Friday, 11 July 2014

Pulling the plug on Bamako

Pulling the plug on Bamako

Having been deprived of a large part of its multilateral budget aid following the 2012 coup, things were looking rosy for the Mali government by January of this year as international donors, including the World Bank, European Union, and the African Development Bank (AfDB), committed US$4.4 billion to support the economic and social recovery of the country.

So far over the past year, Mali has received US$300 million of the approximately US$900 million allocated by the World Bank’s assistance programme. Over the past months, however, it has seemed only a matter of time before the international community, especially those parts holding the purse strings, lost patience with the incompetent and corrupt Bamako government. That has now happened.

The last straw for international donors was the purchase in May of a presidential jet for Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta (IBK) from a private company without any tender. In addition to the improper purchasing process, it now transpires that not all of the money paid for the plane finished up in the hands of the supplier.

Similar corruption allegations also surround questionable arms contracts made by the IBK coterie. As a consequence, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has suspended aid to Mali until September. The World Bank followed suit by postponing the payment of US$63 million in budgetary support. Managing director Sri Mulyani Indrawati announced the decision on 25 June.

An estimated €100 million from the European Union has also been frozen until further notice, and it is expected that major foreign donors will now suspend payments. Important donor partners include France, Germany, the United States, Canada, Holland, Sweden, Denmark, and Norway. A review of the management of Mali’s public finances is also underway.

These decisions are a severe punishment and big blow to the Bamako government, but they are not all surprising. The question is how deeply they will affect negotiations over the future of Azawad.

These financial blows, alongside the defeat of the Malian army in May, have not only strengthened the negotiating hand of the Mouvement National pour la Libération de l’Azawad (MNLA) but have shifted international opinion towards the realisation that some form of federalism is the only solution.

Dialogue better than war

Mali’s president and prime minster are going through a painful learning process. Interviews in the international media with IBK and Prime Minister Moussa Marra at the end of June suggest that both men now prefer dialogue to war.

From the tone of the interviews, it is clear that they have been chastened by the Malian army’s humiliating performance in Kidal, the increasing frustration of the United Nations with the government’s failure to make progress in the peace process, and the decisions of the international donor community to suspend funds.

These events have perhaps served the purpose of making the political class realise that if the government does not enter into serious and well-meaning negotiations with the rebel Azawad groups very soon, Bamako’s future could become extremely grim.

For more news and expert analysis about the Sahara region, please see Sahara Focus.
© 2014 Menas Associates

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