The Geography of the Bottom Billion: Rural Isolation and Basic Service Access in the Republic of Mali

  • Leif V. BrottemEmail author
  • Bakary Coulibaly
Original Article


This article investigates the challenge of basic service access in one of the world’s poorest regions. Using the Republic of Mali as a case study, the article provides a new perspective on the dominant paradigm of decentralized service provision with a focus on rural areas, where basic services remain persistently inadequate. Service provision in regions such as West Africa will represent one of the most important development challenges in coming decades. This article applies a new geographical framework to decentralized institutions and service provision that is necessary to understand why access to basic services is becoming a more difficult problem to solve. It introduces two new analytical concepts—livelihood extensification and service attenuation—as well as a novel geographic dataset of rural service accessibility to show how rapid population growth and continued dependence on agriculture are putting basic services out of reach for an increasing share of Mali’s population.


Sub-Saharan Africa Mali Basic services Decentralization Mobility Land tenure 


Cet article examine le défi de l’accès aux services de base dans l’une des régions les plus pauvres du monde. En utilisant la République du Mali comme étude de cas, cet article offre une nouvelle perspective sur le paradigme dominant de l’approvisionnement par les institutions décentralisées, en mettant l’accent sur les zones rurales, où les services de base restent toujours insuffisants. Les services de base dans des régions telles que l’Afrique de l’Ouest représentera l’un des défis de développement les plus importants des prochaines décennies. Cet article applique aux institutions décentralisées et à leur approvisionnement des services un nouveau cadre géographique, nécessaire pour comprendre pourquoi l'accès aux services de base devient un problème plus difficile à résoudre. Il introduit deux nouveaux concepts analytiques - l’extensification des moyens de subsistance et l’atténuation des services - ainsi qu’un nouvel ensemble des données géographiques sur l’accessibilité des services ruraux, démontrant ainsi que la croissance démographique rapide et la dépendance continue à l’agriculture rendent les services de base inaccessibles pour une part croissante de la population malienne.



The authors acknowledge Lassine Ba and Mamadou Diakite, and Grinnell College Committee for the Support of Faculty Scholarship.


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Copyright information

© European Association of Development Research and Training Institutes (EADI) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Grinnell CollegeGrinnellUSA
  2. 2.BamakoMali

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