Justin Chambers, 23 Mar 2017
In our continued series about Mali Carol and I investigated the country’s economy and future fiscal planning. In the course of our research we interviewed Minister Ousmane Sy who in addition to being the former Secretary General of the President’s Office, former Minister of Decentralization and former Minister of Territorial Government and Administration, Sy was also a high ranking Expert with the UNDP and holds a PhD in Economic and Social Development from the University of Paris.
Considered one of Africa’s leading experts in Economic reform and decentralization, Ousmane Sy had some pointed advice for the government of Mali regarding how the county’s economic policies should be handled. While the Malian Ministry of Finance recently released an economic forecast with a 5.3% growth rate for fiscal 2017, Minister Sy commented in the interview that “For many years the international financial institutions have been crediting our country with good growth rates, but poverty is getting worse every day and it is fueling crises and political and institutional instability…” Indeed after researching the issue of poverty in Mali any rational person would have to agree with Minister Sy’s bleak assessment.
Minister Sy gave some further sobering opinions about the economic-social hardships that the average Malian endures on a daily basis and warned that Mali “exports raw materials to the outside and regional and local territories export their human and natural resources to the capital and its surroundings.” This is a very valid point considering that a large segment of Malian young males are unable to find proper employment in Bamako and coupled with the recruiting tactics of AQIM, Boko Haram, and ISIS these disenfranchised youth are at high risk to fall into the hands of these ‘Islamic Extremists’. This is particularly worrying in a country that is, according to an article released last week by the Washington Post “ The world’s most dangerous UN mission” (www.washingtonpost.com/sf/world/2017/02/17/the-worlds-deadliest-u-n-peacekeeping-mission/).
Decrying the Malian governments current policy of focusing the majority of government expenditures in the capital city of Bamako, Minister Sy claimed that this short sighted fiscal policy is causing severe “territorial imbalances and the management of public affairs which do not create the conditions for a shared growth and therefore a sustainable development.” He also
public expenditure towards regional and local territories”. Minister Sy it seems does have free market beliefs and was quite clear that if the government truly reforms and decentralizes the economy that industries such as cotton, food and fruit products, livestock, River fishing, handicrafts would create encouraging investment prospects for the private sector.
Looking towards greater regional economic cooperation Minister Sy strongly advocated for Mali to aggressively integrate itself with The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and stated that “ECOWAS is the most relevant framework for international action by Mali and other States in the region. As long as the countries of the region continue to go into the world in a scattered order, they will only be objects for the ambitions of others or the victims.” Although ECOWAS is indeed a much needed economic body for West Africa I beg to differ on Minister Sy’s full embracement of ECOWAS as the answer to all of Mali’s economic woes. A senior official source at the US Embassy in Joha annesburg (who I spoke to after the interview with Minister Sy) told me that the challenge with ECOWAS is that it is “a political body bogged down in conflicting national interests.” This source also pointed out that Mali’s recent bi- lateral trade agreements with Rwanda will bring “More deliverables to the Malian fiscal table in the next 2 years than ECOWAS will bring in a decade”.
While I may debate some of the details and nuances of Minister Sy’s advice on Mali’s economy I believe that the Canadian government should certainly talk to this man before deciding on the next set of funding for Mali and West Africa. In further pursuit of finding clarity to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s foreign aid polices in West Africa I interviewed Aliou Boubacar Diallo, a controversial Malian business Tycoon, Chairman of the Wassoul'Or Group one of Mali’s leading mining companies as well as being President of President of Petroma Inc. a Canadian mining company with vested interests in Mali. According to Diallo, his controversial status in the country has to do in part with a control struggle launched by his competitors over his investments in Mali. “Obviously you can not please everybody when you're African and you're looking to ensure that gold also shines for Africans” says Diallo in this regard, all the while displaying fierce support for of a free market and a decentralized Malian economy.
While Minsiter Sy supports Mali’s inclusion into regional economic alliances (such as ECOWAS) Mr. Diallo had nothing but praise for the Canadian government’s support of bi-lateral trade relations with Mali and commented that “The Canadian Embassy had been involved with the mining companies at a community development forum held in December 2016 in the Kalana region where our mine is located”. Mr. Diallo further stated that the “Government of Canada is called on the Malian government to be “more proactive in de-concentrating and decentralizing actively contributing, through various programs with mining companies and the State of Mali to rural communities, to reducing poverty in the areas of intervention of these companies.”
Our Canadian readers may be surprised to learn that one of Canada’s biggest mining interests in Mali is held by Vancouver’s B2Gold Corp, a company that is the main vendor operating the Fekola project in Mali. I could write a book about B2Gold’s controversial success in creating a market cap of nearly 4 Billion USD in under 9 years since its initial establishment of operations in Central America followed by extensive operations in several African countries. But one cannot disagree with Mr. Diallo that Mali, (whether for the good or bad), is a huge recipient of DFI (Direct Foreign Investment) from Canadian private sector companies that are (like B2Gold) politically and financially supported by the Canadian Government.
Diallo’s personal involvement in Mali’s mining related ventures has indeed had a nurturing effect on investment prospects for the country on a national level and he is highly respected in Canadian mining circles. Mr. Diallo is a former supporter of Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, who then established his own opposition political party the ‘ADP Maliba’. He has also played ‘Peacemaker’ over the past few years by attempting to negotiate with armed groups in Mali’s volatile Northern region. With an eye on the vulnerability of Mali’s youthful Northern Muslim population, who may fall prey to Islamic extremist ideology, Mr. Diallo claimed that Canada’s support of the mining industry in Mali “can stop rural-to-urban migration, reduce migration flows and even give new direction and hope to the youth of our country, thus sparing them radicalism and extremism”.
Mali is a country that is beset by terrorism, plagued by poverty and suffering from the scourge of corruption. After interviewing Minister Ousmane Sy and Mr. Aliou Boubacar Diallo, I am convinced that both men have the integrity, intellectual capacity and international experience to play future key roles in both government and the private sector, respectfully, in reforming and developing Mali’s economy. Listed below is the full transcript of the interviews and comments of Minister Ousmane Sy and Mr. Aliou Boubacar Diallo:
Question: What are the main obstacles to the path of economic growth in Mali and what advice would you give to the current government about its economy?
Ousmane SY (OSY): I would like to say first that for me economic growth alone is not enough for development. This growth must be sustainable and equitably shared. For many years the international financial institutions have been crediting our country with good growth rates, but poverty is getting worse every day and it is fueling crises and political and institutional instability.
The main obstacle to growth that leads to development remains the high concentration of the economy's sphere. A concentration on export products in the form of raw materials, a concentration of public spending that attracts all the sponsors of initiatives to the capital and its surroundings, depopulating and deserting the rest of the national territory. The country exports raw materials to the outside and regional and local territories export their human and natural resources to the capital and its surroundings. Hence the territorial imbalances and themanagement of public affairs which do not create the conditions for a shared growth and therefore a sustainable development.
In terms of advice, I advocate for the priority of promoting all initiatives that create endogenous added value by encouraging greater transformation in the country's challenging sectors: cotton, food and fruit products, livestock, River fishing, handicrafts, etc. I also call on the authorities to be more proactive in de-concentrating and decentralizing public expenditure towards regional and local territories in order to encourage and attract the private sector, which can create wealth and jobs in the region for the profit of the country. Thus, in spite of the prescriptions and advice of the Bretton Woods institutions, the State must give greater scope and strength to the dimensions of prospective and spatial planning, in the planning and management of development.
Question: What kind of powers and influence do you think that the former colonial states like France still have on the current situation in Africa, particularly in Mali, given the emergence of new actors such as Russia and China ?
OSY : The power of a country like France over Mali is essentially a power of influence. France, a former colonizing country, has an influence on the elites in general and especially the political, administrative, military and economic elites. It influences through its technical assistants and (bi- national) economic operators, but also through multilateral cooperation agencies such as the European Union, the United Nations, the Bretton Woods institutions (World Bank and the Monetary Fund), and we cannot forget about the large French or international NGOs (under French control) that aspire to a lot of national capacities because of the salaries they offer. Finally, the immense power of influence of the French media (written and audio-visual) both through the official language (French) and recently the dominant national language (Bambara). New actors such as Russia and China, as you say, are penalized by the language and thus the system of thought of the elites of all categories.
Question: International politics are changing rapidly, with a shift in global powers and with the formation of surprising alliances. In your opinion, what is the best international alliance that Mali need to currently looking for and on which Mali can rely for its future well-being?
OSY: If Mali wants to occupy a place and be respected in the world, it must make a strong option for a better integration of the zone West Africa. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS - CEDEAO) is the most relevant framework for international action by Mali and other States in the region. As long as the countries of the region continue to go into the world in a scattered order, they will only be objects for the ambitions of others or the victims. A political, economic integration that strengthen and restore a strength to the social and cultural integration that is a legacy of our common history is a major lever if our states want their citizens to benefit greatly from mondialisation and the current globalization in the world. In a larger and stronger regional set, we will be an actor who counts and is respected. To achieve this, regional integration must not be limited to governmental apparatus or initiatives, but must be open to individual and organized citizens and to grassroots communities and communities. Finally, in the debate and negotiations on a global scale, ECOWAS strengthened and legitimized by the commitment of the citizens and communities will count more than Mali.
Question: What is your approach to the conflict in the North? Do you think it can be solved in the near future? If yes, how?
OSY: Sustainable responses to the problems of the North as well as the problems of the other parts of the country that will arise, will require far-reaching political, institutional, economic and even social reforms. It is therefore necessary to consider a strategy over time by defining several stages and priorities for each stage.
With regard to the ongoing conflict in the north, an agreement was reached with the armed movements that facilitated the arrival and installation of jihadists and promoters of all kinds of trafficking. This political agreement must be managed as such. It will be a matter of returning and privileging the spirit of this agreement between Malians, which is to move from armed confrontation to political dialogue in order to find solutions to the problems raised.
For me, the main difficulty that the implementation of the Peace Agreement has been facing since its signature is its lack of political support both by the leaders of the armed movements and by the Malian authorities.
Question: What has been the involvement of Canadian enterprises in Mali’s economy?
Aliou Boubacar Diallo (ABD): The Canadian Embassy had been involved with the mining companies at a community development forum held in December 2016 in the Kalana region where our mine is located. The Government of Canada is actively contributing, through various programs with mining companies and the State of Mali to rural communitie.
Question: Has this involvement in the mining sector brought a positive impact on Malian society or has it been a curse disguised as a blessing?
ABD: Such initiatives are to be encouraged because the mining companies will not be able to do this on their own. This combination of efforts between mining companies and developed countries, as exemplified by what Canada is doing, can stop rural-to-urban migration, reduce migration flows and even give new direction and hope to the youth of our country, thus sparing them radicalism and extremism.”