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ECOWAS TO DEPLOY ELECTION OBSERVERS FOR MALI RUN-OFF LEGISLATIVE POLLS

Posted by African Press International on December 15, 2013


ECOWAS TO DEPLOY 50 ELECTION OBSERVERS FOR MALI RUN-OFF LEGISLATIVE POLLS

 

ABUJA, Nigeria, December 13, 2013/African Press Organization (APO)/ ECOWAS is deploying 50 election observers to Mali for the country’s second-round Parliamentary polls today 15th December 2013 following an inconclusive first-round balloting on 24 November 2013.

 

The regional Observation Mission will be headed by Prof. Amos Sawyer, former President of Liberia’s Interim Government of National Unity, who also led the 100-strong ECOWAS observers to the first round voting. He will be supported this time by Ambassador Leopold Ouedraogo, a Member of the ECOWAS Council of the Wise.

 

Provisional results from the first-round elections which featured more than 1,140 candidates fielded by the ruling and opposition coalitions and independents, showed that the country’s three main political parties secured less than 20 seats out of the 147 available in the National Assembly. Turnout was put officially at 38.4 percent.

 

Mali’s electoral law provides for a run-off to be decided by a simple majority vote in a situation where no independent candidate or list of coalition candidates secured the mandatory 50 percent plus one vote in the first round.

 

In its Preliminary Declaration, the ECOWAS Election Observation Mission which observed the first round balloting across Mali’s eight regions and the Municipalities of the capital, Bamako, adjudged the conduct as credible and transparent.

 

The Mission also noted the low turnout, saying the shortcomings it observed, including the inadequate sensitization of voters and late display of Voters Lists at several polling stations “did not in any significant way, affect the conduct of the election in line with globally acceptable standards.”

 

Following the July/August successful presidential elections, the deployment of the ECOWAS Observation Mission for the legislative polls, is in furtherance of efforts aimed at helping Mali conclude the ECOWAS-facilitated transitional road map for the restoration of full constitutional order and the country’s territorial integrity in the aftermath of last year’s military coup and separatist insurrection in the north.

 

SOURCE

Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS)

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Minister highlights kidnap threat in Sahel and North Africa

Posted by African Press International on December 10, 2013

LONDON, United-Kingdom, December 6, 2013/African Press Organization (APO)/ – FCO Minister Robertson met travel industry representatives to emphasise the continuing threat of terrorist kidnap in Sahel and North Africa.

Mr Hugh Robertson said:

“Despite the success of military intervention in Mali, there remains a very real threat of kidnap to westerners in areas of the Sahel and North Africa.

“Our travel advice provides a detailed assessment of the threat in individual countries. This allows individuals to make informed decisions about where they travel.

“The British Government takes the threat to British nationals overseas extremely seriously. The Prime Minister has made the security of British nationals in high threat countries a priority. The UK, along with G8 partners, has committed to reducing terrorist groups’ access to funding by rejecting ransom payments. It is a very tough policy to follow, but we believe that this is the only way to prevent further kidnappings.”

During the meeting, Foreign Office officials underlined that the threat makes some areas, which may appear to be attractive destinations, unsafe for tourism.

The threat from groups such as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQ-M) and Al Murabitun has been demonstrated by a number of recent attacks including in In Amenas in January this year. Groups like AQ-M rely on kidnap for ransom as their major source of funding and are prepared to go to extreme lengths to secure hostages.

 

SOURCE

United Kingdom – Ministry of Foreign Affairs

 

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Mali: A new school year in northern Mali has started with difficulty

Posted by African Press International on November 3, 2013

A new school year in northern Mali has started with difficulty

BAMAKO, – The ravages of Mali’s conflict, which paralysed education for almost two years, have disrupted the start of a new school year in the country’s north, where damaged schools, staff shortages and insecurity have set back learning.

Schools reopened across Mali in October. The government and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) launched a back-to-school campaign to help 500,000 children and 9,000 teachers restart schooling. Bamako also set up ascheme to pay civil servants to return to the country’s north.

Northern Mali was overrun by Islamist militants and separatist rebels after the government was overthrown in Bamako in March 2012. The Islamists, who imposed a harsh form of Islamic law, were dislodged by French forces in January. However, security is yet to fully return to the region.

“Despite the measures taken by the government, many teachers have not yet resumed duty in Timbuktu,” said Mody Abdoulaye Cissé, the Timbuktu education director. He explained that some teachers considered the US$500 government incentive to return to the north too small and felt that it was still unsafe to go back to the region.

“It’s not only a question of money. It’s a matter of life too. Everybody knows that the conflict is not over and there are suicide attackers everywhere. The government is putting the lives of teachers and pupils in danger by opening schools under such conditions. That is why I have decided not to return for the moment,” said Sekou Sala Koné, a teacher in Timbuktu who is currently living in Bamako.

Years lost

The conflict and the food crisis that hit the Sahel region in 2011-2012 kept some 800,000 Malian children out of school for two years, according to the education department. Even before the conflict, education levels in Mali were already low, with an estimated 1.2 million school-age children, most of them girls, not attending school.

“The major problem is that too many children have lost two years of schooling. This can have a carry-on impact of discouraging children from returning to school,” David Gressly, the UN deputy representative in Mali and the humanitarian coordinator, told IRIN.

With the start of the new school year, learning in Timbuktu Region has resumed without severe disruptions. However, Mohamed Lamine, whose children just returned to school, said the lack of teachers has forced double shifts while the academic calendar has been skewed.

In the northern city of Gao, the teachers union has called for a strike over pay. Union leader Ibrahim Touré said that around half of the 2,597 teachers there had not been paid the return-to-work grant.

Schools have not even started in the northeastern Kidal region, where the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), a separatist Tuareg rebel group, exerts control.

“Here, in fact, schools have been closed since the start of the crisis… Thousands of children are deprived of their right to education,” said Adama Kamissoko, the governor of Kidal.

Ransacked

Sixty-seven percent of schools in northern Mali were ransacked during the crisis. The militants occupied around a quarter of the schools in the region. A smaller percentage of school buildings was damaged or destroyed, according to UNICEF. Gao schools were looted the most.

The nine-month Islamist occupation wrecked public services, with hospitals, bank services, water and electricity only just resuming in most areas.

For Oumar Touré, a teacher who recently resumed duty in Timbuktu, “it is the future of these poor children that we should consider. They need us.”

“I am not scared of the suicide bombers. You know, whether you are in Bamako, Sikasso or Kidal, you may still die,” he told IRIN.

ob/sd/rz  source http://www.irinnews.org

 

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Returning from displacement. Some Malians fear returning home

Posted by African Press International on October 25, 2013

Returning from displacement. Some Malians fear returning home

GAO,  – Mali’s recent conflict has degraded social relations, leading to fears of reprisals among some of the displaced and posing major hurdles to reconciliation, observers say.

Mali plunged into chaos with the March 2012 ouster of President Amadou Toumani Touré, which eased the capture of the country’s north by Tuareg separatist rebels, who were later dislodged by heavily armed Islamist militants.

Across Mali, many blamed the Tuareg and Arabs for helping the Islamist take-over of the much of the north. When French forces intervened in January to expel the militants, many Tuareg and Arabs were targeted by civilians, and a climate of suspicion engulfed many northern and central towns. Many people said they feared reprisal violence.

Ethnic tensions have long existed in Mali, and inter-communal violence has erupted in the past, but an October study by Oxfam revealed that the 2012-2013 conflict frayed social relations more profoundly than previous violence.

“There is this overall feeling that there has been a major degradation of social relationships,” said Steve Cockburn, Oxfam’s West Africa campaigns and policy manager. “There is quite a strong fear to return home.”

He told IRIN that some of the displaced and the refugees “feared that there would be tensions and conflicts within the community, that there wouldn’t be a lasting peace, and that they would have to leave again in the near future.”

Beyond the recent conflict, longstanding poverty, corruption, and anger overunderdevelopment, marginalization and injustice in northern Mali are seen as factors undermining social relations, Oxfam said.

“In a broader reconciliation process, how does the Malian state devise a process that brings those dissenting voices in?” asked Cockburn. He said many of the study’s respondents expressed a lack of faith in state institutions and showed more confidence in traditional mechanisms of governance.

“Reconciliation programmes will have to be at the community level. It’s less about political agreements at the high level and more about being able to share tea with your neighbour. Will your friend pick up your call? Will you be able to take your cattle to a trader?”

Mistrust

The collapse of social cohesion is visible in the tendency to generalize blame. Sixty percent of respondents who believe that social relations have worsened blamed whole ethnic groups rather than individuals, said Oxfam’s report, which also noted that threats, violence and stigmatization have contributed to the strained relations.

“Houses belonging to Arabs and Tuareg suspected to have colluded with the MNLA [the Tuareg National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad] and the MUJAO [Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa] were looted. At times, there was no distinguishing whether they collaborated with the rebels or not. As long as you have light skin, you were targeted,” said Youssouf Traoré, who works for the Gao-based Association of Sahel Agricultural Advisors (ACAS), a partner organization of International Organization for Migration (IOM) that supports the tracking of returnees.

Mistrust is highest among the displaced, who have undergone the hardships of fleeing and living in refuge. For some, it is not the first time they have been forced from their homes, said Oxfam’s Cockburn.

Going home?

Some of the refugees surveyed in the Oxfam study, mainly ethnic Tuareg, said they were unwilling to go back home, Cockburn explained. “That is clearly a challenge in terms of finding solutions for those who have been displaced.”

“The occupiers made us… systematically associate light-skinned people with the Islamists. Social relations are not like they were in the past.”

“Cohabiting is difficult. The problem is between those who supported the rebels and those who didn’t,” said Hachimy Maïga, who also works for ACAS.

“The occupiers made us… systematically associate light-skinned people with the Islamists,” Maiga said, referring to Arabs and light-skinned Tuareg. “Social relations are not like they were in the past.” He said a man suspected of having collaborated with the Islamists was recently beaten to death at a market in Gao.

Nonetheless, since the Islamists were driven away from the main northern cities of Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal, thousands of displaced people have returned home. Some of this was encouraged by the Malian government, which set up a scheme to pay the relocation and resettlement fees of civil servants resuming duty in the north.

Between January and September, some 65,000 people returned to the Mopti, Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu areas, according to the IOM. But another 40,000 have moved to southern towns from the north, likely due to the lack of economic opportunities and difficult access to basic services.

Violence, livelihoods

Insecurity remains a threat to those returning to the north. In late September, suspected militants carried out attacks in Timbuktu and Gao cities, while MNLA fighters briefly clashed with Malian forces in Kidal.

“The government must make sure that there is security because we will not accept to be sent to slaughterhouses,” said Oumarou Sangaré, a government veterinarian, referring to the September suicide attack in Timbuktu. “We are not going to sacrifice our lives because of the relocation and resettlement fee. The city must first be secured.”

Still, many of those returning say they feel that security has improved. But financial difficulties are also complicating relocation, said Stephanie Daviot, manager of IOM’s Displacement Tracking Matrix project.

“What we’ve seen also is many went up north, and when they saw that the conditions there [were poor], especially the condition of their houses and farms… they decided to go back south simply because they did not have any means of survival,” said Daviot.

Others have returned north after facing economic hardships in the south. Some 4,500 people returned to Gao city from the capital Bamako and other southern regions between August and September, said ACAS’ Traoré.

“The first reason they say made them come back is the return of stability. The other is economic difficulty in areas they had gone to seek safety,” he said, citing problems accessing proper housing, education, health and food as well as difficulties adapting to life in refuge.

Fatalmoudou Maïga, a mother of five, told IRIN that when she returned to Gao, she found that part of her house had been damaged by bombing and another was occupied by people she did not know.

“I lost my husband during the Islamist occupation in Gao,” she said. “But I decided to return because I’ve always lived in Gao. It’s like starting all over again. I feel like a stranger in my own house. I don’t recognize my town, my house. Some of my neighbours joined the rebels… They are the ones who stole my animals.”

Economic life has also been disrupted, with the departure of many Tuareg and Arabs who were the main traders in the north. ACAS’ Maïga explained that the prices of basic goods – such as tea, dates, sugar, oil and flour – have risen.

“The trust between the different groups diminished so people trade less with each other,” said Cockburn.

Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, Mali’s new president, has promised to tackle the causes that led to the overthrow of his predecessor and the capture of the country’s northern half.

ob/sd/rz  source http://www.irinnews.org

 

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Niamey has been working to bolster its security strategy – Mali’s 2012 crisis put its neighbours on the alert

Posted by African Press International on September 15, 2013

Mali’s 2012 crisis put its neighbours on the alert

NIAMEY, – The takeover of northern Mali by Islamist rebels after a 2012 coup, and the subsequent French-led intervention, have widened fears of a spill-over of insurgency in the region. Niger, which has socio-political problems comparable to those of Mali, is battling to secure its territory from militants still operating in Sahel’s remote wilderness.

Insecurity is an ever-present threat. The country suffered twin attacks on 23 May, when assailants struck a military base and a French-run uranium mine in the north, killing dozens.

Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a prominent and long-time Sahel jihadist who had claimed responsibility for the Algerian gas plant attack in January, said his fighters were behind the strikes. The Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), which had operated in northern Mali before being dislodged by the French military, also claimed responsibility.

Bolstering security

Niamey has been working to bolster its security strategy.

In October 2012, it launched a five-year US$2.5 billion plan to secure and develop its northern region, whose residents, especially the Tuareg, say they have been marginalized. As in neighbouring Mali, the Tuareg in northern Niger have carried out a series of rebellions demanding autonomy, social and political inclusion, and the development of their homeland.

The country has also introduced legal reforms, enacting anti-terrorism legislation, setting up a special team of lawyers and security officers to work with the government on terrorism matters, upgrading military hardware, and cooperating with France and the US on security. US drones began operating in Niger in December 2012. Nigerien troops are also being trained by their American and French counterparts.

“Niger has shown not only political commitment, but a certain level of coherence in dealing with the threat of terrorism,” David Zounmenou, senior researcher on West Africa at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), told IRIN.

Niger, an impoverished Sahel nation prone to droughts and food scarcity, also faces additional threats from Boko Haram insurgents in Nigeria to the south and from militias in the north suspected to be operating in southern Libya, analysts say.

Politically, Niger has worked to improve the inclusion of its Tuareg population to end the cycles of insurgency.

Failed unity coalition

During Niger’s 3 August independence day celebration, President Issoufou Mahamadou called for the formation of a national unity government, part of a political cohesion plan he sees as crucial to dealing with the country’s security threats. However, a subsequent cabinet shake-up has cost his ruling coalition the support of its main ally, who quit in protest of the seats it was allocated in the new government set-up.

“In terms of security plans, it certainly weakens the national consensus that has prevailed thus far in Niger. Institutional consensus has been the backbone of the response mechanism to offset the spill-over of the insurgency in Mali and to manage successive attacks,” said Zounmenou.

But West Africa political analyst Kamissa Camara says the political disagreements have little bearing on Niger’s security worries.

“The risk is that [expenditure] on social assistance programmes could increasingly be adjusted depending on security concerns, and it is doubtful that this will be to the benefit of the Nigerien population as a whole.”

“The political fall-out is more indicative of the superficial political arrangements made before the second round of the 2011 presidential elections and the ensuing struggle for influence between two complementary but oxymoronic political figures,” Camara said, referring to the president and Hama Amadou, the leader of his coalition’s main ally.

Other threats

In addition to its security worries, Mahamdou’s government, which came to power in 2011 after a brief period of instability, is struggling to better the lives of citizens, the bulk of whom are living in extreme poverty. The country sits at the bottom of the UN Human Development Index.

Although the government is making improvements in sectors such as health, education and agriculture, some 85 percent of Nigeriens survive on less than US$2 a day. Around 2.9 million people currently face food shortages.

Natural disasters and recurrent food shortages are greater threats to many Nigeriens than security fears, say analysts. The country recently appealed for help following devastation by floods that have killed two dozen people and left some 75,000 others homeless.

Niger has the world’s largest uranium reserves, but receipts from uranium mining have made little impact on the lives of many Nigeriens. And while the country began pumping its first oil in early 2011, it was later was forced to cut back its budget due to poor revenue. The shortfalls could impact Niger’s security budget.

“An intense focus on security could affect Niger’s budget spending on other strategic sectors. The defence budget more than doubled in 2012, although it’s still behind the health and education expenditure,” said Jean-Hervé Jezequel, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group.

“The risk is that [expenditure] on social assistance programmes could increasingly be adjusted depending on security concerns, and it is doubtful that this will be to the benefit of the Nigerien population as a whole,” Jezequel told IRIN.

Counterproductive?

When Islamist rebels began advancing on Mali’s capital in January this year, Niger supported the French intervention. It has also sent some 900 soldiers as part of the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali. However, there are concerns that its stance in the Mali crisis and its security cooperation with Western countries could stoke extremist militia threats.

“As Islam is dominant in our country, it is easy for these forces of evil to infiltrate Nigerien youths,” noted Zarami Abba Kiari, the ruling party’s deputy spokesman, who argued that the national unity government could forestall such risks.

Insurgent groups have used Niger for their cross-border activities in Mali, Nigeria and Libya, and with light government presence in certain regions of Niger, the country risks becoming a safe haven and rear base for militant groups targeting other countries, like Chad and Algeria, that have largely expelled these groups from their territories, ISS reckons.

“The structural complexities of Niger, illustrated by its vast desert, its arid territory, and the borders it shares with Algeria, Libya and Chad, are certainly contributing factors to these [security] threats,” Camara told IRIN.

Weak governance, underdevelopment and poverty have created a breeding ground for militancy in West Africa and the Sahel, academics argue.

“There is need for concrete response to [Niger’s] socio-economic problems. Young people are looking for jobs, effective health care, education… If they are not satisfied, this can provide them with a reason to join jihadist movements,” said ISS’s Zounmenou.

bb/ob/rz  source http://www.irinnews.org

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Mali’s herders fear the rebels may strike again

Posted by African Press International on August 12, 2013

Herders in Gao region must walk a long distance to find pasture for their animals

GAO,  – Despite the victory of Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in Mali’s peaceful presidential elections at the weekend, sporadic violence continues in the north, where for months herders have been cut off from accessing traditional routes in search of pasture for fear of attacks by bandits and rebels.

Sporadic attacks continue in Gao, Timbuktu and parts of Kidal, pastoralists told IRIN.

Many are also too scared to enter towns which have seen clashes between locals and displaced people who have settled in their outskirts; or they fear rebels might steal their cattle and sheep on market days if they do enter town.

The rebels include National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) members, mainly in Kidal, but also in some villages north of Menaka in Gao Region. Elsewhere, locals joined one of several Islamist groups or the separatist Tuareg rebels.

“Some Islamists stayed behind in villages and rural areas following the French-led military intervention, hiding in and among the local populations when they were driven out of major towns,” said Capt Traoré with the Malian army in Bamako.

Keita will have his work cut out to end the insurgency and bring lasting peace to the north.

Herders in Forgho, 25km north of Gao city, and Bourem in Gao Region on the road to Kidal, told IRIN they had been attacked when they left the market on their way back into the desert with their animals. “They [the rebels] would threaten herders in the bush and stop stockbreeders on their way to the market and steal their cattle,” said Aklini Moliomone, a Songhai pastoralist from Forgho.

Robberies along the road from Gao to Tessalit in Kidal Region have also risen, according to French army communications officer Cyrille Zimmer.

Violence has also broken out between herders in Mali and displaced people or refugees returning from Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania, all of whom are also vying for access to scarce grazing land, according to Malian NGO Tassaght, based in Gao.

Northern Malian refugees have started to return to Mali from Mbera camp in Mauritania, travelling via Niafunké in Timbuktu Region, to Timbuktu town.

Market day in Forgho, 25km north of Gao

“The pastoralists from Burkina Faso who used to cross the border into Mali with their animals were not ready to share the limited resources with the displaced,” explained Wanalher Ag Alwaly with Tassaght in Gao.

Last year’s rains meant good pasture throughout much of the north, but many of these herders said they were unable to fully take advantage of it. This year rains arrived late in most of the north – coming two weeks ago – and have so far been weak, thus pasture is minimal, say pastoralists.

Competition for grazing land

“There is almost no grass and no water, because there are so many herders in this area and only limited grazing land. We have to walk far to find food for our animals,” said Moliomone.

On market day in Forgho, where thousands of herders congregate, 60-year-old herder Moussa Ag Bilal hoped to get a good price for his animals – mostly goats, plus one cow that is so thin that it has stopped producing milk. When a potential buyer approached to inspect the animals, Ag Bilal gently turned it to hide its sticking-out ribs. Afraid of rebels, he told IRIN he is too scared to move his animals to the grazing areas north of Gao.

While UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) forces and Malian soldiers are posted in most major towns, rural areas are sometimes left unmonitored.

According to MINUSMA, in some areas of the region around Menaka, MNLA are still in control, while suspected members of Ansar Dine and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) have been spotted in parts of Kidal Region. The road from Gao to Kidal – especially north of Tessalit – has seen an increase in bandit attacks; improvised explosive devices are occasionally used. “Last week a food truck was stopped and the cargo was taken away by rebels,” said MINUSMA spokesperson Michel Bonnardeux in the capital Bamako.

Undetonated explosives and arms left behind by the armed groups, and hidden in the terrain, pose another threat to herders and their animals.

Herders lift their goats onto a truck going to Gao

The tensions just reinforce pastoralists’ plight – many had most of their herd of confiscated by rebels or Islamists, or have had to eat their animals to survive, given the high prices and low availability of food across most of the north since the Islamist occupation. “Many [herders] fled without their animals. Others lost their herds when the rebels attacked their villages. They returned with nothing having lost their only source of income”, said Tassaght’s Ag Alwaly.

“The months of May, June and July are always hard for Mali’s herders,” he continued.

Animals weaker than last year

“The cattle are starving. This year the Islamist occupation, the following conflict and continued rebel attacks made life extra difficult,” Ahmed Ag Algarbi, a Tuareg pastoralist from Teshak, a Tuareg village in Timbuktu Region, told IRIN: “For two years we have had nothing to eat. We were forced to kill our goats to feed our families. Life in the desert is hard. Before, we at least had our animals, now we have nothing.”

Most of the animals IRIN came across were frail and very weak, even more so than the same time last year, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

Since January ICRC and the Malian Red Cross distributed roughly 400 tons of animal feed hoping to reach 30,000 herders during the lean season. Tassaght buys meat at above-market value to distribute among families in Gao and nearby villages to boost both livelihoods and food security. According to Gao-based herder Atarouna Abdoulaye, prices for goats and sheep went from US$30 to $6-8 in some markets.

The Red Cross also vaccinated two million cattle, sheep, goats, camels and donkeys to help restore their health as the rains approached. Often thin and weakened animals succumb to illness or drowning when the rains arrive, according to Agronomes et Vétérinaires Sans Frontières in Bamako. But between January and July insecurity hampered the ability of NGOs and ICRC to distribute food, seeds, fertilizers and tools in some areas, according to Jean Cimangay, ICRC’s project officer.

Tassaght plans to give returning herders small stocks of around 10 animals each, to help them build anew. “Some pastoralists had herds with over 100 animals. Ten goats is not much but at least it’s a start,” said Ag Alwaly.

aj/cb  source http://www.irinnews.org

 

 

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Malians and international Aid

Posted by African Press International on August 7, 2013

BAMAKO,  – There is little discernible economic infrastructure on the 635km drive from Mali’s capital, Bamako, to the central town of Mopti, except for speed bumps and checkpoints wher e local vendors congregate to target vehicles as they slow. Rusted signs and faded banners from international donors dot the scrubland, advertising development projects either long abandoned or never undertaken.

It is difficult to reconcile the poverty and dysfunction in Mali with the pre-conflict and pre-coup narrative of development success espoused by multilateral organizations and international NGOs alike. Right up until the ouster of President Amadou Toumani Touré in March 2012, the West African state was a darling of the aid community, lauded for having strung together multiple successful democratic transitions since 1991.

But the data tell a different story.

At best, aid to Mali has been ineffective from an economic or institutional development perspective, enabling corruption, undermining the government’s will and ability to raise revenue through productive means or taxation, and insulating it from accountability to the population, according to analysts and observers. At worst, these conditions directly led to the conflict in the north and political crisis in Bamako.

Money for nothing

Mali is one of the poorest countries in sub-Saharan Africa, ranking 182 out of 186 on the 2012 Human Development Index (HDI), 34 out of the 45 countries in sub-Saharan Africa in terms of 2012 GDP purchasing power parity (PPP) per capita, and has a negative real GDP growth rate.

As such, the country is heavily dependent on foreign aid, with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) estimating in 2008 that donors provided 60 to 80 percent of Mali’s special investment budget.

Though the country did achieve substantial GDP growth rates after the 1990s, the failure of that growth to improve the quality of life of most Malians suggests that it was most likely due to currency devaluation and gold exports rather than real economic production, said a working paper of the United Nations University-World Institute for Development Economics Research.

Further, anecdotal evidence suggests that aid has become something of a self-perpetuating system in Mali, generating employment while the dollars are turned on, but failing to create the conditions for sustainable economic growth, poverty reduction or institutional development.

“When the NGOs left, we were hit twice,” said a youth advocate in Mopti, speaking of the retreat of donors after the 2012 coup. “Of course the aid projects were important, but the unemployment effects were worse – up to 30 percent of youth worked for humanitarian organizations.”

These economic conditions cannot be attributed to the coup leaders, the separatist Tuareg rebels or Islamist militias; the country has languished at the bottom of the development pile since long before the 2012 coup and even before the HDI was first published in 1990.

Crisis of confidence

Mali has fared little better in terms of its political and public sector institutional development.

From 2003 to 2011, the country consistently ranked as mediocre in popular perceptions of public sector integrity, and in any given year was worse than at least half of the rest of sub-Saharan Africa. Tellingly, the single largest increase in public confidence, a 21.4 percent improvement, came after the 2012 coup.

Further, for every election cycle from 1992 to 2007, Mali largely trailed its Sahel neighbours in voter turnout for both parliamentary and presidential contests.

According to a February 2013 Malian opinion poll, the two most frequently cited perceived causes of the country’s various crises were “lack of patriotism among leaders” and “weakness of the state” (31 percent and 16 percent, respectively); a full 76 percent of respondents were unable to name their political representatives.

Aid and accountability

Channelling aid through the government of a country that suffers from endemic corruption at all levels perverts the state’s incentive structure, say analysts. It removes the need for the government to be externally accountable to its outside investors, in this case donors who knowingly participated in corruption. It also internally eliminates the need for the public sector to develop basic governing institutions, which represent the “vital link of accountability between state and citizen,” according to aid expert and author Jonathan Glennie. Without this accountability, citizens are removed from the political process and elites are free to extract and expropriate from the state with abandon, creating the conditions for state failure and conflict.

One local manifestation of this lack of accountability and oversight is the diversion of aid resources. According to Mahmoud Cheibani, a teacher at a Timbuktu secondary school, “we are poor not because of a lack of aid, we are poor because aid does not reach the targeted populations.”

“We are poor not because of a lack of aid, we are poor because aid does not reach the targeted populations.”

The situation is particularly problematic in the north.

According to the head of a local Malian NGO that operated in the north throughout the crisis and the Islamist occupation: “In Timbuktu, the president of the Haut Conseil Islamique [High Islamic Council] takes the biggest cut; in Gao it is the mayor; in Kidal it is the Intallah) family [Ifoghas Tuareg tribal leaders].”

Aid and conflict

At the sub-national and sub-regional level, there have been situations in which aid money has clearly fuelled ethnic conflict in Mali.

One prominent example was an ill-fated UN Development Programme project after the 1990s rebellion, where millions of dollars intended for disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of ex-combatants were given disproportionately to one ethnic group, the Ifoghas Tuaregs, and directly used to buy loyalty and consolidate power at the expense of their ethnic rivals, the Imghad Tuaregs.

Tracing a causal relationship between aid and conflict at a macro scale is more difficult, but several rigorous studies have confirmed this anecdotal evidence from Mali.

The argument is that aid drives conflict in countries that suffer from a low degree of institutional development and a high degree of unchecked executive power, instigating competition for “rents” – non-tax revenues – among elites. This is Mali in a nutshell: disproportionate executive power, bolstered by foreign aid that is channelled primarily through that branch of government at the expense of other institutions, widening the gap between citizenry and leadership and driving competition for the money.

Taken together, these data suggest that Mali’s problems are rooted in its institutions and further corroborate what some scholars have already asserted: the coup, Tuareg rebellion, al-Qaeda penetration and corruption of the state were all symptoms of the same basic institutional dysfunction. Nothing has fundamentally changed to address the deficiencies in accountability and oversight, yet over US$4 billion of development aid is poised to come online at the conclusion of the current political transition.

At such a critical transition point in Mali’s development, prospective donors would do well to examine new models and priorities for ensuring the effectiveness, sustainability and value of development projects.

Certainly not all aid is counterproductive, and this data by no means implicates all humanitarian relief efforts. Emergency disaster response by multilateral organizations and local and international NGOs was critical to mitigating the 2011-2012 Sahel food crisis, for example. But developing strong Malian institutions capable of taking the lead on such a response would ultimately be the most effective and sustainable path to prosperity.

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fm/ew/ob/rz source http://www.irinnews.org

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Norway applauds Mali for peaceful election process

Posted by African Press International on August 4, 2013

Norway applauds the people of Mali for the peaceful conduct of the first round of its presidential elections. After a period of conflict there is a great need for stable governance to ensure further development.

Norway and international observers report that the poll on 28 July proceeded peacefully. Norway has provided NOK 40 million to support the election process through the UN.

Minister of International Development Heikki Eidsvoll Holmås commented, “The people of Mali deserve a government with greater legitimacy to promote reconciliation efforts between north and south. It is very positive that the election has proceeded peacefully, with a high turnout. However there have also been clear shortcomings. For example many displaced people have not been able to vote. Further on, it is important that the votes are properly counted so that the results are respected.”

The count should be completed by Friday. It will then be clear whether one of the 28 presidential candidates has gained more than 50 % of the votes and can be declared president without the need for another round of voting. International and Malian observers have been posted to most of the constituencies, but threats from Islamists in the north-eastern Kidal region made it impossible for international observers to monitor the election in northern Mali.

Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide commented, “Mali has a long way to go. But a credible presidential election process is an important step in the right direction. Norway will support Mali as it moves forward, for example by contributing military and police officers to the UN force in the country.”

Norway has decided to send up to 20 officers to the UN peacekeeping force in Mali (MINUSMA) to help stabilise the country. Norway has also allocated around NOK 80 million in aid to Mali for this year. This is part of a significant Norwegian aid effort in the Sahel region.

 

 

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Malian refugees returning home face challenges

Posted by African Press International on July 30, 2013

Malian refugees return home as stability improves

DAKAR,  – Malians are slowly returning from refuge in neighbouring Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger as stability improves more than a year after a military coup and an insurgency shook the West African country.

Some 8,148 people who returned on their own were registered between 25 June and 12 July in Mali’s Gao, Mopti and Timbuktu regions. It is the most significant number of returnees since reports emerged of spontaneous returns, said Anouk Desgroseilliers, an information officer with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Mali.

“There are still explosive remnants of war, robberies in some regions as well as a sense of wariness, but the lull in violence over the past three months, and the presence of the army, the authorities and the local administration is encouraging returns,” said Boni Mpaka, OCHA’s deputy head of office in Mali.

More than 175,000 Malians are still living in refuge and 353,455 others have been displaced within the country since the outbreak of violence mainly in northern Mali following the March 2012 coup.

“We are not encouraging any returns at the moment. But we are assessing the needs the returnees will have,” Desgroseilliers said. Aid groups voice worry about high malnutrition rates in northern Mali’s Gao Region, which they say could worsen with the spontaneous return of refugees. The global acute malnutrition rate is 13.5 percent, slightly below the 15 percent emergency threshold.

The country’s elections set for 28 July are also encouraging returns, said Lucien Simba, a humanitarian affairs officer with OCHA in Dakar. “People hope things are going to change.” The authorities have set plans for refugees in neighbouring countries to vote.

“Search for pasture, preparation for next year return to school, the upcoming elections, people coming to verify the status of their homes and belongings; there are several reasons why people are gradually moving to Mali,” the Danish Refugee Council (DRC), told IRIN.

However, the returnees lack sufficient food, need to be helped in rebuilding their homes and restocking their animals. Children will also need conditions in place a part from safety, teachers and functional schools for returning to school next year. A lot of efforts should be channeled to work on social cohesion and rebuilding resilience capacities at the community level which has been weakened by the unrest, DRC said.

cr/ob/cb source http://www.irinnews.org

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Voters faced frustration before the voting day in Mali

Posted by African Press International on July 29, 2013

Photo: IRIN
Timbuktu in northern Mali. (file photo)

BAMAKO,  – Malians voted yesterday on 28 July in the first ever polls since a military coup and an insurgency 16 months ago, but complaints of missing voting cards and worries that the elections are rushed marred the run-up to the ballot.

Some 6.8 million Malians have been registered to vote. Two days to the poll, electoral officials scrambled to issue voting cards amid complaints of disorganization. Other voters nonetheless looked to the elections hoping they will set the country back on the path to recovery.

“Mali has suffered political and military instability these past months,” said Aboubacar Hamidine, a refugee in neighbouring Niger. “I am going to vote to end this instability.”, he said before the voting day.

Forty-year old Hamadikane Maiga, who was also forced to seek refuge in Niger told IRIN: “We hope that these presidential elections will bring lasting peace to our country. This will usher a new era in Mali.”

According to Mariam Sangaré, a teacher in the Malian capital, Bamako, “The top priority for the new president must be the reconciliation between all Malians, because we are divided, south versus north and vice versa.”

While Bamako shop-keeper, Oumar Oulk Mammouny, stressed the economy must come first. “The economy is in pieces. Everything has stopped…the new president has to give us confidence that we’ll be able to eat three times a day.”

Malian authorities have made plans for refugees in next-door Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger to take part in the election. However, only 19,000 registered to vote out of 73,000 refugees of voting age, said the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), which is helping with voting in the camps. The delay in issuing voters cards has affected many within Mali as well.

“I was here two weeks ago. I waited for two hours, before I gave up,” said Mariam Guindo, who had gone to Bamako to pick up her card. “I hope I will have my card today so I don’t have to come back a third time.”

France, which sent troops in January to beat back Islamist militants who threatened to march onto Bamako from Mali’s north, pressed for the vote to be held. Observers have raised concern over the timing of the elections, arguing that while they are important in helping Mali back on its feet, their credibility were as equally critical.

A UN peacekeeping force is currently rolling out in Mali, taking up from African troops who have been in the country for some months, but have largely been off the combat scene.

“Disastrous” process

Tiébilé Dramé, a former minister and chief negotiator between Mali’s interim government and Tuareg rebels, termed the elections preparations “disastrous”. He withdrew from the presidential race after his attempt to have the courts move the election date was rejected.

“Organizing elections without the full participation of the population in the [northern] region of Kidal, and possibly Gao and Timbuktu will only deepen the divide between the north and the south and possibly lead to new rebellions,” he said.

“What other country would accept an imperfect vote. If this is only to have an elected government in Bamako, why not wait two, three months until the situation has stabilized,” said Ousmane Maiga, who was displaced from his home in Mali’s northern Gao region and is now living in Bamako.

Disgruntled troops overthrew then president Amadu Toumani Touré in March 2012 on charges that his government had failed to tackle a Tuareg rebellion in the north. The coup however, eased the way for the Tuaregs to seize swathes of territory before being ousted by Islamist rebels, some linked to Al-Qaeda, who imposed strict Islamic law during their occupation of the northern half of the country.

The violence and insecurity has left more than 175,000 Malians living across the borders and 353,455 others displaced within the country, according to UNHCR.

In Mauritania and Burkina Faso only about five percent of the refugees had received voting cards by voting day.

“We made lists of all refugees who are eligible to vote and sent them Bamako. Out of 4,161 names on our list, the authorities could only identify 932 people,” said UNHCR’s Charlotte Arnaud.

“We were registered in Bamako in 2010 and I should be having my card, but I don’t,” said Ousmane Ag Dalla, the head of Tuareg refugees in Burkina Faso. “Things have been rushed and people are not ready.

“Mali is not ready to hold proper elections, but it’s better to do it because we will never be ready as there are so many problems. We from the north are hoping to have a president so that the underlying problems can be tackled by a legitimate president,” he said before the voting day.

The Malians expect results on Friday, a week after the vote..

kh/bb/bo/ob/aj/oa source http://www.irinnews.org

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Humanitarian needs rising

Posted by African Press International on July 5, 2013

Malian refugees in Damba camp, Burkina Faso (file photo)

DAKAR, 4 July 2013 (IRIN) – Humanitarian agencies have revised upwards their appeal to help Sahelians affected by hunger, malnutrition, impoverishment and conflict to US$1.7 billion, said UN Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Sahel Robert Piper.

“The Sahel is always in crisis mode,” Piper told journalists at a Dakar press conference.

Some 11.3 million Sahelians are estimated to be short of food this year and 1.5 million under-fives acutely malnourished.

As of May 2013, 345,000 acutely malnourished children had been treated in UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and NGO-run nutrition centres. But despite year-on-year nutrition support, surveys show malnutrition rates of over 10 percent in almost all of the countries, and above the 15 percent threshold in parts of Chad, Mauritania and Niger.

In Mauritania one third of the population is food-insecure.

Most vulnerable are families who were affected by the 2012 drought, and who have not yet recovered their animal or seed stocks, and the half a million Malians displaced by conflict in the north. But even Mali – the most “visible and acute” crisis in the region, with 3.5 million people estimated to be food-insecure – has received just 29 percent of the funding called for.

Just 35 percent of the amount needed – US$607 million – has been received thus far, leaving a US$1 billion shortfall. The funds received are unevenly spread, said Piper. “We recognize the response that has been given, but we are concerned that it is not equally spread across all sectors.”

Agriculture is just 23 percent funded, meaning it is already too late to get the necessary seeds to farmers to plant in time for the rains.

“We have missed a window of opportunity here to support agriculture and reduce the number of farmers in need of aid. We cannot distribute the seeds that are needed [for rain-fed agriculture] but there is still a lot that can be done,” said Piper, pointing to livestock vaccinations during the rainy season, getting animal fodder where it is needed, and getting seeds to farmers who plant on flood plains during the rainy season (the harvest is in late August).

Other severely under-funded sectors include water and sanitation (11 percent) and health (26 percent), both of which underpin infant nutrition; as well as education (10 percent), and early recovery (8 percent).

Most Malian refugee students living in camps are unable to go to school because of the lack of funds.

Interestingly, early recovery is not prioritized by donors (despite much talk of the need to boost resilience in the Sahel this year) to make vulnerable families less reliant on aid and more able to cope with harsh climatic conditions and endemic poverty.

aj/cb source http://www.irinnews.org

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Africa’s pride – singer/songwriter Rokia Traorè, and company perform at The Arts Festival of North Norway June 2013

Posted by African Press International on June 25, 2013

www.africanpress.me/ - Singer/Songwriter Rokia Traorè performing at The Arts Festival of North Norway June 2013

http://www.africanpress.me/ – Singer/Songwriter Rokia Traorè performing at The Arts Festival of North Norway June 2013

It has come to pass that there is no doubt she is the new Star in her own right, who has found a place for herself nationally and internationally in the world of music. A Self-confident woman who says she knows what she wants and that her heart carries warm feelings and reaches out to everyone. She is Rokia Traore – a true African lady. She charmed a full concert hall in Harstad during her performance. Everyone went home happy and satisfied.

Malian singer Rokia Traorè on Monday the 24th and Tuesday the 25th of June 2013 was the talk of the town during the Arts Festival of North Norway after her thrilling performances.

SK-API Interview with Rokia Traorè:

Traorè is a very exciting artist with a clear message in her music. She convinced the festival enthusiasts during her two performances during this year’s Arts Festival of North Norway with her shows Damau/ Dream and Donke/ Dance that she is a talented African Musician.

Damau and Dream featured intimate and acoustic setting based on music and lyrics from the Malian storytelling tradition. During this performance, Traorè had two musicians with her on stage.

PART 1:

PART 2:

PART 3

PART 4:

www.africanpress.me/ - Rokia Traore` with her two-man band on stage in Harstad, during the Arts Festival of North Norway after performing Monday 25.June 2013

http://www.africanpress.me/ – Rokia Traore` with her two-man band on stage in Harstad, during the Arts Festival of North Norway after performing  – June 2013

Donke, a dance-based concert highlighted the event. In addition to her vocals, she also played the kora and ngoni instruments.

She is one of the most exciting singer and songwriter that the continent of Africa is proud to have.

This was her first time to perform during the yearly Arts Festival of North Norway.

RELATED ARTICLE:

  1. AUDIO:  Singer Rokia Traorè in Concert at the Arts Festival of North Norway June 2013
  2. “One on one” with Tone Winje, The Director of The Arts Festival of North Norway

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Survival sex: Weekly meetings for sex workers in Mopti and Sévaré

Posted by African Press International on June 9, 2013

A sex worker, displaced from the north, in Mopti

SÉVARÉ/BAMAKO,  – More displaced women and girls – some as young as 13 – are turning to sex work to get by in Mali where 14 months of occupation and conflict have forced 475,000 people from their homes in the north, according to NGOs.

NGO Danaya So (House of Trust in the local language Bambara), has registered 3,800 sex workers in central Mali’s towns of Mopti and Sévaré, as well as in Bamako, but the real number is much higher, says its director, Kadidjatou Coulibaly.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has registered 41 girls in Mopti aged 15-18 who have turned to survival sex. “Of the 41 we registered, almost all were without their parents or without their husbands who they said had disappeared or been killed during the fighting,” said Aminata Dicko Sangaré, UNICEF’s protection project administrator in Mali.

Coulibaly visits the brothels and houses where young women work, three times a week, trying to raise awareness of the health risks associated with sex work and to find women and girls alternative incomes. Most of them are single young women living away from their families.

She said her workload soared following the Islamist occupation in April 2012, and has remained high.

“I first heard about the rebels raping women in May, a couple of weeks after they occupied Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu. Almost immediately after we received the first group of young women.”

Over the past year the number of women living in `maisons closes’ or brothels in Sévaré and Mopti has doubled, while in the street, in bars and some hotels, more sex workers are visible, said Coulibaly.

At the end of 2012, staff at the local health clinic in Sévaré said HIV/AIDS was on the increase among blood donors, according to Sylvia Mollet, who works with the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria in Bamako.

Maimouna’s experience

In April 2012, Maimouna*, 17, fled 570km south to Sévaré in central Mali, a week after Tuareg rebels – the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) – and then Islamists, occupied her home town of Gao.

“I came here and there were so many men, mainly Malian soldiers who had fled when the rebels attacked the towns in the north,” Maimouna said. Soon they became her clients, she said.

She now takes 3-5 clients a night to pay for her food, clothing and rent; on average she earns US$2 a night. “I do not want to do this, but I have no choice. It is really bad but this is the only way for me to get money at the moment,” she told IRIN.

NGO Danaya So organizes weekly meetings for sex workers in Mopti and Sévaré

Single females without their parents and who have nowhere to stay are the most vulnerable, according to Danaya So. The conflict has separated many families, said the NGO’s project coordinator Marie Denou in Bamako, with husbands working in one town and wives and children in another, leaving them vulnerable.

Many unaccompanied minors may not have told their parents how they will support themselves, and cannot expect any support from their family, said Coulibaly. “They say they work in the market or clean in peoples’ homes. If their families found out how they were making a living they would not be able to return home.”

“The pressure on the young women to help support their family is high and it is not unusual for a mother or other female relative to push them into going onto the street,” said the Global Fund’s Mollet.

Risks

Many women do not identify themselves as sex workers and call the men they sleep with boyfriends, which can enable HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases to spread, said Mollet. “The man will argue he is a boyfriend and refuse to wear a condom,” she told IRIN.

Danaya So convenes weekly meetings in the homes of sex workers to discuss the dangers of sexually transmitted diseasesand how to protect themselves. Waiting for the meeting to start, the young women, all in their teens and early twenties, keep busy gossiping, braiding each other’s hair and playing with their Chinese counterfeit smartphones. “My boyfriend bought me this,” said Fatima*, aged 20. “We sleep together and he gives me money to buy food and other things I need. Because he is a soldier he is at least paid, even if it is not enough.”

UNICEF and NGO Catholic Relief Services will soon give cash transfers to displaced northern who have become sex workers, to try to cover their basic needs.

Though no one can say for sure, many believe the number of sex workers is expected to increase with the arrival of the international peacekeeping troops. There are already 6,000 foreign soldiers in Mali, and in the coming weeks some 5,000 more will arrive to support MINUSMA, the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission there.

Many Malians are also growing increasingly vulnerable. People who were already struggling before the crisis began, are certainly worse off 14 months later,” said Mollet. “They have lost it all, maybe even their parents.”

*not her real name

kh/aj/cb source http://www.irinnews.org

 

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Mali: A rush to elections is dangerous

Posted by African Press International on June 7, 2013

Elections in Mali could pose a danger, if rushed, say observers (file photo)

HIGHLIGHTS

  • July elections could further destabilize north
  • MINUSMA will barely have settled in by July
  • Reconciliation body yet to gain momentum
  • Elections would coincide with rains, Ramadan

DAKAR/BAMAKO,  – As international donors, notably France and the USA, as well as the Economic Community of West African States, push for July presidential elections in Mali, critics say doing so could foment factionalization in the north thus further destabilizing it, threaten ongoing negotiations over Kidal town, and hamper reconciliation and dialogue. IRIN spoke to analysts, citizen activists and would-be voters to glean their views.

It is clear why certain outsiders are pushing for elections, said Jamie Bouverie in Africa Report: France needs to put in place a legitimate authority to enable it to declare the Mali problem over; the US requires a democratically elected authority to restart its aid and investments; and the UN requires a legitimate partner for MINUSMA, its stabilization mission.

“Conducting elections is the only realistic way,” said Paul Melly, associate fellow at think tank Chatham House. “If there were no restoration of democratic structures, the country would not get international aid and would struggle to cooperate with others countries.”

Some Malians agree. Maimouna Dagnoko, a trader in Bamako, told IRIN: “The government must do all it can to hold these elections in July. Only through them can we put in place a legitimate authority which can take charge. The longer the transition government persists, the further we sink into the abyss.”

But while all agree that elections are needed, many say rushing them will further destabilize Mali. Inter-communal violence, suicide attacks and roadside bombs recur in the north, while France plans to bring its troop count down to 1,000 (from 4,000 in April) by election month, creating a security vacuum, some say. While MINUSMA is set to fully deploy in July it will take time to establish itself.

“What makes elections highly complicated is the situation in the north – not only Kidal, which gets most of the attention, but in Ménaka, Gao and Timbuktu, which have not been sorted out,” said Yvan Guichaoua, international politics lecturer at the University of East Anglia, mentioning the continuation of exactions against light-skinned people in parts of the north – inter-communal violence between the Movement for the National Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and Arab fighters in Ber (Timbuktu Region) and Anefis (in Kidal Region). “Distrust between communities is still very high. Just think back to the 1992 national pact, which was ambitious but still led to three more years of communal violence.”

The Kidal question remains controversial: Malian troops this week wrested control of Anefis, midway between Gao and Kidal town, as part of a military offensive that is assumed to aim to take back Kidal Region from the MNLA. This offensive will have stymied the Burkina Faso-led negotiations currently under way between members of the MNLA, the High Council of Azawad (formerly of MNLA and then Ansar Dine) and the Malian authorities.

No “game-changers”

One problem is that while the Bamako political landscape has changed a bit since the March 2012 military coup, newcomers have by and large not shown any more concern for addressing the country’s core problems than their predecessors, said Guichaoua. “The godfathers of Malian politics are still in the game – there are no game-changers there,” he told IRIN.

Elections must be a beginning not an end, he added. If they are rushed, then after them, the problems of alienation in the north, the collapse of the Malian state, an inability to provide quality basic services such as health and education, and impunity for abuses that took place both recently and in previous conflicts over the north, will all persist.

Truth and reconciliation

All analysts IRIN spoke to stressed the importance of community and national-level reconciliation and dialogue. “For generations, tensions between nomadic Tuaregs and other ethnic groups have caused deep wounds that can only be healed through a truth and reconciliation process,” said academics Greg Mann and Bruce Whitehouse in a March article. “The scope of this process should not be restricted to events in northern Mali, but should encompass misdeeds committed throughout the country, including by the previous government and the soldiers who overthrew it a year ago.”

But the Commission for Dialogue and Reconciliation (already set up) has yet to gain momentum, and its mandate is overly broad, said Guichaoua. Further, several communities, including the Bella and those represented byCOREN (a northern Malian group calling for unity amid rebellion) do not recognize it.

One risk is that, once elected, no politician will want to adopt a transformative agenda that might destabilize their hold on power, he said.

The general feeling among many southern Malians is that they are tired of Tuareg rebellions, and have little appetite for further reconciliation moves, said University of Ghent history lecturer Baz Lecocq.

Mali has rarely done truth and reconciliation well, so there is a dearth of models to draw on. One successful attempt discussed at a gathering of Mali experts at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London last week was in 1996 in Bourem in the Gao Region, where leaders from various communities joined forces to put an end to mutual distrust and violence. There are few present-day examples, though some community-level dialogue is going on in Burkina Faso’s refugee camps, according to one analyst. “But just because there is no clear bottom-up approach at present, does not mean there should be a top-down one,” said Guichaoua, “It is unlikely to reap long-term dividends.”

Legitimacy

Election supporters say elections are the only way to restore some sort of legitimacy for Mali. “Elections will not solve everything… but not having a democratic process will not make it any easier,” said Chatham House’s Melly.

Elected officials have long struggled with legitimacy in Mali – both in the south and the north, where only 40 percent of the electorate on average turns out to vote, said Gregory Mann, lecturer in African studies at Columbia University in a blog conversation with academics and Mali experts Bruce Whitehouse, Baz Lecocq and Bruce Hall. And this support for politicians grows weaker still when the state is unable to deliver basic services.

“We tend to think of this as a problem between Bamako and Kidal… but what seems much more problematic for the future is the fact that the health service collapsed, that the state completely delegitimized itself, and its infrastructure was destroyed in 2012,” said Bruce Hall, who lectures on African history at Duke University in the USA.

International diplomats and local authorities should be wary of partial credibility, said Guichaoua. “Either you are legitimate or you are not… What if a candidate who has lost, tries to inflame the situation and argue elections have been manipulated or rigged. You need something serious if you don’t want to pay the price afterward.

“Veneration for elections on the part of the international community has led to failures in the past… [he mentioned the Democratic Republic of Congo] “Why not wait a bit?… “We faced a pretty dramatic crisis over the past 15 months, and this could have been an eye-opening experience. If we let things go on as usual, what will the next crisis be?”

Logistics

Putting questions of security and sustainable peace aside, no one can agree if it is even feasible to hold elections in July. It is not an ideal month, given the start of the Ramadan fast, and the rains which will prevent many rural voters from participating – something that could lead northern pastoralists not to see the elections as legitimate. “Even under the best of circumstances, July is a terrible time for elections in Mali,” said Baz Lecocq.

Much of the voting in villages in the north takes place through mobile voting booths, which would probably be blocked by the rains. “If you want low voter turnout, organize elections in July,” he said, noting that July elections in the past have led to low voter turnout.

Figuring out a way to enable the 174,129 refugees in Burkina Faso, Niger and Mauritania to vote is crucial, said Guichaoua, not to mention the many unregistered refugees who are getting by in capital cities such as Ouagadougou, Niamey and Nouakchott. “How do you identify these people?” he asked.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) will allow the Malian authorities to conduct voter registration in the camps on a voluntary basis, it said in a communiqué.

Youssouf Kampo, a member of the national independent election commission, is optimistic: “We are in full preparation… Materials are already in place, except in some parts of Timbuktu and Gao, where they were destroyed. Voting booths, ballot boxes, ink and others things are all in place. I believe we will succeed in time.”

Gal Siaka Sangaré, a member of the government’s General Office on Elections (DGE), told IRIN they are making progress towards biometric voter registration despite some technical glitches. “We have to respect the 28 July date and pray to God that it all works out,” he said.

aj/ob/cb source http://www.irinnews.org

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AU ready for rapid deployment of soldiers in the continent when required

Posted by African Press International on June 3, 2013

The African Union wants to urgently establish a quick reaction force to deal with the continent’s crises

HIGHLIGHTS

  • AU spurred into action by French intervention
  • 1,500 soldiers for rapid deployment at any time
  • Troop contributions to new force will be voluntary
  • More heavy air lift aircraft needed

JOHANNESBURG,  – A newly sanctioned African Union (AU) force for quick deployment in conflicts such as in Mali is being promoted as a stop-gap measure ahead of the planned formation of the “rapid deployment capability” (RDC) African Standby Force (ASF).

Unlike the ASF, which will also have policing and civilian duties, the African Immediate Crisis Response Capacity (AICRC) force will have “a strictly military capacity with high reactivity to respond swiftly to emergency situations upon political decisions to intervene in conflict situations within the continent,” Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, chairperson of the AU Commission, said in her recent report to the AU summit in Addis Ababa.

While the AU’s failure to resolve crises in countries like Côte d’Ivoire, Libya and Mali has been a source of embarrassment to the continent-wide body, the AU Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) is widely regarded as a success, with the annual US$500 million running costs bankrolled by international partners.

AMISOM provides “pride” for the AU, according to analysts, as African forces at the cost of significant lives (some estimates say thousands), were able to achieve what a far better equipped US force failed to do in Somalia – bring about an opportunity for peace.

Spurred into action

Dlamini-Zuma said in her report Mali was a spur for the AICRC’s formation and it was “obvious” an African military force with an RDC would have meant the French military intervention would not have been “the only recourse”.

“[The French intervention in Mali] left a bad taste in the mouths of many people here and led to discussions at the highest level of the AU”

Solomon Dersso, a senior researcher at the Addis Ababa office of the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), a Pretoria-based think tank, told IRIN Mali interim president Dioncounda Traoré’s reaching out to former colonial power France for military assistance to counter the Islamist rebels “left a bad taste in the mouths of many people here [Addis Ababa and AU headquarters] and led to discussions at the highest level of the AU.”

According to Dlamini-Zuma, the AICRC will be drawn from a “reservoir of 5,000 troops, with operational modules in the form of tactical battle groups of 1,500 personnel that can be deployed rapidly… which must have a minimum initial self-sustainment period of 30 days”.

The report said the AICRC would have three tactical battle groups, comprised of three infantry battalions of 850 troops each, an artillery support group and light armour elements, as well as an air wing of 400 troops, which would include strike aircraft and helicopters and logistical support, including strategic airlift capabilities. The unit would have a “10-day notice of movement”.

The force headquarters will have a nucleus of 50 staff and AICRC duties would range from “stabilization, peace enforcement and intervention missions; neutralization of terrorist groups, other cross-border criminal entities, armed rebellions; and emergency assistance to Member States within the framework of the principle of non-indifference for protection of civilians,” Dlamini-Zuma’s report said.

Lamamra Ramtane, AU commissioner for peace and security, said in astatement that troop contributions to the AICRC would be on a voluntary basis by member states and those countries participating would finance the AICRC so it could “act independently”.

The African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) is seen as Africa’s greatest conflict resolution success

On the face of it, the AICRC looks like a prototype of the ASF, except there appear to be slight differences in the way the two forces can be deployed. Lamamra said: “Command and control [of the AICRC] will be ensured by the AU Peace and Security Council upon request of a Member State for intervention.”

The ASF mandate under the Constitutive Act of the AU adopted in 2000, is a complete break from its predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity, which adopted a philosophy of non-interference in member states. The Act gave the AU both the right to intervene in a crisis, and an obligation to do so “in respect of grave circumstances, namely: war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity”.

Clayson Monyela, spokesperson for the South Africa foreign affairs department, told IRIN the AU remained committed to the ASF, and although any AICRC deployment was conditional on a government’s invitation, “there may be exceptional circumstances” where the force could intervene in the absence of such a request.

Ad hoc forces

Outside of AU and UN missions, African military operations have favoured ad hoc forces, such as the four-country force ranged against Joseph Kony’sLord Resistance Army (LRA).

The advantage of ad hoc forces, Sivuyile Bam, the AU Commission head of the Peace and Support Operations Division, told IRIN last year, was that it used the lead nation concept and was more direct, rather than dealing in the political intricacies of the ASF. “A country can go to the AU [with the ad hoc system] and say I have got a battalion. I will deploy it tomorrow.”

Bam envisaged a “combined system for the next 5-10 years. The ASF system is maturing and taking time to develop and still relying on the lead nation [ad hoc] concept. So when there is a need for an operation – send out a note to the (AU) member states saying `I need soldiers, please help me out’.”

“Once it [the AICRC] gets a life it may take a different course altogether, depending on its success”

The AICRC is framed as a “temporary arrangement”, the ISS’s Dersso said, but “once it gets a life it may take a different course altogether, depending on its success,” and may evolve from an ad hoc force into a “fully fledged unit” at the disposal of the AU.

Some analysts have argued that a functioning, efficient and well equipped ASF may still lack the capacity to simultaneously operate in places like South Sudan, the Sahel and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

If and when the ASF eventually materializes, troop contributions to the five stand-by brigades will be based on Africa’s five regional economic blocs with each supplying about 5,000 troops, 720 police officers and 60 civilian members (e.g. human rights advisers, political affairs and public information officers) – and each regional bloc’s brigade will be placed on a six month rotational standby every two years to be available for rapid deployments.

The ASF will fulfil a range of functions, for example, supplying troops for attachment to a regional military, political or UN mission; or it may deploy a regional peacekeeping force within a 30-day timeframe, or 14 days in “grave circumstances”, such as genocide.

Question marks over military capacity

An urgent need for quick reaction forces was highlighted in a recent ISS report that said “the risk of instability and violence [in Africa] is likely to persist and even increase in some instances.”

Drivers of conflict cited by the report included: the fact that “many states were trapped somewhere in between autocracy and democracy;” the “bad-neighbourhood” syndrome resulting in the effects of conflict spilling across borders; and post-conflict states lapsing back into “repeat violence”.

The imminent deployment of a 3,000-strong “robust, highly mobile”intervention force – comprising troops from Malawi, South Africa and Tanzania – under the masthead of SADCBrig (Southern African Development Community Brigade) to “neutralize” armed groups in the eastern DRC under UN Resolution 2098 has a stronger resemblance to the AICRC’s mandate rather than to the ASF’s, as it will comprise a combat force without any civilian or policing appendages.

However, deployment of the intervention force in DRC is being delayed by a combination of factors, including an increasing scarcity of available heavy air lift aircraft, and a paucity of landing strips capable of handling them, Helmoed-Romer Heitman, a senior correspondent for Jane’s Defence Weekly, told IRIN.

“How do you deploy quickly if you don’t have heavy airlift?”

“How do you deploy quickly if you don’t have heavy airlift?” he asked. African militaries were chartering aircraft “as usual”, but relied on former Soviet logistical aircraft, such as Antonovs, which were becoming obsolete, he said.

South Africa ordered eight Airbus military A400m transport aircraft in 2005 at a cost of about US$1 billion, but later cancelled the order citing financial constraints and associated cost increases, and was reimbursed the $407 million down-payment in December 2011 by the European aircraft manufacturer. The transport aircraft were expected to enter service in 2013.

Heitman also questioned how the AU defined the concept of “quick reaction”, alluding to recent events in Bangui, the capital of the Central Africa Republic (CAR), that saw the botched deployment of South African troops in support of CAR President Francois Bozizé. Thirteen South African troops were killed and two others died from wounds on their return.

“A lot can happen in 48 hours. Putting a paratroop battalion on the ground in 24 hours is a quick reaction,” he said.

go/cb  source http://www.irinnews.org

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