Sahel and Mali, some reading

What started as a little compilation of articles on Mali and the Sahel has sort of spiralled into a mini-project that may or may not be out of control. Have done a lot of reading over past few days and the following are bits that I think would be of interest/value to others. If you have the time, would highly recommend reading the articles in the entirety, as the authors posses a wealth of knowledge.


Mali demographics, facts and figures

It is always nice to start with some comprehensive population related facts, courtesy of the CIA Fact Book


Ethnic groups: Mande 50% (Bambara, Malinke, Soninke), Peul 17%, Voltaic 12%, Songhai 6%, Tuareg and Moor 10%, other 5%
Religions: Muslim 90%, Christian 1%, indigenous beliefs 9%
Population: 15,494,466 (July 2012 est.)

country comparison to the world: 66

Population breakdown: 0-14 years: 47.8% (male 3,718,591/ female 3,689,889)

15-64 years: 49.2% (male 3,600,156/ female 4,017,716)

65 years and over: 3% (male 235,366/ female 232,748) (2012 est.)

Population sex ratio: at birth: 1.03 male(s)/female

under 15 years: 1.01 male(s)/female

15-64 years: 0.96 male(s)/female

65 years and over: 0.91 male(s)/female

total population: 0.98 male(s)/female (2011 est.)

Median age*: total: 16.4 years

male: 16 years

female: 16.7 years (2012 est.)

Birth rate: 46.6 births/1,000 population (2012 est.)

country comparison to the world: 2

Infant mortality rate: total: 108.7 deaths/1,000 live births

country comparison to the world: 2

male: 115.5 deaths/1,000 live births

female: 101.7 deaths/1,000 live births (2012 est.)

Maternal mortality rate: 540 deaths/100,000 live births (2010)

country comparison to the world: 16

Life expectancy at birth: total population: 53.06 years

country comparison to the world: 207

male: 51.43 years

female: 54.73 years (2012 est.)

Urbanisation: urban population: 36% of total population (2010)

rate of urbanization: 4.4% annual rate of change (2010-15 est.)

Literacy rates: definition: age 15 and over can read and write

total population: 31.1%

male: 43.4%

female: 20.3% (2010 est.)

Mobile phones 10.822 million (2011)

country comparison to the world: 70

Internet users 249,800 (2009)

country comparison to the world: 135

GDP per capita $1,100 (2011 est.)

country comparison to the world: 213

$1,100 (2010 est.)

$1,100 (2009 est.)

note: data are in 2011 US dollars

Unemployment rate 30% (2004 est.)

country comparison to the world: 177

Population below poverty line 36.1% (2005 est.)
Inflation rate (consumer prices) 2.9% (2011 est.)

country comparison to the world: 56

1.1% (2010 est.)

Some of the names of organisations you may have seen recently (this is just a start, will hopefully add to list at a later date):

Ansar Dine Also Ansar ud Dine, Ansar ud Deen. Touareg led Islamist militia
AQIM Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb
Boko Haram AKA People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad. Boko Haram translates from Hasau to English to mean literally ‘Western education is sinful’. Alleged links between Boko Haram and AQIM, possibly relating to training.
GIA Armed Islamic Group formed in Algeria in early 90s, in part as a response to military government suspecting vote in the second round in 1991. Violent campaign against civilians.
GSPC Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, until 2007 when they changed name to AQIM. Founded by GIA regional commander Hassan Hattab after he left the GIA because he didn’t agree with targeting of civilians.
MOJUA Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, also Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MOJWA) is an AQIM splinter group with focus on West Africa
MP-22 “Mouvement Populaire du 22 mars”, group founded by Malian opposition Oumar Mariko in support of coup plotters, in reference to the March 2012 coup
NMLA/MNLA National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, secular Touareg seccessionist organisation. See below for more.

The MNLA in their own words:

For some time now, a certain section of the Malian and international press have been creating confusion in the public opinion, both national and international, by claiming that the combatants of the MNLA’s senior command are all ex-soldiers and mercenaries of Ghadafi who have fled Libya.

The MNLA (National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad) would like to make it clear that within the MNLA military command there are: old rebels from the uprisings of the 1990s (MFUA – Movements of the united Fronts of Azawad), of 2006 (MTNM – The Tuareg Movement of Northern Mali, which was lead by the late Ibrahim Ag Bahanga), fighters who have returned from Libya but who mostly participated in the liberation of that country, volunteers from the various ethnicities of northern Mali (Tuareg, Songhai, Peul and Moor) and both soldiers and officers who have deserted from the Malian army.

We confirm and underline that the combatants who returned from Libya, fought with the NTC (National Transitional Council) forces more than they did with Ghadafi’s forces.

Our senior military commander Mohammed Ag Najm, was certainly a Libyan officer of Malian origin, serving under the Ghadafi regime like all Libyan officers. Colonel Mohammed Ag Najm expressed his disagreement with the Libyan leader very early on, at the beginning of the insurrection is Libya and this disagreement was confirmed by his resignation from his Libyan army and his enrolment alongside his own people in this present struggle for the liberation of Azawad.

If you’re interested, would recommend checking out their website. Comprehensive, with lots of archived material:


Scott Straus and Leif Brottem wrote a great piece in the New York Times recently in which they mentioned the democratic movement in Mali in the early 90s:

…buried somewhere in the country, Mali has a reservoir of democratic talent. In the early 1990s, a pro-democracy movement emerged and articulated a modern democratic vision based on Malian traditional values of dialogue and accommodation. Central to that movement were a national conference, public meetings and frank public discussion. To plot the way forward, Mali needs to return to those mechanisms to understand what went wrong and what can be salvaged. A national political dialogue needs to be restarted before elections.


Gregory Mann argued over at Africa Is A Country that France acted when it did out of necessity:

The drama of the Islamist offensive should not be underestimated—a successful assault on Sevaré would have meant the loss of the only airstrip in Mali capable of handling heavy cargo planes, apart from that in Bamako. The fall of Sevaré would in turn have made any future military operation a nightmare for West African or other friendly forces, and it would have chased tens of thousands of civilians from their homes. These would only have been the most immediate effects. After Sevaré, nothing would have stopped an Islamist advance on Segu and Bamako, although it is unclear to me that the Islamists would have any strategic interest in investing Mali’s sprawling and densely populated capital. Still, many Bamakois feared an attack, and had one occurred the human costs would have been astronomical. Malians remember well that only a few months ago, insurgent forces ejected the army from northern Mali as if they were throwing a drunk from a bar. Timbuktu, Gao, and Kidal fell in a weekend. The army collapsed, and it has only been weakened by internal fighting since. Any other story is a fairytale.

Very interesting and thorough article, details the immediate impact of France’s intervention. Read the rest of it here.


For behind the scenes snippets and intelligence news you may have otherwise missed, IntelNews is fantastic. They recently flagged that France had been making diplomatic moves regarding Mali  back in the autumn:

However, in an article published [on 22nd October 2012], The Associated Press claimed that, behind the scenes, the French government is trying to convince the US and other Western countries to participate in a military intervention in Mali.

The article cited anonymous French and American diplomats in claiming that senior officials from both countries are secretly meeting in Paris this week to discuss “intelligence gathering and security” in Mali. The diplomats, who spoke to the news agency “on condition of anonymity”, said that participants in the secret meeting included US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson. The article also claimed that Paris intends to transfer several unmanned surveillance drones from Afghanistan to western Africa before the end of the year. The AP reporter contacted a US State Department spokesman, who said he was unaware of any French military or done deployment in Mali, and added that Washington and Paris were closely working with African nations “on a plan to address the crisis”.

Read the rest here.


Was completely ignorant of this until yesterday, but apparently drug cartels are using cargo planes to fly cocaine from South America to West Africa, from where it is smuggled in to Europe. From December 2009:

The burnt out wreck of a Boeing 727 lies abandoned in the Sahara desert, what is left of it covered by a little more ochre sand every day.

UN officials say the plane landed in the remote northeastern area of Mali in West Africa in early November with a load of cocaine and other illegal goods from Venezuela in South America.

Coming in on a makeshift runway, it unloaded its cargo and was then destroyed.

Read more here.


Andy Morgan’s writing on Mali is fascinating. This paragraph from an article entitled ‘the Sandstorm of War in Northern Mali’ was particularly chilling:

Perhaps there’s no need to defeat the Islamists militarily. Perhaps they’ll simply implode under the pressure of their own internal bickering. Perhaps this splintering is also the reason why Iyad has now decided to push south. No one knows the fractious tribal politics of the Sahara better than him and memories of the disintegration of the Touareg rebellion following the signing of the National Pact in 1992 no doubt still rankle deep within him. He knows that inaction leads to disintegration. If you want to unite your troops, go to war, or else provoke your enemy into attacking you. You can probably find that somewhere in the writings of von Clausewitz, the German philosopher of war to whom Iyad himself is apparently quite partial. If this is Iyad’s strategy, it’s showing early signs of success. His offensive has indeed lured French special ground forces and helicopters into the region, both of which will be deemed a heathen provocation by the Islamist constituency of North and West Africa. The French presence will also no doubt boost recruitment to the Islamist cause.

Read the rest of his work for context and follow him on twitter: @andymorganwrite


Will hopefully post more in the coming days and weeks.

* Explanation via CIA Fact Book: This entry is the age that divides a population into two numerically equal groups; that is, half the people are younger than this age and half are older. It is a single index that summarizes the age distribution of a population. Currently, the median age ranges from a low of about 15 in Uganda and Gaza Strip to 40 or more in several European countries and Japan. See the entry for “Age structure” for the importance of a young versus an older age structure and, by implication, a low versus a higher median age.