Students gathered in the The African, Latin, Asian, and Native American (ALANA) Cultural Center Thursday, February 9, for the African and Latin American Studies (ALST) Program’s annual brown bag series. Assistant Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies (PCON) Jacob Mundy led the informal discussion on the country of Mali, as well as its current political, social and economic state.
Mundy began his lecture by familiarizing the audience with the geography of Mali and the challenges this African country has faced since it secured its independence in 1960. Although a majority of Mali’s land consists of desert, 17.6 million people inhabit the country, making it the 24th largest country in the world. Yet, on a developmental scale, Mali is one of the poorest nations in the world, despite its agricultural potential. Regardless of Mali’s steady population growth since its independence, there has been civil unrest and conflict due to a lack of employment opportunities available to the country’s population.
Not only is Mali’s demographic and ethnic diversity significant, but the size of its youth population with respect to economic growth and agricultural sustainability is vital.
Mali is a landlocked country, meaning that there are no major ports or access to the ocean in which resources can enter and exit. Mali also has difficulties with projecting power. While Mali has a major population center, the state has not allocated many of its limited resources towards developing in the north, thus leading to antagonistic relations with neighboring governments, demonstrated through periodic uprisings.
According to Mundy, Mali’s agricultural production is a particular source of economic weakness, especially with its biggest export, cotton. Since Mali is under the advice of organizations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Mali is pushed to specialize in certain domains that they can dominate rather than having diverse economies. By choosing cotton as its strategy, Mali is able to have a place on the global market. However, because the United States is a free market capitalist country that also trades cotton, it makes it difficult for Mali to compete. The United States has undercut Mali’s cotton industry, creating more insidious problems within the Malian economy.
Senior Abeneazer Chafamo found Mundy’s perspective on Mali’s relationship with other countries like the United States particularly intriguing.
“I think the relationship Mali has with other countries around the world is very interesting. I have a notion that African countries specifically have a very unfair international relationship with countries that are more developed. I found it interesting that Professor Mundy talked about the Americans [undercutting] Mali. I don’t know if this is illegal, but I thought it was unfair that this was occurring,” Chafamo said.
Not only is Mali experiencing hardships on the global market, but there are deep-rooted issues of corruption within the political sector. For example, 50 percent of the state budget is being wrongfully paid to civil service within Mali’s government and money is being allotted to items such as electronics and paid summer vacations for Malian elites.
For sophomore Seun-Ah Yang, the lecture reaffirmed many of her preconceived notions about Africa.
“I took a CORE class on Africa and during the class, the professor talked a lot about things relating to contemporary topics, such as the internal conflicts in Africa and how African countries are, to some extent, exploited by the global economy. To me, this wasn’t necessarily surprising. It was actually kind of sad to hear,” Yang said.
Unfortunately, there is not a lot of hope for Malian political authorities to enact social change. The state of Mali today is in a difficult situation due to its type of governance. Therefore, Mundy concluded his presentation with this final point.
“Everyone knows what is going on but people don’t see an opening to change and so they would rather just try to live their daily lives despite the corruption. A popular movement that really shakes things up might be the thing that is needed because decades of anti-corruption work done by governments hasn’t really done anything,” Mundy said.
For Chafamo, the lecture presented points not typically discussed in other discussions. He commented on Mundy’s nuanced approach to the African nation of Mali.
“Although I am taking Model African Union, there were actually a lot of things I did not know about Mali. For example, I didn’t know the size of Mali relative to its sparse population. I found this really interesting because in class, we are learning about youth unemployment. The connection that I found with this social matter in Mali was really interesting and it is a huge concern that should be raised,” Chafamo said.