Over the past few months several people have contacted me with the question whether or not it is safe to travel in Mali nowadays. Embassies around the globe are warning for the threat of terrorist attacks, especially in the Northern area. Tourist numbers have dropped enormously and many a Malian, depending on tourism is close to despair. But how real is the threat actually?
Yes, over the past few years there have been some kidnappings by rebellions. Not all of them actually in Mali, but as has been said the kidnappers kept their victims hostage in the desolate northern desert area of Mali, which is bordering Mauritania, Algeria and Niger.
Earlier this year the French attempted to free a Frenchman who was kept hostage in Mali. The attempt failed and the rebellions took revenge by killing the hostage, and shortly after kidnapped a group of seven, including five French, all working for French companies in Niger, probably keeping them hostage in Mali. Al Quaida’s AQIM is of the opinion that France exploits its former colonies and demands the French companies to stop their activities in Africa. The French government has also been asked to set free a group of militants and to let go of the ban of the burka.
So, it’s a fact, you could say that there have been incidents. But what does that mean for the safety of the average tourist or even foreigner living in Mali?
I’m blessed with a sixth sense when it comes to safety. I’ve traveled the world for over five years and more than once my intuition has saved me. In New Zealand for instance I felt quite uncomfortable, picking up on the undercurrents of violence, and several severe tourist attacks were reported in the time I was there. In Australia backpackers disappear on a yearly basis and the chances of getting robbed or assaulted are quite reasonable in large areas of South America.
Mali is one of the few countries I have visited that I feel comfortable and safe. Except for its capital Bamako, you can freely walk the streets at night time without encountering any trouble. People are friendly and willing to help. Yes sure, you might encounter a man who’s interested in exploring your body, but when you’re not interested they’ll leave you at peace. Pick pocketing does occur, but incidents that involve tourists do seldom occur, the punishments being severe.
When visiting the Dutch embassy last October, the embassy employee asked me where I was planning on traveling. When I mentioned Ségou, I was asked if I was sure I wanted to go there, since it had been granted the status ‘orange’ and it had been reported as being unsafe at that moment. It would be better for me to stay in Bamako (the only city in Mali I do not like too much…). The embassy employee had arrived in Mali only two months before and I’m not sure if she’d traveled out of Bamako yet to experience herself what the situation in Mali actually is like or whether she was entirely relying upon the reports that are being sent out by the French government and embassy and copied by other embassies.
I have traveled quite a bit in Mali over the past year, not having encountered any moments of feeling unsafe and I am feeling more than comfortable in my house in Ségou.
On top of that the government takes immediate action in case of any suspicious situations or threats that might involve tourists and keep careful guard of for instance the yearly Festival au Désert.
Would I say it’s safe to travel in Mali at the moment? Yes, I would!
No matter where you travel you should always use your common sense, keep track on the latest situation and take on the advice of your guide and the locals.
And if you feel like checking on the latest situation before starting your journey, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Malians would be more than happy to welcome you and share their beautiful country and rich culture with you!