What We Do in Mali

Bamako, the capital of Mali, is the location of our West Africa Regional Office.  In Mali, Freedom from Hunger reaches over 350,000 members of Savings Groups with our Saving for Change program developed in partnership with Oxfam America and Strømme Foundation and implemented with 11 Malian non-governmental organizations. 

By 2014, we expect that all of the Savings Group members will have received vital education on the prevention and treatment of malaria.  We also plan to expand our work with two large microfinance institutions to increase the outreach and scope of their Credit with Education programs.  AIM Youth is bringing financial services and education to young people through one of our microfinance institution partners and two NGOs.  Freedom from Hunger plans to extend health protection services through existing and new partnerships by 2014. 

About Mali

  • Population (millions): 15.3 (2013)
  • Life Expectancy: 55 (2012)
  • Infant Mortality Rate (per 1000 births): 78 (2013)
  • Percentage of rural population with access to an improved water source: 54% (2012)
  • Fertility Rate (births per woman): 7 (2012)
  • Literacy Rate: 34% (2011)
  • Primary School Enrollment: 69% (2012)
  • Per capita GDP:  $715 (2013)
  • Percentage of population living on less than $2 per day: 79% (2010)
  • Ethnic Groups: Mande 50% (Bambara, Malinke, Soninke), Peul 17%, Voltaic 12%, Songhai 6%, Tuareg and Moor 10%, other 5%
  • Languages: French (official), Bambara 80%, numerous African languages
  • Religions: Muslim 90%, Christian 1%, indigenous beliefs 9%

Although they must cope with relentless poverty on a day-to-day basis, Mali's people are proud of their illustrious history as well as their culture. Their strength, independence, and hard work have enabled them to survive in this beautiful but harsh environment.

Malian civilization is indeed ancient, with rock paintings dating back tens of thousands of years to when Mali was a green, lush paradise. The first regional empire was the empire of Ghana, which was overthrown in the 11th century by Muslim Berbers from Morocco and Mauritania.

In the 13th century, Sundiata Keita had firmly converted Mali to Islam and consolidated control over the trade of gold and salt. Several progressive "mansas" (lords) created the sophisticated and cosmopolitan cities of Timbuktu and Djenné, complete with universities, libraries and, of course, mosques. Several other empires and forces overcame and ruled Mali over the next five hundred years, including the French, who made Mali a colony in 1883. European incursions into the trade of West Africa circumvented the Saharan region and greatly reduced its economic power. Mali, during its heyday, had concentrated on religion and education rather than commerce and military might and thus became the "poor cousin" among the French colonies. Timbuktu, the once flourishing oasis of education and culture, became the synonym for "isolated."

Mali gained its independence from France in 1960 and spent many years attempting to retain good relations with France while at the same time aligning itself with the Soviet Union. Some disastrous economic moves and socialistic projects plunged Mali into a severe economic depression, causing a bloodless coup in 1968 and the advent of the leadership of Moussa Traoré. Traoré ruled until 1991, when his totalitarian approach and harsh treatment of opponents caused another coup. This time, however, the coup leaders' goal was democracy, and multiparty elections were held in 1992. Mali has remained a stable democracy since that time.

Climate changes and increasing demands for water and grazing areas have contributed greatly to the growth of the desert. The river Niger, which winds through the country up to the Sahara, along with its seasonally flooding shorelines, provides farmers with arable land. The one bright spot on the economic horizon in Mali is the discovery of significant deposits of gold, which is now its third largest export, behind cotton (grown in the greener south) and livestock.

Mali's culture is diverse and fascinating. The Niger River has linked three major ethnic groups throughout history, and each contributes to Mali's welfare in its own way. The Bambara, the largest tribe in Mali, are generally the civil servants and live in the urban areas, such as Bamako, the capital of Mali. The Dogons and the Taureg practice the more traditional lifestyles. The Taureg are the desert Nomads, fierce fighters, and fine artists. The Dogon are Mali's industrious farmers, living along the delta of the Niger. Mali is famous worldwide for its music and its musicians. The Griots, a social caste in Malian society since the days of the empire, are the musicians of Mali. The musical culture is encouraged and supported in Mali in an effort to keep indigenous culture strong and vital.

Mali is a country that faces many challenges: limited, dispersed population, extreme poverty, and increasing environmental concerns, to name a few. But its people are proud, motivated, and willing to work on overcoming these challenges. Credit with Education provides thousands of rural women with tools to do just that.

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