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SafetyTravel Safety: Africa: Mali

Mali: Republic of Mali
Capital: Bamako
Population: 11,340,480
Currency: Communaute Financiere Africaine franc (XOF)
Languages: French (official), Bambara 80%, numerous African languages
Religions: Muslim 90%, indigenous beliefs 9%, Christian 1%
Borders: Algeria 1,376 km, Burkina Faso 1,000 km, Guinea 858 km, Cote d'Ivoire 532 km, Mauritania 2,237 km, Niger 821 km, Senegal 419 km

Mali is a developing country in western Africa, with a stable and democratic government. Facilities for tourism are limited. The official language is French and the capital is Bamako.

The U.S. Embassy in Bamako advises American citizens to avoid travel to Mali's northern regions beyond the cities of Timbuktu and Gao, and to exercise caution when traveling in any isolated areas within Mali. U.S. Government employees serving in Mali, including those on temporary duty, are required to have approval from the Chief of Mission prior to traveling to areas north of the Niger River. Some of the towns included in this requirement are Kidal, Tessalit, Lere, Goundam, Essakane, and Menaka.

Mali's northern regions have become a safe haven for the Group Salafist for Prayer and Combat (GSPC), a terrorist group seeking the overthrow of the Algerian government. In February 2003, a GSPC faction moved into Mali's far north with 15 European hostages; one died and 14 were subsequently released to Malian authorities. The continued presence of the GSPC and other armed groups presents potential dangers to travelers. Northern Mali hosts several annual music festivals in the desert, including one north of Timbuktu at Essakane, one outside Kidal, and another near Menaka. These are official government of Mali events. The greatest caution should be used in any decision to attend these music festivals, given their remote location within regions where the GSPC has operated. Americans who plan to attend these festivals or otherwise travel to the northern regions of Mali despite this caution are urged to notify the Embassy about their plans by phone or e-mail at

Sporadic banditry and random carjackings have historically plagued Mali's vast desert and its borders with Mauritania and Niger. Banditry is not seen as targeting U.S. citizens specifically; however, acts of violence cannot be predicted.

Flying or traveling by boat to Timbuktu and other northern locations is considered to be safer than driving; local carriers provide such services. Travel overland is best done in convoys with several vehicles and with some type of long-range communications capability. When traveling into less frequented areas and off paved roads, the Embassy suggests that you provide an itinerary to a reliable friend whom you can notify of your arrival. The Embassy strongly urges all travelers to avoid traveling by car at night outside urban centers for reasons of road safety; all travelers are urged to limit overland travel to daylight hours and to avoid dirt track and unimproved roads. The roads around Timbuktu, and from Gao to Kidal and Menaka, are essentially desert tracks with long isolated stretches and travelers must be prepared to repair their vehicles should they break down or become stuck in the sand. Travelers should also carry plenty of food and water.

Instability in Cote d�Ivoire has resulted in security incidents in Mali along its southern border and travelers should maintain heightened vigilance in those areas. Throughout Mali, U.S. citizens should avoid crowds, political rallies, and street demonstrations and maintain security awareness at all times.

While violent crime in Mali is infrequent, petty crimes, such as pick pocketing and simple theft, are common in urban areas. Passports and wallets should be closely guarded when in crowded outdoor areas and open-air markets. Individuals traveling on the Bamako-Dakar railroad are advised to be vigilant for pickpockets, especially at night. While violent crime in Mali is infrequent, criminals will not hesitate to use violence if they encounter resistance on the part of their victim. There are sporadic reports of nighttime robberies occurring on the roads outside of the capital; tourists should not drive outside of Bamako at night. Travelers should stay alert, remain in groups and avoid poorly lit areas after dark.

While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Malian law, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Lengthy pre-trail detention is not uncommon. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Mali are strict, and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines.

Under the PROTECT Act of April 2003, it is a crime, prosecutable in the United States, for a U.S. citizen or permanent resident alien, to engage in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign country with a person under the age of 18, whether or not the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident alien intended to engage in such illicit sexual conduct prior to going abroad. For purposes of the PROTECT Act, illicit sexual conduct includes any commercial sex act in a foreign country with a person under the age of 18. The law defines a commercial sex act as any sex act, on account of which anything of value is given to or received by a person under the age of 18.

Under the protection of Children from Sexual Predators Act of 1998, it is a crime to use the mail or any facility of interstate or foreign commerce, including the Internet, to transmit information about a minor under the age of 16 for criminal sexual purposes that include, among other things, the production of child pornography. This same law makes it a crime to use any facility of interstate or foreign commerce, including the Internet, to transport obscene materials to minors under the age of 16.

Medical facilities in Mali are very limited, especially outside of the capital, Bamako. Psychiatric care is non-existent. The U.S. Embassy in Bamako maintains a list of physicians and other health care professionals who may see U.S.-citizen patients. The Embassy cannot guarantee these services or specifically recommend any of the physicians.

Many American medicines are unavailable; French medications are more easily found. Available medications can be obtained at pharmacies throughout Bamako, and are usually less expensive than those in the U.S. Travelers should carry with them an adequate supply of needed medicines and/or prescription drugs, along with copies of the prescriptions, including the generic name for the drugs.

While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Mali is provided for general reference only, and it may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance:

Safety of Public Transportation: Poor
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor
Availability of Roadside Assistance: Poor

Mali has a few paved roads that are in fair condition. U.S. citizens traveling by road should exercise extreme caution. Poorly maintained, overloaded transport and cargo vehicles frequently break down and cause accidents. Undisciplined drivers render traffic movements unpredictable. Construction work is often poorly indicated. Speed bumps - commonly used on paved roads in and near villages - are seldom indicated. Nighttime driving is particularly hazardous because vehicles frequently lack headlights and/or taillights. Mali's unpaved roads vary in quality. Deep sand and/or ditches are common. During the rainy season from mid-June to mid-September, dirt roads often become impassable. Four-wheel drive vehicles with full spare tires and emergency equipment are recommended.

In Mali, one drives on the right hand side of the road. In cities, speed limits can range from 40-60 kilometers an hour (25-40 miles per hour), although road conditions often call for lower speeds. On the roads between cities, the speed limit is 100 km/hr (around 65 mph), but this is often ignored.

Inter-city travel, if not organized through a tour company, can be accomplished by public bus, taxi, and, to the western Kayes region of the country only, by train. There are paved roads to Segou, Mopti and Sikasso. However, motorized vehicles must share the road with bicycles, animal driven carts, and herds of animals. Driving at night between cities is not recommended, not only because many other vehicles lack head or taillights, but also because nighttime robbery can be a problem. Overland travel after dark should be avoided.

Driving conditions in the capital of Bamako can be particularly difficult and dangerous. Few traffic signals function regularly, and drivers often do not follow the rules of the road. In particular, the small, green, van-like buses called "bashays" pay no heed to oncoming traffic, and bashay drivers are known to change lanes unexpectedly without looking. Please exercise extreme caution when driving in Bamako.

There are local drunk driving laws on the books, but they are seldom enforced. The same goes for laws regarding seat belts and child car seats. In case of an accident involving bodily injury, the person at fault is generally expected to pay all the medical bills to the injured. If an accident results in death, even if unavoidable or beyond the driver's control (e.g., if a child runs out in front of one's car), the police will often keep the driver in jail for several days to protect the driver against physical harm or other retribution from the victim's family. Most cases like this are eventually settled out of court.

There is no Malian equivalent of the 911 emergency number, and the job of transporting accident victims to the hospital is left to passers-by or the gendarmes/police if they are available. There is no service that provides roadside assistance in Mali.

The Malian authority for road safety is the Compagnie Nationale de Circulation Routiere: (223) 22-38-83.

As there is neither direct commercial air service between the United States and Mali by local carriers at present, nor economic authority to operate such service, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Mali's Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with international aviation safety standards for oversight of Mali's air carrier operations. For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the United States at telephone 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA Internet web site at

The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign air carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact the DOD at telephone 618-229-4801.

Photographing military subjects is restricted. One should also obtain explicit permission from the Malian government before photographing transportation facilities and government buildings. Taking a photograph without permission in any public area may provoke a response from security personnel or offend the people being photographed.

Please also refer to the separate Worldwide Caution Public Announcement.

July 7, 2004

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