Spotlight Mali

Mali is one of the world’s 25 poorest countries – a tragic fact considering its illustrious past as part of the ancient African empires which controlled all trade in the Sahara region. Mali is home to many famous attractions – including the Niger River, archaeological sites, cultural festivals, and the city of Timbuktu. Located in West Africa, it is a landlocked country surrounded by neighbors Algeria, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger, Cote D’Ivoire, Guinea and Senegal.

Mali was formerly part of the Sudanese Republic and was governed by France until it separated in 1960. From then on it was under a dictatorship until 1991 when a military coup overthrew the government and instituted democracy. This coup was led by the current president Amadou Toure, who was elected in 2002 and again in 2007. Mali has one of the strongest democracies in Africa, with a multiparty system and a prohibition against parties that are based on ethnic, religious, or gender lines.

The people of Mali hail from many diverse ethnic groups and while French is the official language, 80% of the population communicates in Bambara. Mali has always had relatively harmonious inter-ethnic relations. About 10% of the Malian population is nomadic.

Mali has a frail economy and is heavily dependent on foreign aid from multilateral source, such as the World Bank and African Development Bank, as well as bilateral sources, including the United States and the European Union. Agriculture accounts for 70% of the labor force, even though most of the land in Mali is desert or semi-desert and not conducive to agriculture. The only areas that are very agriculturally productive are on the banks of the Niger River.

Mali has made great strides in the past decade to combat its poverty, although it still has far to go. The GDP in 2009 was $15.68 billion and the GDP per capita was $1,200. Within the rural population of Mali, over 77% live in poverty. Less than half of the population is literate and unemployment remains a stable obstacle to economic development.

Mali has an excellent relationship with the United States, and one that is still expanding. The relationship is centered on mutual efforts to increase growth, improve health and education, reduce population growth, combat the spread of disease, and strengthen democracy and human rights. Mali is also a regional partner for the US in counterterrorism and anti-malaria medication testing. While Mali is still a small market for US trade and investment, it is expanding as the economy grows.

Unemployment in Mali is especially difficult for the young people, including those with a college education. People are leaving the rural areas and flooding the cities, creating incredibly high competition for the limited employment opportunities. Many educated youths lack real business skills and knowledge that could give them an advantage in finding work.

AFRILINK’s mission is to foster entrepreneurial skills among the college educated in order to increase their capacity to become financially secure. Through the YOUTH BUSINESS CLUBS and mentorships that AFRILINK will provide, the youth participants will develop entrepreneurial skills that will empower them to start businesses, generate employment for others, and create sustainable change for their community.

AFRILINK will establish a Mali-based board of directors in order to allow the program to be modified to the specific and unique needs of the community in Mali. AFRILINK encourages local ownership of the development process and acknowledges how important it is to have decisions made locally by someone who truly understands the community. The board in Mali will work in partnership with the US-based board of directors.