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Last Updated: Tuesday, 3 June, 2003, 09:01 GMT 10:01 UK
Poor people's summit held in Mali
By Joan Baxter
BBC, Siby, Mali

Once again, the leaders of eight of the world's richest countries (G8) have met - this year in Evian, France.

And once again, as was the case last year, they promised to put Africa high on their agenda.

Participant at Siby summit
'Poverty is sitting in your tent in the heat of the afternoon, with nothing to eat or to drink,' this woman says
Five African heads of state were invited to talk about the New Partnership for African Development (Nepad), debt, access to medicines, Aids and trade rules.

And while they were doing that, thousands of kilometres away, in the midst of that very poverty the G8 leaders were talking about, another kind of summit was going on.

It was called "the poor people's summit" and took place in the Malian village of Siby, 50 km west of the Malian capital, Bamako.

It is a very typical village, nestled in the Mandingo Mountains, against the red cliffs.

Eight hundred years ago this was where leaders from all over the Mali Empire met to draw up a democratic constitution.

Banana welcome

Now about 400 people - NGOs, farmers, herders, women's groups, teachers and students from six African countries and four non-African ones - gathered there for a summit that is the antithesis to the high security of the G8 summit in France.

Instead of staying in air-conditioned comforts and drinking champagne the G8 leaders should come to Siby and have a look at the reality
Fanta Coulibaly

A collection of mud and thatch huts, there's no electricity in Siby, no running water, no telephones... and there are just two small, overcrowded schools.

On arrival here, even before I was out of the vehicle, Mahamane Lamine Coulibaly, head of Mali's banana producers, was offering me a welcome gift and handing out his produce free to visitors and villagers alike.

He had just arrived with 100 kilograms of bananas - his donation to the poor people's summit - which he says he supports entirely.


Aminata Toure Barry, who heads the Malian chapter of Jubilee 2000, which organised the Siby gathering, says they were able to raise only about $12,000 to bring 400 people to Siby where they would be lodged and fed for four days.

Delegates at the Siby summit
The poor people's summit discussed the same themes as the G8 summit

Because water and food are in short supply here, volunteers chipped in and offered mats to sleep on.

Under a large awning, in the sweltering heat, I found participants listening to a speaker from Niger satirizing all the seminars and conferences funded by donors, in the name of Africa's civil society.

"It's all a game. In the end the European Union draws up a five-year plan for your country with a government minister and the so-called civil society - the people - never benefit".

Indeed the scepticism about any G8 promises to do anything for Africa runs very high at Siby and everyone has a message for the leaders of the richest countries.

'Honest and equal'

Mohamed Thiam, a representative of the international watchdog organisation, Transparency International in Mali, has a message for western leaders gathered in Evian.

"You leaders of G8, you have many riches, we have nothing. I think you can help us, not by giving money, but by being honest and equal".

Siby villagers eating rice
Siby residents are helping to feed the summiteers

Mr Thiam says debt, unfair trade and good governance are themes in Siby just as they are in France.

But he says African governments are not independent, so many solutions to Africa's problems cannot be solved at home.

But to appreciate those problems, he says the G8 leaders have to start listening to the voices from Siby.

"The message I have is that the leaders of the world have to hear the voice of African civil society. We are really the power, but I don't think that the leaders care about African interests".

"They are very selfish. Americans look at American interests, France looks at French problems, Italians at Italian problems. They don't look at African problems as a whole"

It seems a little unlikely that the voices from Siby will be heard - a world away - in France. But Fanta Coulibaly, whom I found preparing rice in a hot corner, had a novel idea.

"Instead of staying in air-conditioned comforts and drinking champagne the G8 leaders should come to Siby and have a look at the reality".

She then extends an official invitation for their next summit.

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01 Jun 03  |  Hampshire/Dorset

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