|The Courier N° 122 July - August 1990 - Dossier Tourism - Country Report: Mali (EC Courier, 1990, 104 p.)|
|Mali: (R)evolution in the rural world|
No short-sighted mimicking of perestro in Africa says President Moussa Traorn an interview with The Courier
General Moussa Traoras been Malis Head of State since November 1969, when, at the age of 32, he led the group of officers which took over the reins of power. Now, at OAU summits, he is one of the old guard and people heed his words and support his actions - and indeed there were many of them during his term of off ice as President of the OAU (May 1988 - July 1989), with all the sub - regional conflicts to deal with.
He also took a special interest in Southern Africa and worked hard to do something about the continents debt, in combination with the deterioration in its terms of trade, a paradoxical situation he comments on in this interview. But he starts by looking at the political upheavals on the world scene - where perestro seems to be behind some astonishing reversals.
· Things are changing in Eastern Europe. Single parties are becoming a thing of the past and liberalisation and democratisation are the order of the day. Do you think that the needs of this part of the world are in competition with those of the developing countries? And do you have the impression that Africa is swimming against the tide?
- Since perestro, Eastern Europe has undergone profound political and economic reform, in some cases bringing down political systems which had been in place for the past 40 years. That is their prerogative. It is the legitimate aspiration of the peoples of those countries. But we in Africa do not believe we have to do what everybody else does. That would be short - sighted mimickry. Eastern Europes culture is different from Africas. All the countries of Eastern Europe have their own identity, just like the countries of Africa - Mali, for instance. What applies in the Soviet Union and Hungary and Romania and Poland doesnt apply in Africa in general or Mali in particular, so it is wrong forever to be thinking that Africa is swimming against the tide of what is going on elsewhere, in Eastern Europe in the case in point.
It needs reforms - economic ones certainly and in some cases political ones too, maybe, when the legitimate aspirations of the people require it. Your trip to Mali coincides, in fact, with the start of a national debate on democracy in the Party. A large majority of our leaders and cadres think that the Party texts are good, but that an effort is needed to choose cadres within the Democratic Union of the Malian People. To paraphrase the Pope, who talked about happiness merchants, I should say that its by no means sure that these merchants do indeed sell happiness. Its not true. Our people will only agree to consume what they produce - by which I mean that they will only embark on courses of action which fit in with their own cultural values.
As to whether Eastern European needs are in contradiction with ACP ones - I should like to say that there is a Convention linking the Twelve to the ACPs. I am not convinced that there is any conflict between Eastern European and ACPs needs, but if the Twelve want to help their brothers in the East, is it their absolute right to do so and the ACPs have absolutely nothing against it. It is up to the ACPs, and the Africans in particular, to find the best ways of ensuring that their development is founded on their own peoples and that the Community contribution is only a top - up. So I am not party to the fear about Eastern Europe taking the bread out of the ACPs mouth.
· And you dont subscribe to the view that Africa is becoming marginalised, becoming less and less competiive, with a tendency to disinvestment...?
Listen - you hear about the marginalisation of Africa in some circles, but what is it supposed to mean? For several decades now, Africa, which has plenty of raw materials, has been exporting its commodities to the industrialised world, with the gap between the cost of production and price of external sales widening all the time. But over this period, Africa has run itself into debt to develop its agriculture, its communications facilities and so on - its development infrastructure in general, that is to say - and, with dwindling raw materials prices, it is perfectly normal for it to be finding repayments difficult.
Some people call this marginalisation - which is why, when I was President of the OAU, I kept saying that the continents debt problem had to be linked to its development. Until it is, the debt wont be paid. When you bring down the price of raw materials and say: Youve still got to pay your debts, it is like telling someone who can usually jump two metres that youre going to stop giving him anything to eat but hes still got to jump that high anyway. Hell be too weak to do so. Africa is going to overcome its problems and stop being called marginalised, of course. Practical steps have been taken in the subregions to create regional economic communities and even a big African common market. That is one way of solving Africas problems - which will stop being expressed in terms of marginalisation.
· Mali is currently applying the global and sectoral structural adjustment policies negotiated with the Bretton Woods Institutions. What are you hoping for in this field from the other donors, including the Community, where structural adjustment is one of the major innovations of LomV? Do you expect to see some kind of specificity in the EECs involvement?
Mali is indeed involved in a number of adjustment programmes, as you said. There is the 4th structural programme with the IMF and three is the public enterprises adjustment programme with IDA. And there other programmes are being negotiated with IDA, too, including an adjustment programme for agriculture and one for education. We have made some progress, thanks to the structural adjustment programmes, but all the countrys economic difficulties havent been ironed out yet.
We hope to be able to overcome them with the help of our development partners, who include the EEC. Mali is delighted that LomV provides extra resources to help with economic rationalisation policies, and it thinks it can meet the criteria of eligibility laid down in Article 246. There are three things we hope our adjustment programme donors will do. First of all, we hope that they make their financial assistance within a concerted framework which is in line with the position of the adjusting country. It will be easy to make a success of a programme in which each party is dovetailed like a piece in a puzzle. Secondly, we hope the donors give more and more of their financial support to programmes to retrain people who have been made redundant and encourage self - employment schemes for youngsters. And lastly, we hope that the structural adjustment programmes dont lead our economies into debts which we cannot handle.
· Some people are worried about the social side of structural adjustment and its effects on sectors such as education and health. What do you think about this and what policy do you recommend in the long term?
- We have always maintained that man was the alpha and the omega of all development, or, to put it plainly, that the aim of all development is to raise the standard of living and create happiness. That is to say that no process which fails to take education and health into account can claim to create wellbeing. Can you produce without being in good health? Can you produce and boost production and productivity without having training or skills? If the answer is a resounding no, then clearly education and health are a sine qua non of successful economic and financial recovery programmes.
· The welfare state duesnt seem to be a viable proposition in Africa and so the idea is to look to the people. But there will always be sections of the urban population who are unable to cope. Will they be passed over?
- To the best of my knowledge, the welfare state doesnt work anywhere and I defy anyone to show me it does. But the urban populations of Africa have always tended to be favoured in spite of being relatively better off and more demanding than the rural populations. So if the rural populations can get themselves organised to take their development in hand, why cant the urban ones? Its a question of justice and fairness. Why should the have - nots support the haves? The urban populations should get themselves organised to cater for their own development demands in the same way as the rural ones and all the State will have to do is top up where its help is vital and coordinate, harmonise and control for the benefit of the communities.
How do you see the emergence of a private sector and of an entrepreneurial spirit rather than just a trading one in your country? How can you avoid the disappearance of the old stale monopolies leading to a monopolistic private sector?
- Mali has always had a private sector. It didnt develop to any great extent, but that was more a matter of economic and historical choice than anything else. Our civilisation has always had an entrepreneurial spirit in trade, and barter too. As you know, Malis economic fabric is relatively weak and flimsy and has to be strengthened and diversified and organised - a long - term aim which can only be achieved in successive stages.
The private sector, as the industrialised nations see it through trade, industry and business, is certainly not so strong in Mali and the reforms being carried out here at the moment are aimed at getting it to be a driving force in economic growth, with the State only involved in the strategic firms. What the State has to do to help the emergence of a modern private sector is to create the sort of institutional, economic, tax and legal environment that encourages private initiative and makes for the growth of national economic activity.
· What are the main practical results of the recent Round Table on employment and how does Mali intend coping with its urgent job creation requirements?
- As you know, our country has embarked upon a series of economic and institutional reforms to get the economy off the ground again - with very marked contraction of the job market as a direct result of the trimming of the public sector and the policy of cutting public spending by restricting civil service recruitment. For all these reasons and because of the overriding need to do something about the situation, the Party and the Government held a national debate to sound out the possibilities of promoting employment in our country and see what stratogies to use in the short, the medium and the long term. The recent Round Table on employment is, if you like, the culmination of the national process of greater consultation of the development partners who had manifested support - and indeed their support was confirmed at this major meeting.
The practical results, we think, are the willing ear which our partners have lent to our concerns, consolidating the framework of joint consultation and making it more operational, and the commitments to help us with technical support schemes to back up the creation and development of firms and assist individuals and socio - professional groups with integration, reintegration and conversion through training, advanced training and induction courses and with developing our analytical skills and national employment policy management ability.
This common desire to invest in people, developing their sense of initiative and their basic and advanced training to invest in public, private and associative institutions so as to support firms and the transfer of technical, management and commercial know - how and to invest in improving analytical skills and the management of the programmes of the institutions responsible for running the employment policy, together with its translation into effective schemes, is, we believe, the platform which will bring us practical results.
Basically, we have agreed to make the employment programme hinge on the setting up of companies. These seem to me to be very practical results indeed and the Government will be monitoring the implementation process very carefully. Lasting employment promotion, of course, cannot be managed outside the global context of the national economy, which has to be rationalised and revived with the help of all the sectors concerned with investment. Our country is being determined about this and the results are generally thought to be very considerable.
· In this time of budgetary austerity, with all the pressure for reform in the short and medium term, what has happened to the longer - term priorities such as agriculture, infrastructure and anti - desertification?
- Africa still has a long way to go with its development. As long as there are Africans without enough to eat, as long as the continent is without the basic infrastructure it needs to develop its resources and as long as we are still waiting for the present large - scale schemes to have a practical effect on the protection of the environment, our priority aims - which are clearly set out in African documents such as the Lagos Plan of Action and the programmes of the CEAO and ECOWAS, of which Mali is a member - will remain so.
It is sometimes very difficult, technically and politically, to reconcile the furtherance of these aims with our present short - term economic difficulties.
· Although young people are a major asset as far as development is concerned, there has to be a population policy - and this is one of the new aspects of Lom V. What are the main features of your birth spacing policy?
- Young people are a big asset as far as development is concerned, of course, but is goes without saying that they have to be hale and hearty and not suffering the effects of debilitating childhood diseases or malnutrition. This is why we have introduced a birth spacing policy, aimed primarily at protecting the health of mothers and children. Properly spaced births give the mother a chance to recover and more time to look after the babys health and diet, particularly if she breast - feeds. And it has to be admitted that this has its effects on the rational management of the familys budget.
This birth spacing policy of ours has had practical, conclusive results and has won the total support of the people because of it, thanks to the many publicity campaigns the Party and the Government have organised and, above all, to the National Union of Malian Women, which is behind it all the way. And apart from the publicity, which is a vital part of the policy of course, we had to make known all the methods of contraception which would help achieve our aim. Family planning centres were opened, training and advanced training courses run for all levels of staff and an association, the Malian Association for the Welfare and Promotion of the Family, was formed. And, of course, our development partners gave considerable support to the Governments efforts. All this is being evaluated at the moment.
· Mali still has very poor educational coverage and literacy rates. How can you overcome this sort of obstacle to development? On the other hand, the countrys Medersa establishments, (Koran schools), are on the increase. Do you see them as a good alternative to stagnating lay schools?
- Schooling in Mali is indeed 30 %,at the moment, which is very low, and there are a number of things we have to do if we are going to improve it. First of all we have to use the national languages, which have proved their worth over nearly a decade now. And then we have the Medersa schools, which existed before French was taught in Mali. Timbuctu was a major centre of culture, the pride of Arabic teaching in Africa, with great scholars, at a time when the industrialised countries of today were still at a tribal stage, and Djennas a very important cultural centre, too, and in mediaeval times it had more than 1000 teachers, doctors and scholars who had studied in Arabic. So if we are to achieve our socioeconomic development aims, we have to start by using our own cultural resources.
· Mali has been self - sufficient in food and producing supluses for two years now. Can you capitalise on this in future by, for example, protecting yourselves against the volatility of agricultural production?
- Mali has indeed been had a food surplus for the past two years. The combined cereal surplus from 1988/89 and 1989/90, for example, was an estimated 600 000 tonnes at the end of 1989. Obviously there is benefit to be derived from this situation actual self - sufficiency thanks to proper supplies through greater domestic trade between one area and another, sales from cross - border trade, processing to add value and the replenishment of our buffer stocks. There could have been more if the sub - region had been properly integrated, but we have the moral satisfaction of helping to ease the food supply situation of some of our brothers in area.
As to being prepared for the ups and downs of agricultural production, let me tell you that we are using this as an opportunity to launch major (surface and underground) water control programmes to make our agriculture more reliable. And the cereal surplus is forcing us to expand and improve our storage facilities and try and process the product and get the producers interested in diversification. What we have to do is to produce and diversify both quantity and quality in the best combination of agriculture and livestock.
Interview by R.D.B.