Tag Archives: Habib Kioté

Habib Kioté – N’Ba : Mali Song of the Week

Its been two months since the Radisson Blu Hotel attack in Bamako where at least 20 people were killed. Among the dead were three executives from the international arm of the China Railway Construction Corporation. Why were these Chinese citizens there and what does this tell us about China’s interests in Africa? Firstly, a bit of back-story: China and Mali have just completed a deal to completely revolutionise international rail travel in the Sahel by building a 1286km railway to Dakar the port capital city of Senegal. There is also a project tabled to build another line to another port city – Conakry in Guinea. These two projects come with a cost of a whopping $10 billion (reflecting for a moment that Mali’s entire GDP for 2014 was $12.04 billion). It represents a significant investment to say the least. China is thirsty for resources,  Mali is desperate to sell them. What is needed is an efficient way to get them from one country to the other – China needs this railway as much as Mali does.

Should this be celebrated overtly or cautiously? Its no doubt that a splash of modern infrastructure is a good thing. However, many have warned of a growing Chinese imperialism – China using its dominance economically in an exploitative manner. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has assured that cooperation across Africa would not “take the old road by traditional powers” nor “sacrifice Africa’s environment and long-term interests”. We’ve heard that one before, and raises another question about the complicity of Mali’s own elite; is it the everyday Malian that will benefit from or bear the cost of this arrangement? How much choice does a struggling country like Mali have? Often the case is made that it is necessary, or even preferable, to short-cut some democratic processes to allow the sweeping changes need to ‘eradicate’ poverty. This article argues that is a false choice. Jan Abbink from The Broker Online explains:

“Apart from the morally questionable aspects in this line of thinking, there is considerable doubt about the approach’s long-term effects. Also scientifically, it is dubious. There is no significant evidence that hardline authoritarian rule in development will be durable or that it will provide social cohesion.”

He continues, clarifying that:

“Of course neither is there significant evidence that democratic models guarantee growth and stability, especially not in multi-ethnic countries. Skewed economic policies, exclusivism and unfairness in the distribution of ‘resources’, non-transparent, non-representational politics, and phantom justice systems will, at some point, inevitably create emergent protests, social movements, resistance or silent sabotage among the population not getting a good deal.”

In the case of Mali, we already have resistance and a not-so-silent sabotage from a population perceivably not getting a good deal. We also have the spectre of international militant groups and their splintered associates to contend with. The issue in Mali is not exclusively developmentalist, but also a global security matter which China’s bulging economic demands are rubbing up against increasingly. Harry Verhoeven of the University of Oxford observes that ” the PRC is slowly but surely giving up its controversial policy of non-interference. This is not so much the product of a carefully considered foreign policy shift as it is a logical response to both acute security crises on the [African] continent in recent years and China’s re-emergence as a global power with ever greater interests, ever further afield.” This shift, which has staggering implications for the rest of the planet, has lead to one commentator to declare that China is on “a collision course” with ISIS, providing particular detail on the scale of China’s dependence on its investments in the developing world coming good and ISIS’s own efforts to target China.

With so much at stake, has China visably changed its behaviour in response to a  deteriorating security situation? China had already broken new ground in regards to its approach to peacekeeping opertaions before the Radisson attack. This article even argued ahead of time that China’s cautious attitude “might change overnight if an attack on Chinese companies or civilians takes place in the region”. It is always interesting to see when the economic interests of a superpower are threatened, logisitical issues across Africa become a solvable issue – of course, only when resources and materials are moving out of Africa. Getting things in, trivial things like humanitarian aid and essential relief to those suffering today is another story. Professor Ian Taylor from the University of St Andrews comments on this wider trend in Africa. He writes that “the fundamental problem facing Africa is governance…” adding “it doesn’t matter how many roads or ports” you have. Indeed, Alessandra Dentice, the deputy representative of Unicef, says her agency’s efforts are being frustrated by “the lack of government personnel in certain areas”. Getting the country secure and governed correctly in a more holistic way, more than just closing up porous borders and managing to keep a railway open, is required.

We must fear that instead of the country being rebuilt, it will simply be hollowed out.


Habib Kioté – N’Ba


Sam Garbett is Public Affairs Coordinator for the Mali Development Group – www.malidg.org.uk.

To get in touch with Sam for further information he’d be happy to hear from you at sam.garbett@malidg.org.uk. Any comments and ideas for improving the Hub are especially welcome. We all look forward to hearing from you. Thanks for tuning in.

The Mali Interest Hub is an initiative run by the Mali Development Group, supported by the Alliance for Mali.

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Song of the Week

Habib Koité & Bamada – I Ka Barra

Here at the Hub we try and vary the good news with the bad news. Whilst there is plenty of bad news swirling around, it is important to remember that life during war time, poverty and instability carries on the best it can. Mali’s current problems are chiefly man-made – the recurrence of conflict and dreadful economic mismanagement. In an incisive article this week, Alex Duval Smith succinctly captures the relationship between the two; how they perpetuate one another. Importantly, it explains the misery and complete lack of options it create at an individual level, compassionately showing that to become a migrant is no easy option, even to a neighbouring country let alone Europe, but what if you believe its the only way out of poverty for you and your family?  There is huge pressure to go elsewhere in an attempt to provide for those who it pains you to leave behind. Not an unreasonable belief to hold considering the dire situation in Mali, particularly in the northern half of the country.

Furthermore, Duval Smith links up the bigger picture full-circle. A common narrative is that Europe is having a problem dumped on its shores and coastlines, and has no choice but to deal with it. Relief and rescue efforts are stoic and noble at best and at worst are pandering, wasteful and – in the words of UKIP Leader Nigel Farage – “could lead to half a million Islamic extremists coming to our countries and posing a direct threat to our civilisation“. Duval Smith pins the problem back on Europe and the West for bank-rolling corruption through poorly structured aid programmes. Europe can hardly claim that it has been unaware of this problem up until the moment it began washing up on its beaches? They have routinely and somewhat actively failed to address many incumbent political and economic problems in West Africa. Worse, millions in public funds have been signed off by the European electorate with the best of intentions, only to be used to do the precise opposite.

But as we began, there is good news. Duval Smith has reported some too via annotated picture gallery of the massive 13th Century mosque in Djenne getting its annual coat of mud. This is no ordinary maintenance job as thousands of ordinary Malian’s join in, furiously working in teams to assist the skilled masons. Its a contest of speed, with respect being the greatest prize and motivator. One mason notes that more people have brought flags this year; noticing that these expressions of community are taking on increasing national significance for ordinary, peaceful Malians. These projects defy the script, that their country is hopelessly turning upon itself, and people are embracing them – reclaiming the script for themselves. So this week’s song had to match this in its positive outlook, and what better than a song entitled “Your Work”.



Habib Koite & Bamada – I Ka Barra

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Song of the Week

Habib Koité – Koulandian

Habib Kioté is a Malian singer-songwriter –  a musician who writes, composes and performs their own musical material including lyrics and melodies. As a musical format, it is generally attributed to originating – in the case of North America at least – to blues and folk. So Habib Kioté’s style fits neatly into this picture, considering the influence of Malian and West African music on theses genres. It is worth remembering – of course – that singer-songwriting is so simple it has existed in some way or another in most human societies, but its nice to ponder on the networks that may exist amongst the world’s music.

Curiously, this week’s song feels like a blend between North America/European and Malian styles. The sound of the acoustic guitar, played with both flair and discipline, is very familiar to many in the Western world. The song is distinctly African however and this was certainly Habib’s intention. Since the 1990s he has experimented with adapting the sounds of traditional Malian instruments to the acoustic guitar. In comparison, the vocals are undoubtedly African. Not just in the language it is sung in, but in its strength and emotion. They compliment the complexity of the guitar and create something quite mesmerising.

Habib Kioté – Koulandian