Message from the Ambassador
I left Mali in the summer of 2013 the day after the first round of presidential elections. My last memory of Mali was participating as an elections observer. The context was rather special. We were in a classroom where voters came in large numbers during the day to vote. The polls closed around 18:00. Darkness fell on the city but to maintain the privacy of the counting process, the classroom’s window shutters were hermetically closed. We were in complete darkness in the classroom. But everything was planned and the polling station chief had a lamp at his disposal for light. There were about 20 of us in the room: three or four electoral officials; representatives of each of the various presidential candidates, all young people in their twenties; and finally me, the international observer.
The counting began. It got hotter and hotter. There was no air circulation and the heat continued to rise. The atmosphere was a little tense. The light from the lamp did not reach all participants. Finally, we agreed to elect a representative chosen among the delegates who after verification, would pronounce loudly and clearly the result on each ballot. The only thing I could see in the light were two arms waving in the air each ballot and the smile of the representative who yelled the name being repeatedly registered: ``IBK, IBK, IBK , IBK, IBK.`` It was the name repeated more than 300 times. To give you the whole story, I was in the district of Sébénicoro, a stronghold of the now-President Keita and this result was no surprise. That day was an important moment for the country: Mali was preparing to democratically elect a president who would lead the country out of the crisis. After Operation Serval, which Malians welcomed with relief and even joy, the terrorist threat seems to be cornered. I left Mali during a moment of hope.
After leaving Mali, I have worked on Afghanistan over the past four years. Three months after my return to Bamako, I want to share with you the main trends I am seeing.
- Growing insecurity: The security situation has deteriorated due to the presence of various armed groups active in Mali and in the Sahel sub-region. This violence has spread not only throughout northern Mali, but also in the center, a much more populous and strategic area in terms of agricultural production, and more sporadically to other regions. This state of affairs is reflected in the general atmosphere, at least in Bamako, which is much more gloomy and which contrasts with the traditional optimism of Malian women and men.
- Peace process progressing very slowly: The Algiers Accords were signed in 2015 between the various parties purporting to be committed to peace. Having an agreement is important in itself, but the implementation of the process has been extremely slow. In addition, a number of the signatory armed groups appear to a) have direct or indirect links to terrorist organizations; b) be involved in illegal trafficking; and (c) have an interest in perpetuating the status quo.
- Increase in terrorism: Apart from the signatory groups, several more or less coordinated terrorist groups are active. Although their numbers are relatively modest and the majority of their tactics are relatively unsophisticated, these groups contribute to a deterioration of the social fabric, an increase in inter-ethnic tension, and the inability of the government to provide basic services across several regions. These groups also demonstrated their ability to infiltrate urban centers and launch more complex operations such as the attacks on the Radisson Blu hotel and Kangaba Camp in Bamako.
- Increased presence of military forces: Multiple military missions are now present in Mali, with sometimes complementary but complex objectives such as responding to terrorist activities, establishing a stable and secure environment, contributing to peacekeeping and ensuring development. These various contingents such as the French forces of Barkhane, MINUSMA, the European Union of over 15,000 forces in Mali have distorted the Malian economy, which has needed to adapt to the needs of these missions. As the conflict is not limited to Mali but extends to the Sahel region, a regional response is now proposed through the G5 Sahel, which represents an important development that adds to the complexity.
- Democratically-elected but struggling government: The Government of Mali has demonstrated some progress, including in strengthening its military, macroeconomic growth and increased tax revenue. However, the country will enter an electoral process in a context of insecurity, economic vulnerability for households, deterioration in basic services, the disappearance of the tourism industry, and a closer link between religion and politics. International and regional organizations are constantly arriving in Mali to remind the Malian authorities of the urgency of taking strong action. Despite the multi-dimensional support Mali is receiving, the challenges for recovery of the country remain numerous. However, the emergence of a new non-traditional civil society, consisting mainly of youth actively advocating for better governance, demonstrates the dynamism of Malian democracy.
- For Canada: Mali and international partners were recently briefed on the Vancouver Conference regarding Canada's position on a peacekeeping response. Canada continues its humanitarian response and is now involved in peace and stabilization operations. The gold sector, where several Canadian private companies are active, accounts for about 66% of Mali's exports and is therefore critical for government revenue. Canadian bilateral cooperation with Mali, one of Canada`s largest programs in the world, remains an important asset for the development of Mali and aims to reduce poverty by through our new feminist policy. However, the dialogue between international partners and the government has lost much of its dynamism because of the reduction in the number of partners involved in budget support, the joint management of which allowed for a more engaged and better organized political dialogue. The arrival of new partners in the areas of stabilization, security and military has made the situation more complex. The local security situation which has prompted a high turn-over in expatriates, reduced corporate memory, and made it much more difficult to follow up on investments. Finally, given the security profile of Bamako, it is more difficult to recruit qualified and competent employees who are willing to work in such a difficult environment.
In the end, despite the contribution and major involvement of regional and international partners in Mali's appeal for help, the overall situation has deteriorated. However, my experience as a development officer encourages me to remain hopeful about the resilience of Malian society. In recent years, Canada and its partners in Mali have contributed to major changes. In the coming months, I will be working to reinforce our communications to describe the strategic results we have achieved. For Canada`s engagement moving forward, we need to be able to see the anchorage points where we can help make a difference in improving the situation over the long term. In this context, Mali holds a huge potential: the youth of its population. The youth of Mali, especially its girls, represent the future of the country and it is on their development that our efforts must be based. We must always aim towards this goal.
Louis Verret (BA, Laval University, 1979; MA [Geography], Laval University, 1983) joined the Canadian International Development Agency in 1985. Prior to being the executive director of the amalgamated (political and development) Afghanistan Program, Mr. Verret worked in Bamako as the senior director of the Canadian Cooperation Program in Mali from 2010 to 2013. He has also been posted to several Canadian missions, including those in Brazil, Cameroon and India, where he gained extensive work experience in different regions of the world. Mr. Verret has also served as the director of operations of the Haiti Program, manager of the Americas Regional Program and project team leader in the Bangladesh and Niger Programs.
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