Development – a complex story

Here are three articles that underline the complexities of developmental aid:

Rice Paddie

12 Nov 2006 09:45:48 GMT, Source: Reuters

By Nick Tattersall

TIMBUKTU, Mali, Nov 12 (Reuters) – Driving down a tree-lined avenue winding through lush paddy fields, it is hard to believe you are just a few kilometres (miles) from Timbuktu, the fabled gateway to the vast Sahara. The land here used to be parched earth, one of the last stretches of Mali’s barren savannah before it gives way to the dunes and rocks of the desert just to the north. Now women wrapped in bright cloth tend hundreds of hectares of rice fields, their slender green leaves a shock of colour against the dusty landscape that surrounds them. Long dependent on expensive food imports, Timbuktu has become self-sufficient thanks to a foreign-funded irrigation project which donors hope can be replicated across one of the world’s poorest countries. The city, founded in 1100 by Tuareg nomads, was once the richest in the region, where merchants would trade gold from West Africa in exchange for salt mined in the remote oasis of Taoudenni deep in the desert. But times have changed in the sun-blasted city of mud-brick mosques and sand-covered streets. “Before, the riches of Timbuktu were the salt coming down from Taoudenni,” Mali’s President Amadou Toumani Toure told Reuters in his palace in the capital, Bamako. “Today its riches are the irrigated plains, the rice production. They manage two harvests a year,” he said. Small motor pumps drive water from the Niger river, which winds its way lazily along the southern fringe of the desert, into channels where it is shared by smallholders who allow it to flow through sluices to neighbours’ plots. The result is 1,600 hectares (3,950 acres) of irrigated land spread across seven villages around Timbuktu. They produce 6,640 tonnes of rice a year, enough to feed the local area and to export as far afield as Burkina Faso. “There was no cultivation here before. It used to be just hard mud. Now we can feed the population with locally produced rice,” said Abdoul N’Diaye, head of rural development in the area. Behind him, women bent over in water-logged plots picking out weeds in preparation for the next harvest, due to begin in two months’ time. U.S. PLEDGES $460 MILLION Agriculture accounts for 80 percent of the active labour force in Mali and a fifth of gross domestic product. Yet less than 2 percent of Mali’s vast surface area, which is more than twice the size of former colonial power France, is cultivated. Donors including the European Union and United States are pushing for aid money to be focused on irrigation projects, seeing improving agricultural productivity as key to lifting countries like Mali out of poverty. “I know that Mali is an agricultural country, that the countryside is the heart of Mali,” the deputy head of the International Monetary Fund, John Lipsky, told villagers during a visit to the country last week. He pledged to fight for fairer access for their products on international markets — a sore point in Mali, whose cotton farmers say U.S. domestic subsidies keep them poor. The Millennium Challenge Corporation, set up by U.S. President George W. Bush to promote foreign aid, will sign a $461 million package with Mali on Monday to be invested in developing agriculture on the banks of the Niger river. “It will be used to put in place a very important project which is going to help develop 15,000 hectares around the Niger river to produce cereal, fruits and vegetables,” Mali’s Finance Minister Abou-Bakar Traore said. Much of the population of the Sahel region, spread across Mauritania, Mali, Niger and Chad on the southern edge of the Sahara, rely on farming to survive. But the region is one of the most inhospitable in the world. More than 3.6 million people in Niger, about a third of the population, were short of food last year after a locust plague. A three-decade drought has accelerated desertification, making valuable grazing land even more scarce and leading to clashes between herders and pastoralists in some areas. The desert has even encroached on the centre of Timbuktu, where some lintels over doorways in its 14th century mosques now stand at knee height. But as the sand buries its past, its people are looking to a new future. “Before, people did not even have the means to buy food in the market. Look at this now,” said Lansina Diarra, an economic advisor to the governor of Timbuktu, proudly sweeping his arm across the verdant vista behind him.

Chinese bring gifts, risks to African development

Sunday, November 12, 2006

BAMAKO: A few years ago most motorbikes buzzing round Mali’s dusty capital Bamako were locally assembled and a bargain at 1.5 million CFA francs ($2,935).

Now the same basic model, imported from China, sells for a fifth of that price and has become as ubiquitous as the battered green minivans that serve as the city’s public transport and the assembly plant has shut.
“It’s not the same quality. But in Mali people always prefer what is cheaper, even if they have to replace it several times a year and even if it is less comfortable, less reliable,” said Finance Minister Abou-Bakar Traore. “China has understood that.” It is not just the man on the African street that Beijing is trying to woo, undercutting rivals on price and critics say on quality.
President Hu Jintao offered $5 billion in loans and credits and a doubling of aid at a China-Africa summit in Beijing a week ago to boost access to Africa’s oil and mineral wealth. Trade officials say Chinese lending to Africa helps fill a financing gap left by the West. But they also voice concern that such money comes with few strings attached, undermining the efforts of other lenders to root out corruption by attaching conditions to their loans.
“We’re very happy that China intends to commit new resources to the region. It seems to us that more resources can be used effectively and efficiently and it is very welcome,” the International Monetary Fund’s first deputy managing director, John Lipsky, told Reuters in an interview here. But he said he hoped Chinese authorities would be “collaborative and co-operative” with other countries providing debt relief and funding to Africa.
Old chums: Not all economists are confident that such cooperation will be forthcoming or that Chinese investment will benefit Africa. “In terms of the coordination of aid we just don’t know what volume of financing is coming from China. Sometimes the states themselves don’t know how much they have to spend,” said one senior French development economist specialising in West Africa, one of the world’s poorest regions.
“It creates huge difficulties putting in place development strategies,” he said, asking not to be named. Finance Minister Traore acknowledged Mali’s relationship with China was very different to that enjoyed with other foreign lenders, but pointed out it was an old friendship.
“We owe billions to China which it never asks for. In the Malian mind, Chinese loans are considered to be gifts because we’re never asked to pay them back,” Traore said. But the funding is only one side of Beijing’s hard-nosed strategy in Africa.
It also brings cheap Chinese labour to its building sites and cheap imports like Bamako’s motorbikes, hurting local economies precisely where they should be generating jobs in the private sector. reuters

Hearts and Minds

12 Nov 2006 12:46:00 GMT, Source: Reuters  A resident of Tizimizi, a village in the Gao region of eastern Mali, writes on a blackboard to celebrate the opening of a school the U.S. army helped to build.

A resident of Tizimizi, a village in the Gao region of eastern Mali, writes on a blackboard to celebrate the opening of a school the U.S. army helped to build. REUTERS/Luc Gnago

US swaps guns for blackboards in Africa charm offensive

By Mark Trevelyan

TIZIMIZI, Mali, Nov 12 (Reuters) – Mayor Amadou Harouna Maiga was surprised, to say the least, when a group of U.S. soldiers turned up one day and offered to help build a school in his African village. But six months later, he is confident the Americans mean business and keen to explore what more they can do to help. “We have no shortage of problems — health problems, water problems, agricultural problems,” said Maiga as a four-man U.S. team returned this weekend to his village of mud-brick houses by the Niger River to deliver blackboards, slates, pencils, sharpeners and exercise books. “We think they (the Americans) are serious in their promises.” As he spoke inside a temporary classroom, built by villagers from branches and lined with reed matting, the sound of singing and clapping wafted in from dozens of women dancing outside in brilliantly coloured robes of pink, orange, blue and green to welcome the U.S. visitors. There is no mistaking the warmth of the greeting in this remote eastern region of Mali, a mainly Muslim nation and one of the world’s poorest countries. It is, perhaps, one tiny victory in an uphill struggle by the U.S. military to win hearts and minds as it brings its global war on terrorism to remote parts of Africa on the fringe of the Sahara desert. The new school will mean that some 50 children in the village are spared a daily trek of some 3 km (2 miles) each way, in sweltering heat, to reach the only other nearby school in Ansongo. It will also take pressure off the Ansongo school, where in one of the classrooms 65 children are sharing a dozen benches and desks. So how does building schools fit into a U.S. security strategy in Mali, a largely desert country of some 12 million people, bigger than South Africa and nearly twice the size of Texas? “If we can build the capacity of the government to provide services like schools, sanitation and public health, it’s less likely for insurgents to gain a foothold in an area,” says U.S. army captain Nathan Farris. He heads a four-man team of Civil Affairs soldiers, assisted by a U.S. military doctor, vet, dentist and nurse, which is working in Mali alongside, and under the command of, a U.S. special forces team training local soldiers in counter-terrorism. While the special forces teach the Malians to improve their marksmanship and tactics, the humanitarian team is visiting local villages like Tizimizi, offering help to build schools and clinics and repair broken-down wells. DELICATE RELATIONSHIPS Mali is one of nine West and North African countries which have signed up to the U.S. military’s Trans-Sahara Counter-Terrorism Partnership, part of a strategy to prevent al Qaeda from establishing bases in the region in the same way it operated in the 1990s from Sudan and Afghanistan. Critics of the United States say it has exaggerated the threat in order to build up its security presence in Africa, partly because of its growing interest in West African oil as an alternative to supplies from the volatile Middle East. Some are concerned that even pure humanitarian projects like digging wells risk interfering with delicate local relationships that often rest on factors like access to water supplies. Sometimes the local people are nervous, as Farris found out early on when he visited a Malian school. “One of the first questions I got was: were we here to conquer Mali or to help them?” But he added: “People are very receptive to our presence, once we explain we’re here at the invitation of their government … they’re happy we’re here to help out and help their government out.” On a visit to another village, Tacharane, Farris and his team agree to come back on Monday and treat 150 children with vitamins and medicine to kill off tapeworms. The chief seems pleased and says he will spread the word at a feast to celebrate the wedding of his youngest daughter. But an unannounced trip to nearby Tabango is less successful. The chief is away and a nervous-looking group of women ask why the Americans want to see him and why they didn’t make an appointment. Much of the success may depend on how the Americans manage the expectations of local people and whether they deliver on their promises. “Sometimes things take a long time to get going,” Farris explained to the mayor of Tizimizi, saying the school project had been submitted to the U.S. embassy and was still under review.