Mali: Our work for democracy and against poverty goes on
On 22 March, a coup d'état occurred in the West African country of Mali – a country where Diakonia has a local presence and also provides support to organisations working for democratisation and against corruption. Here is an interview with Diakonia's Ida Svensson, who lives in Mali:
What are Diakonia's partner organisations doing in the current situation?
Today there is a loosely networked movement for democracy consisting of around 40 parties and many popular movements. Several of Diakonia's partner organisations are part of this network. This movement has issued a clear statement calling for democracy and a peaceful resolution to the situation that has arisen.
Will the events in Mali impact the organisations that Diakonia works with and provides support for?
The organisations that Diakonia supports in Mali work primarily outside the capital in rural areas. There, the effects of the coup have not yet been felt.
However, there a direct consequence of the coup on these organisations' lobbying activities: suddenly, they do not have any democratic counter parties with whom to debate and attempt to influence decisions within a variety of areas. Will Diakonia's work in Mali need to be changed in some way? Because we have a clear focus on democratisation and work against corruption and combating poverty, the efforts we have made and plan to make are still appropriate.
In the area of democratisation and anti-corruption, many of our partner organisations have been working long term to strengthen democracy through increasing people's participation and faith in democracy, particularly at the local level.
Today Mali has decentralised government, just like we do in Sweden. Decisions about local issues are largely made at the municipal level. For this reason, Diakonia's partner organisations work a lot with training local politicians so that they are able to make good decisions. In a country such as Mali, it is extremely important that elected representatives know how to manage a budget for example, since the risk for corruption is so high.
In what ways is Diakonia working for the people of Mali to have more influence over political decisions?
In parallel with the training of local politicians, Diakonia's partner organisations are working to provide citizens with the opportunity to influence and monitor the work of their local politicians. Once or twice each year, democratic cross-examinations are held – a kind of large forum in which ordinary citizens can meet with their elected representatives and ask them questions. For example, if a new school was planned in a municipality, but no such school has been built, the forum gives the people the opportunity to find out why and to hold their elected representatives accountable for how they have used public resources.
Corruption is a big problem. How is this being approached?
Diakonia also provides support for training citizen committees in how a municipal budget functions, for example. Often, this citizens' control if not so much about detecting corruption and poor government as preventing it. When elected representatives know that the people are watching what they are doing, it becomes more difficult to embezzle public funds.
What about poverty then? Because Mali is one of the world's poorest countries.
Diakonia provides support to a number of local organisations working to improve people's living standards. Among other things, this is about reducing vulnerability through creating opportunities for women and young people to earn income; and about strengthening farmers' opportunities to band together and get better prices for their harvests, etc. In consideration of the fact that dissatisfaction with poor living standards is a strong underlying cause of the coup, this work is important in addition to direct efforts to strengthen democracy.
Diakonia will also be continuing to work for improving living standards and managing conflict over natural resources in conjunction with our partner organisation AMSS in the region around Timbuktu.
What is Diakonia doing at the national level?
Already before the coup we had started a project aimed at strengthening the capabilities of our partner organisations to influence legislation and decisions at the national level. If civil society can become more active and constructively influence decisions in the right direction, then better decisions will be made.
In the light of the coup, however, we must renew our efforts to strengthen people's opportunities for expressing their dissatisfaction in democratic ways. We and our partner organisations are currently looking into different solutions for doing this.