Africa, Development & Aid, Headlines, Population

MALI-POPULATION: No Place Like Away from Home

Abdoulaye Gandema and Brahima Ouedraogo

OUAGADOUGOU, Sep 6 1996 (IPS) - The expulsion of hundreds of Malians from France and Angola has placed the spotlight on migration from one of Africa’s poorest states even though its government hesitated at first to touch the issue.

“With these sudden expulsions, we didn’t react from the outset to avoid involving ourselves in the internal affairs of this or that country,” Malian head of state Alpha Omar Konare said in a statement this week on radio. “We have always wished to rectify this problem with our partners politically.”

The comment was Konare’s first public response to the arrival of 45 Malians expelled from France at the end of August and about a thousand others thrown out of Angola.

The deportations have drawn less diplomatic reactions from other Malians, some of whom seemed more prepared to accept the expulsions from France than those from Angola, which they charged with ingratitude for the support other African states gave it during its battle against Portuguese colonialism.

“It’s deplorable, above all when we speak of the free movement of goods and people in different fora,” said Mamadou Maiga, secretary for integration of the ruling Alliance for Democracy in Mali (ADEMA).

“I can’t understand that Angola and some African countries should send back people of African origin,” he added. “That France should do this is understandable. But from an African country, I’m scandalised.”

Another source of bitterness was the insensitivity with which some of the expulsions were conducted.

“I was seized at work,” one deportee from Luanda told a radio station. “They asked for my documents and I supplied them without hesitation because I thought it was a routine check. I was used to them. But to my great astonishment, I was taken straight to the airport. As a result, I arrived in Mali without a cent or any luggage.”

Konare himself criticised the handling of the deportations, stressing that the dignity of each individual had to be respected.

“Some people have been expelled with absolutely nothing,” he said. “In some cases, you could even talk of plunder. The Malian government, which is handling this issue in collaboration with our partners, will take this dimension into consideration.”

On the whole, however, the official reaction to the deportations has been somewhat tame. There was much criticism of the French action at a meeting the ruling party held after the arrival of the first charter plane from France on Aug. 25, but a protest march planned for Sep. 4 in Bamako was cancelled after the authorities deemed it “inappropriate”.

Explaining his reluctance to take a stronger line, Konare said: “We can’t encourage our citizens to breach the laws of their host country.”

Some of the Malians deported from Angola along with other West Africans, mainly Guineans and Nigerians, were charged with dealing in currency, diamond trafficking and fraud by the Angolan authorities. They were rounded up in an operation dubbed ‘Cancer II’.

Those forced to leave France were part of a group of about 300 who drew widespread attention with their efforts to avoid deportation, including a well publicised hunger strike.

In Ouagadougou, Burkinabe Minister of Integration and African solidarity, Hermann Yameogo deplored “the disheartening spectacle presented by these immigrants who give the impression that returning to Africa is like a return to hell.”

He advocated the launch of a ‘back-to-Africa’ operation “to promote the return of Africans to their countries of origin.”

“Through the troubling images which we see, it is evident that we have a duty to achieve Africa integration, to show dignity by agreeing to go home when we are not wanted,” said Yameogo, who also heads the Alliance for Democracy and the Federation (ADF), one of Burkina Faso’s four main political parties.

Observers attribute the high rate of migration from Mali to the extreme poverty of the landlocked nation, most of which is desert or semi-desert. It occupied 171st place out of 174 countries ranked by the UN Development Programme in its 1996 Human Development Report according to the quality of life they offer their citizens.

Many of the nine million Malians depend on money sent home by their relatives in Europe and elsewhere. French officials have estimated that each Malian working in France sends 30 to 40 percent of his or her salary back to Mali. Their remittances help to finance schools, hospitals and other infrastructure.

The deportations notwithstanding, people are likely to keep leaving Mali as long as the deprivation that pushes them to migrate continues, a fact not lost on President Konare.

“With our development partners, we expect to undertake a real development programme,” he said. “Only the battle for development will make our compatriots stay at here.”

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