French troops patrolling in the streets of Gao on Feb. 3, 2013. (Sia Kambou/AFP/Getty Images)

Two years ago Mali’s government fell in a coup. There was violence, particularly in the north. Western media devoted substantial attention to Mali during this period, and Mali even managed a mention by Mitt Romney during a 2012 presidential debate. But Mali isn’t in the news much these days. What happened in Mali, and how are things today?

What happened in Mali?

This graphic provides a timeline up to January 2013. In March 2012, there was a mutiny by soldiers to overthrow the government and a rebellion by the Tuareg in the north of Mali, both of which led to the president’s resignation the following month. Islamists from armed groups seized key northern towns that June. ECOWAS deployed 3,300 troups in November 2012, and the following month the UN Security Council approved the deployment of an African-led force. In January 2013, the French military intervened; they were credited with retaking control of the north of Mali from armed Islamist groups.

Despite concerns from analysts as to whether the country was ready for elections (and the continuing instability in the north), last July Malians voted in a presidential election deemed “crucial”. Mali’s electoral rules require the president win a majority, which required a run-off election in August, which Ibrahim Boubakar Keita won with nearly 78 percent of the vote.

Mali expert Susanna Wing wrote a briefing published in African Affairs last year that describes not only the overthrow of Mali President Amadou Toumani Touré in March 2012, but the conditions in Mali’s then-fragile democracy that led up to the coup. She wrote:

…there is little doubt that the erosion of democracy, rise of criminality, and impunity of state officials are at the very root of the Malian crisis, and that these processes opened the door for various groups to flourish in the north, gaining territory and, in some instances, popular legitimacy.

On the “erosion of democracy” Wing pointed to “systemic corruption; a failing and corrupt judicial system; weak political parties and no opposition; and… lack of civility within communities”. She also emphasized the lack of political commitment under Touré’s regime to decentralization. Her insights are important today for Mali to avoid another violent transition like that which embroiled the country from 2012-2013.

How are things today?

Though much less is reported about Mali today (a notable exception is the news about suspected Ebola fever cases), there are signs that Malians are optimistic about where the country is headed.

How do we know Malians are optimistic? Just this week the Afrobarometer,* an African-led series of public opinion surveys conducted in 35 African countries, released a policy paper examining public opinion in Mali.

Afrobarometer conducted surveys in December 2012, literally in the middle of the crisis. Afrobarometer also conducted a customized survey in Mali in December 2013 and January 2014. These two surveys – conducted before and after the July 2013 election – provide unique insights on how the election and subsequent transition has affected ordinary Malians’ evaluations of government and their opinions about nation’s future.

In a policy paper comparing the two most recent waves of Afrobarometer surveys in Mali, political scientists Michael Bratton and Peter Panar share a couple of key findings:

  • In a complete reversal of opinion from one year earlier, two out of three Malians say that their country is moving in the “right direction” at the end of 2013.
  • Some 60% of adult citizens also consider that their country is now safe and secure from armed conflict, up from 17% in 2012.
  • But Malians still regard political instability as the country’s most important problem, especially those who live in the northern regions or have been displaced from their homes.
  • Malians feel very positive about the quality of national elections held in 2013, with 83% seeing the presidential contest as “completely free and fair.”
  • Although still cautious about prevailing economic conditions, Malians perceive recent signs of recovery and hold high expectations for future economic wellbeing.
  • In changing their minds about the direction of the country, Malians make reference mainly to economic and security considerations and, to a lesser extent, the quality of elections.

You can listen to highlights of the findings in this VOA interview with Bratton:

Though the data from the 2013/2014 survey in Mali are not yet publicly available, much of Afrobarometer’s data are available online. Interested readers can even access an online data analysis tool and see for themselves what ordinary Malians (or citizens of other countries in which Afrobarometer works) think about their governments, economies, and more.


*Afrobarometer has collected six rounds of surveys in Mali, from 2001 to 2013. Afrobarometer surveys use randomly selected samples, meaning the results are meant to be representative of a country’s population as a whole (with a +/- 2% margin of error at a 95% level of confidence). Learn more about Afrobarometer on their Web site. To get a sense of Afrobarometer’s data collection in Mali, see this video on the Round 6 wave pre-test: