In Mali the cost of the three-year conflict in neighbouring Cote d’Ivoire has been high in both human and economic terms. “We’re living a very difficult situation,” said Coumba Sanogo, her voice trembling as she recalled her husband’s murder in his own shop and her subsequent flight from their adoptive country nearly three years ago. “Our house was looted and my children and I had to seek shelter at a neighbour’s place.” Sanogo felt she had no choice but to leave Cote d’Ivoire – a decision taken by tens of thousands of the roughly two million Malians estimated to have been living there at the time. However, life back home has not been easy for Sanogo who sells fried dough-balls to support herself and her five children. She continues to follow events in Cote d’Ivoire closely and hopes to return once things settle down. Cote d’Ivoire, an economic powerhouse and long-time bastion of stability in West Africa, once served as a magnet for migrants from neighbouring countries, lured by the promise of a better life. But in 2002 everything changed when a failed coup escalated into a civil war that has left Cote d’Ivoire split into a government-controlled south and a rebel-held north. Halidou Maiga, who also returned to his native Mali to escape the conflict, does not share Sanogo’s Ivorian dream. “My life in Cote d’Ivoire is destroyed,” he said, his eyes filling with tears. “All my things, all the fruits of my labours were reduced to nothing.” Today, with money from his family, Maiga has set himself up as a coffee vendor at the main bus station in the Malian capital, Bamako. Social problems… Just as Maiga and Sanogo are scraping by, the rush of returnees has placed a considerable burden on the country. Malian authorities estimated that just over 21,000 people took advantage of government-funded convoys to return home between September 2002 and June 2003. But the UN Development Programme put the overall number of Malian returnees during that period at 40,000, with 21,000 foreign nationals either passing through to other countries or seeking refugee status there. Many of those returning to Mali are reluctant to go back to their native villages and have flocked to main cities, often putting a strain on families taking them in, said Traore Oumou Toure, president of a local civil society NGO. “This has created an overpopulation problem, especially in and around Bamako, and has been a financial blow to many households,” she said. The crisis in Cote d’Ivoire has also contributed to increased street crime in Bamako, a police source there said. And in the town of Sikasso near the Ivorian border, the local hospital’s Dr Ali Cisse has noticed more prostitution since the population movements picked up. “I’m worried about the spread of AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections,” he said. …and economic ones While populations are on the move because of the crisis, goods have been circulating less freely since 2002. The conflict in Cote d’Ivoire has led to serious disruptions in the transport of supplies for landlocked Mali, accustomed to getting many of its goods by truck from major Ivorian ports. The cost of imported goods like cement and petrol has rocketed, a June World Bank report says. And according to an International Monetary Fund (IMF) document released last year, state revenues fell by 14.2 billion CFA francs (US $25 million) in the last trimester of 2002, coinciding precisely with the start of the Ivorian conflict in September of that year. The IMF attributed more than half of that dip to the collapse in customs revenues. Such losses are tough to absorb for this country the UN ranks as the world’s fourth poorest, and Mali’s government has promised solutions. “To limit the impact of the Ivorian crisis on the economy, Malian authorities have stepped up the search for transport alternatives,” said Mali’s Minister of Industry and Trade, Choguel Maiga, who proposed heavier use of secondary links to ports in Ghana, Guinea, Togo or Senegal. But Tieble Drame, the president of the organising committee for the Franco-African Summit held in Bamako this month, spoke of the inadequacies of alternative routes and wistfully recalled the good old days when there were quick and secure links between Bamako and Abidjan. “That’s why we are wishing with all our hearts for the end of this crisis and the return of harmony among the people of Cote d’Ivoire,” Drame said. “The country, once a haven of peace, hospitality and friendship must regain its former lustre.” This hope may be about all there is in common between Drame and Sanogo, struggling to get by on her earnings from dough-balls. But for both, the announcement on Wednesday that the new Ivorian prime minister had finally cobbled together a government of reconciliation must have been music to their ears.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions