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Study on governance in areas with low population density in Mali

As part of a study of regions with low population density in the Sahel, which are frequently confronted with problems of governance and conflict, the World Bank’s Global Center for Conflict, Security and Development and its Poverty Reduction and Economic Management Network (PREM) has chosen Groupe URD to conduct a study on local governance in Mali. The Sahelian and Saharo-Sahelian region has a certain number of characteristics which make governance issues extremely complex and sensitive. Mali is trying to resolve the crisis that has been affecting it, particularly in the North since the beginning of the 1990s. The study will analyse the different relations which either establish or damage the legitimacy of the state in low-density regions in the North.

  Table of contents  

 Objectives of the study

How has the state influenced people’s living conditons (economic survival and food security)? What are the expectations of the population in relation to access to and the quality of basic services? Do the services provided reinforce or weaken the legitimacy of the state in zones where it has a historic and structural lack of legitimacy? How has the strength/weakness of the state influenced social and inter-community relations? How have the relations between the state and other actors involved in the provision of basic services influenced people’s opinions about the role and power of the state, and about the quality of services?

These are some of the questions which will guide this study, which essentially aims to understand and measure the impact of basic service provision by the state, both at the individual and collective levels, and to identify the options which are susceptible to guarantee effective and equal access to different services to encourage social cohesion in Mali.


The complexity of crises and conflicts in Northern-Mali comes on top of the more general deterioration of the situation throughout the country, due to the weakening of governance, the loss of credibility of state institutions (including the army, the police and the justice system) and the extended effects of the agro-climatic and food crisis of 2011-2012. In addition, there was the coup d’état of March 2012, followed by a counter-coup and the inability of the authorities to manage the crisis in the North, which led to the blocking of the development aid budget and bilateral cooperation projects. In the field, the majority of development aid was stopped and organizations left the North before the fighting began.

The French military intervention (Opération Serval) changed the political-military situation in the North substantially, leading to the strategic withdrawal of the armed groups from the main towns and speeding up the mobilization of the African Mission (MISMA), the EU Training Mission and the setting up of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). This situation raises the strategic and operational question of the links between short term humanitarian action and the resumption of development activities, between the effectiveness of civil-military operations by the United Nations (in connection with the MINUSMA) and the legitimacy of the national authorities.

Even though the political and military situation remains complex and sensitive (and this will no doubt continue for a long time, notably due to the fact that the Ouagadougou Agreements need to be consolidated), there has been growing interest on the part of different aid agencies since the end of the dry season to return to the North. This process is speeding up with the gradual deployment of the troops and the civil components of the MINUSMA.

The presidential elections went well, even though the question of the votes of refugees in neighbouring countries (such as Burkina Faso and Niger) and in countries where there is a large diaspora (France), as well as the relatively weak participation of voters in the North will no doubt be regularly brought up in the future. The international community finally validated the result of the elections and is ready to disburse significant amounts of money to the Malian state, which has been legitimated by a successful democratic process.

It is now necessary to provide central state services, regional state institutions and local authorities with support in relation to the delivery of basic services and the coordination of international programmes (NGOs, Agencies, donors and IFIs) in order to strengthen the democracy which has finally been restored.