mali’s formal private sector accounts for less than 40,000 jobs. The majority of private sector businesses are organised as small informal family-based enterprises with little potential to move beyond a subsistence economy. The economy’s dependence on rain-fed agricultural activities remains a structural challenge due to changing weather conditions and the effects of climate change. The agricultural sector is characterised by low productivity due to lack of secure land tenure, a weak agricultural extension services and difficulties in accessing credit. The processing of agricultural produce remains limited. Despite measures taken by government to improve the business climate the World Bank Doing Business 2015 ranks Mali 146 out of 189 countries. Limiting factors include inadequate access to credit, cumbersome regulatory and fiscal procedures, corruption and national products not conforming to international standards.