A West African country twice the size of Germany, Mali gained independence from France in June 20th, 1960, and after a short time as part of a federation with Senegal, became the independent Republic of Mali on September 22nd, 1960. Its economy is based mainly on agriculture and fishing, other exports include salt and gold. Desperately poor, annual income per capita averages just over $1000, and Mali ranks in the bottom twenty countries on the 2013 UNDP inequality-adjusted Human Development Index.
Mali is currently engaged in civil war, with special forces from Europe and Africa assisting the government in suppressing a rebellion that has gone on since January 2012. The roots of the rebellion lie in long running Tuareg attempts to gain control of territory. The Tuaregs are a nomadic ethnic group resident in Northern Mali, and have campaigned for self-determination since the early twentieth century.
In March 2012, a coup d’etat saw Amadou Sanogo and the National Committee for the restoration of Democracy and State (CNRDRE) oust Amadou Toumani Traoré’s government, claiming poor handling of the Tuareg conflict in the north. In the ten days that followed the coup, the rebels took advantage of the instability to gain control of three major cities. Roundly condemned by the international community, Sanogo and the CNRDRE handed over power to Dioncounda Traoré the following month.
By January 2013, the rebels had gained control of over half of the country, with the common atrocities that accompany war (rape, murder, abduction) being committed, as well as the introduction of Sharia law (banning music, alcohol, video games and football) under the northern Islamist rebels. France became the first western nation to intervene; having been asked to provide assistance by the Malian president, they launched an offensive on January 11th 2013.
As of April 2013, the conflict is largely over, with plans to introduce a UN Peacekeeping Force and to provide training for the Malian army being set in motion. Though the ideology that caused the conflict arguably remains unchanged, relative stability has been brought about through military victory over the rebels.
The conflict has overshadowed Mali’s growing tourism industry, with many afraid to visit because of the risk of kidnapping. Mali has many attractions, including Timbuktu (a UNESCO world heritage site), local music, handicrafts and cuisine, landscapes including the Sahara, and the river Niger.
HITT Mali has endeavoured to make the best of the situation, working in areas less affected by the conflict to train informal workers to work in the tourism industry. The response from the local population has been good, with keenness to take part in training a sign of optimism about the recovery of the tourism industry in the years following the conflict.