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Public TransportationLast month, leaders of Mali and Senegal signed a $2.75 billion deal with the China Railway Construction Corp to provide a 745-mile public transportation railway that will link the nations’ capital cities after its construction over the next four years.

Over 20 railway stations in Mali will be renovated, with upgrades made to over 400 miles of rail lines. This railway project will potentially bring economic development and poverty reduction to areas of West Africa, according to Reuters.

This is not the first time the Chinese have invested in railways in Africa — in 2014, Chinese Prime Minister Li Legian and the Kenyan government agreed to the construction of a new railway line from Mombasa to Nairobi for $3.8 billion, according to BBC.

That same year, the Chinese signed a $12 billion with Nigeria to construct a railway along the West African coast, Reuters reported. When completed, this project will have brought in about 200,000 local jobs while connecting otherwise untapped markets. The World Bank reports that transport infrastructure allows people to access jobs, health services and education and assists companies in maintaining market supply and demand with presumably lower costs.

In 2013, the Dakar Diamniadio Toll Highway was inaugurated in Senegal, becoming the first toll road of its kind in Africa, according to the World Bank. This highway would­­ cut travel times from downtown Dakar and Diamniadio from 90 to 30 minutes, greatly reducing congestion.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DGMCVHudC6U

Despite the economic growth and increased employment that public transportation can bring to those living in poverty, some challenges still result from their creation.

For instance, public transportation adds another expense to a family budget, cutting the poor’s disposable income as a result, according to the World Bank.

Urban air pollution and safety are other challenges that public transport can bring — for example, how more cars leads to more gas emissions, or how 90 percent of deaths on the road are accounted for by lower to middle-class countries, despite owning just half of the world’s total motor vehicles, reported the World Bank.

These challenges can be met through critical planning as urbanization increases in the developing world, creating more mid-sized cities.

The World Bank wrote, “City planners have an opportunity to design sustainable and inclusive transport systems from the start, leapfrogging more polluting and costly modes.”

The Africa Transport Policy Program (SSATP), a group hosted by the World Bank, have worked to create a framework for improving railway performance, developing guidelines for mainstream road safety and transport governance within sub-Saharan Africa.

Kelsey Lay

Sources: BBC, Reuters 1, Reuters 2, World Bank 1, World Bank 2
Photo: Pexels

Bamako
According to UNICEF, the enrollment rate in Mali, Africa is 80 percent. However, the achievement rate stands at 54 percent for boys and 44.8 percent for girls due to a low supply of qualified teachers, high student-to-teacher ratios and poor learning materials. The poor and rural areas of Mali fare worst of all, experiencing a 70 percent dropout rate before sixth grade.

The most qualified teachers accept positions in well-off urban communities, which offer sufficient pay and lodging. Consequently, inner areas traditionally receive the superior education in Bamako.

According to Yahoo News, Youchaou Traore, a former translator for diplomats founded a school in one of the poorest neighborhoods on the edge of Mali’s capital—Bamako. Ten years later, École Privée Youchaou (EPY) is helping its students place first or second in national exams, surpassing the elite private schools.

Traore, who didn’t begin first grade until the age of 13, is very familiar with the struggles and shortcomings of the Malian education system. He designed EPY to confront and rectify the complications that prevent impoverished children from receiving a quality education in Bamako. Bamako.

A 2011 report by Education International revealed that over half of Mali’s 40,000 instructors are unqualified to teach primary levels. Students sit in class day after day and absorb less than a quarter of what they should be learning at their level. Furthermore, bribery for exam scores allows students to graduate without developing basic literacy and mathematical skills.

“It’s possible to reach 9th grade here and barely be able to read,” Traore told Yahoo News.

Instead of pulling competent instructors away from other schools, Traore chose members of his own community and put them through intensive training to learn teaching techniques and management skills.

The community-centered education system helped ease issues of money and trust that plague many Malian parents. The adults in Bamako feel comfortable approaching Traore and his staff to inquire about scholarships and other funding opportunities.

Traore does his best to accommodate families that can’t afford school fees, allowing them to sell snacks to students. There are times when he provides funding from his own personal finances.

For students like Traore who start late or transfer, EPY offers catch-up lessons to ensure that each child who comes through the doors learns to read, write and solve mathematical equations.

EPY incorporates all of the high-risk groups—orphans, girls, extremely poor families—yet its dropout rate is less than one percent because the students feel comfortable there. They realize they have the chance to receive the best education in Bamako.

“If I have a chance to talk to people in the world, I would like them to understand that here in Mali it’s not very easy, but students are serious,” said Bourama Fomba, a 13-year-old student in a Guardian article.

Sarah Prellwitz

Sources: Education International 1, Yahoo, Education International 2, The Guardian, UNICEF
Photo: Flickr1, Flicker2 

Large-Solar-Plant-Coming-to-West-Africa
Mali has signed an agreement with Oslo-based renewable energy specialist Scatec Solar to build West Africa’s first industrial-scale solar plant. The plant will be built near the southwestern city of Segou and has a life expectancy of 25 years.

According to Scatec Solar’s website, the company is “an integrated independent power producer, aiming to make solar a sustainable and affordable source of energy worldwide. Scatec Solar develops, builds, owns and operates solar power plants and delivers power from 219 megawatts in the Czech Republic, South Africa and Rwanda.”

Mali’s energy minister, Mamadou Frankaly Keita, said, “This landmark agreement signals the government’s commitment to meet the nation’s growing energy demand and to provide clean, renewable and affordable energy to our people.”

In recent years, Mali has been plagued by chronic electricity outages. In 2013, the government reported that it was only able to supply 45 percent of its 16 million people with electricity.

But with the addition of this solar plant, the problem of electricity shortages will be solved. The plant is expected to produce enough electricity each year to power 60,000 family homes, while cutting annual carbon dioxide emissions by 46,000 tons.

It has been reported that Mali’s EDM-SA energy company, two thirds of which are owned by the states and one third of which is owned by the Aga Khan group, is in crisis. It is failing to ensure an adequate supply of electricity, despite state subsidies worth 87.7 million euros in 2013.

With this new solar plant, Scatec will own 50 percent of the Segou plant while the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation will hold 32.5 percent, leaving the remaining equity to local power partner Africa Power 1.

Scatec Solar will construct the plant and will also provide operation and maintenance services after the plant is connected to the electricity grid.

The chairman of Africa Power 1 SA and General Administrator of Scatec Solar West Africa SA, Dr. Ibrahim Togola, said, “Today’s event is historic because Mali now becomes the first country to install the largest solar grid connect power plant in the region. This high-profile joint venture, in which Malian citizens participate, will serve as a model to launch the solar era in West Africa.”

By tapping into the available sunlight, sunlight that is available almost all day, citizens in Mali will be able to use this clean and free energy. It will also have a positive impact on the air by reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

Although solar panels are expensive at the beginning, the reduction in electricity bills can be seen in about seven years after installation. With the large solar plant being built in Mali, homeowners do not need to pay the expense of private solar panels.

Hopefully, the solar plant in Mali is a test run for the effectiveness of solar electricity in West Africa and is something that will soon be present in the rest of Africa.

Kerri Szulak

Sources: Africa Renewal Online , Phys.org, Scatec Solar
Photo: Aspire Africa

clean_drinking_water
As of 2013, around 738 million people across the world do not have access to clean drinking water. Of these people, an approximate 8 million die as a consequence of this inaccessibility.

Water is the paramount need for all human being. Sanitation of this water is vital for preventing many water-borne diseases that can potentially be fatal. Despite the development of new methodologies to sanitize water, the process of chlorination remains unparalleled in its prevalence and efficiency.

The process of chlorination, as the name suggests, uses chlorine gas or bleach to purify water. Chlorine gas is highly toxic and an effective antimicrobial agent. Chlorine also remains in water through longer periods of time than its alternatives. This reduces the costs of repeated purifications.

Despite these advantages that put chlorination far ahead of its counterpart purification methods, it is still difficult to successfully utilize this technique in developing countries. Chlorine gas and its derivatives – such as bleach – are highly reactive and can be dangerous in excessive quantities. The chlorine gas is sold compressed in cylinders, and its pressure requirements change in accordance with the water source to be chlorinated. Hydraulic equipment necessary for safe chlorination is not always accessible in remote areas.

These safety considerations pose a dilemma for the safe sanitation of drinking water. Recently, Mountain Safety Research (MSR), an outdoor gear manufacturer, collaborated with an NGO to release an innovative solution to the problem.

Their device, Smart Electrochlorinator or SE200, uses saltwater and a car battery to produce a carefully-calculated amount of chlorine gas. It consists of a canister that attaches to a battery through jumper cables. The canister is filled with salt solution, and the dissolved salt is dissociated into ionic chloride ions.

The ions are then converted into bleach electrochemically. The hydrogen gas produced from the battery reacts with the chloride ions to form perchlorate, or bleach. The added advantage of the device is in its specificity – it is designed to calculate and produce specific amounts of chlorine per gallon of water. This maintains the concentration of chlorine in water at a constant level and within safe ranges.

The chlorinator is lightweight and portable, which is important in smaller remote areas. It can purify up to 20 liters in a meager 5 minute interval. The device is also notably energy efficient: a 12 volt battery can be used to generate enough chlorine to purify 400,000 liters of water.

The device has so far been tested successfully in field operations in Kenya, Mali, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Thailand. It is especially noted for its feasibility in small population communities, where large-scale sanitation does not reach and household purification is a hassle. The chlorination is relatively inexpensive as well: at around US$200, it can provide a clean supply of water for 200 people for a period of five years.

As with any new technology, there are issues with this device as well. As it is designed for use in remote areas, it is questionable as to how technical issues might be dealt with. Any of the maintenance issues needing to be fixed can seriously jeopardize a steady supply of clean water. Moreover, in spite of pictorial instructions, there is always the danger for misuse. These are some of the issues that need to be fine-tuned for the chlorinator’s effective usage.

Despite the issues that need to be resolved, the chlorinator is undoubtedly an innovative initiative in the provision of clean drinking water to each and every human being in the world.

– Atifah Safi

Sources: CDC 1, NPR, Cascade Designs, CDC 2
Photo: Flickr

Peace in Mali
The Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation between Malian parties and Algeria-led Mediation Team was signed in early May 2015 in Mali’s capital city Bamako. The spokesperson for the United Nations, the Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, implored Malians to reinstitute peace in Mali and anticipate a long-lasting ceasefire. On 20 June 2015, a member of the Arab Movement of Azawad, Sidi Ibrahim Ould Sidati, signed his name to the amended version of the Algerian Accord on behalf of the Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA) in the presence of northern Mali’s community leaders and international sponsors.

According to Ban Ki-moon, the official signing of the Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation was 15 May 2015. The Agreement received a signature from the CMA on 20 June. Pleased with the addition and recognition from CMA, a coalition of armed groups, Ki-moon wants to remind participants that Mali and Malians must adhere to reconciliation efforts and ensure accountability to maintain promising endeavors toward peace.

The Secretary-General’s statement in Bamako reassures Mali that the United Nations supports both parties under the enactment of the Agreement. Ki-moon congratulates the parties and their momentous achievement toward securing peace. He also recognizes the neutral amity expressed by the text of the document.

Conflict has stirred unrest since the 1960s as Tuareg rebel forces fought with the Malian government over discourses relating to ethic discrimination and misrepresentation. The modified Algerian Accord has aligned Mali’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita with Mahamadou Djeri Maiga, vice-president and spokesperson of the Transitional Council of the State of Azawad.

Mahamadou Djeri Maiga, a senior member of CMA, feels mediation tactics are close to resolving divisional conflicts between northern and southern Mali. The nation wants peace for each side of the conflict. The purpose of the Algerian Accord is to revitalize the country’s north, which stationed Tuareg revolts against governmental forces.

The Accord’s connections aim to mend national struggles with diversity and radical Islamist movements. Both aspire to end turbulence altogether with the Accord standing in good-conscience with the Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation.

CMA was waiting for amendments to the Accord until 5 June. Marking their commitment to the Accord required provisions that will allow Tuareg armed groups to create partnerships with security in the north and grant representation for northern inhabitants in governmental institutions. As of 19 June, unity in Mali provokes members of the coalition to withdrawal from the town Menaka.

The mistrust began in 2012 when censure formed against southern sub-Saharan groups for not upholding the interest of northern factions. Tuareg separatists confiscated several northern towns and cities before Al-Qaeda radicals further exploited hostility. The Islamist radicals were overthrown by French military efforts.

The gap between the north and south deepened with nearly five hundred thousand seeking refuge in other countries according to UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) monitored by Jens Laerke. The ceasefire, known as the Ouagadougou Preliminary Agreement, was reinstated on 23 May 2014 to end hostilities in Kidal. Rebelling armed groups break the original contract by carrying out militaristic and administrative positions of power in several towns.

Albert Gerard Koenders, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Mali, and Abel Aziz, Mauritania’s President and current Chairman of the African Union, pledge to end the hostility. Armed groups who originally applied their signatures to the document agree again to a ceasefire as humanitarian conditions worsen when attacks against UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization (MINUSMA), the Malian government forces and France’s Operation Serval amplify.

Nearly 400,000 original inhabitants returned to the north since the signing of the Ouagadougou Preliminary Agreement. The will for peace is evident with miles still to trek. Mahamadou Djeri Maiga will continue to scan for evidence of positive results on the ground after the signing. In the meantime, Ki-moon hopes the Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation is an inspiration to others in the political process.

Katie Groe

Sources: UN 1, UN 2, GN Network, UN 3,

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Peace_Talks_End_War_Mali_opt
On September 1, the second round of peace talks recommenced in Algiers with Malian government officials and rebel leaders.

These peace talks come after decades of instability within the country’s government and fighting in a heavily al- Qaeda influenced region. After a military coup in 2012, a ceasefire came in May, after the separatists gained much control over the north.

The first round of peace talks took place in July with the intent of setting the ground work to negotiations and ending to war.

Former prime minister Modibo Keita said of the peace talks: “This time in Algiers, participants will get to the bottom of the problems, and it is hoped, come to an agreement.”

Fear of attack in the north from Tuareg rebels was seen in January 2012, and in March of the same year, President Amadou Toumani Toure was ousted by military officials with claims of ineffectively handling the insurgence of the rebel forces. Toure fled and went into hiding. It was then that Toure wrote his resignation letter, only months from finishing his term in office.

“I am doing this without any pressure, and I am doing this in good faith, and I am doing it especially out of love for my country,” he said.

The coup was seen as  Toure’s failure to handle the rebels effectively; however, after he was overthrown, the Tureg rebels seized the three largest towns in northern Mali: Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu.

– Kori Withers

Sources: The New York Times, Yahoo News, BBC 1, BBC 2

Malian Children Imprisoned as Adults - The Borgen Project
In late August, Amnesty International reported that Malian children were being held in jails alongside adults.

The detainees were believed to be under the age of 18 and arrested after being accused of belonging to militias and participating in activities of unrest.

Ages of the children were not questioned—although one child’s birth certificate verified he was merely 16—as they were placed in the adult section of the capital’s prison and police camp, which Amnesty reported were “sub-human.”

Along with the charge of international law violations, Amnesty said the children were, “subjected to various forms of human rights violations whilst in detention, including being constantly confined to their cells and not being allowed outside their prison cells to go for exercise.”

In addition to the horrific conditions listed, not only were these four children imprisoned with adults, Amnesty reported that the Malian authorities violated international law; the children were not allowed access to lawyers or their families.

While the four children mentioned were eventually released, Amnesty said Mali has continued to arrest children believed to be involved in militias.

The arrests of child soldiers and the surge of militias has been seen in Northern Mali since the military coup d’etat. The region was first controlled by separatists and then later by extremists linked to al- Qaeda.

Intervention by the French drove out the extremists but their hand in conflict can still be seen today.

– Kori Withers

Sources: Yahoo News 1, Yahoo News 2, Northwestern University
Photo: Blogspot

northern mali
The slow and steady recovery that Mali experienced after the extended Islamist occupation by the Tuaregs in the north was recently thrown into jeopardy. A handful of recent clashes between separatist rebels and government forces have begun to increase insecurity and hamper the effectiveness of aid efforts in the area.

What’s worse is that parts of the country have even fallen back into rebel hands.

While some displaced people have begun returning to their homes in the north, many still worry about their safety and security. Some of those who have returned even had to flee again due to rebel activity in their community.

“Tensions within communities and concerns of retribution mean people do not feel safe to return home,” said Erin Weir, Protection and advocacy advisor with the Norwegian Refugee Council. “That the constant power shifts – one day an area belongs to the rebels, the other day it is back in government hands – means people might feel secure one minute, the next they are inclined to flee again.”

This ongoing crisis with rebels in Northern Mali is often ignored by the public as other issues receive more coverage from media outlets. Yet, staff members of the Red Cross were attacked in the area earlier this year, which resulted in the stoppage of food distribution to the regions of Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu. This left 11 percent of the population, or 1.9 million people, in need of food assistance.

Similar attacks have also interrupted food distribution by the World Food Program.

Just under 250,000 people in the north are considered food insecure, and approximately two-thirds of those people are defined as in ‘crisis.’ This is only worsened by the fact that operations in Mali are underfunded by one-third.

“The recent fighting has set back the humanitarian situation and deepened the crisis,” Weir said. “Services in the north are still restricted and access to health care, education and markets are limited, not to mention food insecurity that is affected by recent displacement.”

While there are countless other humanitarian crises taking place around the world, the world cannot forget those that still haven’t been completely resolved.

While progress might be slow, the recent conflicts with rebels in Northern Mali only show how long and hard the road to recovery is. Further work is needed in order to ensure that the hard-won progress is not lost.

– Andre Gobbo
Sources: IRIN, The Economist, The Guardian
Photo: AlJazeera

mali's security
The Security Council recently extended the mandate of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali by one year. The mission was established by the Security Council in April in an effort to bolster Mali’s state authority. That authority has been repeatedly tested by rebel factions in the country’s north which have seized a significant amount of control over communities in that region.

A ceasefire agreement mediated by the African Union has been in effect in Mali since ethnic Tuareg rebels launched assaults on government buildings, killing soldiers and government officials following a visit to the northern town of Kidal by new Prime Minister Moussa Mara. The attacks were a reminder of the violence which has gripped the nation in recent years.

In June of 2013 the Ouagadougon Agreement between Tuareg rebel groups from northern Mali and the government was signed with the African and European Unions serving as co-signees. The agreement allows the government’s army and administration to return to the region of Kidal which has been under the control of rebels since 2012 following a military coup. However, the agreement, like the ceasefire, has been tenuous at best, with the rebel group still wielding significant control over the country’s northern region.

In June 2013 French military intervention led to the defeat of Islamist groups controlling the North. It allowed for stability to return to the region, but that stability has remained fleeting.

Recently the United Nations announced that its peacekeeping forces in Mali will be using unmanned drones to gather useful information. This is similar to the drone operations already being utilized in Congo. So far, only 8,000 of the promised 12,000 UN peacekeeping troops have been deployed in Mali.  The numbers are set to increase soon, but there is no doubt that an integral portion of Mali’s stabilization efforts remains unavailable.

An addendum to Mali’s security woes has been the recent announcement by the World Bank that they would be delaying $63 million in aid pending their inquisition into Mali’s government spending. The International Monetary Fund followed suit by delaying $6 million of its own aid money. This follows the government’s purchase of an expensive presidential jet despite the country’s significant budgetary restraints.

It has become clear that Mali is plagued by varying levels of instability. Over the coming months the U.N. will attempt to temper that instability and instill competence in the state’s operations. The results are yet to be seen.

– Taylor Dow

Sources: UN News Centre, ABC News, Reuters Africa, CBC News, Reuters
Photo: Almanar News

extremism
As terrorist networks around the world continue to intensify their activeness in places like Mali, Nigeria, South Sudan and Pakistan, it is worth analyzing the impact that foreign aid might have on reducing extremism.

It is no secret that despite decades and billions of dollars in foreign aid influx into these countries, extremist groups have continuously exploited security gaps and endemic corruption to further their activities. This has allowed for illicit traffic of weapons and the expansion of extremist ideologies across borders.

For instance, in the case of Mali, despite a decade of US assistance, in 2012 it went from a fairly stable democracy to the explosive stage of long simmering insurrections. Also, in Nigeria recent kidnappings and insurgencies by Boko Haram have greatly destabilized the country and brought into question the Nigerian government’s ability to contain the situation. Also, heightened activity by the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan not only remains a threat to locals, but a constant threat to US national security.

Since major attacks by the Al-Qaeda network began in the late 1980s, the US has invested billions of dollars to combat the threat of terrorism. Policymakers at the time converged in the belief that economic development was key to ending terrorism. This is because poorer people are more susceptible to extremist ideas and the appeal of violent groups. Therefore, raising incomes through economic development was the key to diminishing support for militant activities.

Yet, according to a survey by Blair et.al., there is no strong evidence to support this argument. According to the finding, the link between support for militancy activities and socioeconomic status is weak at best, and the policies that derive from such assumption should be revised. This study is supported by extensive scholarship. For instance, a number of scholars have found that people who join terrorist groups predominantly come from middle-income families. Also, a study of extremism in Iraq has found that large-scale development programs do not necessarily impact the level of militant activities. But small-scale programs implemented with active local participation actually do.

The stakes are extremely and understanding the relation between poverty and terrorism is a pressing issue. This does not mean that assistance aimed at poverty alleviation should be stopped or reduced until we know more. There are plenty of development needs to be met such as education, health aid and economic growth, among others.

Perhaps, in order to increase the effectiveness of counter-radicalization, counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency related foreign assistance, it is necessary to rethink international and regional programs beyond a simple linkage between poverty and extremism.

Read more about poverty and national security.

Sahar Abi Hassan

Sources: The Christian Science Monitor, The Washington Institute,  Foreign Affairs
Photo: Africatime