Malian Foreign Minister Tièman Hubert Coulibaly with European Commissioner for Development Andris Piebalgs. Photo by: EU

The road map for Mali’s reconstruction talks about decentralization as a key strategy for empowering communities to rebuild the country, but foreign aid allocation will still be decided by the central government.

“Decentralization is a way to give enough power to communities,” Malian foreign minister Tièman Hubert Coulibaly said in an exclusive interview with Devex in Brussels during the international donor conference for Mali.

However, he added, how the money will be spent will continue to be determined in Bamako: “This is the business of the central government.”

The minister conceded that the country needs to progress on decentralizing certain sectors, like education or health, and even infrastructure with projects that could be managed at a local level after their completion.

“We started decentralization twenty years ago. The objective is to give enough responsibility and enough power to rule the communities and have a well balanced allocation of resources and means to help to let people develop the regions,” said Coulibaly.

Asked how foreign aid can help the country deal with the threat of terrorism in the future, the minister stressed that the solution to Mali’s problems cannot be just a military one but also finding economic opportunities “to ensure development and fight against ignorance.”

The government, Coulibaly noted, is also concerned about transparency, especially now that donor countries have pledged so much money to rebuild the country: “Eradicating corruption is the business of the state, the private sector, NGOs, and even schools and universities. It’s a global challenge.”

Aid pledges, NGO reactions

France and the European Union have yet to provide a full breakdown of donor pledges and commitments made at the conference, which raised a total of €3.25 billion ($4.19 billion). The co-hosts however were among the biggest players at the event, promising €1.35 billion and €280 million each for Mali’s recovery plan.

The pledges more than fill the €1.9 billion the Malian government expected to receive from international donors for the full implementation of its €4.3 billion plan, and interim President Dioncounda Traore said the total amount “went beyond what we could hope for.”

“Yesterday I said I was hoping for 2 billion euros. 1.6 would have pleased me. But today I see we’re in excess of 3 billion euros […] Thanks to all those who made it possible for Mali to keep its hope and smile again,” Traore commented in a press conference on Wednesday.

A number of aid groups welcomed the outcome of the conference, but noted donors should sustain support for the country’s long-term development.

“These generous pledges to help Mali are very welcome. But they need to be seen as a down payment, not a one-off cheque,” said Oxfam Mali country director Marietou Diaby, who added that donors’ focus must now expand beyond security and counter-terrorism.

Marie Stopes International country director for Mali Anne Coolen also welcomed the pledges of support, but noted that much of the funding is conditional upon governance reform: “Tackling widespread corruption is absolutely essential if the resources are to be spent effectively […] However, addressing corruption cannot be achieved without the engagement of civil society to ensure transparency at all levels of governance. This and other essential structural reforms require resources now.”

ONE Brussels director Eloise Todd meanwhile raised the issue of shrinking aid budgets among European countries.

“It’s becoming a zero sum game that could mean less money to respond to other crises. EU countries need to reverse aid cuts, prioritise the world’s poorest like those in Mali  and make sure aid is targeted at the programmes that have the biggest impact on development, namely health, agriculture and education,” she argued.

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About the author

  • Richard Jones

    In his role as Editorial Director Richard oversees content for digital series, reports and events, leading a talented team of writers and editors, conducting high-level video interviews and moderating panels at events. Previously partnerships editor and an associate editor at Devex, Richard brings to bear 15 years of experience as an editor in institutional communications, public affairs and international development. Based in Barcelona, his development experience includes stints in the Dominican Republic, Argentina and Ecuador, as well as extensive work travel in Africa and Asia.

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