The crises in and around Mali are shaped by an intersection of trends: food insecurity and desertification linked to climate change; an incomplete transition to democracy and a growing population of young people with poor employment prospects. With its government debilitated by a coup, the Malian political system is unable to maintain its reach into the north where militant, foreign-sponsored radical Islamist are in control. In addition, the region is in the grip of a major food crisis. Mali matters for two reasons. First, the country is not the isolated place of myth that the Timbuktu legend implies. Its political crisis is a threat to stability in the region. Second, instability combined with the food crisis have together had acute humanitarian consequences. Aid agencies are struggling to meet basic needs. Mali’s industries of gold and cotton are doing comparatively well, mainly because they’re located in the south where things are relatively calm. Mali needs to fund its transition back to civilian rule through elections and retake the northern desert. Stability in Mali, as the third biggest producer in Africa, is important for the global gold market; the gold miners operating in the country; and to a lesser extent, the cotton market. — Paula Nelson ( 37 photos total)

People walk past the Grand Mosque of Djenne, a UNESCO World-Heritage listed site, in Djenne, Sept. 1, 2012. Nearly 10,000 annual tourists visited Djenne, a UNESCO World Heritage-listed town, in previous years. Since Mali’s coup d’etat in late March, after which Islamist rebels took control of the country’s northern two-thirds, less than 20 tourists have come to Djenne, according to the local tourism board. (Joe Penney/Reuters)

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