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Malians want a government they can trust

February 4th, 2014 Posted in English, Mali

Trust, confidence, dignity.  These are words that come up repeatedly when I ask people in crisis-stricken northern Mali what they want from their new government.  Malians want a government they can trust, they want officials worthy of their confidence, and they want their inherent dignity recognized and protected.  These are deeply held needs and values.  Responding to them is not only core to repairing the damage inflicted by the conflict but fundamental to citizens perceiving their government as fair and legitimate.  

When armed groups seized the town of Konna just 70 km outside of Mopti town in January 2013 it sent shock waves throughout the country.  Mopti, like its northern neighbour Timubktu, is a well known tourist destination and a regional business hub.  With the onset of fighting in Konna many NGOs and businesses, along with frightened families, quickly left Mopti town.  The impact of the crisis was much more than violence and displacement.  The closure of markets and government institutions, the relocation of many NGOs and businesses, and the lack of tourists has meant fewer jobs, disrupted livelihoods, and made life even more difficult for those unable to flee.

Speaking with Oxfam partners and local civil society organizations in Mopti, it is clear that people want justice and reconciliation.  What this looks like differs according to individual but three things are commonly mentioned.  One, reconciliation needs to happen quickly and among the numerous communities in northern Mali.  Two, the government must demonstrate through its actions and representatives that it is fair and willing to protect the rights of its citizens.  And three, victims of violence want some form of justice which provides recognition of, and accountability for, the harm they have experienced.

Mali has a dearth of lawyers.  According to an Oxfam assessment before the crisis in 2011, there are only some 270 lawyers for a then population of about 15 million people.  To help fill this gap, two Oxfam partners, DemeSo and WILDAF, have been supporting paralegals in Mopti and other regions since 2007.  WILDAF is a coalition of women’s groups and associations and DemeSo is an umbrella organization of civil society working in the justice sector.

Paralegals work at the community and village level to provide information about legal options and justice services to women and men.  They can also help in mediating disputes and alert traditional authorities of possible problems that can be solved at the community level.

One paralegal working with WILDAF explains that often people prefer seeking the help of traditional authorities like elders and religious leaders before seeking legal help.  She proceeds to explain however that there are times when people want to know the State will be there to protect and help them.  For example in cases of divorce or land disputes.

Due to being concentrated in town and their high costs, official justice services are too often absent or out of reach for many people who need them most.  DemeSo  and WILDAF have been calling on the government of Mali to establish a generous legal aid fund providing assistance to women and men who have little means to pay for legal fees. The organizations are also supporting paralegals and mobile legal clinics in rural areas to reach women and men who often do not have access to courts.

Delta Survie is another Oxfam partner working with pastoral communities in northern Mali. The group has been working with pastoral communities for over a decade.  Disputes over land and water are common between pastoral communities and sedentary communities who rely on farming or fishing for livelihoods.  Their director explains that communities need help resolving disputes but sometimes do not know how to approach local authorities to ask for such help.  If mechanisms were put in place for pastoral communities, sedentary communities, and local authorities to discuss their respective needs, many conflicts could be prevented.

Another paralegal tells me girls and women who have been raped often make settlements with those responsible for rape and gender based violence out of fear of stigma and lack of trust in the legal system. She warns that if police or other authorities are implicated in abuses, then this reinforces impunity and lets perpetrators know they can get away with such abuse.   Access to justice is important both for immediate victims as well as to prevent future abuses.  She stresses, a culture of impunity is bad for everyone, but most of all the youth.

After almost two years after the coup d’état and occupation of the north by armed groups, Malians want more than just the restoration of democratic rule.  Malians want democracy to make their lives better by bringing about reconciliation, justice, and development throughout the country.



Women are more exposed during crises.  Many men went to Bamako to find work.  Women were left to take care of the children and are more vulnerable to exploitation.” Ada Dicko, Member of the Association for the promotion of the environment, education, and culture in Mopti and President of WILDAF for the Mopti region

 “Before the crisis the government was seen as corrupt.  And then during the crisis when they were most needed officials fled and government institutions closed.  There is now even greater mistrust of government officials and institutions.  The government needs to focus on building trust and credibility with communities.” Woman in Sevare referring to her experience in Timbuktu and Gao

Recently I had to go to a police station to demand the release of a young girl of 13 detained for abandoning her infant child just hours after she gave birth.  I told them first the girl needed to go to the hospital for medical care.  Then they could ask her why she abandoned the baby.  I knew it was because she was raped. There are many cases like this where victims of violence are in jail.” paralegal, Mopti

 Surendrini Wijeyaratne Governance Coordinator / Coordinatrice du gouvernance

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