One of the people behind The Mali Initiative, Jürgen Nagler describes in an interesting blogpost some of his recent experiences with the aid system in Mali. In January my family and I had the chance to visit their pilot school in Bamako and are happy to support their work on betterplace. Jürgens tales from the fourth-poorest nation echo William Easterly’s theses about the failure of the Western aid system.
There is, for example, a project supported by the World Bank, which diverts water from Kalabancoro (the suburb of Bamako, in which the school we visited is located) to other more central suburbs: now the latter have water, but Kalabancoro is drying out and its inhabitants need to bring water in containers from a distant well.
Money is flowing from the large Western aid organisations to large Southern governments – only to disappear in the Bermuda triangle between ministers, regions and communes without ever trickling down to the intended recipients – the poor.
Corruption is everywhere. On our trip we witnessed many times how taxi drivers stop for policemen and at road check points only to be allowed to continue with their trip after handing over a few well-used CFA notes. In an article in the German weekly DIE ZEIT, a village elder bitterly complains to the journalist:
If we had our way, we would kill these civil servants! They feed on our blood! The foreign donors should give the money to us directly, not to the government and not to the bureaucracies. Whatever they give them, they might as well not give at all. The bureaucrats only want to develop themselves, not the country.
Aid disappears, but because donors and recipients thrive on the existing system and manage to support their own interests, they have little reason to reform it. Using manipulated statistics, they manage to hide many obvious defaults:
Thus when Nagler spoke to mayors and teachers in the rural communities where the Initiative plans to establish new class rooms, he was told that 99% of all primary students pass the test for secondary school. Nagler and his collegues were impressed – until they found out that only 5% of these students spoke French. Yet French is the language of instruction at secondary schools and the test had been rigged in order to satisfy the expectations of aid agencies and their backers.