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Mali is cut off by its neighbors. What will blocking the borders do?

April 2, 2012 |  3:47 pm

Clothsellersmali

A coalition of West African nations is closing off the borders of Mali to protest a recent military coup that ousted President Amadou Toumani Toure. How could that affect the landlocked country?

Blocking the borders means that Mali will be starved for refined petroleum products, including gasoline. Mali imports $2.85 billion in goods annually, roughly a quarter of which is fuel, according to the most recent available World Bank data. Mali relies on neighboring Ivory Coast for most of its petroleum products, according to Control Risks, a London-based consulting group.

An additional 11.6% of Mali's total imports is food, according to the most recent World Bank data. Mali imports roughly a fifth of its rice, said William Moseley, a visiting scholar at the University of Botswana. The loss is most likely to be felt in urban areas. Food prices have already risen in Mali as irregular and limited rainfall has cut grain production in the country by 41%, according to the World Food Program.

Besides fuel and food, Mali also imports machinery, cars, pharmaceutical drugs and building materials like plaster and cement, according to the International Trade Centre. Those supplies also will be curtailed. Despite the sanctions, many goods will still be smuggled into the country through its porous border, albeit at vastly inflated prices, said Osita Ogbu, professor of economics at the University of Nigeria.

"It's already beginning to have an impact," Ogbu said. For instance, Mali's elite have begun lining up at the banks to withdraw money, he said, a clear sign of economic strain. However, the strain will not bring down the military rulers immediately. "I expect they can ride this for a couple of months," Ogbu said.

Mali also exports gold and cotton through ports in Senegal and Ivory Coast, which are now out of reach, Moseley said. Some of its gold is flown out of the country, but flights are much more expensive than trucking goods to the ports. So closing off the borders will cut off much of its income.

The Economic Community of West African States has also imposed a travel ban and asset freeze on Mali's military leaders and frozen Mali's account at the regional central bank based in Senegal. That will make it harder for Mali to pay government employees, including soldiers, the Associated Press reported.

The United States is suspending all assistance to Mali's government, according to a State Department spokesperson. However, it is still providing humanitarian aid, including food assistance to people short on food or displaced by the conflict with Tuareg rebels.

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-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Photo: Cloth sellers, who say their business is suffering as residents of Bamako, Mali's capital, put nonessential purchases on hold, crowd around a potential buyer at the Grand Market on Saturday. Credit: Rebecca Blackwell / Associated Press

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