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Overseas Security Advisory Council
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Mali 2019 Crime & Safety Report

This is an annual report produced in conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy in Bamako.

 

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Mali at Level 4, indicating travelers should not travel to the country due to crime, terrorism, and kidnapping.

 

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

 

The U.S. Embassy in Bamako does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The American Citizen Services (ACS) Unit cannot recommend a particular individual or location and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided

 

Review OSAC’s Mali-specific webpage for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

 

Crime Threats

 

There is a serious risk of crime in Bamako. Although most crimes in Bamako are of a nonviolent, opportunistic nature, criminals can be violent. Assaults involving firearms and physical violence pose continued threats, and property theft is regularly reported. The majority of reported attacks have targeted unaccompanied individuals in the early morning or late night hours and ranged from muggings at gun or knifepoint to physical assaults. 

 

In recent years, several expatriates have been victims of attempted carjacking. Carjackings and robberies occur frequently on the well-traveled Route National 5 (RN5) between Bamako and Siby. Bandits routinely set up roadblocks to stop vehicles and steal belongings. In September and October 2018, carjackers murdered four individuals on the RN5. There are periodic reports of nighttime robberies of commercial establishments (e.g. restaurants, convenience stores, small businesses) in Bamako. Residential break-ins are not common; however, proper locks and solid doors are warranted, and most people with means employ residential guards 24 hours per day. Violent crime is a particular concern during local holidays and seasonal events in Bamako, its suburbs, and Mali’s southern regions. A brief spate of armed robberies affected non-governmental organization (NGO) offices in Bamako around Ramadan 2018.

 

Thefts from hotel rooms may occur. Do not leave anything of value in your hotel room, and ensure that you lock hotel room doors while you sleep. There have been reports of drug trafficking and prostitution in some restaurants, nightclubs, and hotels in Bamako. Given a history of terrorist attacks against soft targets like hotels in Mali, consider carrying a doorstop to secure your hotel room while you sleep.

 

Crime continues to increase outside of Bamako, affecting a large number of NGOs. Carjackers routinely target NGOs in the center and the north of the country. Criminals have beaten and bound NGO workers during vehicle thefts. One carjacker used a stolen NGO vehicle as a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) in an attack on the UN camp in Timbuktu in April 2018. Terrorists and bandits routinely warn NGOs not to work in certain villages, and steal supplies donated to the local population.

 

Other Areas of Concern

 

Like in any capital city, marketplaces and popular public areas in downtown Bamako are gathering places for criminals and prostitutes. Be vigilant and exercise caution in these areas at night. Be aware of anyone (including children) who jostles you, even if it appears innocent; this is a ploy pickpockets use to distract you. Theft of unattended items is common; avoid carrying anything you cannot easily replace. Avoid wandering around in remote areas of the city by yourself, particularly at night. It is best to travel in groups and stay in illuminated areas as much as possible.

 

Although it is not generally against the law to take photographs, request permission and exercise care before taking pictures and video. Do not take photographs and video of sensitive buildings (e.g. police or military facilities, or embassies, including the U.S. Embassy). MINUSMA headquarters prohibits photography and has arrested offenders. For more information, review OSAC’s Report Picture This: Dos and Don’ts for Photography.

 

The U.S. Government is unable to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in the northern and central regions of Mali, as the Embassy restricts U.S. government employee travel to these regions due to security concerns. The Malian government has imposed curfews and movement restrictions including moto and vehicle bans in parts of northern and central Mali due to insecurity.

 

Avoid the northern parts of the country due to terrorist and criminal activities, threat of kidnapping, and ongoing military operations. Northern Mali remains desolate and difficult to patrol, and continues to provide sanctuary for extremist groups. Some government and financial services have returned to the northern regions of Timbuktu and Gao, but school closures due to threats in the central region remain a persistent problem.

 

Security in central Mali, to include the Mopti region, has steadily declined over the last two years. There is little government presence in remote areas of the region, and security forces are unable to protect travelers and counter the rampant criminality and advances of violent extremist organizations. Attacks on military and gendarme outposts happen frequently after dark. Travel outside the main cities during darkness carries extreme risk.

 

Mali’s long-standing problems of unemployment, food insecurity, and long-term economic underdevelopment persist. The country is far from being able to combat the economic drivers that lead individuals to banditry and other forms of criminality, the largest disruptive forces facing the private sector.

 

Transportation-Safety Situation

 

For more information, review OSAC’s report, Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

 

Road Safety and Road Conditions

 

Driving is a major safety concern. Traffic law enforcement is practically non-existent. Low-level police corruption remains rampant, and drivers can expect police to request cash bribes on site. Automobiles share the road with mopeds, motorcycles, bicycles, donkey carts, and pedestrians, many of whom do not look before they venture into the street. Many drivers lack rudimentary driving skills. Many vehicles, including public transportation vans and taxis, are in poor maintenance, overloaded, and break down frequently. Drive defensively and expect the unexpected from fellow drivers. Driving at night in Bamako can be hazardous, as many vehicles lack headlights and roads are poorly illuminated. Avoid travel at night on foot, since poor lighting increases the chance of a vehicle striking you.

 

Mali continues to improve paved roads leading from Bamako to most major cities in the south; however, this has resulted in many accidents due to speeding. The rainy season (June-September) can make many of the roads outside the capital impassable. Deep sand and ditches are common, even on major routes; always use four-wheel-drive vehicles with spare tires and emergency equipment and/or roadside assistance kits. Travel overland in convoys and with long-range communications capability. There is only limited cellular phone coverage in many areas; use satellite phones if practicable. Limit overland travel to daylight hours to avoid the risk of banditry, which increases at night, and vehicular accidents due to poorly illuminated roadways.

 

Traffic police are routinely slow to respond to accidents; drivers often resolve accidents without the assistance of the police by mutually agreeing on a sum of money to cover damages. Local drivers expect motorists involved in an accident resulting in injury to pay for the immediate medical treatment of the injured, regardless of who was at fault. Crowds commonly gather at the scene of an accident/altercation, and support either party involved; this can potentially threaten the safety of the parties if tensions escalate. Vigilante street justice is common. Most accidents occur between cars and motorcycles, often resulting in injury of the motorcyclist. Malian law dictates that able parties “assist someone in danger” (i.e., the injured party), regardless of who is at fault; refusal to do so is not only contrary to local custom, but also a violation of law. Locals widely perceive Westerners as the ‘able party’ in these circumstances.

 

For more information on driving, review OSAC’s reports, Driving Overseas: Best Practices and Road Safety in Africa.

 

Public Transportation Conditions

 

The U.S. Embassy does not recommend the use of local taxis, but taxis are widely available in and around Bamako. Taxis can be in poor mechanical condition, and the skills of the drivers vary. If you use taxis, take extreme care. Negotiate a rate with the driver before getting into the vehicle; it is common for foreigners to receive a higher price quote than local passengers would pay. Streets in Bamako are usually unmarked and unnamed, and addresses are not normally in use; be prepared to give detailed instructions of where you want to go if the driver is unfamiliar with the destination.

 

Aviation/Airport Conditions

 

Because there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Mali, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Mali’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization safety standards. Several major international carriers (e.g. Air France, Royal Air Maroc, Kenya Airways, Turkish Airlines, Ethiopian Airlines) fly directly into Bamako on a daily basis. A new terminal at the recently expanded Bamako-Senou International Airport (BKO) is now open. Malian customs and security forces installed a passenger screening system at the airport to enhance air transit security monitoring. Allow a minimum of three hours for check-in and screening procedures.

 

There are no commercial in-country flights, although charter planes are available. The UN Humanitarian Assistance Services (UNHAS) offers infrequent air service to humanitarian workers to Mopti, Gao, Timbuktu, and Kidal regions.

 

Terrorism Threat

 

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

 

There is a serious risk from terrorist in Bamako.

 

The Malian government is still in the process of implementing a peace accord with representatives of the northern armed groups, and has taken little meaningful action to implement the accord. Extremists and criminal groups operating in northern Mali continue to act as spoilers to the peace process and threaten those seeking to return government authority or deliver humanitarian services. A significant driver of insecurity in the center is the increased inter-ethnic conflict that resulted in more than 200 civilian deaths in the Mopti region in 2018.

 

While terrorist attacks in the north of Mali remain at previous levels, those in the center increased significantly in 2018, especially in the Mopti and northern Ségou regions of the country. The 2017 merger of four terrorist groups to form Jama’a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin (JNIM, the “Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims”) and the recent emergence of ISIS in the Greater Sahel (ISIS-GS) were also underlying factors in the increased violence. Terrorist and armed groups continue plotting kidnappings and attacks in Mali. They may attack with little or no warning, targeting nightclubs, hotels, restaurants, places of worship, Western diplomatic missions, and other locations foreigners frequent. Terrorists in Mali seek to target foreigners, in addition to their continued efforts to undermine the national reconciliation process.

 

Thousands of military and civilian personnel working at the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission (MINUSMA), the European Union Training Mission to Mali (EUTM), the EU Capacity Building Mission in Mali (EUCAP) and the Department of State’s Antiterrorism Assistance Program (ATA) are making concerted efforts toward security sector reform with assistance from the international community. Additionally, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Chad, and Burkina Faso have jointly created the G5-Sahel force to combat terrorism in the Mali/Niger/Burkina Faso tri-border region. The force headquarters moved to Bamako after its initial site in Sevaré (in central Mali) suffered a major attack in June 2018. Regional efforts to clear out terrorists in the lawless regions in the Sahel, and stabilize the center of Mali, have begun.

 

Much work remains for Malian security services to be capable of controlling extremist and criminal organizations. Large swaths of northern Mali remain largely cut off from effective state control, including many parts of the Timbuktu and Gao regions, as well as portions of the central Mopti region. While it is impossible to prevent active shooter attacks – the preferred tactic for Mali-based terrorist groups in locations foreigners frequent in major cities across West Africa – Malian security services need better training to improve their response to such attacks.

 

MINUSMA is usually the primary target for terrorist attacks, with facilities located in the areas where terrorism is most prevalent. MINUSMA experienced continuous threats from terrorist elements in 2018. Two of the three largest complex terrorist attacks in 2018 targeted MINUSMA. These three attacks – which involved between 50 and 150 insurgents, multiple VBIEDs, heavy machine guns, indirect fire, rocket propelled grenades, and small arms fire – include:

 

·         an October attack against the UN camp in Ber that left two dead and a dozen wounded;

·         an April attack against the MINUSMA supercamp in Timbuktu that left several dead and scores wounded. In addition to MINUSMA, terrorists target the military and G5-Sahel; and

·         a June complex attack against the G5 Sahel headquarters in Sevaré, which forced the command to move to Bamako.

 

While JNIM claimed all three attacks, other terrorist groups operating in Mali continue smaller attacks against camps and convoy supply routes. MINUSMA remains the deadliest UN peacekeeping mission in the world.

 

While terrorist attacks are much less common in southern Mali than in the northern and central regions, there have been numerous terrorist attacks in the south since 2015. Several of these attacks in southern Mali were the work of JNIM and ISIS-GS. Most recently, JNIM claimed a June 2017 attack at Le Campement Kangaba, a resort popular with foreigners just outside the capital. This attack confirmed a continued terrorist ability to plan and execute attacks in Bamako.

 

Despite the successes of French counterterrorist operations, extremist groups persist in targeting Malian and Western assets, and sporadic fighting occurs between the military and armed groups. Although the security situation in Bamako remains stable, recent attacks raise concerns that security forces may be struggling to adapt to asymmetric tactics. Violent extremist elements have demonstrated their continued ability to carry out a variety of different operations in northern and central Mali, including convoy ambushes, targeted IED operations (including VBIEDs and suicide bombers), and coordinated assaults on military installations. Authorities frequently discover terrorist training camps and weapons caches.

 

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

 

There is considerable risk from political violence in Bamako. Mali held successful presidential elections in 2018. Thousands of observers dispersed throughout Mali for two rounds of presidential elections. While they reported sporadic incidents of violence and election abnormalities, the situation largely remained calm. In the lead up to the elections, the government initially denied opposition groups demonstration permits, leading to a violent demonstration in the center of Bamako in June. Facing international pressure after the heavy-handed crackdown, the government subsequently allowed several peaceful pre-election demonstrations and marches.

 

Poor economic conditions also inspired several marches and work stoppages in Bamako. Public sector workers routinely go on strike and take to the streets. This can result in unexpected traffic disruptions and possibly violence.

 

Religious/Ethnic Violence

 

Interethnic violence continues to plague central Mali and the Mopti region. Several factors ranging from increased competition over land and water resources due to desertification to reduced political power have contributed to an increase in Fulani-related violence and violent extremism. The ongoing tensions involving Fulani, Taureg, and Dozo groups have led to village raids and retaliation. In June, more than 30 Fulani died in the village of Koumaga during one such attack.

 

Anti-U.S./Anti-Western Sentiment

 

There is little anti-U.S. sentiment in the country. However, as Mali continues down the path of national reconciliation with armed groups in the north, public perception of the neutrality of MINUSMA and/or French forces plays an important role in the potential for civil unrest against Western interests. Local populations have demonstrated against MINUSMA and French activities. U.S. citizens should be sensitive to the negative public sentiments toward these forces.

 

Post-specific Concerns

 

Critical Infrastructure

 

Communication infrastructure in Mali is of limited coverage and speed. International telephone calls are expensive, and you cannot make collect calls from outside of Bamako. There are a number of internet service providers in Mali, many of which operate on cellular networks.

 

Personal Identity Concerns

Domestic violence, including spousal abuse, is common. Although the law prohibits spousal abuse, it does not prohibit domestic violence. The minimum age to marry without parental consent is 16 for females and 18 for males. Girls may marry with parental consent at age 15 if a civil judge approves. However, child marriage remains a common practice. Female genital mutilation/cutting is legal and widely practiced, although prohibited in government-funded healthcare centers.

There are no legal restrictions on same-sex sexual relations or the organization of LGBTI events in Mali. Societal discrimination, however, is widespread. LGBTI individuals have experienced physical, psychological, and sexual violence, which society views as corrective punishment; police frequently refuse to intervene. Most LGBTI individuals isolate themselves and keep their sexual identity hidden.

 

There is no law protecting the rights of persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, or in the provision of other state services, nor requiring accommodation and access to public facilities. No special accommodations or officially reduced fares or rates are available to persons with disabilities in public transportation or taxis, communications, lodging, medical facilities, restaurants, cafés, bars or other tourist spots. Footpaths and pedestrian-friendly road crossings are rare and generally are inaccessible to persons with disabilities.

 

Kidnapping Threat

 

Kidnapping is an ongoing threat in northern and central Mali. The State Department released a number of security alerts drawing attention to kidnapping-related risks in Mali. In 2017, a Colombian nun in the Sikasso Region became the seventh westerner kidnapped in Mali since 2013. In July 2018, JNIM released a video of six hostages it held in Mali. The video also contained footage of U.S. missionaries working in Koutiala, reinforcing the belief that missionaries and people working for faith-based organizations may be targets. For more information, review OSAC’s report, Kidnapping: The Basics.

 

 

Police Response

 

Although willing to assist and provide services, local police are poorly trained, poorly paid, and lack resources to combat crime effectively. Police and emergency responders have requested money in return for providing what U.S. citizens view as routine police services. Legitimate police security checks are frequent and usually comprise two or more police officers located at main intersections or near bridges. Calls to police stations for urgent assistance have often generated responses that no officers are available, or that there is no fuel for response vehicles. If the police do respond, many lack investigative skills to solve the most basic crimes or to identify and arrest suspects.

 

The Malian government considers security sector reform a key policy priority and has initiated – with support from the international community –significant efforts to reform and rebuild its security forces. Support from the international community focuses on improving Police, Gendarme, and National Guard performance, capability, and institutional capacity. This support ranges from equipment provision to strategic planning and crisis response development. The European Union Training Mission (EUTM) to Mali is heavily involved in the military reform and restructuring efforts.

 

Carry copies of your passport data and visa pages with you in the event police stop or detain you. Do not hand over originals if possible.

 

Police/Security Agencies

 

The Government of Mali has extended a State of Emergency through October 2019, giving security forces broader power to limit protests, detain individuals, search people and property, and restrict movement. The organization of security forces starts with the Ministry of Security and Civil Protection. This Ministry is composed of four main branches: the National Police, Civil Protection, National Gendarmerie, and the National Guard. The Gendarmerie and National Guard are military organizations that also come under the Ministry of Defense but are affiliated with the Ministry of Security to reinforce police operations in major cities, particularly during riots or civil unrest. Law enforcement is the responsibility of the National Police. National Police responsibilities are concentrated exclusively in urban areas, while the Gendarmerie is primarily responsible for rural areas.

 

Contracting local guards is a popular mechanism for protecting property and services. Many businesses and expatriate residents employ full-time guards to protect residences and office facilities.

 

Medical Emergencies

 

Medical care generally does not meet U.S. standards. For those traveling outside of Bamako, medical facilities are scarce and may only provide basic care. All travelers should prepare a medical emergency kit including first aid supplies and malaria prophylactic/treatment medications.

 

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

 

The Pasteur clinic is a multi-specialty clinic with emergency capabilities and a small hospital. Although temporarily closed due to a minor Ebola case in 2015, the clinic has reopened as a viable medical facility. Hamdalaye ACI 2000, BPE 4794, Bamako; +223 2029-1010,

 

Golden Life Hospital opened in 2017 in the Badalabougou neighborhood of Bamako, and employs 11 specialists. The hospital contains an emergency room, operating rooms, and a VIP suite. Badalabougou sur la Corniche, Rue 50, Porte. 734; +223 2022-9999, +223 2022-1111

 

The Hospital of Mali opened on the east end of Bamako in 2012. Located in the Missabougou area of Sotuba, it offers limited medical services. The Hospital Gabriel Toure is the largest facility in Bamako, offering a range of emergency and medical services. Avenue Al Quds, Medina Coure, city center, +223 2222-7122. These hospitals are far below U.S. or European standards. There is no national capacity to deal with a mass casualty incident.

 

Available Air Ambulance Services

 

International SOS provides reliable air ambulance service, but requires approximately 24-48 hours response time. All travelers should secure adequate medical evacuation (medevac) insurance and bear proof of that coverage at all times. Local medical capacity is extremely limited.

 

CDC Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

 

Malaria is a common and potentially deadly infection for travelers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends taking antimalarial medication before, during, and after travel to Mali. Other diseases that may affect travelers to the region include dengue, schistosomiasis, polio, and lassa virus. In 2014, Mali detected its first case of Ebola. As of 2015, Mail was already free of Ebola, but remains on high alert for further cases. In 2017, the CDC designated Mali as a country at risk for an outbreak of the Zika virus. Because Zika infection in a pregnant woman can cause serious birth defects, women who are pregnant or who may become pregnant should not travel to Mali. All travelers should strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites and sexual exposure to Zika virus during and after the trip. The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Mali.

 

For more information, refer to OSAC’s Report, Traveling with Medications.

 

OSAC Country Council Information

 

The OSAC Country Council in Mali was established in 2017. The Regional Security Officer is available to meet with representatives of U.S. private-sector organizations and provide information on the current security situation in country.

 

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

 

The Embassy is located in ACI 2000, Rue 243, Porte 297, Bamako

 

Business hours: Monday-Thursday, 0730-1700; Friday, 0730-1130

 

Embassy Contact Numbers

 

Embassy Switchboard: +223-2070-2300

Regional Security Office: +223-2070-2552

Consular Section: +223-2070-2505

https://ml.usembassy.gov/

 

Embassy Guidance

 

U.S. citizens in Mali should enroll in the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). By enrolling, you will receive security updates, and the Embassy can contact you more easily in case of emergency.

 

Additional Resources:

 

Mali Country Information Page

 

Travel to High-Risk Areas Webpage

 

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