Mali is a large country, two-thirds covered by desert areas, which shares borders with seven other countries. The country suffers from many geographical handicaps: landlocked and strongly dependent on climate variations, (drought, locust infestation, desertification and deforestation), inadequate infrastructure and lack of clean water.
Three-quarters of Mali’s population lives in a rural environment, as compared with 27% in an urban environment. Approximately 80% of the workforce works in the agriculture or fisheries sector. Mali is a cross-roads of civilisations with its many ethnic and linguistic groups, each constituting a source of cultural wealth. A secular country under its constitution, Mali is characterised by the peaceful coexistence of monotheistic religions and traditional cultures. The religions practised are Islam, Christianity and animism.
Mali’s population is very young, with half of Malians aged under 15. As a result there is a strong pressure in relation to job creation and migration, in a context of worsening conditions on the labour market. Growing urbanisation is encouraging political and administrative decentralisation.
A country which has historically had some major migrations internally, within Africa and internationally, Mali is a country with a strong tradition of emigration. All the regions in Mali are areas from which emigration takes place. The diaspora of Malians abroad represents nearly four million people, which is a quarter of the population. African countries are still the main destinations, with 32% living in Ivory Coast and roughly 1 million in ECOWAS, followed by the EU (500,000 Malians). In terms of financial support for the development of the country (nearly 300 billion Fcfa per year, i.e. 457 million EUR per year), migration is on such a large scale that a Ministry for Malians Abroad has been created in order to recuperate investments, added skills and relations and to manage the reintegration of Malian nationals returning to the country.
The Malian economy is based primarily on four sectors: cotton, rice farming, and gold mining. Therefore the country is dependent on world prices for cotton and gold. From the point of view of external financing, the country depends heavily on foreign aid and remittances from emigrants.
A military coup overthrew the government in March 2012, saying the government had not sufficiently supported Malian army in their fight against a Tuareg rebellion in the north. The entire northern part of Mali fell under control of the rebel Tuareg National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and later to the Islamist group Ansar Dine (Defenders of Islam), supposedly allies of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. An integrated multi-dimensional UN Mission for Stabilization in Mali (MINUSMA) intervened to regain control of the north Mali in late 2012 and presidential elections could take place in July 2013.