For iNGOs in Mali, local partners prove to be pivotal

    Farmers gather for a climate information workshop, which was also participated by the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Institute for Rural Economy of Mali, the International Research Institute for Climate and Society and other regional partners in January 2012. Without help from local partners, the coup’s impact on international NGOs’ programs and projects in northern Mali could have been much worse. Photo by: R. Zougmoré / CCAFS / CC BY-NC-SA

    Capitalizing on a power vacuum after a military coup in Bamako, in April 2012, separatist rebels and al-Qaida-linked militants began their monthslong occupation of northern Mali. Many international nongovernmental organizations in the region were left with little choice but to leave the region.

    “Jihadists were chopping hands and feet, or publicly whipping people. It was too dangerous for both beneficiaries and implementing agency staff,” said Khady Coulibaly, senior education adviser with World Education in Mali.

    For IntraHealth International, another iNGO, maintaining a presence in northern Mali wasn’t even an option.

    “Most of our funding comes from the U.S. government and the rebels would not allow anyone affiliated with a U.S. organization to go into the north,” Margarite Nathe, senior editor for Intrahealth, revealed.

    With the north suddenly off-limits, both international NGOs turned to their local partners for help, Devex has learned.

    World Education tapped local partners to monitor the status of its U.S. Agency for International Development-funded conflict mitigation program, and relayed that information to the U.S. aid agency.

    “That was really beneficial to us to know that [some of] the people we work with … are still there to relay accurate information to us,” Coulibaly said. “We still feel like we have a presence on the ground.”

    Intrahealth meanwhile credits its local NGO partner with helping save the lives of obstetric fistula patients caught up in the violence. With USAID funding, IntraHealth had been performing repair surgeries for women afflicted with obstetric fistula, a childbirth injury which is prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa.

    And then the separatist rebels came.

    “They ransacked the hospital where women were preparing for or recovering from surgery and threw them out into the streets. The women scattered,” Nathe recounted to Devex.

    IntraHealth staff later worked with a local NGO partner, GREFFA, to locate many of the women and transport them to the town of Mopti for care. According to Nathe, three of the women remain missing.

    Without help from local partners, the northern Mali conflict’s impact on international NGOs’ programs and projects in the region could have been much worse. Further, development gains made in the past decade could have been significantly reversed.

    Now that security concerns have eased, several international NGOs that were forced to leave northern Mali are trickling back. World Education, for instance, told Devex it plans to resume operations there as early as Aug. 1. When it does, program activities in Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu will be restarted and carried out with help from local partners.

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    About the author

    • Lorenzo Piccio

      Lorenzo is a former contributing analyst for Devex. Previously Devex's senior analyst for development finance in Manila.