Mali: Why everyone should care about its future

Chair, OECD Development Assistance Committee

©REUTERS/Joe Penney

There are many countries emerging from conflict. Why care about Mali?

It’s been less than half a year since the Malians, with assistance from Algeria and other international partners, signed a peace agreement. But peace deals alone never guarantee long-term stability.

Mali was long heralded as a model for other African nations to follow, with its democracy, strong economic development and seemingly prosperous future. As minister of development in Norway I often held up Mali as an inspirational success. When first in Timbuktu I was astonished by the beauty of the culture, the devoted people and the story the city could tell. One man, Mansa Musa–a “king of kings” who some regard as the richest person of all time–lived there in the 14th century. Mali, once the centre of trade through the Sahara desert, retains a unique, living and visible cultural history today.

But in 2012 Mali came to a standstill. Terrorists took over large parts of the country and were only stopped by French and African forces not far from the capital, Bamako. What was considered a pillar of African development and democracy imploded in the space of a few weeks. There has been a lot of progress since then. Security is now provided by a UN peace keeping force. President Ibrahim Keïta was elected in free elections, and a government is now in place. But most Malians are devastatingly poor and the country’s development needs are huge. The link is clear: there is no development without security, and no security without development.

Well over 15 million people live in Mali. The country is twice the size of France. Most of the people live in the south. Many people in the north believe that the government spends all their money in the south–forgetting the north. When I met with the largest rebel groups in Bamako last week, this was their main concern. They feel marginalised and do not see progress, they told me.

This lack of confidence in the government fosters violence, and some turn to rebel groups in dissatisfaction. Some of these groups are indigenous, others are Islamic and global, others still are traffickers of all kinds. The borders in the Sahel are enormously long and nigh impossible to police. There is every opportunity for insecurity has to spread in to neighbouring regions. Hostages have been taken and not all have survived. Transnational organised crime has evolved.  

The fragile situation will continue if security in Mali is not reinforced and if the people of Mali don’t see jobs, education, hope and progress.

So when the Malian government asked the OECD if we, alongside other partners, could contribute to developing a strategy for reconstruction and peace, we  were never in doubt.

Mali has great development potential in many areas. It could become a major supplier of rice for the West African market. Huge improvements regarding livestock, mining and, in the long run, tourism are all within reach for this beautiful country. Roads and education must improve. But in order to fully realise this potential, the stabilisation of the north is essential.

On 22 October, the OECD co-hosts a high-level conference with the government of Mali and the support of its international partners and friends in a bid to to help Mali find solutions to political and development challenges. For a country to develop, leadership is the key. Only the president and government of Mali can tell us international partners–public and private–what its strategic vision is, where it wants to take its country in 20 years, and what future it wants for its children.

Leadership has proven itself to be the most important ingredient of development success.

Good policies are a second related ingredient. The government must make the right choices, and take the right decisions that can propel development in the country. Even a country that needs nearly everything must focus on a few priorities. Then we, the international community, can better assist.

A third ingredient for Mali is resources. A country cannot develop on aid alone. Development assistance may act as a catalyst, and can help reassure private partners to invest in Mali. But taxes and private investments are key. Together we must look into the potential for generating more tax revenue and for expansion of the private sector. The large number of Malians abroad may also prove to be an asset through private investment and remittances.

So,why care about Mali?

The first answer is simple: because the children of Mali deserve a bright future. All the Malian children I have met are eternal optimists, like the boy cleaning our car who said he wanted to become a doctor. Let us make their aspirations real, not just vague hopes.

But in addition to that, the whole world needs a stable, prosperous Mali, not least to stop terrorist attacks and organised crime from spreading further. What happens in Mali affects us all.

Pietikainen Anna (2013), “Sahel: the search for security” in OECD Observer No 296 Q3, available online

Walther, Olivier (2015), “Eating soup with a knife: Confronting warfare in the Sahara”, in OECD Observer No 303, September, available online

Warner, Brian (2014), “The 25 Richest People Who Ever Lived–Inflation Adjusted”, at, April

©OECD Observer October 2015

Economic data

GDP growth: +0.6% Q1 2019 year-on-year
Consumer price inflation: 2.3% May 2019 annual
Trade: +0.4% exp, -1.2% imp, Q1 2019
Unemployment: 5.2% July 2019
Last update: 8 July 2019

OECD Observer Newsletter

Stay up-to-date with the latest news from the OECD by signing up for our e-newsletter :

Twitter feed

Subscribe now

<b>Subscribe now!</b>

To order your own paper editions,email

Online edition
Previous editions

Don't miss

  • MCM logo
  • The following communiqué and Chair’s statement were issued at the close of the OECD Council Meeting at Ministerial level, this year presided by the Slovak Republic.
  • Food production will suffer some of the most immediate and brutal effects of climate change, with some regions of the world suffering far more than others. Only through unhindered global trade can we ensure that high-quality, nutritious food reaches those who need it most, Angel Gurría, Secretary-General of the OECD, and José Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, write in their latest Project Syndicate article. Read the article here.
  • Globalisation will continue and get stronger, and how to harness it is the great challenge, says OECD Secretary-General Gurría on Bloomberg TV. Watch the interview here.
  • OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría with UN Secretary-General António Guterres at the 73rd Session of the UN General Assembly, in New York City.
  • The new OECD Observer Crossword, with Myles Mellor. Try it online!
  • Listen to the "Robots are coming for our jobs" episode of The Guardian's "Chips with Everything podcast", in which The Guardian’s economics editor, Larry Elliott, and Jeremy Wyatt, a professor of robotics and artificial intelligence at the University of Birmingham, and Jordan Erica Webber, freelance journalist, discuss the findings of the new OECD report "Automation, skills use and training". Listen here.
  • Do we really know the difference between right and wrong? Alison Taylor of BSR and Susan Hawley of Corruption Watch tell us why it matters to play by the rules. Watch the recording of our Facebook live interview here.
  • Has public decision-making been hijacked by a privileged few? Watch the recording of our Facebook live interview with Stav Shaffir, MK (Zionist Union) Chair of the Knesset Committee on Transparency here.
  • Can a nudge help us make more ethical decisions? Watch the recording of our Facebook live interview with Saugatto Datta, managing director at ideas42 here.
  • The fight against tax evasion is gaining further momentum as Barbados, Côte d’Ivoire, Jamaica, Malaysia, Panama and Tunisia signed the BEPS Multilateral Convention on 24 January, bringing the total number of signatories to 78. The Convention strengthens existing tax treaties and reduces opportunities for tax avoidance by multinational enterprises.
  • Globalisation’s many benefits have been unequally shared, and public policy has struggled to keep up with a rapidly-shifting world. The OECD is working alongside governments and international organisations to help improve and harness the gains while tackling the root causes of inequality, and ensuring a level playing field globally. Please watch.
  • Checking out the job situation with the OECD scoreboard of labour market performances: do you want to know how your country compares with neighbours and competitors on income levels or employment?
  • Trade is an important point of focus in today’s international economy. This video presents facts and statistics from OECD’s most recent publications on this topic.
  • The OECD Gender Initiative examines existing barriers to gender equality in education, employment, and entrepreneurship. The gender portal monitors the progress made by governments to promote gender equality in both OECD and non-OECD countries and provides good practices based on analytical tools and reliable data.
  • Interested in a career in Paris at the OECD? The OECD is a major international organisation, with a mission to build better policies for better lives. With our hub based in one of the world's global cities and offices across continents, find out more at .
  • Visit the OECD Gender Data Portal. Selected indicators shedding light on gender inequalities in education, employment and entrepreneurship.

Most Popular Articles

OECD Insights Blog

NOTE: All signed articles in the OECD Observer express the opinions of the authors
and do not necessarily represent the official views of OECD member countries.

All rights reserved. OECD 2019