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National Context

A multidimensional crisis
Mali is situated in the Sahel and struggles with deep rooted poverty, weak state institutions, widespread corruption, climate change and rapid demographic growth. Furthermore, the disintegration of Libya, presence of terrorist groups, transnational organized crime and trafficking are destabilizing factors that play into the development challenges and exacerbate historic conflicts between the sedentary and the nomadic communities in central Mali. 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 in the North followed by unfulfilled peace agreements.

Another Tuareg rebellion in 2012 indirectly led to the military coup in March 2012, which overthrew the then president, Amadou Toumani Touré (ATT).  At the same time, Islamist groups took over central cities in the North of Mali, such as Timbuktu and Gao. The risk of terrorist armed groups taking over the entire country in 2013 led to an unprecedented international engagement in Mali aimed at stabilizing the country. In January 2013, France launched Operation Serval to fight back the Islamist group. In May 2014, serval withdrew to be replaced by Operation Barkhane following an invitation from the Malian government. Operation Barkhane is a French anti-terror force covering several of the Sahel countries, deploying more than 5000 soldiers (per March 2020). Today, other European countries are contributing to Barkhane, including Estonia, the UK and Denmark.

At the request of the government of Mali and backed by the UN Security Council and the entire international community, the UN peacekeeping mission, MINUSMA, was created in April 2013. The mission has more than 13,000 troops and 1,500 civilians. It plays a key civil and military role in the Malian peace process.

After a lengthy process, the Algiers Peace Agreement was signed between the Malian government and the armed rebel groups from the North in May and June, 2015. The peace accord 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. It foresees large reforms within decentralization and the security sector as well as constitutional reform. The peace accord presents Mali with a unique opportunity to build a peaceful country and is at the center of many stabilization and development efforts. 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. However, since its signature in 2015 the peace agreement has known limited progress and has been criticized for not being inclusive enough towards women and youth. All signatory parties have shown little political will and the level of mistrust between the parties remains high. Notable progress include the upholding of the cease fire between the armed groups since 2017, the introduction of interim authorities in the Northern regions until local elections can be held, as well as certain advances within the important DDR-process (disarmament, demobilization and reintegration). In February 2020, the first entities of the reconstituted army was deployed to Kidal – a region more or less out of the State’s control since 2014.

In 2013, a democratic presidential election gave power to Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta (IBK), followed by parliamentary elections. In August 2018, IBK was reelected for another five years.

The humanitarian crisis caused by the violent conflict continues to be serious with about over 200,000 internally displaced persons and more than 140,000 Malian refugees in neighboring Niger, Mauritania and Burkina Faso (2020). The security crisis deepens Mali and the Sahel’s seasonal cycles of food insecurity, and the effects of climate change and rapid population growth amplify the humanitarian needs as previously seasonal levels of need last throughout the year. OCHA estimates that 4,3 mio. people in Mali will require humanitarian assistance of some sort during the year 2020.

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 decentralization 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 decentralization 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 on women’s and children’s rights, key challenges remain. 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 and abuses in Mali, human rights must be at the core of Mali’s development.

Trapped in a circle of poverty despite economic growth

Mali is ranked 184 out of 189 countries on the UN Human Development Index (2019) and half of Mali's population lives in extreme poverty. Economic growth is expected to be stable at around 5% in the coming years, but with an annual population growth of 3%, current economic growth rates will be insufficient to combat poverty.

Mali's overall economy is equivalent to 5% of Denmark's GDP. The sectoral distribution of the economy is agriculture (36%), industry and mining (20%), and services (44%). The largest exports are gold and cotton, while fuel, machinery and food constitute the majority of imports. A major challenge in Mali is the approx. 300,000 young people entering the labor market each year without real opportunities, leading to unemployment and underpaid work and contributing to irregular migration and instability as negative side effects. Another challenge is climate change: Mali is one of the most severely affected countries in Africa, with potentially major consequences for the agricultural sector and, in the long term, exacerbating conflict and increasing irregular migration.

Mali's Finance Act for 2020 foresees a public consumption of approx. DKK 30 billion equivalent to approx. DKK 1500 per Malian - far from enough to ensure basic social services for all Malians.

Mali's dependence on international aid is among the largest in the world. The total assistance in 2017 came to approx. DKK 9 billion and thus accounted for 9% of GDP. Mali spends about 20% of its budget on defence expenditures. In comparison, 15% is spent on education, 25% on financial investment, private sector and agriculture support and 5% on health.

Mali is a central transit country for irregular migration from West Africa to Europe and is therefore essential for the number of irregular arrivals to Europe. In addition, Mali is a major country of origin, and with an estimated 3,298 arrivals to Europe (UNHCR) in 2019 Mali was the 4th largest country of origin contributing to approx. 10% of all arrivals.

Mali is among the five African countries with which the EU has entered into a migration partnership and has been a significant recipient of funds under the EU Trust Fund. However, the migration partnership with the EU has given rise to domestic political tensions in Mali. Mali has a large diaspora, especially in France, Canada and the United States, which sends remittances back home to Mali on a scale that exceeds what is given overall in development assistance to the country.