Otherwise known for the charms of Dogon country and Timbuktu, Mali is in the news for reasons other than its tourism credentials. The presence of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in northern Mali has brought with it the associated problems of hostage taking, drug trafficking and regular confrontations with the armed forces. To confront this threat, Malian authorities have tried since 2007 to organise a conference on the regional fight against terrorism.
Those calls have been in vain and Mali’s neighbours, led by Algeria and Mauritania, accuse Bamako of laxity and say that President Amadou Toumani Touré, (known as ATT), is equivocal. The US intelligence services say they have identified links between AQIM leaders and members of the president’s entourage who receive part of the ransoms paid by Western governments to free hostages taken by AQIM. Mali’s reputation, as well as ATT’s plans for a quiet few years before his retirement in 2012, has been dented.
The country’s economic performance, however, is a much more positive story. The IMF predicts that the GDP growth rate will continue to rise from 4.4% in 2009 to reach 5.1% in 2010 and 5.4% in 2011. Inflation is under control at about 2%, and the government respects most of the convergence criteria of the Union Economique et Monétaire Ouest Africaine (UEMOA).
The country will continue on its path to higher growth in 2011 thanks mainly to high gold prices. Construction is also taking off and there is new public investment in roads, bridges, airports and hospitals. The government infrastructure drive has been a sustained one and has focused on sectors such as electricity and transport.
On 14 October, Energie du Mali inaugurated the SOPAM heavy-fuel power station which will add production of 55MW, enough to supply power to 300,000 homes and meet about 30% of the country’s electricity demand. In March, Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade was in Bamako to announce plans for a new Senegal-Mali railroad to replace the one dating back to 1886. Contractors have also begun work on a second bridge on the Falémé River.
The economy will also be boosted by agriculture, which represents 36% of GDP and is attracting new funds from national investors, including GDCM, Tomota and AMI. Libya is working with Chinese companies on 100,000ha to produce rice, and the Millennium Challenge Account, the Communauté des États Sahélo-Sahariens and UEMOA are all financing large agricultural projects. The 2010-11 season should produce about 7.5m tonnes of cereals.
Encouraged by rising prices, cotton producers expect to produce 300,000tn in 2011, 50% more than in the previous season. The National Assembly rejected the new family code, intended to improve women’s rights, in 2009 and the government will put it to a vote again in 2011 with all of the progressive elements removed to appease religious groups. The other big project that ATT hopes to achieve is constitutional reform.
The new draft Fundamental Law would rebalance power between the branches of government and create a Senate and a permanent election commission. Political heavyweights including oppositionist Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, a former prime minister and the president of the Rassemblement pour le Mali, and Soumaïla Cissé, the founder of the Union pour la République et la Démocratie and current president of the UEMOA Commission, will be jostling to contest for 2012. They might form an alliance to face Prime Minister Modibo Sidibé, the likely candidate for ATT’s new party, the Parti pour le Développement et la Solidarité.