Mali is a West African country that lies within the Sahara Desert, bordered by Guinea, Senegal, Mauritania and Niger. Conquered by France in 1904, Mali became a member of the French Union. However, in 1960, Mali became an independent nation, adopting the new title of the Sudanese Republic, later changing its name to the Republic of Mali.

While the 1960s marked Mali’s transition to an independent self-effaced nation, this decade also marked the onslaught of political instability that would later run rampant throughout the country. During this time, Mali receded from its international ties with China; this outraged opponents and ultimately lead to border wars and military disputes.

However, in the early 1990s, Mali peacefully transitioned from a country under military rule to a democratic nation. However, unrest and hostilities in Mali has remained prevalent, affecting the nation’s social structure and economic stability. For example, in 2012, Mali was hit by a military coup d’état, reawakened hostilities between Tuareg rebels and the government and the capture of the northern territory by Islamists. In order to address these issues, significant steps have been taken to help reinstate a stable democratic order in Mali. One key area of concern is safety.

According to an issue released by the Bert Koenders of the United Nations, “The new authorities are confronted with numerous challenges that need to be addressed urgently to enable Malian men, women and children to live in security and to benefit from peace dividends.” In order to reestablish stability, the United Nations is working to reestablish constitutional order through presidential elections. By establishing national authority and security, Mali is in a greater position to combat the terrorist attacks that it routinely encounters.

Koenders states that while Mali has made great strides since the 1960s, the establishment of humanitarian efforts in the nation remain unseen. In order for full stability to be achieved, reconciliation, further peace negotiations and a reestablishment of national authority must occur. Therefore, there is much work to be done in order to stabilize the nation.

Phoebe Pradhan

Sources: Info Please, United Nations
Photo: Borgen

Students at N’tjibougou School used to have to choose between relieving themselves outside in bushes or running home to use the bathroom and risk missing class.

They now have six new latrines, three for boys and three for girls – an improvement to the one restroom they used to have to share among 70 of their peers. This is just one of the changes that came about with the Dubai Cares WASH program in Mali’s schools.

N’tjibougou School created a Children’s Government for students to become actively involved in the changes taking place.

Nematou Malle, 12, is the Minister of Cleanliness and her job is to “keep all students in good health, see that they drink clean water, that they come to school clean and that the school latrines and courtyard are clean,” as she described to Dubai Cares.

Nematou created a hygiene kit for the school as part of the Dubai Cares initiative. The kit includes a brush, buckets, gloves, face masks, soap and bleach. As Minister of Cleanliness, Nematou is also in charge of collecting drinking water for classrooms, sweeping and removing trash, and making sure students wash their hands with soap.

Not only do these practices impact positive behavioral changes among students, but they also give those who are involved in the Children’s Government a sense of leadership and confidence.

Many children who do not finish school in Mali have preventable health problems that can be eliminated with more hygienic systems and access to safe and clean water and sanitation facilities at school.

The Dubai Cares WASH program in Mali covers 726 schools to provide water and sanitation infrastructure to ensure a healthy learning environment. The objective of the program is to improve children’s access to quality primary education.

– Haley Sklut

Sources: Dubai Cares, WASH in Schools
Photo: Open Equal Free

Guinea Worm
There were only 148 cases of Guinea Worm infestations reported worldwide last year, which is a leap forward compared to the 3.5 million cases less than two decades ago. This disease is known to many as “dracunculiasis” which means, “affliction with little dragons,” due to the pain the worm causes on the skin. Hope remains for the few countries left on the Guinea worm-endemic list as complete eradication of the parasite may come at a faster rate than that of the polio virus.

The number of countries on the Guinea worm endemic list dropped from 21 to four. Ethiopia, Chad, Mali and South Sudan remain on the list, but there are now less than 200 cases compared to the millions that reported in 1986. South Sudan currently has the highest number of cases due to a resurgence that occurred last month when health workers were removed from the main eradication center due to fighting in the villages.

People acquire the worm by drinking contaminated water. When individuals drink the contaminated water, the pathogen enters the body where it remains for almost a month. During this time it matures into a worm that can grow up to 3 feet long. When it is ready, the Guinea worm exits from a blister on the individual’s skin inch by inch.  In most cases, the exiting worm has contact with water, where it releases its larvae and the pathogen is able to spread to several people if they continue to drink from these shallow ponds. This microscopic parasite usually appears in isolated villages marked by these shallow water ponds.

Family economies also suffer as victims are unable to work or farm. The process is painful and as it emerges it cripples a person for several weeks. Young children who acquire the worm also miss school for several weeks.

Wiping out the Guinea worm has been quite the obstacle since there is no vaccine or medicine against the parasite.  Health advocates usually visit various villages to educate families about the dangers of drinking contaminated water. They also explain how the water becomes contaminated when villagers place their infected limbs in shallow water ponds.

So far efforts to eliminate the Guinea Worm have cost around $350 million since 1986. This amount has almost solved the problem, while fighting off polio will cost upwards of $5.5 billion. Health workers note that eradication efforts are low-tech but can be easily implemented since the only strategy is to drink clean water and keep infections monitored. Officials from the Carter Center, the main operation center against Guinea Worm cases, are confident about eliminating the parasite if they continue their same efficient methods.

Maybelline Martez

Sources: NY Times, NPR, Guinea Worms, NPR, Slaying Dragons
Photo: TrialX

Film Tells Story of Exiled Musicians in Mali
In every culture, music is a special way to tell a story.  It says something unique and important about a culture, and is an essential way to connect people.  Music’s importance is seen most visibly in Malian culture, where music is not a profession or a pastime, but a people.  Griots are musicians who tell stories about Malian history, and hold the keys to the past.  In Mali, therefore, music is culture.

In 2012, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa banned all music in Northern Mali.  This movement took over Northern Mali after a violent take over instigated by Islamic extremism.  This music ban forced Malian musicians to either flee the nation or move underground.  As a result, an incredible counter-cultural movement is sweeping over Malian music.

“They Will Have to Kill Us First: Malian Musicians in Exile” is a documentary currently being commissioned by British director Johanna Schwartz and producer Kat Amara Korba.  The documentary will explore how Malian musicians are seeking to restore music and peace to the ailing nation.  Musicians featured in the documentary will include Khaira Arby (the “Nightingale of the North”,) Manny Ansar (a music festival director), and Toumani Diabate (a 72nd generation Griot.)

The project began shooting in February 2013, near the beginnings of the conflict, and will continue to shoot through April.  The documentary is being independently funded through a Kickstarter Campaign.  The fundraiser officially achieved its goal of 30,000 British pounds on December 7, 2013, but is still accepting pledges to meet production costs.

As stated by Malian musician Fadimata Disco Walet Oumar, “They want to ban music?  They will have to kill us first.”  Mali’s musical rebellion is a testament to the power of expression.

Taylor Diamond

Sources: Kickstarter, They Will Have to Kill Us First

The World Health Organization confirmed the eradication of smallpox in 1979, the only human disease to be completely eradicated. Now, another disease is getting closer to the same fate. Dracunculiasis, or guinea worm, is on its way out. In a weekly report, the CDC has said that only 89 cases of guinea worm were recorded in the first half of 2013. This is a 77 percent reduction over last year.

In contrast, there have been over 300 cases of polio, another disease nearing eradication, in the same time period.

Dracunculiasis is spread through ingesting stagnant water contaminated with the Dracunculus medinensis larvae. About one year after infection, the worm can grow up to 30 inches, and emerge through the surface of the skin, frequently on the lower limbs. While it is rarely fatal, pain and bacterial infections often follow and can cause permanent a disability.

While the number of cases has dropped, there are no drugs available that could prevent or heal the current cases. The possibility of spreading the parasite is particularly high if the infected person frequents stagnant water sources, such as an open well or pond.

The worm is now only found in four countries: Chad, Ethiopia, Mali, and South Sudan. A majority of the cases were found in South Sudan, but the country has seen an 80 percent decrease since last year. Mali is facing a tougher time in the eradication process. Due to a coup d’état in April of 2012, health workers have not been able to reach some areas of the country.

– David Smith

Sources: NPR, CDC, WHO
Photo: KidWorldCitizen

Mali Refugee Children School Teaching Tuareg Separatists Ansar Dine
In the wake of the jihadist occupation of Mali, hundreds of thousands of displaced Malian children currently await the opportunity to return to school. The country’s $9.1 million back-to-school campaign, “Peace is back, School is back,” aims to re-establish the education system by reinstating teachers and providing school supplies. The campaign also plans to provide therapy for children and teachers affected by secessionist occupation of the country.

Among obstacles to the campaign are teachers who have yet to return to the north after seeking refuge in the south. Seen by jihadists as a face of the Malian state, many teachers fled for their lives when groups linked to al-Qaeda began to target schools that employed “western-style” education methods. Books were burned and classrooms were destroyed. Teachers were forced to flee south. Many of these teachers are still skeptical of security in the north and are hesitant to return.

“We have to help the teachers deal with psycho-social trauma for themselves and for the children,” Francoise Ackermans, Unicef’s representative to Mali, said to The Guardian.

Mali’s Ministry of Education reports that 1,400 of 2,500 displaced teachers have returned to the north and taken advantage of a grant from the European Union that allots $500 for each returning teacher. However, even if all 2,500 teachers are accounted for, 2,500 teaching positions in northern Mali will remain empty. To combat this problem, Unicef is providing training and therapy for 9,000 Malian teachers. Financial contributions to the campaign are also lacking. Ackermans noted that only $4 million have been pledged to the campaign so far. She emphasizes that if the campaign is to be successful, effective communication among communities is key.

“It’s a nationwide intervention and we have to mobilize the communities and send the right messages,” Ackermans said. “So it’s about communication and mobilization at the community level.”

Education is Mali’s focus in postwar recovery. Despite financial hardship and a lack of teachers, progress is being made. Children in southern Mali begin a new school year on October 1st. Children in northern Mali, who are currently participating in accelerated learning programs, will begin in November. Ackermans refers to education as “the cornerstone of Mali’s reconstruction.”

“What’s a more visible sign of things going back to normal than a girl and a boy walking to school in the morning?” Ackermans asked.

The campaign still has a long way to go in accommodating the estimated 800,000 children affected by the jihadist occupation. If the campaign is to be successful, the international community needs to step up by raising awareness and financial support. Without securing its future by providing its children with access to education, the country cannot remain stable. Ackerman stresses that each child has the right to education, and Mali will not be able to return to normality until that right is realized.

“An educated child is becoming a citizen of his own country and of the world. This is one of the basic rights of every child,” Ackermans said to Voice of America. “We have to commit ourselves to work together on that.”

– Matt Berg

Sources: The Guardian
Photo: Education and Transition

crashed house
Earlier this month, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita won the presidential election in Mali and promised to unite the country. After the elections, the French general who led the military campaign to restore order headed home, leaving Mali’s future in the hands of UN peacekeepers. UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, pledged to support the newly elected Government in their efforts to address the root causes of the conflict.

Mali’s political system had deteriorated from mismanagement. In the north, the state was overrun by extensive criminal networks often involving local dignitaries. Beginning in early 2012, Mali experienced a coup d-etat, renewed fighting between the government and Tuareg rebels, and the seizure of northern territory by radical Islamists. The Tuareg-led Mouvement National for the Liberation de l’Azawad began fighting for a state of their own.

Malians embraced the French intervention in the conflict in January of this year. Other nations, including the United States, offered aid to Mali under the pretense that Mali would hold free elections and choose civilian leaders. After a seven month French campaign, known as Operation Serval, to destroy the Islamist enclave in the north, hundreds of fighters have been killed and many others displaced across the Sahara.

France was able to pull out the country with relative ease, but many are concerned that this may not be the case for the UN. Unlike France, the UN faces an open-ended mission, limited resources and the difficult task of state building in Mali. According to a UN Special representative in Mali, “The UN is here to facilitate the return of the state to north Mali and provide security until the army is ready to take over…It’s a mission which is likely to last a few years.”

The UN will act as a buffer between the government and the north and facilitate discussions in order to broker a peace deal. However, the tasks laid out for the UN are numerous and broad. Realistically, a mission such as this could take up to ten years to complete.

Since the coup, 350,000 Malians have been internally displaced and over 175,000 have become refugees in neighboring countries. The conflict in the north disrupted economic activity and the delivery of basic social services. In addition, public buildings and services were often looted in the North. All three regional capital cities in the north lack the pre-conflict levels of electricity, water, and medical services.

As the refugees and internally displaced persons return to the north, the already damaged infrastructure will inevitably become more strained. The average Malian lives on $2/day. Due to the conflict, most of those displaced do not have the capital to return home and start over. Support from the international community is critical because it is unlikely that the infrastructure in the north will be capable of meeting the needs of the current citizens, let alone the return of the displaced.

If Malian forces fail to secure the north, the Islamists will return. The problems in the North are caused by poverty, corruption, and underdevelopment. One main issue that the UN and the newly elected government will have to address is the illegal economy. With over 300,000 youth entering the job market each year, the youth have found it difficult to find jobs and instead turn to the illegal market to make a quick profit.

This economic marginalization of the youth only fuels the illegal market, which is especially present in the north. The illegal market funds the rebels of the north and disarmament is impossible without first addressing the cause of youth unemployment. The UN and France are working together on several development projects in the region which will create jobs, support local suppliers and benefit the economy.

In Mali, foreign aid has become a recurring cycle – generating jobs present, but leaving the country incapable of sustainable economic growth. Between 1996 and 2005, 27.6% of the Malian state’s budget came from official development assistance. During the 2012 coup, NGOs left and so did their aid, further crippling the nation. The country is a frequent recipient of foreign aid, but corruption prevents the aid from getting to those who need it most.

Due to a lack of oversight and accountability, aid resources are diverted to those at the top. These problems related to aid tie in directly with Mali’s problematic institutions. In order for aid to be more effective in Mali, aid management should be decentralized.

The single largest increase in public perceptions of the public sector’s integrity came after the 2012 coup. The Malian people attribute a ‘lack of patriotism’ and ‘weakness of the state’ as reasons for the country’s ever-recurring crises.

– Kelsey Ziomek
Sources: Reuters, UN News, UN, Post-Gazette

In 2012, Ali Mahmoud fled his home country of Mali after a coup d’etat plunged the nation into a state of hardship. However, after relocating to a refugee camp in western Niger, Mahmoud has since found fame, fortune, and even love.

The 40 year-old artisan became a staple of his refugee camp by forging and repairing tools with his blacksmithing expertise. Specializing in knives and ornamental swords, Mahmoud’s one-man business earns roughly $50 USD per day. This number may seem modest, but these profits are amidst a population whose average annual income is equivalent to $360 USD. With over 55% of its citizens in poverty, Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world.

Ali’s father, Galio, explains this success is in part because “Every man here owns a sword or wants to own one.”

Constructing a sword or knife can take up to four days for Mahmoud. He buys his metals from the local market and works at an anvil from outside his straw shelter. His knives are sold for roughly $50 USD, whereas a sword and sheath can be purchased for about twice that price. For those who are unable to afford his goods, Mahmoud is open to bartering; he most commonly receives gifts of food in exchange for his services.

Mahmoud has been conscious of accruing a savings to finance his future wedding. His wife-to-be, Anata, is an 18 year old girl who was raised in the same hometown as Mahmoud. He has saved over $600 USD to pay for Anata’s dowry, simply noting that he is “very happy to have met Anata.”

Mahmoud’s business was supported by the Office of the United States High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which has organized projects to help refugees develop an income and become self sustaining. UNHCR will be moving Mahmoud and 17,000 Malian refugees to a camp in Intikan, which is a safer location deeper in Niger. Despite this, Mahmoud is eager that the move will allow his customer base to grow, and he aspires to expand his business to allow other Malian refugees to work under him.

“I am eager to go as soon as possible to Intikan,” he explains, “where I hope the number of my customers will double or triple.”

Blacksmithing was once a cornerstone of civilization, with blacksmiths being as common as local general stores. However, the industrial revolution significantly decreased the demand for blacksmiths. While niche organizations have kept the trade alive to this day, it is usually practiced for the purpose of art as opposed to utility.

For a country like Niger, the demand for the blacksmith’s skillset has proven itself. As Maumoud was given the resources to help himself, he works to give others the tools they need to become self sustainable. His story proves that, even in a struggling country, the entrepreneurial spirit can be found in the least likely of places.

– Timothy Monbleau

Source: BBC, The Art Career Project, UNHCR, World Bank, World Vision

TIMBUKTU, Mali — Though slavery was formally abolished in the West African nation of Mali in 1960, roughly 200,000 people continue to live as modern-day slaves and hundreds more are only now experiencing freedom for the first time.

According to the advocacy group Anti-Slavery International, “descent-based slavery” has existed for generations in Mali but worsened in March 2012 when Islamist rebels gained control of northern Mali. The lighter-skinned Tuaregs and Arab Moors used the ethnic background they shared with jihadists to control darker-skinned ethnic groups.

Many Tuareg and Arab Moor families recaptured former slaves, and those enslaved reported that their treatment worsened during the Islamists’ ten-month reign, during which a highly conservative brand of Islamic sharia law was enforced. A French-led military intervention rid Mali’s northern towns of these Islamists in early 2013, and many Tuaregs and Arab Moors fled the region fearing reprisal for their actions have .

While many former slaveholders have fled the region, the impact of slavery has left a possibly irreparable gulf between Mali’s different ethnic groups. Tuaregs and Arab Moors formerly raided communities of darker-skinned populations in order to acquire slaves for a variety of unpaid roles, ranging from salt mining to sexual slavery. Darker-skinned ethnic groups also entered voluntarily into bondage systems to feed their families because, due to discrimination, they are unable to acquire a better source of income.

These groups have adopted the language and customs of the Tuaregs and Arab Moors, but they are still subjected to unfair treatment and poor working conditions. Those who have managed to escape slavery often come to Timbuktu in order to find employment, but they end up with jobs closely resembling their former experiences as slaves.

Though former slaves celebrate as their longtime captors leave Mali, a guerrilla war surges on. Many slaves have escaped from the families that held control over their bloodline for generations, but the impact of slavery is readily apparent. Today, Timbuktu is a wasteland offering virtually no economic opportunities, even though many of its citizens are finally free.

– Katie Bandera

Source: Antislavery, Washington Post
Photo: The Guardian