[Ruby van der Wekken] In the North, which hosts under its desert soil yet unexplored quantities of uranium and oil, two Touareg groups - the influential Ifoghass minority and the Imghoud majority - have seen for a long time a series of disputes due to the existing socio economic inequalities (between the groups, between the North and South of Mali, resulting from Mali’s peoples marginalisation at large from a global perspective), and rebellions have happened for decades. One interpretation of what happened in recent decades points to the fact that these disputes have been further exacerbated and used by other in particular French interests, leading to a situation today in which the North still feels itself to be marginalised, a large peacekeeping corps of foreign troops seems to have indefinitely installed itself, and the local population feels the Malian state is being sidestepped and increasingly incapable of intervening in the issues of the North today.
Attention will then be drawn to the notion of a marginalised majority in Mali at large, to the consequences of Mali along with 15 other African states having no money of its own to conduct public policy with, to the role of the IMF, WB and its structural adjustment programs obliging under debt exigences to open up the country to large extractive industries leaving hardly anything in the country, to a perceived discrimination of the rural versus the urban. People speak of the want for more sovereignty on all fronts, with regards to education, possibilities for employment, and the transformation of production.
Nevertheless, as also will be said, Malians have a strong sense of unity, having been a nation before it was a country, having seen a "conference de entente national (”national dialogue conference”) in Bamako beginning April in which in the end all parties took place, which is interpreted above all as a sign of willingness to approach the conflict by everyone as Malian citizens, in spite of the efforts to divide and rule).
Platform cooperativism in Africa -enlargening the spaces of democracy
Siemenpuu's cooperation with its Malian partner Mali Folkecentre Nyetaa has notably taken place under the Sigida Nyetaa (SN) program, which can be described as being about the supporting of the local co-governance and sustaining of environmental commons, and in function of this the development of local economic activities.
A number of diverse achievements have resulted from the Sigida Nyetaa cooperation so far, although being faced with large scale agribusiness and mining projects in the area and little transfer of resources under Mali’s decentralisation act. Different sustainable economic activities have been developed, local conventions concerning the use of natural resources have been elaborated, radio programs addressing social and ecological issues have been established, and this attached to the development of Centres, a sort of local knowledge hubs set up in the locations of Garalo, Finkolo and Filamana in Sikasso.
Currently , the focus of the SN program is for the Centres to become yet more embedded locally as Centres of capacitation for the different (traditional) groups, associations and cooperatives of the villages to which they are catering. Thougths are currently being developed as to how a platform can be formed of these actors using the Centre, jointly developing its activities as well as its governance, and to come to increased cooperation and (through this) sovereignty for all.
In the platform around the Centre traditional groups as village chefs, women and youth groups will be next to any participating associations and cooperative. In previous times, the elderly decided, with often women and youth no place in decision making, and as such the platform interestingly entails a notion of enlargening the spaces for democracy.
As will be told, if there is something good to be pointed to as arising from the current crises, hoped is that it will accelerate the real implementation of Mali’s process of decentralisation, including the transfer of resources. Solution to the problems is said to be not the taking up of arms, but a qualitative process allowing for development really enacted at grassroots level. As is then also referred, it is exactly in this context of the lack of the possibility to enact (ecological) democracy, that Siemenpuu’s contribution should be seen.
Ruby van der Wekken, 6.6.2017
Writer is a Programme Coordinator at the Siemenpuu Foundation