In recent years, Mali has undertaken an ambitious decentralization program, which involves the capital district of Bamako, seven regions subdivided into 46 cercles , and 682 rural community districts ( communes ). The state retains an advisory role in administrative and fiscal matters, and it provides technical support, coordination, and legal recourse to these levels. Opportunities for direct political participation, and increased local responsibility for development have been improved.
In August-September 1998, elections were held for urban council members, who subsequently elected their mayors. In May/June 1999, citizens of the communes elected their communal council members for the first time. Female voter turnout was about 70% of the total, and observers considered the process open and transparent. With mayors, councils, and boards in place at the local level, newly elected officials, civil society organizations, decentralized technical services, private sector interests, other communes, and donor groups began partnering to further development.
Eventually, the cercles will be reinstituted (formerly grouping arrondissements) with a legal and financial basis of their own. Their councils will be chosen by and from members of the communal councils. The regions, at the highest decentralized level, will have a similar legal and financial autonomy, and will comprise a number of cercles within their geographical boundaries. Mali needs to build capacity at these levels, especially to mobilize and manage financial resources.