Tag Archives: Mining

Vieux Farka Touré – Kele Magni : Mali Song of the Week

At the beginning of the year we pointed out that some hold the view that China is on a “collision course” with radical Islamic militants in both the Middle-East and across North Africa. This analysis emerged in the aftermath of the attack on the Radisson Blu Hotel in November last year where around 170 hostages were taken by the militants and 19 were killed in a mass shooting – among them prominent Chinese officials. Jihadist group Al-Mourabitoun has since claimed responsibility for the assault which it carried out in co-operation with al-Qaeda. Unsure how China would deal with what could be interpreted as a targeted attack on their ambitious plans in Africa, the world speculated on how they would respond. It appears that a slow, shaky collision has begun. China has steadily built up its UN peacekeeping contingent in Mali since the attack and in December passed its first piece of ‘counter-terrorism’ legislation allowing that allows its military to venture overseas on counter-terrorism operations. With violence in Mali spreading, the conflict in the north of the country has now taken the life of its first Chinese peacekeeper and injured five others, two of them seriously. Ansar Dine has claimed responsibility for this particular attack.

So why is China getting involved in the first place? Former Malian Prime Minister Moussa Mara has spoken publicly about his view that China is both a positive force for peace and development in his home country. It is generally assumed you cannot have one without the other and therefore the argument usually follows that, even when looked at cynically, China has simply positioned its troops in Mali to better secure its investments there. Now, Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) is a very good way to kick-start economic recovery and development so there is every chance that this arrangement can be just as beneficial for Mali as it is for resource-thirsty China. However there are no guarantees that the benefits of any infrastructural, commercial or industrial investments will trickle down to the local population. When social, political and environmental consequences are factored in this kind of arrangement can easily become highly detrimental to the host population.

Surely all foreign investors – not just the Chinese – have any interest in bringing peace to Mali? Well its appears that the powers that be have found a way to make the risk profitable. Not wanting to get into lengthy detail about the ins and outs of investing in Mali, one could assume that the presence of the war in the country would be enough to most people off. Despite this and the proliferation of the conflict throughout Mali over the past year or so a $67 million investment in a gold mine was made this week giving the project in Yanfolia near the Guinea border the green light. Arguably, the conflict is still overwhelmingly centred in the north of the country with the north/south divide more prevalent than ever. It is therefore difficult to ascertain whether the conflict has actually diminished, with the associated investment risks going with it, or that stability and reconstruction are now unnecessary and costly precursors to resource extraction. If the financial benefit for the international community is no longer inhibited by war what interest do they have in pursuing peace?

Of course, the war must stop and Vieux Farka Touré made this statement the focus of his song “Kele Magni” which translates roughly as “the war must stop” or “the war is no good”. Back in The Financial Times documented Vieux’s Queen Elizabeth Hall performance back in September 2013. Then the mood was triumphant; Vieux like many Malians was celebrating the success and assuming the finality of the French military intervention. As David Honigmann reported at the time:

“”War’s not good,” [Vieux Farka Toure] noted, introducing “Kele Magni”; “now they’ve stopped the war.” And appropriately the song, on record contemplative, here bounced with bass and drums in a joyous celebration.”

It has become apparent that the French did indeed stop the nation from collapsing. However despite a UN deployment and free-and-fair elections, three years on from Vieux’s declaration that the war was over violence is recurring and resurgent. Listening to it now the song becomes more a depressive plea; its been long, much too long. The war must end. In an interview in October 2013 Vieux descibes his hometown of Niafunke during the war and how he wrote songs like “Kele Magni” to fulfil his responsibility to “let people know” about what wass happening to their country. The radio interviewer describes the French defeat of the militant forces as a ‘rout‘. Unknowingly at the time this has become an apt portrayal. We now know that al-Qaeda and its patchworker of associate organisations was not a defeated after all, only withdrawn in disorder after sustaining heavy losses. It has been an opportunity for a change of tactics to a more wide-spread guerilla campaign – the one we see today.

So if the war must stop, who will stop it? We must have faith that there are people in Mali that are willing to fight for it. Its musicians always will. But who within all these foreign interventions?  Amongst the Chinese MINUSMA peacekeepers was a soldier named Si Chongchang wounded whilst carring out his mission to bring stabilisation to the people and politics of Mali. Speaking from his hospital bed in Dakhar, it is perhaps right that he should have the last say: “When I recover, I hope to go back to join my comrades and finish what we started.” We must hope that in that mission, he is successful.

 

Vieux Farka Touré – Kele Magni

 

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

Salif Keita – Soyomba

Gold. Wealth, trade and fortune are interwoven into the history of all human societies. In almost every society that has had access to it, gold has become a symbol of and has facilitated prestige, opulence and power like no other material on Earth. For Mali, the bright yellow, dense, soft and malleable metal has been ever-present and remains a vitally important part of Mali’s economy today. From the hay-day of Timbuktu and the Empire that surrounded it to the stock exchanges of the modern world, it is gold that has been largely responsible for the economic successes of Mali – including since the conflict  in 2012/13. It is also – due to Mali’s dependency on its export price – a  source of continued vulnerability, as Mali’s fortunes are thus shackled to the successes and failures of the wider global economy.

Despite (or perhaps due to) mankind’s fascination with gold’s value, utility and aesthetics it can be a dangerous material and sometimes a curse for the populations that happen to live on the ground above where it is found. The mining of gold is not the safest of occupations and during any “rush” to obtain it human lives are often seen as a worthy risk for its extraction. This picture series from the BBC shows the working conditions experienced by those participating in the “boom” of Mali’s gold mines today.

Another problem with gold is that it is very, very rare for ordinary Malian’s to see any of its monetary benefits. The government taxation on the industry is deliberately low to attract foreign investment. Statements from both Oxfam and the International Monetary Fund have emphasised the failure of the government and of multinational companies  to share the exploits of an industry that represents 70% of Malian exports and an enormous 15% of the country’s GDP. To put that chunk of national expenditure into perspective, the UK spends around 8% of its GDP on the NHS and defence spending represents about 2.5%. For Mali, that 15% could go a long, long way if shared out correctly.

The pictures in the BBC article are taken of a mine close to the Mali-Guinea border, in a Malian town called Kouremale. The town lies about 40km north of the Niger river, 150km upstream from Bamako. The choice of this week’s song of the week is down to the fact that afro-pop legend Salif Keita hails from the region, which is soaked in history. Near the gold-mines of Kouremale is the archaeological site at Woyowayanko, which marks the place where the last West African emperor Samory Touré did battle with French colonists – his victory here in face of the superior French artillery solidified his reputation as  legendary military strategist. Not that this talk of 19th century Emperors and their impressive legacies would particularly phase Salif Keita; he is direct descendent of  the founder of the Malian Empire Sundiata Keita who lived some 800 years ago.

Another link, if you needed one, between this week’s track and the Empires of Mali’s past is found in Salif Keita’s popular nickname. As a result of his unique voice, artistic brilliance, and leadership on many societal issues he is proudly known as “The Golden Voice of Africa“.

Salif Keita – Soyomba