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close this bookThe Courier N° 122 July - August 1990 - Dossier Tourism - Country Report: Mali (EC Courier, 1990, 104 p.)
close this folderCountry report
close this folderMali: (R)evolution in the rural world
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentInterview with Président Moussa Traoré
View the documentInterview with Dr. N’Golo Traoré, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation
View the documentNomads who refuse to die out
View the documentEEC - Mali cooperation
View the documentCreating an entrepreneurial class
View the documentProfile


Two good agricultural years in a row have not just made Mali self - sufficient again. They have also made it a net exporter of grain. There would be nothing unusual about this in a normal year, of course, in a country whose vast hydro - agricultural potential once made it seem destined to be the supplier of all West Africa, but nothing has been normal in the Sahel since the early seventies, particularly the rainfall.

Although the weather is still largely outside man’s control, making every economic forecast a matter of chance in this land of long agricultural tradition, people still try to bring the economy into line wherever they can, rectifying the aim if need be. So Mali, too, is in the throes of adjustment. The various structural and macro - econonzic measures there are going well and the positive effects, combined with decent weather, made a successful year of 1989, with 9.9% real growth of GDP.

Sound economic performance is not the only reason for the satisfaction which the Mali an autorities clearly feel, as, for part of last year, their Head of State was also President of the OAU and in a position to bring Mali out more on the international scene.

But the country is still not out of the woods, as its agricultural future is uncertain. The complementarity of the two lines along which it is working to safeguard its future - food strategy and economic adjustment - has borne fruit, however, and a relaunch of cereal production (thanks to proper rainfall), with greater responsibility for the producers, liberalised marketing at long last and better water control, has gone hand in hand with a significant decline in the role of the State and of the weight of what was a cumbersome and often ill managed public sector.

A land of transition

Mali, a landlocked country of the West African Sahel, covers an area of 1 241 238 km² - almost twice of the size of France and Benelux combined - and shares about 6000 kilometres of border with seven neighbours. Bamako, the capital, is almost at an equal distance from the main outlets on the sea, Dakar (1250 km by rail) and Abidjan (1227 km by road). So this is a land of transition, from the Sahara to the forests of Guinea, and more than half of it is desert.

The sub - desert zone, usually referred to as the Sahel, is some 200 000 km² in area, has poor (300 - 500 mm p.a.) rainfall and sparse, mainly thorny, vegetation and is really only suitable for herding. Further south is a Sudan - type zone where dry savannah gradually gives way to wet savannah, with rainfall of 600 - 1300 mm p.a. and land suitable for the traditional millet, sorghum, maize, cotton, rice and groundnut crops as well as livestock.

A dry season tends to alternate with a rainy one (or winter season, as the local usually call it), but duration and intensity vary widely according to region and, alas, year - as the various lengthy droughts of recent decades have shown.

The Senegal and its confluents flow across a small part of the western fringe of Mali, but the lifeblood is the country’s 1500 - km stretch of the River Niger. The Bambara (Mali’s principal national language) word for Niger is “ Djoliba “, meaning “ plenty of blood”. “Niger”, the more common name, has nothing to do with “Black” at all, but apparently comes from the Berber expression “ ghern - ighe’ren” or “ river of rivers” and it is here that it takes on its full meaning, as this is where its famous majestic loop and vast central delta lie. All Mali’s main towns (other than Kayes on the Senegal) are on its banks or by its inland delta - Bamako, the capital, Su, focus of the development of the Delta, Djennwhose architectural splendours earned it the status of a UNESCO protected site, Mopti, the so - called Venice of the Sahara, Timbuctu, the desert capital, and Gao, which marks the end of the navigable part of the river.

And, obviously, it is along the river, and the navigable waterway it is for four or five months of the year, that the vast majority of the population lives. And it is a young population, as the final figures for the 1987 census show, with 46% of the country’s then 7696000 people under 15. The urban population, at 22 % of the total, was still small at that stage, but it in expanding nonetheless, particularly because of the drought, which encourages people is to leave the countryside, but also because of the higher rate of natural expansion in the towns. The same census put population growth at 1.8 % p.a. since 1976, but the figure for the last decade is usually said to be around 2.7%. Although the average density (only six people per km²) is very low, it is also very unevenly spread. But cause of even greater concern is the 1987 literacy rate of only 19.4%, with educational coverage of 27 % major handicaps to any kind of development.

Mali is not only a land of geographical transition. It is a meeting place of cultures, languages and ways of life, too, with Bambara, Fulani (Peuls), Malinka, Songhai, Soninka, Tuareg and Dogon among the main tribes found there. Some of them are sedentary and others nomadic and some are farmers and others herds men - although the distinction between the two is disappearing in many places. Islam predominates in a population which is 80 - 90% moslem, and everyone shares a prestigious past, for the region known as Mali today has a rich and varied history, known particularly for its three successive famous empires - Ghana (6th century to 12th century), Mali (13th to 15th) and Songhai (15th to 16th). Throughout their history, the people of Mali have developed a feeling for trade and few towns in Africa and further afield are without a tradesman of Malian origin, even today. But, as the Planning Minister, Souleymane Demb says, “ trading and bargaining have never developed a country by themselves”, so Mali is currently aiming for a change of direction and outlook, above all, by putting the emphasis on a spirit of enterprise.

Erratic variations

The many natural constraints (being landlocked, having problems with drought, water management, poor soil, etc) are difficult to get under control and they combine with the handicaps of human resources to make the variations in national output extremely erratic. The average growth of GDP, in real terms, over the past five years (1985 - 89) was 5.6%, peaking at 18.6% in 1986, with a - I % trough in 1985. Although there was still a 9.9 % growth last year, the estimated figure for the current year is zero, agricultural output having declined after the record high of 1988 - 89. But the target for the coming years (1991 - 93) is an average of 4% p.a. nonetheless.

The recent and rather spectacular recovery of the productive sector, in particular thanks to the performances in the production and marketing of food and cash crops, has obviously helped reduce some of the financial deficits and imbalances. Historically, Mali has the reputation of having endemic problems here and, in the 1970s, there was much reference to “ unsuitable economic and financial policies” causing structural problems which were worsened, in turn, by a rapid dcterioration in the terms of trade and repeated natural disasters. The Government tackled this by opening discussions with the IMF in 1982 and embarking on a first series of financial and economic adjustment with its help. There was some progress, but, in 1986, the year of the slump in the price of cotton, the country’s main export, there was talk of “serious problems”, leading to a break with the IMF in 1987. However, the financial crisis then took on proportions such that the Government decided to reopen the dialogue with the Bretton Woods institutions and this led to an agreement on a fresh adjustment programme being concluded with the IMF in August 1988. Various multilateral and bilateral donors, including the European Community, backed it and offered varying degrees of help in liberalising the economy and reducing the role of the state, which gave way to private enterprise.

There are signs of improvement on most financial fronts. The balance of payments, for example, has been showing a surplus for two years now (CFAF 18.9 billion in 1989 and CFAF 11.8 billion in 1988), although there were deficits in 1985 ( - CFAF 22 billion) and 1986 ( - CFAF 17.7 billion). The current payments balance went from 31.2% of GDP in 1985 to 15.1 % last year and the budget deficit (on a commitments basis but excluding grants) has been brought down to 9.5% of GDP.

But the external debt burden is still very considerable, in spite of rescheduling and some cancellation, with a figure of CFAF 727 billion - 126% of GDP - at the end of 1988. The country expects the external partners’commitment to supporting its development drive to continue and, meanwhile, the state is withdrawing wherever it can so as to relieve the strain on the budget and boost revenue by making way for a productive economy based on the growth of the private sector.

There are no special problems attached to cooperating with the Bretton Woods institutions at the moment, Minister Demb confirmed. “We had already made our own diagnosis before they came back and we were clear about the fact that no structure can live beyond its means. For the moment, we share the same point of view and the Community can follow the common guidelines. Only if there was any divergence with the IMF and the IBRD on this would it have to follow our approach instead... Handling the social side of adjustment is a key issue. Education and health are only productive indirectly and we do not have the money to cope with the enormous demands in these sectors, so we are counting on our partners’ collaboration here”. And the same goes for the private sector, which is currently “ poorly structured and concerned mainly with trade and very little with actual enterprise. Obviously we lack the finance and technology to develop this spirit of enterprise and we have problems with our outlets and vocational training, so we are actively looking for partnerships with operators from the North “.

Peasants into businessmen

The Agriculture Minister, Moulaye Mohamed Haidara, says it is already clear that a whole new class of businessmen, the peasants, has surfaced. “Decentralisation and the greater responsibility now on the peasants’ shoulders has made them take their future into their own hands and more and more of them are beginning to go in for self - management and self administration and no longer seem content just to be producers. They are becoming real economic operators who are unwilling to see their production taken away from them”, he said.

In a country where the primary sector represents half of GDP and occupies nearly 90% of the population, agricultural results such as those achieved in 1988 - 89 tend to give rise to some euphoria. In the cereal sector, for example, millet and sorghum production went up by 44.7 % to more than 1.275 million tonnes and paddy rice by more than 55 % to 289000 tonnes. And the same went for cash crops, where cotton seed harvests were up at the 200 000 - tonne mark, as against 143 000 tonnes in 1988, and groundnut figures increased by 200 % to more than 1 12 000 tonnes. “We are now the only country in CILSS to have a cereal surplus, although we get the same rainfall as the others”, the Agriculture Minister said, “ and we can see the light at the end of the tunnel”.

But the striking thing is this man’s conviction that the liberalisation of the cereal market and the greater responsibility demanded of the peasant are behind a profound (r)evolution in Mali’s rural world. “The effects of liberalised cereal markets” “made the rural world sit up and take itself in hand, so structural adjustment has not had the negative effects that were in fact predicted, and the peasants formed village associations - the most sophisticated ones being the tons, the Bambara word for associations for their particular crops. The World Bank’s mistake, if that’s the word, was believing that the peasant was going to stay just a producer and the tradesman just a tradesman all along the line, when, through its own organisations, the rural world has taken over the marketing of cereals. And in spite of the surpluses, the prices they are getting now are the highest for years and. in the long run, in a couple of years, it would come as no surprise to me to see village associations taking over premises in the towns and retailing their cereals direct and later on even going in for export. This would be a good thing, as all the traditional tradesmen would have to do then would be to invest in the processing of agricultural produce. I am by no means unhappy at the way things are going. Quite the contrary. Why shouldn’t we support the new peasant - trader? Devolution of cereal marketing on the economic operators and abolition of the monopoly of OPAM (Mali’s Agricultural Produce Board, which now does no more than manage a buffer food stock) could have made the peasants vulnerable to speculation by the traditional tradesmen, but their village associations went a long way to protecting them from this and it is the tons which are currently controlling the market”.

The positive effects of the cereal market reorganisation programme, the Minister went on, are such that “ we have no regrets about the State’s withdrawal from the rural sector.” On the contrary. We don’t want to be stuck with that any longer and the private operators have to play their part to the full, even if there are problems to begin with. E;veryone has to pull his weight, because we think that is the only sure and economically viable way, one which reflects the actual situation in the field and the prices and the economic and commercial patterns”.

There is more to it, obviously, than achieving self - sufficiency in food, he said. The most important thing is to guarantee supplies in both good and bad years and this means “working along our other main line of activity and getting both our surface and underground water resources under control “, in addition to organising the rural world. Not only is the hydro - electric potential of the three existing dams (at Manantali, Markala and Snguunder - exploited, but not nearly enough is made of the hydro - agricultural potential either and some sources claim that only 2 million of the total 12 million hectares of arable land available here is being used. There is a general drive - in close collaboration with the external donors, of course - to develop and in some cases redevelop several thousand hectares of irrigated land now to increase the guarantee of regular food supplies. The Minister also mentioned the albeit distant (financing has not yet been ensured) possibility of a fourth, CFAF 120 billion, dam, at Tossaye, near Gao, with a potential area of irrigated land of about 200 000 ha. “ This would mean we could develop virtually the whole area from Mopti to Gao. And something not accounted for in the plans is that, by introducing a kind of green revolution in this part of the country, we could be helping halt the advancing desert “.

A great farming and herding tradition

The anti - desertification campaign is one of the main concerns of the Minister of the Environment and Livestock, Morifing Kontoo. “ This is one of our top priorities”, he maintains and indeed the Government has adopted and launched a national desert control programme with a wide range of components, ranging from a campaign to spread information and make people aware of the legal texts governing everything that may have a negative effect on the ecosystem to comprehensive regional development, the adjustment of traditional activities and the establishment of green “ barriers” (which are far more than belts of trees and include crops, forestry and herding, too).

The livestock rationalisation operation, aimed at making this sector part of the economic life of the nation as a whole, is being undertaken with a view to the least possible risk to the ecosystem. This is no easy matter, however, as Mali has a great farming and herding tradition. Livestock represents almost a fifth of GDP and is a big export earner, too, the estimated CFAF 18 billion it brought into the country in 1988 making it second only to cotton.

Mali has one of the biggest herds in the Sahel (more than 4.7 million head of cattle, plus 11 million sheep and goats and about 231000 camels in 1988) and every move poses problems with relations between the farmers and herdsman and with the cattle itself - whose state of health and supplies of water and feed are such that losses are common. And the situation is exacerbated by drought, obviously. Losses in 1972 - 73, for example, were put at CFAF 13 billion and those in 1982 - 85 at almost CFAF 18 billion.

Most cattle is exported on the hoof, with all the problems that entails, and most of it goes to the neighbouring countries on the coast. Morifing Konays that very few dealers export meat as such, which is why all the professionals of this sector will soon be looking at the problem of livestock as a whole. And one of the items on the agenda, the Minister said, will certainly be “ the ever greater threat to our exports from subsidised meat imports from Argentine and the areas covered by the EEC’s common agricultural policy”.

Here too, structural adjustment is making its presence felt. The idea is to get the herdsman more and more involved in the economic fabric of the nation, a time - consuming task, “ bearing in mind the persistence of tradition”, the Minister said. Livestock associations are gradually educating the herdsman, maybe even making him literate and giving him training, and he is being introduced to the techniques of grazing, animal health and marketing so as to improve the livestock networks and the economy as a whole. The Minister also plans a stage - by - stage integration of farming and herding, which he sees as being “ interdependent and complementary”. And he is convinced that “Mali has learnt from the past and both the people and the authorities are now in a better position to contain the effects of any further drought” - although he obviously hopes they do not have to put this to the test.

Mining and industry poorly developed

The primary sector is clearly preponderant in the Malian economy and the secondary sector makes only a relatively small contribution (about 12%) to GDP. Many of the industrial enterprises were public ones until the recent reforms and in great need of rationalisation, privatisation or just plain liquidation. On top of the usual handicaps of a narrow market in a landlocked country, a poor international economic environment and so on, the private firms also had to contend with a national environment which was often not conducive to their development. In any case, this sector depends to a large extent on agricultural performance, agro - industry representing almost 40% of the total and textiles (cotton) accounting for almost a quarter of the value added in industry.

A great deal of work has gone into geological and mineral research because the potential could be considerable, as it is, for example, in neighbouring Niger, Algeria, Mauritania and Guinea. Good deposits of bauxite (800 million tonnes of 40 - 45 grade ore), iron ore (about I million tonnes) and manganese (about 3.5 million tonnes) have been located, for example, but the conditions of exploitation, far away in landlocked areas with no energy supplies, not to mention financial considerations, are far from being encouraging. Uranium and oil prospection has not come up with anything so far, but salt, phosphates and gypsum are already being worked and Mali revived an old production tradition - alongside the small - time panners who have always existed - with the first 55.249 kg of gold from the Dyama field in February.

The tertiary sector is clearly dominated by the import - export trade - which, bearing in mind the limited controls along what is a very long frontier, probably makes a far greater contribution to GDP than the official figures suggest.

Reducing the role of the state

The tertiary sector is also feeling the full force of the austerity policy which accompanies the structural adjustment programme, the main features of which include cutting civil service spending in the state budget, rationalising public firms and making the private sector more dynamic again.

All this, of course, has a direct effect on employment. Automatic state jobs for young graduates were done away with in 1983, for example, and supernumary civil servants are encouraged to resign. And what about all the victims of the rationalisation, privatisation and liquidation of the state firms? The difficult job of finding a solution to this complex problem rests on the shoulders of Mali’s only woman Minister, Diallo Lalla Sy. “Given all our employment problems”, she says, “ we ran a Round Table with our main funders early this year”. The target groups for the moment are young graduates, “ compressed “ (redundant) workers and those taking early retirement. And how can they be catered for? Roughly speaking, the plan hinges on creating a network of small and medium - sized firms and industries. “The idea is to make for an environment that is conducive to the development of a spirit of enterprise and to remove the guilt attached to private initiative, encourage it even, getting lines of credit and guarantee funds organised with our external partners to finance the risks that initiative entails”, she said. The normal way of pruning the civil service currently with about 45 000 people on the payroll, is by means of voluntary departures, and a first, USAID - financed scheme provided an opportunity to retire more than 600 staff although there were about 2000 applications. The pros and cons of the scheme have been assessed and another is to be run soon. “We have already finalised 1800 applications for departure and demand could well outstrip supply... We are not just aiming to save on budget spending and make the private sector more dynamic by injecting these staff into it. We are also trying to improve the efficiency of the people who stay in the civil service”. The ability to analyse and control the labour market absolutely has to be improved, the Minister maintained. She also highlighted the Community scheme for young graduates and civil service departure volunteers (see article on page 32), the first results of which are very encouraging.

What future to choose?

Economic structural adjustment is not the only thing occupying - and preoccupying - Mali, as the country is by no means indifferent to what is going on in the world as a whole and in Africa itself. In April, for instance, the country’s single party, the Democratic Union of the Malian People (UPDM), held a conference on exercising democracy within the party. Djibril Diallo, the political secretary of BEC (the executive office which runs the party) told participants: “ Of course, a new wind is blowing in the four corners of the planet, questioning long - established values and hierarchies. And this wind, which some have no hesitation in calling the wind of freedom and democracy, the only thing which can engender multiparty systems, has already shaken up the countries of the East. The continent of Africa will be unable to avoid the political tempest now blowing through the world and everyone is preparing to receive it in his own way and with his own means.

The Malian people are well aware that multiparty systems have their advantages and disadvantages, just as single party systems do, and it was in 1974 that they opted for a constitutional, single party which derives its strength and distinctive from the fact that it is anchored in Malian culture and in the legitimate concerns of a hard - working population. Is this really outmoded now? We believe that the people of Mali are mature enough to make the choices their development dictates when the time comes, completely democratically, calmly and serenely and in a spirit of constructive dialogue, in accordance with their traditional values.”

Some of Mali’s leaders, and Planning Minister Souleymane Demb for one, think that debating the multiparty issue is maybe being a slave to fashion. “ In this country we have dialogue between the state and the people actually working in development at all levels, so we really do have democracy. Our main task, and our common aim, is to make sure that everyone has a proper standard of living and our society is already organised in such a way as to have a permanent dialogue on this at every level. So there is no point in wasting effort and resources on setting up a multiparty system which isn’t called for here” (see also the interview with the President).

But only time will tell. Meanwhile, Mali is still living with the problems of its landlocked situation and the rigours of a Sahelian climate. Talking about a revolution in the rural world could be overlooking the calm strength with which the peasantry preserves traditions. Calling it evolution could be overlooking the extent to which it is responding to the new environment emerging from structural adjustment. If it rains and if water resources are properly controlled at last, it is not the peasant who will be the main brake on Mali’s drive to go beyond self - sufficiency in food and guarantee its future.