What role EU can play in Mali’s defining months?

By Natalia Alonso, Head of Oxfam’s EU Office, and Mohamed L. Coulibaly, Oxfam’s Mali Country Director

As the second anniversary of Mali’s coup looms on the horizon and stability slowly creeps back across the country, significant changes in how the country is governed and aid is distributed is sorely needed.
A new report by Oxfam and civil society partners in the country reveals that, as the threat of violence decreases, significant steps need to be made in changing the relationship between the government and its citizens to ensure the country is more fair, transparent, inclusive and accountable. As the leading partner in donations, Europe must set a high standard for this transition, ensuring aid is both transparent and inclusive.
The report, What next for Mali? Four priorities for better governance, was released in time for last week’s donors conference with the Malian government in Brussels. It has been nearly a year since 2013’s summit which saw €3.2 billion pledged towards the reconstruction of the war-savaged country, but questions are being asked about how much of that money reached the ordinary people of Mali.
The EU’s pledge of €1.35 billion, made back in May, is significant, but transparency in its flow must prevail. The EU is a signatory of a number of agreements on aid transparency, so consolidating information on whom with and where they are working is vital for the success of rebuilding the Malian state.
Now that a new democratically elected President and parliament are in place, donors must stick to their commitments in helping rebuild the foundations of Mali. Mali stands at a cross-roads. Justice, reconciliation, citizen participation, and equitable development are at the heart of their discussions.
Naturally, the challenge is not an easy one. Mali only has around 270 lawyers among a population 15 million, and just four women in a cabinet of 34 ministers. Women represent just 1 per cent of Mali’s mayors. Meanwhile, its Commission for Truth, Justice and Reconciliation is not yet fully functioning.
Moreover, more than 800,000 people need immediate food assistance in the North, and across the country three million people are at risk of not finding enough to eat.
It is imperative that donors act with a wider context of democratic order, good governance and inclusively, especially in regards to the role of women. The European Union has a special role in doing so. When it comes to reconciliation, the EU must use its leverage within the country to ensure that the Commission for Reconciliation is credible and independent, responsive to all voices of Malian society.
Involving all voices of Malian society in politics is particularly important for the greatly understated voice of Malian women. Bintou Samake, president of Woman in Law and Development in Africa – Mali , said that “Malian women should be equally represented in decision-making positions, starting with government.” The EU has proudly aligned themselves with this idea, but it is time for this to be matched with action. Misses Samake goes on to say that “the EU previously generously supported the presidential and legislative elections, so it’s important that during the April municipal elections the EU and other donors specifically support women to be candidates.”
Last week’s donors conference has not sent promising signals for Mali’s delicate recovery. Despite May’s conference placing great emphasis on the role of Mali’s dynamic civil society as a key non-governmental stakeholder in development, its absence this week has been conspicuous. This trend must not be continued.
It is now crucial that the EU uses its swing in the country to ensure a state that acts not only in the interest of the government, but every corner of society. The upcoming months are definitive for Mali’s future. With the EU’s help, it could be a future defined by Mali’s delicate fabric working together under a government that works for and with the people.

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