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Africa

German aid expert advocates dialogue in Mali

Mali's humanitarian situation appears very bleak. Negotiations to try to form a unity government have so far been unsuccessful. Amidst the political unrest, refugees are in dire need of aid.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called on the Security Council to impose sanctions against extremist groups in Mali that have been accused of terrorism and of desecrating Muslim religious shrines. Ban said that no meaningful dialogue had commenced between Bamako and any of the armed groups in the north. A March 22 military coup in the West African country left a vacuum which led to Touareg rebels and other Islamist armed groups taking over northern Mali. For an assessment of the situation, DW talked to Dr. Henner Papendieck, former director of Germany's development agency GIZ in Mali.

DW: Dr. Papendieck, what can you tell us about the current humanitarian situation in northern Mali?

Henner Papendieck in northern Mali (photo by von Dirke Köpp)

Papendieck has spent many years working with development projects in Mali

Dr. Henner Pappendieck: It looks very bleak. It is not good at all. We have 140,000 refugees in the camps on the other sides of the borders, that's in Mauritania, in Burkina Faso and in Niger, and we have exactly the same number of persons displaced within the country. It was a very bad year last year for the harvest, so there is a general shortage of food.

How important is Germany's partnership with Mali?

I think Germany's relationship with Mali was always special, which had a lot to do with our post-war history, with the two Germanys in some ways competing for influence in Mali. It was a relatively large engagement which was carried on after the reunification of Germany. There were three main areas of activity over recent years; there was food production, that is small-scale irrigation projects, very much grassroots level, and drinking water, which was basically financial aid, and aid for decentralization. So all of them basically were very much geared towards the population in the country. And then there were some consultation projects within ministries - institution building, if you want to put it that way. So I think it was a relatively large endeavor. If I remember correctly, it was the third in size as far as bilateral aid was concerned.

Berlin immediately suspended aid to Mali following the March coup. Has that affected these aid projects?

As far as I know, the investment programs that started last year will continue. So they are not going to waste.

Malian refugees at a refugee camp in Niger. Photo: Carola Frentzen

Malians at a refugee camp in Niger

Since the coup, northern Mali has been taken over by Islamist extremists who have imposed Sharia law. How has this affected humanitarian or development work in northern Mali?

Wherever these groups are, no development work can be carried out. I think that humanitarian aid has been taken over by the Red Crescent. But this will be on a very small scale. As far as I know there have been some attempts to send some food aid, but as long as it is not guaranteed that the food is going towards the population, these things cannot go on.

Do you think that having dialogue with these Islamists or northern rebels is the best way of resolving the crisis in Mali?

Basically, I do not see any other solution. I do not believe that foreign intervention, even if it is an African intervention, can resolve the situation. And I don't know of any example where this type of intervention has led to anything positive. I think one must have dialogue and I think that much has to do with the situation in the south, probably more with the south than with the north.

Interviewer: Chrispin Mwakideu

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