Mali: Suffering and hope amidst a gold rush

On 12 April, Dioncounda Traoré was sworn in as Mali’s interim president. The presidential inauguration closed weeks of a political imbroglio that saw a military coup and a Tuareg rebellion in the North. Did these events come as a surprise to Malians? Not really. Now, most wonder what’s in it for them and hope for a brighter future.

The history of Mali has been closely linked to that of gold since the time of the Mande empire. The pilgrimage of Emperor Kanka Moussa to Mecca in the fourteenth century was long remembered because of the prodigious quantities of gold the emperor brought along with his caravan. Today, Mali is Africa’s third largest gold producer, after South-Africa and Ghana. In 2009, the Malian government received over US $ 350 million from gold mining, four times what Ghana got for its gold during the same period. In addition, millions more are being spent on oil and uranium exploration in the northern regions.

Despite this abundant mineral wealth, Mali suffers. The majority of the population remains trapped in poverty and the country is now facing a major political and humanitarian crisis. While the reasons are likely to be many, Mali suffers in part from the lack of accountability to its citizens on the level of revenues, the manner in which these revenues are used, and whether existing regulations guarantee a fair share to the government.

Yet there are some reasons to be optimistic. Last year, Mali became Compliant with the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative which supports transparency and accountability in oil, gas and mining. Like its neighbours Mauritania and Niger, Mali has published several EITI Reports  which give public access to information on mining tax receipts for the first time. The government, companies and civil society are discussing wider transparency reforms, including setting up an EITI commission to see that more revenues are poured back into local development and environmental protection. These conversations are important and most people in Mali want them to continue.

Is this going to be enough? Probably not, but it was the right place to start. In a young democracy like Mali, progress is not going to be easy with such complex issues and so many conflicting interests. But there is hope that the EITI can serve as a conduit to enhance accountability and strengthen dialogue. This dialogue is more critical than ever to ensure that mineral wealth reaches the woman and man in the street and that gold finally shines for all Malians.

Photo by melodynelson, available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.