How to Save Africa

Failed State Index 2008 by Jeff McNeill

Failed State Index 2008
by Jeff McNeill

The majority of authors discussing solutions for weak and failed states break down the answers into four categories: Status Quo, Division of Borders, Trusteeship or Shared Sovereignty Agreement, and State Death or Stateless Zones.

1)Status quo refers to the most popular actions in the past, including foreign aid, democracy building, and peacekeeping missions.

2)The Division of borders is pretty straight forward and suggests that larger countries break into more manageable and less strenuous countries.

3)Trusteeship is the temporary resignation of sovereignty over to another country, corporation, or institution in order to guide development or bridge peace or to allow countries to keep aid and institutions working during a transitional period. Shared Sovereignty differs as it become a dual partnership during this time of development, providing checks and balances and giving both equal say in the actions taken.

4)State Death says that countries can no longer provide the services required and can either become stateless zones (areas without sovereignty or centralized governments) or in the past more often but State Death can also be when smaller countries with limited resources are absorbed into larger countries who have the capabilities to develop outside their current sovereignty

Status Quo:

by USDAgov

by USDAgov

Looking at Africa and Mali’s history, the answer to weak states or failing institutions and governments has often been loans by organizations such as the World Bank and IMF. There does come a smaller portion from charity and relief aid but the majority of assistance either has contracts attached with specific demands or they are loans with high interest rates. Some africanist academics are starting to wonder if the Core really does want to help the periphery as their actions are often very contradictory. Take the cotton industry, Mali received $37.7 million in US aid in 2001 but incurred losses of $43 million due in large part to US subsidies, Oxfam reports. Aid has helped in the short term to save lives and ease the burden on local governments but it has always been treated as the solution for Africa. Aid does not build institutions, infrastructure, or fair global practices. Mali’s budget consists of 60-80% aid each year, so when the violence occurred in the north all of the funds to pay for security and the army left, as well as 30-45% of the workforce who work for the NGO’s in country suddenly are unemployed.

Division of Borders:

 by Hanan Cohen

by Hanan Cohen

A division of borders into Azawad and Mali is becoming more and more likely as the future for this territory. Azawad is the region in the North which has always been claimed by the Tuareg’s (a culture of nomadic arabs). All of the rebellions and strifes Mali has had throughout her short history since colonialism is due to the Tuareg’s not having their own state. It was part of the deal when the French arrived, but then the French suppressed them. Upon independence they asked again and the first Malian President Modibo Keita said no . He had communist perspectives and viewed the land north as a great place to develop and build  like China and Russia and put in place legislative acts that discriminated against the Tuareg’s use of the land and force thousands to flee. After more than 50 years since Mali’s independence and still without sovereignty over their ancestral territory, the Tuareg’s grudgingly allowed Islamist Extremists into the region causing the current battles and organized crime issues in the north. Sadly, the Islamist Extremists are turning against the Tuareg’s who do not agree to their conservative views and it has become a lose-lose situation for all. A division of this territory would allow Tuareg’s to control a currently ungoverned area, providing stability in Northern Africa, and allowing Mali to focus development work on the 90% of the population that live in the Southern Region.

Trusteeship or Shared Sovereignty Agreement (SSA):

Mali newly elected president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and French President Francois Hollande attend a press conference after the official presidential inauguration in Bamako, Mali. by Mission de l'ONU au Mali - UN Mission in Mali

Mali newly elected president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and French President Francois Hollande attend a press conference after the official presidential inauguration in Bamako, Mali.
by Mission de l’ONU au Mali – UN Mission in Mali

Trusteeship or a SSA are also options for Mali, as I foresee the past colonial relationship with France will continue to play a huge role in Mali’s future. Especially considering the reserves of uranium Mali holds and that 75% of France’s energy comes from nuclear facilities. Trusteeship is too strong of a relationship for Mali, as she has held fair elections before, and trusteeship would further ruin the trust of Malians in their own government. Therefore if a stronger partnership had to be created, an SSA with France would be appropriate in the development of Mali. Malians might even favor this as they then can have a stronger voice on the UN Security Council, World Trade Organization and other global organizations advocating for fairer global systems.

State Death or Stateless Zones:

As far as State Death or Stateless Zones, Mali has too strong of a history as the gem of Africa, and today’s international culture would never approve of pure death of the state. An option for stateless zones, however, could go hand in hand with the division of the country into Mali and Azawad as the nomadic Tuareg’s have their own governmental organization and practices that rarely need state institutions to govern. Although the United States, France, and other powers most likely will view stateless zones as breeding grounds for terrorism and extremists.

Bamako (2007)

I’m including the following video trailer because:

1) It is a phenomenal movie that will give you insight into Mali, the culture, and people

2) It looks at these international organizations and the effects their “development” actions have had on daily lives

Abderrahmane Sissako wrote and directed this offbeat, satiric comedy which imagines how the powers that be in the West might be forced to answer for the damage they’ve done in the Third World. Mele (Aissa Maiga) is an attractive Malian lounge singer married to Chaka (Tiecoura Traore), though their relationship is on the verge of collapse. In their eyes, the African continent isn’t in much better shape than their marriage, and one day a makeshift courtroom appears in the courtyard near their shabby home. In the courtyard, a handful of powerful international organizations, such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, are put on trial for their crippling effect on the African economy; as the evidence is presented which explains how these “friends” of Africa have saddled the nations with debts they can never repay, witnesses explain how these actions impact the daily lives of ordinary citizens, who pass through the trial as they go on with their days. Executive producer Danny Glover makes a cameo appearance in a “Cowboys and Indians” sequence which supposedly takes place in Timbuktu. Bamako (aka The Court) received its North American premiere at the 2006 Toronto Film Festival.

~ Mark Deming, Fandengo


The Media’s War

“Islamic terrorists!” “Muslim fundamentalists!” “Extremists!” “Radical Islamists!” These are just some labels that have been wrongly applied to Muslims and certain Muslim groups in recent years. The media’s portrayal of Islam often misleads those whose knowledge of the religion is limited, into making negative assumptions about this very peaceful and tolerant way of life. With the recent battles against rebels in the North, the majority of the media insults Islam by referring to these individuals as Islamists, when the majority of the country practices Islam yet not all of them are ransacking towns.

“After crushing Mali Islamists, France pushes deal with Tuaregs”- Reuters

There also seems to be a strong connection to Afghanistan within the media, relating France to the United States in reference to the reign of the Taliban. However, the media surpasses the details and embraces the grand-sounding AQIM hiding the chaotic reality. The group has singularly failed to unite disparate local groups spread along the north African coast. Even in Algeria, militants are split between the north and south – and these two factions are split again, into rival bands. Finally, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the man suspected of orchestrating the refinery attack, leads his own breakaway group that does not even pay nominal allegiance to the southern AQIM faction, let alone the group as a whole, and certainly not to al-Qaida. If they are “al-Qaida-linked” then the chain is a very long one.

Mali: Dangers of dealing with ‘Afghanistan of West Africa’ – BBC News

and yet the same news organization just a few weeks later says..

Why the Sahara is not the ‘new Afghanistan’ – BBC News

Finally, NPR, in March, wrote the headline, “Western Money, African Boots: A Formula For Africa’s Conflicts.” Somalia’s “success,” the piece suggested, could be replicated in places like Mali. Bloomberg, over the weekend, made the same argument: “To Stabilize Mali, Look to Somalia’s Lessons.” From the piece:

Mali is like Somalia in that, in both places, Muslim extremists took advantage of political turmoil to seize large areas of the country. In each case, African countries agreed to send soldiers to neutralize the threat — a way around Western reluctance to commit troops to far-off places, and a local solution more likely to be acceptable to African populations. Yet the forces largely floundered when left to their own resources.

Beyond whatever merits the analogy may have, the way in which people make it, their seeming lack of awareness or concern or curiosity about the limits of the analogy, bothers me. Does the presence of “Muslim extremists,” “political turmoil,” “African forces,” and “Western funds” establish a fundamental similarity between two places? Are the separatist movements of Mali essentially similar to those of Somalia? Are the histories of these two countries, particularly over the last twenty years, alike? Is the situation in Bamako now comparable to the situation in Mogadishu? The answer to all these questions, in my view, is no.

Amid these challenges, more attention to the specificity of Mali’s problems would bring greater benefit than than more casually drawn analogies between Mali and Somalia. Not all the press fail at reporting situations.  This Peter Tinti article for ThinkAfricaPress looks at Mali’s own particular histories and dynamics and how that should mold political solutions.

Mali -aria (Malaria in Mali)

Malaria is the primary cause of morbidity and mortality in Mali, particularly among children under the age of five. The disease is epidemic in the north and endemic in the central and southern regions, where over 90 percent of the population lives. In 2011, the national health information system reported that suspected malaria accounted for 41 percent of all outpatient visits for all age groups. Among children under five, malaria accounts for half of all outpatient visits. The chicken or the egg  parable  can be considered here on whether a weak government and failing state is cause for these disastrous statistics or if having almost have your population sick and dying causes a weak government and failing state. I however am interested in the involvement of the international community and their motivations for assistance in this category and not others.

Mali is one of 19 focus countries benefiting from the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI), which is led by the U.S. Agency for  International Development and implemented together with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. With congressional authorization and the subsequent launch of the U.S. Government’s Global Health Initiative, PMI’s goal was expanded to achieve Africa-wide impact by halving the burden of malaria in 70 percent of the at-risk populations on the continent (i.e., approximately 450 million residents), thereby removing malaria as a major public health problem and promoting development throughout the African region.

Helen Keller, the WHO, Doctors without Borders and many other institution world wide also have their hands and resources into the health care system of Mali. On paper, this situation is great for Mali as it puts less pressure on the government but in the field there are other accounts. Restrictions on the availability of medicine, the cost, and many other logistical and administrative details causes issues across the region. When I was visiting in the Fall of 2012, I worked with a clinic that was only allowed a specific ration of supplies which he had to drive two hours away to receive. Even if his sick population was more, or he didn’t need all of the medicine he received the same box of generic medicines for the clinic. There are also multiple reports and articles questioning the support of these organizations. They are suggesting these organizations can do better but choose not too, looking at Panama and the rapid vaccination of the population there which provided them a healthy working population and thus economic development from a new trade route. Nigeria and Mali can’t offer the same therefore they don’t receive the same effective aid as Panama.



From Here to Timbuktu

Today’s blog is going to take you directly to the streets of Mali, to explore the issues through the mouths of the people. A news outlet that is a subsidiary of the United Nations has put together an excellent video series, interviewing individuals after the extremist takeover and after the intervention from France. Focusing on the famous Timbuktu city, these documentaries are the best representation of Mali today.

The Tour Guide

Seyou Baba Kounta is a professional tour guide. He takes us on a tour of Timbuktu and explains what happens when the jihadists came to town. Under the occupation, the already frayed state institutions, including justice, health, and education, disintegrated entirely as civil servants fled and public buildings were looted and ransacked. The same fate befell the city’s banks, devastating the local economy, and its cultural heritage; mausoleums, statues and countless ancient manuscripts deemed sacrilegious by the new authorities were destroyed or damaged.

The Butcher

Commerce has all but ground to a halt now, because Tuareg and Arab livestock herders have fled for fear of being accused of collaborating with the Islamists and jihadists. Arabs also dominated other sectors of trade in Timbuktu, including wholesale shipments of staple foods and the retail sector. Now most of their shops lie looted and empty, a symptom, like the city’s trashed banks and petrol stations, of the town’s devastated economy. Insecurity over the past year also increased livestock mortality; theft and culling also rose. Many herders left for neighboring Mauritania. Humanitarians estimate that 1.3 million people are currently in need of food assistance in northern Mali, a situation exacerbated by severe restrictions at the border with Algeria, an important source of foodstuffs.

The Mayor

State institutions – whose weaknesses and corruption have long driven instability in the north – have yet to resume operations. While foreign assistance has allowed schools to reopen and the main hospital to function, most of the civil servants who fled have yet to return. As a result, the judiciary and government offices dealing with key sectors such as agriculture, livestock, customs and city administration are at a stand-still. Most rooms in the town hall are littered with broken furniture and scorched documents. Local officials hold their meetings in the lobby and issue official documents – birth certificates and the like – from their homes. Their official vehicles are damaged beyond repair.

The Humanitarian

The last thing northern Mali needed in 2012 was a reduction in access by aid agencies. Like much of the Sahel region, it was in the grip of a severe food crisis. Responding to urgent needs became much harder after the Islamists takeover of towns like Timbuktu. As Fernando Arroyo, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Mali, explains, access improved significantly after the liberation by French forces, even if landmines and unexploded ordnance continue to pose problems. Some parts of the three northern regions – Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal – are still inaccessibly to aid agencies because of fragile security conditions, and in several areas, markets remain closed and cannot reopen until security improves and the free movement of people of goods is assured.

“All you have to do is kidnap a Westerner, and you can get millions” – NYT 11/2/13

Over the past decade, the United States and Europe have become increasingly focused on security in the Sahel and Sahara region for fear that the territory could become a new safe haven for extremist groups linked to al-Qaeda. These fears have been born out of the 2012 insurgency in northern Mali that saw northern cities fall under the control of two groups closely linked to al-Qaeda: the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) Ansar Eddine and the Movement for Tawhid and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO).

Organized crime in Mali began in the 80’s involving the distribution of cigarettes and  has been ignored for decades escalating into cocaine, small arms, and now kidnappings. Organized criminal activity escalated in northern Mali during a period when the country was a major recipient of foreign assistance from the West. Aid was heavily focused on counterterrorism and state capacity. Leading donors, particularly the United States and France, grew increasingly frustrated by the Malian leadership’s reluctance to tackle AQIM but saw this mainly through the lens of counterterrorism, paying much less attention to the wider problem of state complicity with organized crime. The rise of kidnapping for ransom in the region was closely linked to, and a main driver of, AQIM’s growing presence in the Sahel.

The abduction of 32 European tourists in 2003 in southern Algeria, seventeen of whom were freed on Algerian territory, while the fifteen remaining hostages were released in northern Mali after six months of captivity, was the first indicator of major organized crime, yet the West continued to blame terrorism.

December 2007  four French tourists were killed by AQIM members in southern Mauritania. Soon afterward, in early 2008, a series of kidnappings across the region began. By April 2012, 42 foreign nationals had been targeted; of those, 24 were released, five were killed while being taken hostage or in captivity, and thirteen were still being held hostage as of the end of August 2012. The locations of these abductions included southern Algeria, Tunisia, Mauritania, Niger, as well as northern Mali, but in all cases the hostages were held and released in northern Mali by AQIM or, beginning in late 2011, by the AQIM offshoot Movement for Tawhid and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO). The kidnappers focused on nationals of states that were known to be willing to negotiate ransom payments.

Political motives to spread terror played a limited role in AQIM’s hostage takings. Although political demands were at times voiced by AQIM in messages posted on the Internet, available evidence suggests that all releases of Western nationals were secured through ransom payments, in some cases coupled with the release of prisoners linked to AQIM or MUJAO by Mali or Mauritania. In a number of instances, attempted rescues or the refusal to pay ransoms led to the death of hostages.

Kidnapping for ransom has developed into a highly lucrative industry that has allowed AQIM to become a significant political and military force in the Sahel and Sahara. Extrapolating from available information, the income derived by AQIM, MUJAO, and associated mediators from kidnappings is likely to have totaled between $40 million and $65 million since 2008, paid mostly by Western governments. At the same time, repeated hostage takings have caused tourism in the Sahel and Sahara to collapse, thereby further limiting opportunities for employment and profit outside of criminal activity. Aid is still pouring in to surrounding nations that “promise to focus on terrorism,”  proving the world has yet to recognize organized crime as a key indicator and creator of state failure.


Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s September 2012, paper “Organized Crime and Conflict in the Sahel-Sahara Region

International Crisis Group, Islamist Terrorism in the Sahel: Fact or Fiction(Brussels: International Crisis Group, 2005).

“Droudkal aurait demandé 10 Millions de dollars pour la libération d’Eden Dyer, ” Ennahar Online, June 16, 2009,

See, for example, “Les otages auraient été libérés contre une rançon,” Agence France Presse, November 2, 2008;

“8 millions d’euros de rançon pour libérer les otages espagnols?” Le Nouvel Observateur, August 24, 2010; “Italian Maria Mariani free after 14 months as al-Qa’ida hostage in Sahara desert,” Agence France Presse, April 18, 2012.

Délégation des finances, Sixième séance ordinaire de la Délégation des finances des Chambres fédérales,

Mali’s Slavery

Our chapter in Williams focused on the governance and specifically the definition and effects of “good governance.” Slavery while prevalent everywhere is more commonly found in places where the rule of law is weak, the policies are outdated, and racism is popular. Basically the historical foundation of the colonies. Below is a brief synopsis of the modern day slavery situation in Mali.

Modern Day Slavery

Slavery has been a reality in West Africa for centuries. Mali formally outlawed it when it became independent from France in 1960, but the rule is toothless since slave ownership was never criminalized.

According to Temedt, a Mali-based advocacy program, about 200,000 people are currently enslaved in the country and about 600,000 more are slave descendants under some form of control even though they live separately from their masters. Temedt works with Anti-Slavery International, a London-based human rights organization, to help free victims of slavery and then assist them in the transition to independence.

“We’re mainly working with ethnic Tuaregs, who have a very strong hierarchy including nobles, warriors and slave classes,” said Anti-Slavery International’s Africa Program Coordinator Sarah Mathewson, noting that slavery exists among other Malian communities as well.

Ending slavery is more complicated than it seems, since it is not only masters who are wedded to the system. Often, slave themselves have no desire to escape their servitude.

Effects of the Insurgency

The Islamist insurgency in Mali’s north has turned things upside-down for many slaves and slaveowners.

“When the trouble started early last year, we had reports that lots of masters were leaving the region, and the people who had been considered slaves came forward to our partners saying, ‘We don’t know what to do; our masters left and we have nothing.’ They’d essentially been abandoned,” says Mathewson.

“That was a very difficult time. A lot of those people have made their way to refugee camps where they’ve gotten back in contact with their masters, or they’ve just been left vulnerable because of poverty and the lack of resources in the region.”

To make matters worse, the insurgents have imposed a harsh version of Shariah, or Islamic law, across northern Mali. They implemented out some brutal punishments for citizens in perceived violation of Quranic codes, including floggings, amputations and executions. And slave descendants have often been the victims of those punishments, since they are largely vulnerable and unable to retaliate.


“Slave Girl in Northern Mali”
Creative Commons: openDemocracy

Slavemasters, too, take advantage of turmoil — which includes widespread displacement — to acquire new labor as necessary.

“We had one case in September of people coming to a village of slave descendants and taking 18 children that they wanted to keep as slaves,” says Mathewson. “The children’s families were completely bereft and couldn’t do anything. The slaveowners showed up and just took them.”

Effects on the Sate

With the security crisis still unfolding in northern Mali, many international efforts to free slaves and help them adapt have been put on hold. French airstrikes are churning up dust in some of Mali’s most vulnerable communities, putting the focus squarely on containing Islamist militants while leaving anti-slavery initiatives in limbo.”We are under suspicion from both the government and the rebels,” he said. “Old scores are being settled and anti-slavery activists who have created a lot of enemies feel the threat of violence. We challenged the state and slaveowners, so now we face threats as there are slave masters among the rebel groups.” Advocacy and lobbying efforts still continue, but slave descendants on the ground in Mali are struggling to adapt in these tumultuous times.


The Great Cotton Stitch-Up

Screen Shot 2013-10-28 at 3.56.03 AM Mali is the second largest cotton producer in Sub-Saharan Africa after Burkina Faso. One quarter of the Malian population depends on cotton for its livelihood and it represents around 8 per cent of the country’s national income. A typical cotton grower in southern Mali cultivates about two to three hectares (compared to 500 hectares on an average US cotton farm). Malian growers usually sell their cotton to only one purchaser. They depend heavily on growing cotton as a main source of income to buy food, meet medical and housing costs, and cover the school fees for their children. Hence, the price of cotton is directly linked to access to education and health care.

In a bizarre case Mali is demanding, stronger neoliberalism, to cut the subsidies currently held by countries with thriving economies. The movement is called the “The Great Cotton Stitch-Up” and is led by the Fair-trade Foundation.

The figures are truly staggering: the US has spent $24.5 billion subsidizing 25,000 cotton farmers in the last nine years. Since 2001 a total of $47.68 billion has been poured into subsidies in the EU, US, China and India, according to the Great Cotton Stitch-Up. The worst offender is the US; one cotton farmer in Arizona pulled in $24 million of subsidies over the last 14 years. Eliminating these subsidies would boost west African cotton prices by 12.9% – and that translates into an annual loss of $250 million a year to farmers in Mali, Benin, Burkina Faso and Chad. This is a significant sum to some of the poorest countries in the world.

“The West African Cotton-4  case reveals how the global trade system works against the interests of the world’s poorest farmers. Cotton is cheaper to produce from West Africa than anywhere else. But subsidies from rich power blocks stop West African farmers getting a fair price. It is a situation that needs to change and the time for change is now.” –Michael Nkonu, Director of Fairtrade Africa