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Monday, 19 February, 2001, 10:44 GMT
Finance leaders fail to impress Malians
Bamako street scene
Many Malians live in poverty and education is poor
By Joan Baxter in Bamako

According to many local people in the Malian capital, Bamako, the visit of the leaders of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund will make no difference to the country's financial problems.

If you want to know what level of poverty exists in Mali, you have to listen to these people

Mahmoud Dicko
"I get sick when I hear them talking about the fight against poverty," said Mahmoud Dicko, who heads an umbrella group of Islamic associations in Mali.

"People believe that stuff, they really believe the donors outside are going to send money and help them out of their poverty."

Desparate people

Our aim is to have African presidents help us to help them

Lucie Fouda, IMF
Mr Dicko said he faced the poorest of the poor each day in his mosque, and described himself as "a barometer" of what is really happening with people in Mali, "the people who don't have a voice".

World Bank president James Wolfensohn
Mr Wolfensohn and his IMF counterpart will not leave the capital
They were the people, he said, "who can't march into government ministries, or walk into the presidential palace, who don't even know what social services are.

"They say they can't go and steal and become criminals, so they come and ask you to help in the name of God or else they can't go home and face their hungry wife and children," he said. "It makes tears come to your eyes.

"If you want to know what level of poverty exists in Mali, you have to listen to these people. No one else."

We're too busy trying to survive to pay attention to all that big talk

Malian trader
His scepticism is shared by many intellectuals, who allege that the millions of dollars that pour into Mali every day in the name of development have allowed the rich to grow richer, encouraged rampant corruption, and merely increased poverty.

"There has been almost no real education in this country for 10 years,'" said one professor. "The rich people, the government, they send their children abroad for education."

Prague promise

IMF and World Bank officials have been in Bamako to prepare for the visit of World Bank president James Wolfensohn, and IMF head Horst Koehler, who arrived in the country on Sunday.

The Mali summit will be followed by a similar summit for eastern and southern Africa in Tanzania.

Joining them in Bamako will be several heads of state from west and central Africa, although 48 hours before the summit was due to start, the organisers were unable to say which African presidents had been invited or which ones would actually show up.

Richard Uku, a spokesman for the World Bank, said the visit showed the IMF and World Bank intended to keep a promise made in Prague in September 2000, that "Africa would become the centre of their activities".

According to Mr Uku, it was a chance for individual African heads of states to meet Mr Wolfensohn and Mr Koehler behind closed doors, to speak "eyeball to eyeball" on issues such as the fight against poverty, Aids, good governance and conflict resolution.

A PR stunt?

For the most part, Malians interviewed were either unaware of or indifferent to the high-level meeting in their capital.

"We're too busy trying to survive to pay attention to all that big talk," said one trader, who was not familiar with the World Bank or IMF.

"I didn't even hear about it until Friday morning, two days before it was to start." said a Malian writer. "They should involve the populations.

"This kind of visit is just public relations."

But Lucie Fouda of the IMF denied that.

"Our aim is to have African presidents help us to help them," she said. "And our engagement is sincere in the fight against poverty."

She said the wives of the two leaders would have the chance to travel out of Bamako to see the poverty in Mali, even if their husbands will be unable to get away from the Palais des Congres and their hotel in Bamako, where most of the meetings will take place.

She also said a meeting had been scheduled with representatives of the civil society in Mali, although she did not say who they were or which segments of society they represented.

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See also:

16 Feb 01 | Business
Africa's economy under spotlight
10 Jan 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Mali
31 May 00 | Business
African economies 'in reverse'
18 Jan 01 | Africa
IMF withholds Kenyan aid
07 Jul 00 | Africa
IMF boss's promise to Africa
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