Mali's coup, attacks on aid workers, and IDB's election: This week in development

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The European Union and the Red Cross provided shelter and water to people displaced by a cyclone in Sofala province, Mozambique. Photo by: European Union / Christian Jepsen / CC BY-NC-ND

Mali’s coup puts international cooperation in question, aid workers experience their most dangerous year on record, and the Inter-American Development Bank faces calls to delay its election. This week in development:

Military leaders in Mali ousted the country’s president and other political leaders in an apparent coup d’etat, which has drawn criticism from regional and international bodies and raised concerns that further instability could jeopardize security and peacekeeping operations in the country. A group calling itself the National Commission for the People’s Salvation — led by five colonels who orchestrated a mutiny, which then led to the arrest and resignation of now-former President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta — spoke in a televised address Wednesday, justifying their action and pledging a return to democratic elections. “Political patronage, the family management of state affairs, have ended up killing any opportunity for development in what little remains of this beautiful country,” said the group’s spokesman, Ismaël Wague, according to The New York Times. Mali has become a focal point of international efforts to combat Islamist insurgents, with France spending roughly $1 billion a year on an anti-extremist effort known as Operation Barkhane, which analysts say has struggled to make progress in Mali’s unstable border areas. The Economic Community of West African States, the African Union, and the United Nations Security Council have all condemned the military takeover, and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday issued a statement calling for “a restoration of constitutional government.” Notably, Pompeo refrained from using the word “coup,” a designation that carries legal restrictions on U.S. foreign assistance.

2019 was the most dangerous year on record for humanitarian aid workers, with 483 people attacked in 277 separate incidents, according to new data from Humanitarian Outcomes. Last year saw 125 aid workers killed, 234 wounded, and 124 kidnapped, the group reported in its latest “Aid Worker Security Report,” released this week for World Humanitarian Day, which commemorates the deaths of 22 people on Aug. 19, 2003, in an attack on the Canal Hotel in Baghdad. In addition to the overall uptick in incidents — which increased from 228 attacks in 2018 and have been trending upward over several years — the report finds that for the first time, Syria represents the most dangerous country for aid workers, with both the highest number of attacks, at 47, and the greatest number of aid worker fatalities, at 36. These were “mostly caused by airstrikes, shelling, and other explosives used in the ongoing civil war,” the group found. The steepest rise in attacks on aid workers occurred in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, driven by violence against health workers responding to the Ebola outbreak in the country’s Northeast. “What is different about the attacks against health workers in humanitarian contexts, specifically against those working to contain deadly diseases, is that the attackers are often aid recipients as well as armed groups,” the report noted. At 42%, humanitarian health workers made up a higher percentage of aid worker fatalities in 2019 than in any previous year on record, according to the report.

The Inter-American Development Bank is facing calls to postpone its presidential election, due to concerns about COVID-19 and in the wake of an unusual maneuver by the U.S. government to place an American in the top job. The election, which will see the bank’s first new president in 15 years, is scheduled for Sept. 12-13. Last week, a group of former Central American officials drafted a letter, obtained by Devex, which argued that the process should be delayed until the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic is over. “Postponing the IDB presidential election offers a viable and constructive alternative to the legitimate worries about an institution that is key to our development. Facing the recent and profound health and economic crisis in our region, it is necessary to have an IDB agenda based on the needs of Latin America,” the officials wrote. Latin America has seen the most COVID-19 deaths of any region in the world. U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has nominated Mauricio Claver-Carone, currently the senior director for Western Hemisphere affairs in the White House National Security Council, to replace IDB President Luis Alberto Moreno. A Cuban American, Claver-Carone is known for hard-line policies on Cuba and Venezuela, and he has campaigned on a platform of securing a capital increase for the institution and pledged to serve only a single term.

About the author

  • Michael Igoe

    Michael Igoe is a Senior Reporter with Devex, based in Washington, D.C. He covers U.S. foreign aid, global health, climate change, and development finance. Prior to joining Devex, Michael researched water management and climate change adaptation in post-Soviet Central Asia, where he also wrote for EurasiaNet. Michael earned his bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College, where he majored in Russian, and his master’s degree from the University of Montana, where he studied international conservation and development.