Overall Crime and Safety Situation
U.S. Embassy Bamako does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The ACS Unit cannot recommend a particular individual or location and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.
THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED BAMAKO AS BEING A CRITICAL-THREAT LOCATION FOR CRIME DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS
Please review OSAC’s Mali-specific webpage for proprietary analytic reports, Consular Messages, and contact information.
Although most crimes are non-violent, criminals can be violent. Victims face threats from firearms and physical assault, and they regularly report property theft. In recent years, several expatriates have been victims of attempted carjacking. In 2016, there was an increase of violent attacks on Embassy staff members/residences. This included an attempted mugging, armed theft near an Embassy home, and armed robberies occurring inside markets frequented by local Embassy staff. However, the majority of reported attacks have targeted unaccompanied individuals and ranged from muggings at knife/gun point to physical assaults.
Marketplaces and popular public areas in downtown Bamako are gathering places for criminals and prostitutes. There have been reports of drug trafficking and prostitution in some restaurants and hotels in Bamako.
There have been multiple reports of suspects posing as police officers who pull vehicles over at illegal traffic stops, during which they attempt to extort money under threat of violence.
There are periodic reports of nighttime robberies of commercial establishments (restaurants, convenience stores, small businesses) in Bamako. Residential break-ins are not common, although proper locks and solid doors are warranted.
The Malian National Police Commissioner released some crime statistics for the first half of 2016. The statistics reflected 996 instances of theft, 32 cases of armed robbery, 7 cases of sexual assault, and 18 cases of homicide in Bamako. These statistics are preliminary. Statistics were released for 2016 that showed approximately 10,382 arrests, 3,711 accidents, and 186 deaths in Mali.
Vigilante street justice is common.
Other Areas of Concern
Cellular phone coverage is limited in many areas, and satellite phones are advised.
Northern Mali remains desolate, difficult to patrol, and continues to provide sanctuary for extremists groups. All travelers are advised to avoid the northern parts of the country due to terrorist and criminal activities, the threat of kidnapping, and ongoing military operations.
Road Safety and Road Conditions
Enforcement of traffic laws is practically non-existent.
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 without the assistance of the 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. Crowds commonly gather at the scene of an accident/altercation. Crowds have become involved and have the potential to threaten the safety of the parties. Malian law dictates that able parties “assist someone in danger”, regardless of who is at fault, and refusal to do so is not only contrary to local customs, but also a violation of law. Westerners are widely perceived as being the ‘able party’ in these circumstances. Most accidents occur between cars and motorcycles, often resulting in injury of the motorcyclist.
Low-level police corruption remains endemic, 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, and many vehicles (public transportation vans and taxis) are poorly maintained, overloaded, and break down frequently.
Americans are advised to drive defensively and expect the unexpected from drivers. Driving at night in Bamako can be hazardous, as many vehicles lack headlights, and roads are poorly illuminated. Some minor road safety improvements were done for the January 2017 Africa-France Summit. 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 on the major routes. Four-wheel drive vehicles with spare tires and emergency equipment and/or roadside assistance kits are recommended. Travel overland is best done in convoys and with long-range communications capability. Travelers are strongly urged to limit overland travel to daylight hours to avoid the risk of banditry -- typical at night -- and of poorly illuminated roadways.
Public Transportation Conditions
The U.S. Embassy does not recommend the use of local taxis, but taxis are widely available in/around Bamako. Taxis can be in poor mechanical condition, and the skills of the drivers vary. If taxis are used, extreme care should be taken, and passengers should negotiate a rate with the driver before getting in. It is common for foreigners to be charged a higher price than local passengers would pay. Streets are not widely marked; named/addresses are not normally used, so passengers should be prepared to give detailed instructions of where they want to go.
Because there is no direct commercial air service to the U.S. by carriers registered in Mali, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has not assessed Mali’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization safety standards. Bamako-Senou International Airport was recently expanded, and the new terminal is open. Malian customs and security forces installed a passenger screening system to enhance air transit security monitoring. Travelers are advised to 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 offers infrequent air service to humanitarian workers to Mopti, Gao, Timbuktu, and Kidal regions.
THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED BAMAKO AS BEING A CRITICAL-THREAT LOCATION FOR TERRORIST ACTIVITY DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.
Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns
MINUSMA is usually the primary target for terrorist attacks. Open source reporting notes in 2016 there were 118 attacks in Mali against MINUSMA elements. There was a significant increase in rocket attacks and improvised explosive device (IED) incidents in Gao, Timbuktu, and Kidal regions in early 2016.
- On March 21, 2016, two gunmen opened fire onto the grounds of the European Union Training Mission (EUTM).
- The MINUSMA camp in Kidal was attacked in February 2016. A truck bomb and simultaneous indirect fire killed seven peacekeepers and wounded over 30 others.
Malian Armed Forces and other security services are also often targeted by terrorists.
Violent extremist elements have demonstrated their persistent ability to carry out a variety of operations in northern Mali, including vehicle-borne and person-borne improvised explosive devices; convoy ambushes; targeted IED operations; and coordinated assaults on military installations. Training camps and weapons caches continue to be discovered. The frequency of IED detonations in the northern regions increased significantly in 2016.
In 2016, terrorist attacks occurred more frequently near the central area of Mali, including an armed assault on a Malian Army base in Nampala that left 17 soldiers dead, and 35 others injured. Additionally, suspected jihadists launched an attack on a prison near Banamba, where approximately 100 prisoners were freed and one guard was killed. With the restoration of democracy and advances in the peace process in 2016, the possibility of terrorist attacks and/or violent civil unrest appears likely to continue or increase in 2017.
While southern Mali was largely isolated from terrorist attacks in 2015, there were four known terrorist attacks: La Terrasse restaurant and Radisson Blu hotel in March and November 2015, respectively; and, two attacks along the Cote d’Ivoire border in Misseni and Fakola in May and June 2015. The La Terrasse and Radisson Blu attacks were the first reported terrorist attacks in southern Mali. Although the security situation in Bamako remains relatively stable, recent terrorist attacks raise concerns that security forces are struggling to adapt to asymmetric attacks. Given a history of terrorist attacks against soft targets in Mali, visitors are advised to consider carrying their own door stop to secure their hotel room.
As Mali continues down the path of national reconciliation with armed groups in the north, public perception of the neutrality of MINUSMA/French forces plays an important role in the potential for civil unrest against Western interests. Local populations have demonstrated against MINUSMA and French activities. American citizens should be sensitive to the negative public sentiments toward these forces.
Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence
THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED BAMAKO AS BEING A HIGH-THREAT LOCATION FOR POLITICAL VIOLENCE DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.
Despite the full signature of the Algiers Agreement in June 2015, the lack of progress by the government in implementing the peace accord continues to threaten government stability. In 2016, there was an uptick in protests, particularly in the summer months that ended with violent responses by host nation security forces in some cases.
- Smaller protests erupted in/around the city over the summer when Malian police forced street vendors in downtown Bamako to remove their shops in preparation for the Africa-France Summit. Some vendors responded with force and created roadblocks in congested areas.
- On 17 August, the arrest of a famous radio announcer on charges of “public slander” against Malian officials sparked mass protests in the Lafiabougou neighborhood in Bamako. Reports stated that one civilian was killed, as well as host nation security forces possibly sustaining injuries.
Kidnapping remains an ongoing threat in northern Mali, and the State Department released a number of security alerts in 2016.
- On December 24, a French citizen working for a Swiss NGO was abducted in Gao; no one has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping.
- On October 14, an American citizen, who was a longtime resident in western Niger, was abducted near the Mali border by armed gunmen and is allegedly being held in northern Mali. The gunmen killed the American citizen’s bodyguards. Various groups claimed responsibility for the kidnapping.
- On January 15, an Australian couple, who were longtime residents, was abducted in northern Burkina Faso along the Mali/Niger border and were reportedly transported to Mali. Although one was released in February 2016, the other is still missing.
- On January 7, 2016, a Swiss citizen, who was a long-term resident in Timbuktu, was abducted in her home.
There is also one South African, one Swede, and one Romanian citizen reportedly being held in Mali. It is assessed that there are seven persons held in captivity in Mali.
The Malian government considers 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 sector. Although willing to assist and provide a service, police are poorly trained, poorly paid, and lack resources to combat crime effectively. Often times, police and emergency responders request money in return for providing what Americans view as routine police services.
Legitimate security checkpoints are frequent and usually comprised of two or more police officers located at main intersections or near bridges. Americans are strongly encouraged to carry with them copies of their passport data and visa pages in case they are detained/stopped by police. Originals should not be handed over if at all possible.
Although it is not generally against the law to take photographs, individuals should request permission and exercise care in taking pictures and video. Photographs and video should not be taken of sensitive buildings (police, military, or embassies, including the U.S. Embassy). The UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission (MINUSMA) headquarters also prohibits photography; offenders have been arrested. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report “Picture This: Dos and Don’ts for Photography.”
Crime Victim Assistance
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.
The organization of security forces starts with the Ministry of Internal 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/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.
Contracting local guards is a popular mechanism for protecting property and services, and many businesses and expatriates employ full-time guards to protect residences and office facilities.
Medical care generally does not meet U.S. standards. Medical facilities are scarce and may be austere outside of Bamako. All travelers are encouraged to prepare a medical emergency kit (first aid supplies, malaria prophylactic/treatment medications).
Contact Information for Available Medical Services
Hospitals are far below U.S. or European standards. There is no national capacity to deal with a mass casualty incident.
The Pasteur clinic is a multi-specialty clinic with emergency capabilities and a small hospital. The Pasteur clinic is a viable medical facility and a recommended source of medical care for Americans.
The Hospital of Mali opened on the east end of Bamako in 2012 in the Missabougou area of Sotuba, and offers limited medical services.
The Hospital Gabriel Toure is the largest facility in Bamako (located at Avenue Al Quds, Medina Coure, city center, tel (223) 2222-7122) and offers a range of emergency and medical services.
Available Air Ambulance Services
International SOS provides reliable air ambulance service but requires approximately 24-48 hours response time.
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. Local medical capacity is extremely limited.
Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance
The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Mali.
OSAC Country Council Information
There is currently no active Country Council in Mali, though one will be established in 2017. Please contact OSAC’s Africa team if you are interested in private-sector engagement in Bamako or have questions about OSAC’s Country Council programs.
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
Business hours: Mon-Thurs, 0730-1700; Fri, 0730-1130
Embassy Contact Numbers
Embassy Switchboard: +223-2070-2300
Regional Security Office: +223-2070-2552
Consular Section: +223-2070-2505
U.S. citizens traveling in Mauritania are encouraged to register in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). STEP is a free service that helps the U.S. Embassy disseminate information about safety conditions and contact travelers in an emergency.
Mali Country Information Sheet