June 9, 2014
Mali shares borders with Niger, Senegal, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea and Algeria.
Mali, a landlocked country in West Africa, has been struggling with conflicts since the 1990s. JICA, with its long history of support to the country, invited senior administration officials to Japan for an ODA seminar in May. Prior to this, Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers in Burkina Faso provided unique support to Malian refugees utilizing their areas of specialization.
Historically a force mainly consisting of the Tuareg has insisted on the autonomy of the areas in the north, mainly Gao, Kidal and Tombouctou. Armed groups expanded their activity around 2007 and it developed into a conflict with government forces. Then in March 2012, a military coup by a faction of government forces arose, occurring in the context of what is believed to have been growing frustration on the part of soldiers as they were sent to conflict areas in the North without sufficient equipage and treatment. In January of the following year, the armed group advanced southward and started a battle against the government forces. Confusion in the political and security situation was triggered in the country, and over 400,000 residents centered in the North were forced to evacuate internally or to neighboring countries.
Although there are still concerns over security, particularly in the North, including the recent clashes in the northern city of Kidal, the internal security situation in Mali has become stable largely in the South, as illustrated by the successful democratic election of the president in July-August 2013, and also an orderly legislative election in December of the same year.
The seminar participants dedicate a bouquet of flowers at a memorial monument of the Great East Japan Earthquake in Sendai.
In March this year the Japanese government decided to fully restart its new bilateral assistance to Mali, which was halted after the coup in March 2012.
In response to the decision, the Japan International Cooperation Agency took the first step to accelerate its support by organizing a seminar entitled Mali ODA Seminar. Malian senior administration officials visited Japan May 21-30 to exchange opinions on the direction of JICA’s future assistance to Mali, by marshaling critical agenda items for reconstruction and development in Mali.
The participants learned the concepts and approach of Japanese ODA, and also visited Sendai to meet the local community and local enterprises, and to see their reconstruction efforts after the Great East Japan Earthquake.
“In Mali, if something happens somewhere, it is interpreted with fatalism and we tend to abandon the place by receiving it as a warning from the God that we should not be there. On the other hand in Japan, even if a place is struck by such a disaster, locals convert the misfortune to energy for rebuilding and reconstruction. It is not only a matter of money but of the will to overcome the crisis, and I was able to gain a glimpse of it,” Babahamane Maïga, technical advisor, Ministry of Interior and Security, said about his visit to Sendai, an area affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake.
He was also impressed by decentralization in Japan. “It’s as if there were small countries within a country, and I am not sure if such an example can be seen anywhere else in the world. The knowledge I learned here can be utilized in our country in the future, and I can go back home with a very positive feeling.”
The structure of local administration in Sendai was also attracting attention among many participants thinking of promoting decentralization in Mali.
At a round-table meeting, active discussions were held on Mali’s reconciliation and future development.
During the participants' visit, a round-table meeting entitled “Toward reconstruction and development of Mali” was held. It is positioned as a follow-up to a side event entitled “Public safety and stabilization of living conditions for the population of the Sahel and the Sahara” at the Fifth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD V) held in May 2013. Along with the Malian participants, the meeting was also attended by representatives from local offices of development partners in France, the U.S. and the EU, as well as international organizations and the Japanese government, and active discussions were held on Mali’s reconciliation and future development.
At the meeting, a video message from David Gressly (*) was played. Gressly is the deputy special representative of the secretary-general in United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). Although his planned attendance at the meeting was cancelled due to clashes in Kidal just before the seminar in Japan, the message was filled with positive, forward-looking comments about Mali. He pointed out that despite the recent setbacks, there are fundamental advantages in the country -- that the Malian government and armed groups in the North have a desire to move forward with negotiation for reconciliation and peace. And he emphasized that the international community should be engaged in its support in all levels.
Also, an open seminar entitled “Mali - A path to Peace and Reconstruction” was held. It became a prime opportunity for the Malian delegation to have direct conversations with Japanese citizens, and they made a strong statement in support of rebuilding their nation.
The overall seminar was a great success and the Malian participants were eager to take advantage of what they learned back in their country.
Adults join in a tug of war with children.
Earlier this year, JICA, together with United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, decided to provide support to the children in a refugee camp in Burkina Faso by sending Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (JOCV). It was the first direct assistance by the Japanese since the 2012 military coup.
Sharing its border with Mali, Burkina Faso is a host country of Malian refugees. In a refugee camp located in the village of Sag-Nioniogo, one of three such camps in the country, there live some 1,900 refugees. Most of them are Tuareg who originally led a nomadic life in the desert, and their customs and food totally differ from those of the farming-oriented Burkinabe. Naturally, it is not easy for them to adapt to life in a refugee camp.
It is the same for the children in the camp. Nearly 100 children go to a kindergarten in the camp, and over 200 school-aged children go to a school in Sag-Nioniogo, about a kilometer away from the camp, and that’s where JICA implemented a support activity.
In March, prior to a full-scale support activity scheduled for August and September this year, 16 JOCV members working in different locations in Burkina Faso gathered for a trial activity to provide recreation and learning opportunities. By taking advantage of their individual specialty areas, they organized various events, including a mini sports fest and other sports activities, recycled ball making combined with education on waste management, a picture-story show, a small drama, a science show participated in by the children and so on. For both adults and children, it became a time to forget about the hard reality of their everyday lives and enjoy a brief moment of amusement.
It was a joint effort with the cooperation of government officials, international nongovernmental organizations, a youth committee and a health committee the refugee community organized by itself.
A path to national reconciliation through conversation with the forces in the north is not an easy matter, and there are still many people displaced both internally and externally. However, the country has certainly stepped forward toward its internal stability, and accordingly, the stabilization of the overall Sahel region. JICA will also accelerate its efforts to back up its path to peace and development.