The north of the country in particular is in the grip of an armed conflict involving groups of Islamist terrorists. A peace treaty was signed in 2015, but remains largely unimplemented. The people are bearing the brunt of the crisis: half of the population lives below the poverty line, many children are malnourished and hundreds of thousands of families have been displaced.
To keep the peace and give people prospects for the future in their homeland, Germany’s Africa policy in countries like Mali focuses on dovetailing German armed forces activities and development assistance. As recently as the start of the year, the German Bundestag decided to expand the German armed forces deployment in Mali. The German Government has been providing development assistance to the West African country since 1960. In spite of the tense security situation, the German Development Agency GIZ is working on behalf of the German Government to improve conditions for local people.
Its work includes promoting decentralisation. ‘This means that thousands of municipalities are being empowered to manage their own finances in order to give the population access to schools, waste disposal, electricity and water connections,’ explains GIZ Country Director Jürgen Koch.
Most of the population works in agriculture, although only around a third of the land is suitable for farming due to the arid climate. Climate change and population growth are aggravating the situation. Koch says: ‘We help smallholders to optimise their irrigation systems and farming methods, which is particularly important in years with little rainfall.’ Over 90 percent of the irrigation systems built are now used intensively by smallholder farms. As a result, the rice yield has been tripled. Better harvests mean a higher income for farmers, helping to stabilise the country’s economy.
GIZ also supports the peace process in the country. It advises institutions like the Ministry of Reconciliation and the truth commission, which just recently opened regional offices. Interviews with the population there are used to identify human rights violations and draw conclusions to help reappraise the conflict. GIZ also promotes micro-projects, primarily in the Gao region. These measures enhance social cohesion among the population in conflict regions and provide targeted support to improve living conditions (for example rehabilitating wells, building grain silos and repairing sanitation facilities in Gao’s hospital).