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Image of Foreign Aid in Bamako

Twinning meets with Unanimous Approval; Foreign Aid has Little Impact on Everyday Life

Marie Laure de NORAY

01 / 1999

In Mali, in the course of everyday internal conversations on development aid, we hear too many clichés being taken for realities with regards to the relationship the Malian population has with foreign aid. "They expect everything from us", "if France pulls out tomorrow, there will be nothing left in the country", "they don’t want to develop themselves", are typical examples the sort of statements that carry beyond the walls of air-conditioned lounges and circulate at the heart of development operations. This distressing observation was one of the reasons behind a study of the image of French aid to Bamako, within the framework of research for a thesis. Freed from the constraints of methodology, these are some of the results obtained from an opinion survey accompanying the research, involving 600 inhabitants of Bamako in 1996.

The subject of foreign aid provokes paradoxical reactions among the Bamakese, particularly among the young and noticeably among students. Very often, the same person can be heard vituperating against the basic principles of aid and its implementation one minute, only to heap praises on operations relating to the twinning of European local communities with Malian local communities the next.

On that matter, one can note that this kind of Co-operation, and particularly the twinning of Angers and Bamako, meets with unanimous approval. Indeed, no negative or even ironic criticism of the policies or accomplishments resulting from the twinning can be heard at all, whether in the opinion survey which includes two questions on the subject, in the looser remarks of development agents, or in televised broadcasts. And yet it is easy to spot several instances where the pertinence of funding is open to question: a pointless and inaccessible metalled road, for example, or an expensive ’Partnership House’ (accounting for practically the entire annual budget provided by Angers)which is nothing more than a resting place (a hotel)for Angevins visiting Bamako.

Why do the Bamakese, and the Malians generally, like twinning so much? We asked them and were guided in the interpretation of their answers by sociologists and anthropologists. To mention only what seems to be the principal reason, one can set out the following points: twinning is a relationship that is not fixed in time, as are development projects and programmes, but is gradually elaborated through time as opportunity allows; by its vocabulary and its symbolism, twinning is based on affective relations (whether real or merely proclaimed)and, particularly, on friendship, on alliance (a concept implying quasi-domestic links); with regards to twinning, the Bamakese, through their representatives, figure as hosts (providing welcome). They are therefore ’jatigui’, a role that is all the more important in that the culture of welcome is very much alive here. It is a naturally self-enhancing role, breaking completely with the donor-beneficiary relationship that inevitably leads to some form of domination. No one has been put forward to teach all the lessons, the partners relate on a mutual basis. The guest arrives bearing "gifts". It is clear that this is on a different plane from "classical" aid.

What emerges most clearly is that the Bamakese observe the benefits of aid at the level of their town or country but do not feel concerned, or see themselves as beneficiaries, personally. Indeed, to the question "what has foreign aid changed for you, personally", only a small minority (mostly civil servants and association managers)do not simply answer "nothing". Of all the programmes and constructions financed by foreign aid, it is overwhelmingly the ones that are the most visible physically that are spontaneously referred to. Thus the King Fadh Bridge, financed by Saudi Arabia, was the construction most frequently cited in the answers of the Bamakese. The building of schools is often cited, to a lesser extent, and France is usually associated with this sector (Canada coming second of the quoted sponsors). In the eyes of the Bamakese, Europe hardly figures on the list of countries providing most aid. France is cited most often, followed by Germany, Canada and China. Executive Civil Servants are more likely to cite Germany and China.

In answer to those questions directed at uncovering the "reasons for French aid", which we believe to be central to the questionnaire, the Bamakese speak mostly of self-interest, then of historic reasons resulting from colonisation. Altruistic or humanitarian reasons, or those integrating the concept of development, come far behind. We must note that the political, economic and cultural interests of France were mentioned increasingly as the level of the individual’s education rose. Historical reasons were particularly given by young people, which can also be seen in the results of an analysis of essays by students aged between 15 and 18, where French colonisation is clearly important in the current perception of the links between Mali and France. The health sector is proportionately rare among the accomplishments attributed to foreign aid, and it is surprising to notice that Aids-related projects are quite unnoticed by the Bamakese, whatever their age. The same applies to decontamination programmes.

Palabras claves

opinión pública

, Mali, Bamako


The study also highlights the difference between the concept of aid as it appears through international aid, and as it appears through intra-domestic or cross-network aid.

There are indeed two words for it in the Bambara language: the first having the more particular meaning of "assistance" and the second of "contribution to fruitfulness".

Developers would no doubt prefer it the other way round!


[[Written for the public debate "Actors and processes of the cooperation", which could feed the next Lome Convention (European Union/ACP countries relations). This debate, animated by the FPH, has been started by the Cooperation and Development Commission of the European Parliament and is supported by the European Commission.]



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