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Mali 2014 Crime and Safety Report

Africa > Mali; Africa > Mali > Bamako

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

Mali has begun recovering from the 2012-2013 crises of governance, rebellion, terrorism, civil unrest, and humanitarian calamities. French military intervention in January 2013, the deployment of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission (MINUSMA) in July 2013, and presidential and legislative elections in the summer and fall of 2013 have all helped Mali regain control of its northern territories, which were lost to extremists in 2012. However, continued threats and attacks by terrorist elements and a fragile national reconciliation effort underscore the continued dynamic security situation in Mali. 

Since the start of the French military intervention, there has been an increase in business transactions -- mainly in Bamako -- in some of the worst-hit sectors: hospitality, manufacturing, and retail. The arrival of thousands of military and civilian personnel associated with the French and African troops, the European Union Training Mission to Mali (EUTM), and MINUSMA has breathed new life into Mali’s struggling economy. The largest businesses in Bamako are again earning a profit. Government and financial services are slowly restarting in the northern regions of Timbuktu, Gao, and Kidal, primarily in the banking, energy, and transportation sectors. However, problems of unemployment, food insecurity, and long-term economic underdevelopment persist. 

Crime Threats

Bamako is rated critical for crime. The majority of reported attacks have targeted unaccompanied individuals and ranged from muggings at gun/knife point to physical assaults. Although most crimes are opportunistic and non-violent, criminals are often armed with guns or knives and will not hesitate to use violence if they encounter resistance from their victim. There are periodic reports of nighttime robberies of commercial establishments (such as restaurants and convenience stores) in the capital. Residential break-ins are not common 

Overall Road Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Driving is a major safety concern. Automobiles share the road with numerous 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, and many vehicles, including public transportation vans and taxis, are poorly maintained, overloaded, and break down frequently. Americans are advised to drive defensively and expect the unexpected. Driving at night in Bamako is very hazardous, as many vehicles lack headlights, and roads are poorly illuminated. 

The Embassy strongly recommends against the use of local taxis; if taxis are used, extreme care should be taken. Taxis can be in poor mechanical condition, and the skills of the drivers vary. Passengers should negotiate a rate with the driver before getting into the vehicle. It is common for Americans to be charged a higher price than local passengers would pay. Street addresses are not normally used, so passengers should be prepared to give detailed instructions of where they want to go if the driver is unfamiliar with the destination. Several Americans have reported that they have been passengers in taxis that were pulled over by the police late at night. 

Enforcement of traffic laws is practically non-existent. While instances of corruption among police officials have decreased in recent months, the problem of low-level police corruption remains endemic. Traffic police have made a visible effort to help control traffic flows and respond to road accidents. Crowds commonly gather at the scene of an accident or altercation. Crowds have become involved have the potential to threaten the safety of one of the parties. Vigilantism does occur, though generally not in situations involving expatriates. 

While Mali does have paved roads from Bamako to most major cities in the south, the rainy season (June-September) can make most of the roads outside the capital impassable. Deep sand and ditches are common on the major routes. Four-wheel drive vehicles with spare tires and emergency equipment are recommended. Travel overland is best done in convoys with two or more vehicles and long-range communications capability. Cellular phone coverage is limited in many areas, so satellite phones are advised, if practicable. Travelers are strongly urged to limit overland travel to daylight hours to avoid the risk of banditry, which typically occurs at night. 

The government’s enhanced security efforts have increased the presence of military and police checkpoints around the city and in parts of the country. Within Bamako, security forces are posted at many official residences, government buildings, embassies, and other official buildings. Legitimate police security checks are two or more police officers in uniform and are most often located at main intersections. Legitimate checkpoints are well established, although not permanent. Road travelers are advised to approach security checkpoints slowly and comply with instructions. Vehicle and personal identification documents should be maintained. Authorities are likely to search vehicles on major routes into Bamako and other urban centers and in areas around military and government installations. 

Because there is no direct commercial air service to the U.S. by carriers registered in Mali, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed the government’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization safety standards. Several major international carriers, such as Air France, Royal Air Maroc, and TAP airlines, do fly directly to Bamako. Bamako-Senou International Airport is open, and flights operate on a daily basis. There are no commercial in-country flights, although charter planes are available. Security at the airport continues to improve, albeit slowly, and travelers are advised to allow a minimum of three hours for check-in and screening procedures.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

France launched its military intervention, Operation Serval, in January 2013 that, alongside troops from the African-led International Support Mission to Mali (AFISMA), dislodged violent extremist elements from the northern two-thirds of Mali after their nearly year-long occupation of northern territories. The transition to MINUSM in July 2013 established the mechanism meant to provide security in northern areas while international partners help broker negotiations between the government and northern armed groups and support national reconciliation processes. Although the negotiation and reconciliation process is ongoing, there have been a variety of obstacles that have slowed progress toward a sustainable peace agreement or ceasefire. These challenges have ranged from the fractious nature of alliances within and among the northern armed groups to the demands of a government eager to flex its newly-recovered sovereignty after the humiliation of the past two years. The lack of a peace agreement and the undefeated extremist elements has prevented civil and humanitarian recovery in many areas in the north. 

Civil Unrest 

In the summer and fall of 2013, Mali held presidential and legislative elections that witnessed historically high voter participation. While some demonstrations did occur, there were very few incidents of violence during the election season. The newly-elected government has eagerly sought to build the capabilities of its military and security forces. As the government seeks to reestablish its sovereignty in northern territories, reconciliation efforts have proven to be fragile and, in some cases, have erupted in violence. Several attempts by various government leaders to visit northern cities have resulted in violent protests by the local populations. These types of events remain exclusive to the north. Demonstrations do occur in the capital but have been well-controlled and generally non-violent. 

Post-specific Concerns

Regional Travel Concerns and Restricted Travel Areas/Zones

Despite the significant successes of French offensive and counterterrorist operations, military operations continue to take place in the northern region of the country based on the persistent presence of extremist and militant factions and their capabilities to target Malian and western targets, including UN and French assets. Although the security situation in Bamako remains relatively static, there are continued concerns that Bamako remains a viable target for these groups. In January 2014, extremist leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar reemphasized his pledge to target France and its allies in Mali in retaliation for Operation Serval. Violent extremist elements have demonstrated their ability to carry out a variety of different operations in northern Mali, including vehicle-borne and person-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIED and PBIED); armed assaults; indirect fire and hand grenade attacks; and other attacks against foreign nationals, including kidnappings. Training camps and weapons caches continue to be discovered. Two French journalists were kidnapped then killed in November 2013 in the Kidal region.

Americans are currently warned against all travel to Mali because of ongoing fighting in the country, fluid political situations, and continuing threat of attacks and kidnappings of Westerners. While the security situation in Bamako has remained relatively stable, security concerns and military operations continue throughout parts of the country. U.S. citizens who are in country are urged to exercise caution, be particularly alert to their surroundings, and exercise prudence if choosing to visit locations frequented by Westerners in and around Bamako.

Police Response

Police are poorly trained and lack resources to combat crime effectively. Calls to police stations for urgent assistance have often generated responses that no officers are available or that there is no gasoline for response vehicles. If the police do respond, many lack investigative skills to solve the most basic crimes or to identify and arrest suspects. 

Since the inauguration of the new president in September 2013, the government has made the reform of Mali’s security sector a key policy priority and has – with support from the international community – initiated significant efforts to reform and rebuild Mali’s security forces. Support from the international community is focused on improving police, Gendarme, and National Guard performance and capability. This support ranges from equipment provisions to national security strategic planning and crisis response development. The EUTM is heavily involved in the efforts to reform and restructure Mali’s military. 

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

If involved in an accident or confronted by police, it is better to provide only copies of documents. Originals should not be handed over, if possible. Police and emergency responders have been known request money in return for providing what Americans view as routine police services.

Rogue police elements and bandits posing as police officers will often stop vehicles and demand money. These incidents should be reported to the nearest police station as well as to the Regional Security Officer. 

Where to Turn to for Assistance if you Become a Victim of Crime

Traffic police are routinely slow to respond to accidents, and drivers often resolve the accident by mutually agreeing on a sum of money to cover damages in order to settle the accident without police. Motorists involved in an accident resulting in injury are expected to pay for the immediate medical treatment of the injured regardless of who was at fault. It is also common for a crowd to form at the scent of most accidents, posing a potential risk to those involved in the accident.

Americans who are the victim of a crime should contact the U.S. Embassy to seek assistance at 223-2070-2300.

Various Police/Security Agencies 

The organization of security forces starts with the Ministry of Internal Security and Civil Protection, now known as the Ministry of Security. 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 but are affiliated with the Ministry of Security to reinforce police operations in major cities, particularly during riots and civil unrest. Law enforcement is the responsibility of the National Police. Police responsibilities are concentrated exclusively in urban areas, while the Gendarmerie is primarily responsible for rural areas. 

Many Western businesses and expatriates employ full-time guards to protect residences.

Medical Emergencies 

Medical care generally does not meet U.S. standards; the hospitals listed below are far from U.S. or European standards. The U.S. Embassy cannot emphasize strongly enough the importance of securing adequate medical evacuation insurance and bearing proof of that coverage at all times. For those traveling outside of Bamako, medical facilities are scarce and may be austere. All travelers are encouraged to prepare a medical emergency kit, including first aid supplies and malaria prophylactic/treatment medications.

Contact Information for Recommended Local Hospitals and Clinics

The Pasteur Clinic, at Boulevard N’Krumah, Bamako, tel: (223) 2029-1010 is a private clinic and advertises 24-hour emergency room capabilities, an intensive care unit, a cardiologist, anesthesiologist, radiologist, a general surgeon, and an orthopedic surgeon. These specialties may be available but are commonly absent. For Americans experiencing the most common medical emergencies, Pasteur Clinic is the preferred facility. 

The Hospital of Mali opened in 2012 in the Missabougou area of Sotuba and offers limited medical services on the east end of town. 

The Hospital Gabriel Toure is the largest facility in Bamako (at Avenue Al Quds, Medina Coure, city center, tel: (223) 2222-7122) and offers a full range of emergency and medical services. 

Recommended Air Ambulance Services

International SOS provides reliable air ambulance service but requires approximately 24-48 hours response time. 

CDC Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance 

Malaria is common, particularly during the rainy season. 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 region are dengue, schistosomiasis, polio, and lassa virus. For additional vaccine and health guidance, please visit the CDC at: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/traveler/none/mali.

Tips on How to Avoid Becoming a Victim

Areas to be Avoided 

All travelers are advised to avoid the northern parts of the country due to extremist activities, threats of kidnapping, and criminal activity. Although French and international forces have weakened extremists’ abilities to operate there in the past year, northern Mali remains desolate, difficult to patrol, and continues to provide some sanctuary for extremists groups. 

The train station in downtown Bamako is a gathering place for criminals and prostitutes and should be avoided by visitors.

Best Situational Awareness Practices

Visitors to Bamako are advised to practice the same personal security precautions they would in any large city. Visitors should be vigilant and maintain awareness at all times in crowded areas, such as markets. Be aware of anyone who jostles you, even if it appears innocent. This is often a ploy used by pickpockets, including children, to distract you. Do not carry, let alone display, large sums of money. Do not carry anything that cannot be easily replaced. Theft of unattended items is common. 

There have been reports of drug trafficking and prostitution in some restaurants and hotels in the capital. Visitors should avoid wandering around in remote areas of the city by themselves, particularly at night. It is best to travel in groups and stay in well-lit areas. Travel at night on foot should be avoided since the roads are often poorly lit, increasing the chance of being struck by a vehicle or motorbike. 

Although it is not against the law to take photographs, care should be exercised and permission should be requested before taking pictures or video. Photographs and video, however, should not be taken of sensitive buildings: those belong to the police, military, or embassies, including the U.S. Embassy. MINUSMA headquarters in L’Amitie hotel also prohibits photography, and offenders can be arrested. 

Americans are strongly encouraged to carry with them copies of their passport data and visa pages in the event they are stopped. 

Thefts from hotel rooms may occur. Visitors are advised not to leave anything of value in their room and to ensure that hotel room doors are locked while sleeping in the room. 

Proper locks and solid doors are warranted on residences.

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information 

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation 

The Embassy is located in ACI 2000, Rue 243, Porte 297, Bamako, Mali. The Embassy’s mailing address is B.P. 34, Bamako, Mali. 

The U.S. Embassy business hours are Monday-Thursday, 07:30 AM-5:00 PM and Fridays, 07:30 AM-11:30 AM. 

Embassy Contact Numbers

Embassy Switchboard: +223-2070-2300
Regional Security Office: +223-2070-2552
Consular Section: +223-2070-2505
Emergency After-Hours: +223-2070-2301/2302

OSAC Country Council Information

There is no formal OSAC Country Council in Mali. The Regional Security Officer is available to meet with American business representatives and provide information on the current security situation.