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With Billions of Euros Pledged, Mali Risks Aid Overflow

BRUSSELS, May 16 2013 (IPS) - International donors pledged yesterday to mobilise 3.25 billion Euros to rebuild Mali, a figure that surpassed all expectations. But experts warn that the country does not have the absorption capacity for so much aid, while others say donors should pressure the Malian government to stop ongoing human rights abuses.

In January of this year, a French-led intervention ended more than a year of sectarian violence in the north of Mali. The intervention managed to stall the conflict, but the situation in the region remains tense.

More than 467,000 people, around one third of the population in the north, are currently displaced, and the United Nations announced on Tuesday that it needs at least 222 million Euros to address immediate food and other humanitarian needs.

Northern Mali is also facing its second food crisis in two years, the country’s economy is in decline, and over the last year it fell to one of the five poorest countries in the world, according to the United Nations (U.N.) Human Development Index.

The 3.25 billion Euros were pledged by the international community at a donor conference in Brussels yesterday for the reconstruction of this West African country. The high level meeting, organised by the European Union and France, together with Mali, welcomed 100 delegates from countries, regional organisations, U.N. agencies, EU member states and other development partners.

Pledges were made on the basis of the “Plan for the Sustainable Recovery of Mali, 2013-2014”, presented by the Malian government, which says that an amount of 4.343 billion Euros is needed to fully implement the plan.

Aid agencies and non-governmental organisations were careful in welcoming the influx of aid, however. “These pledges need to be seen as a down payment and not a one-off cheque,” Marietou Diaby, Malian country director for the NGO Oxfam, said in a press release following the meeting.

"These pledges need to be seen as a down payment and not a one-off cheque."
-- Marietou Diaby,

“Donors must now support a new development contract between the people of Mali and their government which tackles poverty, corruption and inequality – issues that lie at the heart of the crisis,” Diaby noted, adding that crises such as Afghanistan and Somalia show that winning a military conflict is never enough to achieve sustainable peace and security.

EU officials in the field have also expressed concern about the enormous amount of money about to flow into a country that is not yet ready for it. According to one official, who requested anonymity, “The country does not have the absorption capacity yet. Other issues have to be dealt with first.”

“Donors want to move quickly, get the country back on its feet and show results as quickly as possible,” Tidhar Wald, EU conflict and humanitarian policy advisor at Oxfam Brussels, explained.

“But if we inject this amount of money, without proper guarantees in terms of sources management and transparency, into a country that is poorly governed, services are not functioning and some parts of society are benefiting more than others, the situation will hardly get any better,” Wald cautioned.

Just ahead of yesterday’s high-level meeting, Oxfam published a report stressing the need for smart development aid. “The Brussels meeting was intended to bring Mali back to normal,” Wald told IPS, “but even before the rebellion in the north started, Mali was in a crisis.”

“Its society has been eroding for decades because of previous ethnic conflicts, corruption, lack of transparency and other governance issues,” he described. “There needs to be a new contract between the Malian government and its people. The reconstruction plan needs to be inclusive; all Malians should benefit from it.”

“We have to make sure that the government is made accountable to its people, that people can influence decision making, that civil society is part of the decision-making process,” Wald concluded.

According to Oxfam’s report, donors should commit to providing aid at least for the next 15 years, the amount of time needed to successfully undertake necessary government reforms and tackle the root causes of poverty. This time frame, however, stands in stark contrast with the two years mentioned in the Malian government’s reconstruction plan.

Other experts also point to the fact the conflict in Mali is not over yet and human rights violations persist. On Tuesday, Amnesty International accused government forces of carrying out extrajudicial executions in the north. Islamic militants have been reported recruiting child soldiers and killing civilians and wounding government soldiers.

U.N. officials, meanwhile, have expressed grave concern about retaliatory attacks against Tuared and Arab communities in the north after government troops retook towns held by Islamic rebels. As a result, both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch urge donors to pressure the Malian government to end to human rights abuses in the country.

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