Sunday, 22 April 2012


So it turns out I'm going to Mali. On Thursday. For a month.

 The funding coordinator is leaving on Friday, and we've got a gap of a month till we get a new one. Given the rapidly worsening humanitarian crisis there, this is far from ideal.

 At the moment, everyone working in the Sahel is having huge trouble financing our work, for all sorts of reasons. In the first place, it's a French speaking region, and as such it's beyond the general consciousness of most of the Anglophone media, which means that the UK, Australia, Canada, and the US, which are most of the big donors, have basically not noticed there's a crisis. The French media has, but most of the non-French non-English media is at least partly led by the Anglophone media. This means that there's been very little pressure to pledge money to the crisis.

It's also a gradual onset emergency, and a food and political crisis rather than a natural disaster. Again, this makes it harder to fundraise for - people are generally far more willing to give money to a sudden natural disaster, and put pressure on governments to do the same. And the Sahel has been in the news for food crises over and over in the past years - 2005, 2008, 2010, now 2012, which creates a sense of fatigue. All this means that, to quote Liam Byrne 'there's no money'.

Meanwhile, things in Mali in particular are getting worse - there was already a food crisis, then the coup and sanctions cut off a lot of the food coming into the country, pushing prices higher. The sanctions have now been lifted, but a range of rebel groups (some Tuareg separatist, some linked to Al Quaeda, some other Islamists... it's all very complicated!) have between them taken over the north of the country, creating a refugee and IDP crisis and causing huge problems of humanitarian access - as if to reinforce the point, a Swiss woman was kidnapped only a week ago from near Timbuktu.

The result of the instability is that the food crisis is getting steadily worse. Which is appalling to watch, especially given how unnecessary it is - it would have been bad enough without the coup and the war, and it makes me FURIOUS with the men waging this war for their own ends, while the consequences are felt by people just trying to get by in a harsh environment. Incidentally, if you ever doubted the extent to which food crises (and especially famines) are caused by politics and state weakness, rather than by climates and droughts, look no further than the way things have developed in Mali. Then go and read Sen.

But on the other hand, a dramatic worsening of the crisis in Mali might unlock money, in the same way that the UN declaring 'Famine' in Somalia last year (another classic demonstration of how it's conflict, not climate, that causes famines) opened the floodgates of funds for the East Africa crisis. If it happens, it's likely that it'll happen in the next month, which is likely to be the peak of the crisis.

Which is all a long way of saying that the next month or so would be a bad time not to have a funding person in Mali. And since I'm the only person who is a) available and b) speaks French, that means me. So I'm off to Mali. I'm nervous of whether I'll be able to do a good job, but on the other hand, I'll learn loads, and this is basically what I've always wanted to do - work on an emergency for Oxfam - so I'm pretty excited that I'm going to get to do it.

So, expect a few more posts from Senegal, increasingly Mali-related, followed, probably, by a long hiatus, as I expect I'll a) be too busy to blog and b) not have enough interwebs to blog even if I wanted to.

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