Mali is located in West Africa and encompasses both the Sahara Desert in the north and arable plains in the south. The Niger River enriches the soil nearby, allowing Mali’s agricultural sector to flourish. The area has been ruled by a succession of African kingdoms, including the Ghana, Malinké, and Songhai, until being colonized by the French in 1880s. Calling the region the Soudan, the French appointed a civilian governor in Mali and enriched themselves with the country’s natural resources. But in 1956, the French passed a law that gave Mali control over many of the country’s own internal affairs. A brief federation with Senegal followed, and in 1960, a nationalist movement soon began. This led to independence, and the election of Modibo Keita as Mali’s first president. Since then, the country has moved from extreme nationalization to a more centrist democratic government. Retired General Amadou Toumani Toure became the country’s second democratically elected president in 2002, and he was re-elected to a second five-year term in 2007.
Relations between Mali and the United States have been overshadowed by several controversies. In October 2006, Malian farmers blamed the US government, and its policy of awarding billions of tax dollars to American cotton producers, for pushing them into greater debt. A year earlier, a human rights group sued three US companies in federal court in Los Angeles to end child labor involving Malian children on African farms producing cocoa beans and chocolate products. More recently, drug trafficking from South America to Mali has put the US government on alert, especially for drug smuggling that might profit terrorist groups.
Lay of the Land: Mali is landlocked in central West Africa. Sandstone plateaus, edged by sharp cliffs, interrupt the generally level terrain. The Sahara desert in the north gives way to arable land in the south. The lifeblood of the country is the Niger River, which (hopefully) floods over every year to enrich the nearby soil.
From the beginning of civilization in Mali, the country has been ruled by a succession of ancient African empires—Ghana, Malinké, and Songhai—that occupied the West African savannah. These ancient empires traded with the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern people.
Economic assistance from the US to Mali originated in 1961 and was controlled by a bilateral mission until 1968. US assistance was limited at first. USAID’s strategy was aimed at moderating the socialist leanings of the Mali government through bilateral and regional programs and encouraging cooperative efforts between adjacent states and other Western donors. Three areas of focus were food production, education and training, and rural infrastructure.
Mali cooperates with the US in the fight against international terrorism. It also participates in testing of new malaria medication, and USAID, the Peace Corps, and other US government programs play a role in fostering sustainable economic and social development in the country.
From 2005 to 2009, US imports from Mali were dominated by artwork, antiques, stamps and other collectibles, which increased from $294,000 to $1.42 million. Other imports on the rise included generators, transformers, and accessories, which moved up from $28,000 to $101,000; nonmonetary gold, increasing from $67,000 to $226,000; and semiconductors and related devices, rising from $39,000 to $242,000.
Malian Drug Runners Accused of Working with al-Qaeda
Problems with Mali’s human rights record, as reported by the State Department, included poor prison conditions, arbitrary arrest and detention, lengthy pretrial detention, prolonged trial delays, and restrictions on speech, press, and assembly. Domestic violence and discrimination against women, female genital mutilation (FGM), trafficking in children, hereditary servitude relationships between ethnic groups, child labor, and forced labor, including by children, also occurred.
Note: Embassy Dakar (in the Federation of Mali) was established Jun 20, 1960, with Donald A. Dumont as Chargé d’Affaires ad interim.
The West African nation of Mali’s latest ambassador to the United States is a seasoned diplomat whose career has been focused more on relations with other African nations than with the U.S. Keita presented his credentials to President Barack Obama on January 18, 2012.
President Barack Obama nominated veteran diplomat Mary Beth Leonard to become the U.S. Ambassador to Mali on June 21, 2011, and she was confirmed by the Senate on October 18. Leonard had previously served as deputy chief of mission at the U.S. embassy in Mali.
Gillian A. Milovanovic has served as US Ambassador to the Republic of Mali since September 26, 2008.Milovanovic is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Temple University, and the Ecole Nationale d’Administration.