United States Agency for International Development

                       A Work in Progress

          Mali has launched a bold experiment in democratic
   decentralization filled with great promise and major challenges.
  Malians are eager to take charge of their future, but scarce resources
   and unresolved questions about new government functions and
                 responsibilities could hinder progress.


       or Mali, democratic decentralization is a matter of political survival. After a popular revolt
       in 1991 and rebellion in the north, leaders made a commitment to give localities more
       autonomy. The Mission for Decentralization, the agency established to design and imple-
ment decentralization, has accomplished much. It has developed a viable legal and institutional
framework and its effort to promote public understanding and
involvement in decentralization has achieved remarkable re- CONTENTS
sults. People throughout Mali, for example, have played an Summary .................................. 1
integral part in organizing their new local government units. Introduction ............................... 2
                                                                         Historical and Political Context .. 2
USAID/Mali has been laying the groundwork for decentrali-
zation since the 1980s, promoting economic liberalization, in- The Study ................................... 3
creased food security, and local health care programs. Since The Role of the Mission for
1991, the Mission has supported the government’s decentrali- Decentralization ...................... 4
zation initiative by providing assistance to regional and local The Decentralization
study groups and for mobilizing local resources.                 Experience .............................. 6
                                                                         The Role of USAID .....................13
 Authors: Hal Lippman and Barbara Lewis                                  The Role of Other Donors .........14
 Team members: Hal Lippman (team leader), Hannah                         Summing Up ............................15
 Baldwin, Curt Grimm, Yacouba Konate, and Barbara Lewis                  Lessons Learned ......................15

PN–ACA–905                                                                                    1998, Number 2
Before decentralization becomes a reality, how-                   from all regions, ethnic groups, and most ma-
ever, Malians will have to resolve some tough                     jor civil society groups met in a landmark na-
political issues and overcome some historical                     tional conference. The conference produced a
and cultural factors. Chief among them is a scar-                 draft constitution making Mali a multiparty de-
city of resources, bureaucratic resistance, and                   mocracy with a decentralized government. The
popular attitudes and expectations. Land use                      constitution was approved by referendum in
issues will be difficult to resolve, as will the re-              January 1992.2 The constitution, together with
lationships between levels of government and                      the June 1992 election of President Alpha
of traditional leaders and elected officials.                     Oumar Konare and municipal authorities in 19
                                                                  existing self-governing urban communes,
                                                                  firmly established the foundation for the sub-
                                                                  sequent decentralization initiative.
                                                                  The poster’s drawings capture the spirit of par-
Seemingly everywhere in Mali, colorful post-                      ticipation of the current decentralization effort.
ers in public buildings, businesses, and stores                   The government has reached out to the people
advertise the government program to shift au-                     directly, creating an unprecedented dialog. This
thority and responsibility to the local level. The                holds promise for change in what has long been
poster has a monthly calendar for 1997, the year                  a mutually mistrustful relationship between
local governing bodies were scheduled to be                       government and governed.
first elected. It features drawings of a fisherman,
farmer, herder, and woman—the mainstays of
economic and social life. At the top is a mes-
sage of support1 from the Mission for Decen-                      HISTORICAL AND POLITICAL
tralization to the communes, Mali’s newly                         CONTEXT
constituted local government units.
                                                                  Mali’s present decentralization effort reflects the
The poster symbolizes Mali’s commitment to                        country’s history and recent political past. Per-
bring democratic governance to the local level.                   haps most significant is the complex relation-
This commitment is rooted in a series of mo-                      ship between government and governed
mentous events, starting with the popular re-                     developed over more than 1,200 years. From the
volt and military coup that overthrew the                         first Sahelian empire (A.D. 700) through French
dictatorship of President Moussa Traore in                        colonial rule (1880–1960) and the post-
March 1991. Later that year, 1,800 delegates                      independence First and Second republics, au-
                                                                  thoritarian rulers have been exploitive and local
                                                                  leaders have sought to evade central authority.
 “Bon vent aux communes!” In English, “good luck to the           State administrations controlled peasants and
communes” (literally, “a good wind for the communes”).
                                                                  villagers, extracting taxes and conscripting la-
  Although the constitution was approved by more than 99          bor, while providing some services. Local au-
percent of those voting, only 43 percent of the electorate par-   thorities struggled to retain some autonomy
ticipated. The constitution went into effect February 25, 1992.   and, particularly, evade state taxation.
  Deconcentration involves delegating power to regional           In the First Republic (1960–1968) the govern-
and local authorities, while maintaining central govern-
                                                                  ment tried to devolve administrative responsi-
ment hierarchy. With decentralization, the national gov-
ernment devolves authority, including fiscal autonomy,            bility to the localities, but it became an exercise
in areas such as health, education, and agriculture, main-        in deconcentration.3 For example, the govern-
taining only a supervisory role.                                  ment replaced local administrators the French
used to tax, conscript, and impose colonial rule    THE STUDY
with an elite group from the capital, Bamako.
This new group was loyal to the central gov-        In January 1997 a CDIE team spent three weeks
ernment and its administrative hierarchy, not       in Mali evaluating donor efforts to promote
to the local communities where they were as-        democratic decentralization. This case study is
signed. Thus, the new policy increased the dis-     the last of five assessments, which also covered
tance between the government and the people.        Bolivia, Honduras, the Philippines, and
Previous administrators had at least some le-       Ukraine. Mali was selected both to round out
gitimacy in the eyes of the people because they     the mix of countries, by including one from
came from the areas where they served.              Africa, and because of the government’s
                                                    unique, five-year effort to decentralize.
Under the Second Republic (1968–1991), the
government instituted nominal decentraliza-         The overall assessment is an outgrowth of
tion-related administrative and territorial re-     USAID’s emphasis on democracy and gover-
forms. It defined 19 urban communes and 7           nance programming and its desire to system-
regions and established local and regional de-      atically examine results in this new area. The
velopment committees. These reforms, how-           findings will be synthesized in a report laying
ever, were implemented unevenly at best and         out an analytical framework for future donor
ineffectively at worst, testament to the military   programming in democratic local governance.
government’s increasingly autocratic and cor-
rupt rule.                                          The team consisted of a CDIE evaluation spe-
                                                    cialist experienced in assessing USAID democ-
By the time of the present Third Republic, de-      racy and governance programs, two USAID
centralization was an overused, empty term. Yet     anthropologists—one from the Global Bureau,
events in the north brought it back into promi-     Office of Women in Development, the other
nence in the early 1990s, when the government       from the Agency’s Africa Bureau—with exten-
became embroiled in armed conflict with             sive experience in Mali and expertise in local
Tuareg and Moor rebels seeking autonomy. Fac-       governance issues, and a political scientist spe-
ing a possible split in the country, the govern-    cializing in Francophone Africa. In-country, the
ment tried to negotiate a ceasefire, offering the   team was joined by a local development anthro-
rebels a decentralized administrative system        pologist with expertise on rural Mali and pub-
with political and fiscal autonomy for “territo-    lic policy.
rial collectivities.” The resultant April 1994
peace agreement, the National Pact, included        The assessment explored several questions:
special provisions for governance of the north.
                                                    s   What are the essential elements and current
Necessity was the mother of invention. Fearing      status of Mali’s program to decentralize gov-
it would lose complete control of the north, the    ernment authority and responsibility?
government compromised by offering au-
tonomy to all regions. Current leaders are fully    s   How has decentralization worked in the 19
committed to decentralization because most be-      urban communes and what might this portend
lieve Mali would be ungovernable without it.        for its implementation nationwide?

                                                    s  What role have USAID and other donors
                                                    played in supporting decentralization?
s What lessons can be applied to promote             ernments and their participation in the redis-
democratic decentralization elsewhere?               tricting process that led to their establishment.

The team conducted interviews, examined
documents, and traveled widely to assess
Malian and donor-supported decentralization          THE ROLE OF THE MISSION FOR
efforts. The team met with national, regional,       DECENTRALIZATION
and local government representatives, includ-
ing decentralization mission and ministry offi-      Rooted in the National Conference and the new
cials, deputies of the National Assembly,            constitution, the decentralization initiative for-
mayors, and village chiefs. The team also met        mally began with a January 1993 decree creat-
with leaders and members of local citizen            ing the Mission for Decentralization.4 The
groups and nongovernmental organizations             mission has been the driving force behind de-
(NGOs), and with representatives of local busi-      centralization, with responsibilities including:
nesses and the media.
                                                     s  drafting necessary legislation (subject to
USAID Mission and U.S. Embassy staff, officials      approval by the National Assembly)
of the United Nations Development Program,
World Bank, and the European Union and a             s  informing people about decentralization
number of bilateral donors also provided in-         and involving them as much as possible
formation. The team talked with staff of inter-
national private voluntary organizations             s  working with local governments and vil-
(PVOs) and contractors carrying out donor-           lages on reorganizing themselves into com-
sponsored activities. Finally, the team was in-      munes
formed by a half-day seminar organized for its
benefit, where a panel of Malian experts dis-        s  preparing for the transfer of authority from
cussed the status of and prospects for the           the national to the local level
government’s decentralization program.
                                                     s training citizens, local leaders, and govern-
Traveling outside Bamako, the team examined          ment officials
decentralization efforts in four of the country’s
eight regional administrative divisions. The team    The New Government Structure
visited cities such as Gao (in the north), Sikasso
(in the south), Kayes (in the west), and Mopti (in   By the time CDIE visited, much had been ac-
the center). The aim was to learn how municipal      complished under the decentralization
governments were functioning under elected           mission’s direction. Three key laws, enacted in
mayors for the first time, and what implications     February 1993 and April and May 1995, set forth
this might have for decentralization. The team       the legal and structural framework of the pro-
also visited rural towns with 10,000 people or       posed government. The 1993 law outlines rights
fewer (Djenne and Douenza, between Mopti and         and responsibilities of the autonomous
Gao; and Kita in the Kayes region) and villages      subnational units (“territorial collectivities”).
with as few as 300 people (Karnaka, near Mopti;      These include urban and rural communes (mu-
Kokele and Koumountou, not far from Sikasso;
Safe-bougoula and Maniaga, near Bamako; and
Keniekenieko and Kenieba-Bafing near Kayes).         4
                                                      In French, Mission de Decentralisation. A mission is an
Research there examined people’s knowledge           organization created to complete a task and then be dis-
and expectations of the newly created local gov-     solved.
nicipalities), cercles (counties), and regions.5 The
collectivities are autonomous and are to be gov-                     Box 1: Territorial Collectivities’
erned by elected assemblies or councils, with                                Responsibilities
supervision by state representatives. They will
also be financially autonomous. They can levy                                     Communes
taxes, take in other revenue, and borrow or re-                 1. Preschool, primary school, and
ceive money from outside groups, such as                           literacy teachers
NGOs and donors.                                                2. Health workers and facilities
                                                                3. Transportation, roads, and
The Code of the Territorial Collectivities, estab-                 communication
lishes the subnational units’ jurisdiction and                  4. Urban and rural waterworks
governing bodies. The communes, cercles, and                    5. Local markets, sports, and cultural
regions will have extensive authority in desig-                    events
nated areas, including education, health, infra-
structure, and development (see box).                                              Cercles
The code establishes councils as governing bod-                 1.   Secondary schools
ies for communes. Councils will have 11 to 45                   2.   Health facilities
members (depending on the commune’s size),                      3.   Roads and communications
elected by universal suffrage and proportional                  4.   Rural waterworks
representation. Each council will choose a
mayor and commune executive from its ranks.                                        Regions
Cercle councils will have representatives se-                   1. Secondary, technical, and
lected by the commune councils in their terri-                     professional schools, and special
tory. Depending on its size, each commune will                     education
have two to five representatives on the cercle                  2. Regional hospitals, support of
council. The cercle council will choose a presi-                   “vulnerable” populations
dent and two vice presidents from among the                     3. Roads, communication, and energy
members to manage its activities. The regional                  4. Organization of rural production
governing body will be an assembly, with rep-                   5. Artisan and tourism activities
resentatives chosen by each cercle council in its
borders. Depending on their size, cercle coun-
cils will have two to four assembly representa-                among its members. All these posts are for a
tives. The assemblies are to be headed by a                    single five-year term. Votes for president and
president and two vice presidents selected from                vice president, except those of commune coun-
                                                               cil members, are to be secret.
 Under existing government structure there are 270
local government units (arrondissements), 52 cercles or        The third law defines the role of state represen-
counties, and 8 regions. The key organizational differ-
                                                               tatives at the territorial level. At the regional
ence in the proposed structure is the creation of 701 rural
and urban communes to replace arrondissements.                 level, a high commissioner, appointed with ap-
                                                               proval of the Council of Ministers, will serve
  Planned legislation will establish a High Council of Col-    with a three-member cabinet. At the cercle and
lectivities to represent the new communes, cercles, and        commune levels the minister of territorial af-
regions at the national level. It will be a subordinate sec-   fairs will appoint state representatives. These
ond chamber of the National Assembly, with power to in-
                                                               state appointees will represent the national in-
troduce legislation. Other outstanding legislative issues
include establishing the legal basis for changing commune      terest in the communes, cercles, and regions,
boundaries and specifying the national government’s and        monitoring the application of laws, rules, and
collectivities’ areas of administrative responsibility.        decisions of the central government.6
Getting the Word Out                                        was genuinely interested in their input and looked
                                                            to the decentralization mission to resolve their dis-
More important than establishing the                        putes. Not surprisingly, among the most difficult
government’s legal and structural framework is              issues was determining which village in a rural
the decentralization mission’s effort to inform             commune would be the site of the government
Malians about decentralization and help them                seat.
become stakeholders in it. To get the ball rolling,
the mission created Regional and Local Study and            CDIE also heard of a public hearing in the south
Mobilization groups in late 1993. 7 Throughout              where two young men shouted that their villages
the country, the regional and local groups orga-            could never join together because of their
nized public meetings and information cam-                  centuries-old mutual enmity. An elder repri-
paigns to explain the government’s de-                      manded them, asking pointedly, “Are you con-
centralization plan and solicit the people’s input          cerned with today’s problems or yesterday’s?
in its implementation.                                      Today, we need to figure out how to sell our pro-
                                                            duce, furnish our health clinics, and run schools
Building on this successful public education ef-            for our children.”
fort, in April 1995 the decentralization mission be-
gan involving people in determining the                     Initially apprehensive, decentralization mission
composition and government seat of each com-                officials realized with great relief that the present
mune. Here, too, in arguably the country’s first            decentralization effort has important allies among
attempt at combining democratization and decen-             the people. Over time, such incidents led the mis-
tralization, the regional and local study and mo-           sion to view local groups as an asset rather than a
bilization groups played a key role.                        potential disruption to decentralization.

The experience in the Kayes region is illustrative.
There, a medical doctor appointed to direct the
regional study group was joined by 43 other reli-
                                                            THE DECENTRALIZATION
gious, ethnic, and professional leaders. The group          EXPERIENCE
first held a four-day seminar and workshop to
establish guidelines for redistricting. The regional        Mali’s experience over the past five years has been
representatives then split up to develop and pro-           a mixed bag of promising developments, ob-
vide training for the local study groups at the             stacles and problems, and unanswered questions.
cercle level. Next, meetings were held in each of           Malians are increasingly aware of and interested
the region’s arrondissements. Representatives               in decentralization. And they have taken initia-
from every village were invited and the guide-              tive in dealing with local matters over which they
lines for establishing the communes—such as                 previously had little or no control. However, a
population requirements, geographic proximity,              number of problems have slowed progress or
and economic viability—were explained. The lo-              threatened to diminish results. Perhaps most sig-
cal people were left to discuss their options and           nificant are the scarcity of resources and bureau-
hold additional meetings as needed to reach                 cratic resistance among central government
decisions.                                                  ministries.

The process was successful, but not without dif-
ficulties. Many localities, for example, initially
                                                            Promising Developments
scoffed at the idea that the national government
                                                            Among the most promising developments are
 Groupes Regionaux d’Étude et de Mobilisation and Groupes   localities’ innovative efforts to manage their own
Locaux d’Étude et de Mobilisation.                          affairs, the growing involvement of community
groups, and a remarkable degree of public             collectors, although everyone has a fairly good
awareness and understanding of the decentrali-        idea of who owns what. But when Malians
zation program.                                       work together to achieve a valued collective
                                                      good, cultural norms militate against free-load-
Informed Anticipation                                 ing. Because of this, they believe tax collection
                                                      by the new locally elected governments will
The awareness and understanding of the decen-         improve substantially.
tralization program among citizens, particularly
those in rural areas, was perhaps CDIE’s most         Many of those CDIE interviewed also were
striking finding. For example, in an unan-            aware of and thoughtful about what they will
nounced visit to Kamaka, a village of 300 inhab-      face under the commune governments. For ex-
itants 25 miles from Mopti, CDIE met with a           ample, in a tough-minded assessment of his
group of 18 men and 8 women. Most appeared            village’s limited means and big plans, a
familiar with decentralization (ostensibly be-        Safebougoula association member said:
cause a local study and mobilization group vis-
ited the village in 1996), and several were              You have to start somewhere. In any case,
knowledgeable and thoughtful. One explained              the new system will be better than the old.
that decentralization meant they would be able           For years we villagers have been paying the
to govern themselves. Another, hopeful about             government and asking only to get the road
decentralization, pointed to the fact that they          scraped smooth, in vain. Now, we will choose
could meet with us and speak their minds                 to use our funds for our own purposes.
openly. Still another said past local government
authorities had “not been good to them,” but he       Seizing the Initiative
thinks this will change under the new system.
                                                      In some urban communes and rural villages, lo-
Villagers elsewhere were similarly informed           cal leaders have been working to gain control of
and thoughtful. An organizer of the village-run       their own affairs. In Sikasso, Mali’s third largest
school in a community of several hundred              city (population 80,000), the mayor has spear-
people was asked what democracy meant to              headed an effort to mobilize public support for
him. “It means I am my own master,” he re-            and involvement in a $2 million project to pave
plied. In another village, a farmer who under-        18 kilometers of streets. The resultant public–
stood the economic effect of bad roads on             private partnership, consisting of municipal
market access was impatient for the time he and       employees (including, most notably, tax collec-
his neighbors would be able to help determine         tors), business owners, and city residents, has
how their taxes would be spent. Both were sure        raised more than $180,000. This is a 400 percent
that “home rule” is what they want and said           increase over previous city tax revenues.
they are encouraged by what they learned from
the local study groups about the government’s         Work on the project began in January 1997.
commitment to bring it about.                         Gutters along a segment of the roadway were
                                                      cleared and repaired and one of the main bou-
Also instructive is the optimism about local rev-     levards was graded. A contract has been
enue generation among some central govern-            awarded for the asphalting and work is ex-
ment officials and local people. In separate          pected to recommence after the rainy season.
interviews, decentralization mission officials
and villagers agreed that effective local tax col-    The mayor of Gao has shown similar initiative.
lection is essential for local projects. CDIE heard   He told CDIE that at the top of his list of decen-
repeatedly that villagers have long concealed         tralization priorities is changing peoples’ nega-
taxable assets—land, crops, cattle—from state         tive attitude toward government and reducing
their aversion to civic involvement. To promote            Increased Community Involvement
public participation and undermine the popu-
lar view that officeholders stop working once              Over the past five years organizations operat-
they’re in power, he has taken part in public ac-          ing locally have become much more active. Per-
tivities in unusual ways. During scheduled city            haps the most important reason is the explosive
clean-up days, for example, he has rolled up his           growth in organizations established since 1991.
sleeves and helped collect and remove refuse.              NGOs registered with the government have
                                                           jumped from 50 to more than 600; 2,000 to 3,000
Many of his constituents say “he’s crazy,” he              new village associations have been registered;
acknowledged good-naturedly. But he believes               and thousands of others have been established
leaders have to practice what they preach if               but not yet registered.8 They operate in diverse
people are to change. Because of long-held atti-           areas, including promoting economic growth
tudes, many find it equally “crazy” for the presi-         and providing social services.
dent to go to a village to ask people their ideas
on government actions and programs, he                     Some local organizations have used economic
added. Such actions, in conjunction with spe-              interest groups9 to support profit-making ven-
cific efforts (for example, advertising public             tures that benefit the community, such as waste
meetings on local radio stations) to involve               removal and garbage collection. In one small
people in local government activities have in-             city CDIE visited, an NGO provided basic
creased interest and participation.                        equipment, such as wheelbarrows, donkey
                                                           carts, and implements to get the enterprise
Village leaders have also acted in ways that               started. With support from neighborhood
would have been unthinkable in the past. For               groups, the interest group contracted with
example, in a village near Mopti a local asso-             households to deliver services for a small fee.
ciation manager embezzled $3,800 (an enor-
mous sum where annual per capita income is                 In the Sikasso region, CDIE sat in on the
$200–$300). Reflecting a pattern of dependency             weekly meeting of the Djidia group, an NGO-
and a cultural tradition of avoiding confronta-            supported women’s credit association in the
tion, leaders asked local NGO representatives              village of Koumountou. The main purpose
to do something about it. The representatives              was to collect scheduled payments from mem-
declined, telling the villagers to pursue it and           bers with loans. About $140 was collected, each
suggesting they might suspend operations in                payment painstakingly counted out loud by
the area if the villagers didn’t. The president of         the treasurer and her aide. The president
the local development committee then went to               proudly pointed out that since the association
the cercle commandant and registered a com-                was established in 1993, it has never failed to
plaint. The manager was arrested and impris-               pay back the NGO-supplied seed money.
oned and has paid back more than $2,600.
                                                           The association benefits members and the com-
                                                           munity. They help members do something they
                                                           could not do before—borrow money to estab-
                                                           lish their own businesses. That has enabled
 By registering with the government, organizations be-     them to play new roles in the community. One
come legal entities under Mali’s Law of Associations and   woman said she and most of her friends were
can take advantage of certain tax and other benefits.      reluctant to get involved at first because they
 Economic interest groups exemplify the government’s
                                                           could not see how it could work. Now, she said,
commitment to promote economic reform by support-          most of the women in the village want to join
ing the privatization of services normally provided by     because they see members selling products and
public sector entities.                                    earning money.
New organizations are also sprouting up in re-      with the city’s major business owners, the
sponse to the government’s decentralization of      mayor established financial requirements and
social services, such as community health and       negotiated private loans to complement funds
education. One example is a community health        raised from other sources. But officials in
association established in the historic city of     Bamako refused to sign off on the loans, osten-
Djenne in 1994. The association operates a          sibly because the national government would
health center and outreach program for 15,000       be liable should the city default. The mayor,
residents of 20 villages. The association’s pri-    however, told CDIE he believes the denial was
orities have been nutrition, water resources, hy-   motivated by partisan politics, since he and
giene education, and literacy training.             most of his council are members of opposition
In response to demands for better education,
citizens, NGOs, and businesses have estab-          When CDIE visited, work on the project had
lished private schools in urban centers. In rural   begun, but full financing was still not in place,
areas, as CDIE observed firsthand in Maniaga,       despite years of persistent effort. Sikasso’s ex-
NGOs have helped community groups create            perience has sobering implications for what
and operate hundreds of primary schools.            other local governments will almost certainly
                                                    face in their efforts to finance development. If
                                                    Sikasso, the regional capital of Mali’s wealthi-
Obstacles and Problems                              est area, is unable to gather the resources to pave
                                                    18 kilometers, where does that leave rural com-
Lack of resources, bureaucratic resistance, land    munes in the poverty-stricken Sahelian and Sa-
use issues, and popular attitudes and expecta-      haran regions?
tions are the primary obstacles to Mali’s decen-
tralization efforts.                                An official of the Mopti regional administration
                                                    offered a stark illustration of the kind of dilem-
Scarcity of Resources                               mas mayors of the 701 new communes will face.
                                                    In his region there is a rural municipality of 10
Since their election in 1992, mayors of Mali’s 19   villages with 15,000 inhabitants. From among
urban communes have had to govern with in-          them, the 5,000 who are taxpayers account for
adequate financial resources. In separate meet-     $30,000 in municipal revenue. Taxes from other
ings, several told CDIE they have little revenue    sources yield another $10,000, making the bud-
but are expected to do a lot. They pointed out,     get $40,000. Apart from day-to-day government
for example, that as the first elected municipal    expenses, the official noted, if the municipality
chief executives, they were expected to repair      simply wants to construct a three-classroom
property damage caused by the 1991 revolu-          school, it would exceed its budget by $2,000,
tion and episodic civil unrest since then. Yet,     because the going rate for one classroom is
one mayor said, the national government, fear-      about $14,000.
ful of prompting further unrest, stopped enforc-
ing tax collection, leaving his municipality        Bureaucratic Resistance
without its entitled revenue. This mayor wryly
noted that citizens in his jurisdiction took ad-    Bureaucratic opposition has impeded current
vantage of their tax holiday while complaining      decentralization efforts at all levels. From the
about his failure to provide services.              onset, for example, the decentralization mission
                                                    had to contend with obstructionist elements in
Sikasso’s road paving project has clearly suc-      its institutional parent, the Ministry of Territo-
ceeded in some respects, in the face of signifi-    rial Affairs. To get out from under the ministry’s
cant resource problems. For instance, working       control, the mission was relocated to the office
of the president and then to the office of the               do so once the new communes are up and
prime minister.10 While in the territorial affairs           running.
ministry, the mission tried to organize the local
and regional study and mobilization groups                   For example, because state officials rode
through state administrators. This failed be-                roughshod over citizens’ property claims in the
cause the public does not respect or trust the               past, the government committed to giving con-
administrators. However, when the mission                    trol of public land to locally elected officials.
tried again as part of the prime minister’s of-              This includes state lands, which, under French
fice, it was successful because it could recruit             law, embrace those the colonial regime judged
respected members of local civil society.                    “vacant and without master.” There is consid-
                                                             erable such land in urban areas, and with little
State-appointed administrators also have ob-                 or no revenue available and plots in great de-
structed commune mayors. More than one                       mand, mayors have given numerous land per-
mayor told CDIE that Ministry of Territorial                 mits for houses and businesses. The problem,
Affairs officials are uncooperative when it                  according to some observers, is that some may-
comes to certain police services.11 The mayor of             ors have evidently illegally enriched themselves
Sikasso said when he wanted to get a major                   and their clients through these land sales.
neighborhood sanitation project started, the
regional governor refused to authorize the                   In addition, competition for useable land in
money allocated on grounds that a minor tech-                rural areas is a problem that is likely to worsen
nical requirement had not been met. Frustrated,              as the population grows and resources shrink.
the mayor turned to the Ministry of Transpor-                NGO officials and villagers in the Mopti region
tation (since heavy trucks and other vehicles                described the situation local authorities there
were involved) and quickly got the required                  face. Known for its ethnic diversity, Mopti is
approvals. The mayor then went back to the                   regarded as “a Mali in miniature,” with numer-
governor, who finally gave his authorization.                ous groups competing for resources. Accord-
                                                             ing to the area’s centuries-old land code, Dioro
The effect of such attitudes, the mayor said, is             herders claim rights to all produce of the land,
an erosion of constituents’ confidence in his                while Bozo fishermen have rights to all the fish
ability to make good on his commitments. Had                 in the Bani River. But because the months-long
there been an election at the time, he thinks the            dry season reduces or eliminates fishing oppor-
project delays caused by the regional governor               tunities, the Bozo have begun planting irrigated
could have lost him his post.                                truck gardens, surrounded by fences. Citing the
                                                             land code, Dioro herders claim their cattle have
Land Use                                                     the right to eat the Bozos’ crops. The Bozo, of
                                                             course, disagree, creating a potential for con-
Land use is among the most complex and diffi-                flict new local authorities will find difficult to
cult decentralization issues. The mix of laws,               sort out.
traditional attitudes, and history has already
caused problems and will probably continue to                Popular Attitudes and Expectations

                                                             Long-standing, widespread public skepticism
  After CDIE’s visit, the decentralization mission was       and mistrust of the national government con-
again placed in the Office of the President.
                                                             stitute formidable obstacles to decentralization.
  The Ministry of Territorial Affairs assumed control of     Many Malians remember the “decentralization
the police force during the Second Republic and contin-      reforms” of the 1970s under the Second Repub-
ues to pay the salaries of its members serving in the com-   lic. Among them was a rural development tax
munes.                                                       which, people were told, would be returned to
localities for their use. This never happened, so
                                                           centralization to its fullest potential as a demo-
talk of yet another round of decentralizing re-            cratic undertaking.
forms elicits cynicism and even anger. As one
villager put it, “The government takes us for              The unanswered questions include:
fools, but we feel the same about them!”
                                                           s Will there be enough resources, financial and
Another obstacle is the “dependency reflex”                other, and will they be distributed equitably? Inad-
that has evolved since independence and, most              equate resources have been a problem for all
particularly, as an unintended consequence of              19 urban communes. This augurs badly in the
massive donor assistance during the food short-            larger context. The economic viability of the
ages of the 1970s and 1980s. What it means for             new communes is questionable, and they will
decentralization is that many people expect the            bear substantial added costs once they are up
central government to provide the resources                and running. For example, the government will
communes will need when they become opera-                 need significantly more civil servants to repre-
tional. If the government doesn’t come through,            sent its interests locally when the 270 existing
several villagers mentioned in meetings with               local government units are superseded by the
CDIE, they will look to international donors.              701 new communes. Providing new local gov-
                                                           ernments with essential training and technical
In effect, most Malians do not understand that             support will be another expense.
decentralization means they must get by with
their own resources and that local autonomy                Questions also arise over the distribution of
and self-sufficiency are linked. This is one of            resources in communes and across regions. For
the reasons the mayor of Gao has made him-                 instance, Mali’s northern regions, such as Gao
self so visible by participating in public clean-          and Timbuktu, are poorer than Sikasso in the
ups. He is trying, he told CDIE, to create a “new          south. They will be forced to operate with far
reflex” among the people that will replace de-             less if they have to rely solely on their own re-
pendency with self-reliance.                               sources. There are plans to use central funds to
                                                           help poorer regions, but how they will be used
                                                           is unclear.
Unanswered Questions
                                                           Within communes, a major concern is that lo-
As a work very much in progress, Mali’s de-                cal elites will appropriate most of the power and
centralization effort is replete with unanswered           resources, leaving most people no better off
questions. These go to the heart of the commune            than before decentralization. Already, for ex-
system and reorganized government structures               ample, some village chiefs have brought large
at the cercle, region, and national levels.12 And          amounts of land under their families’ control.
they go to the heart of the setting in which lo-           More broadly, there is the question of whether
cally elected councils and mayors, central gov-            the village that becomes the commune seat of
ernment bureaucrats, and communities will                  government will enjoy an unfair advantage
actualize their new roles, relationships, and re-          over other villages.
sponsibilities. As these questions are answered
over time, they will define the evolution of de-           s What will the relationship be between local au-
                                                           thorities and the central government? Mali’s de-
                                                           centralization plan seeks to shift the balance of
                                                           power and initiative from state administrators
  The commune elections have been delayed. However,
when CDIE was in Mali this had not yet become a prob-      to locally elected officials. Nonetheless, minis-
lem. Some sources say the elections will take place dur-   tries will continue to have representatives at the
ing 1998, but no firm date has been set.                   commune, cercle, and regional levels. In theory,
these state representatives, or “technical advis-    they be in this new role? Will they elect women
ers” will maintain security, implement national      and casted people? In effect, how successful will
policy, and supervise the communes, cercles,         decentralization be in infusing the gov-
and regions. Whether they will live up to this       ernment’s commitment to local autonomy in
job description or continue as their predeces-       grass-roots democratic activity?
sors have, perpetuating state influence and sti-
fling local autonomy, remains to be seen.            In the case of community organizations, there
                                                     appear to be many opportunities for them to
s What will the relationship be between villages     work together with commune authorities. But
and commune governments? This question cov-          elected councils will be new, untried, and inse-
ers the distinct but interrelated relationships      cure. Some council members might resent or
between traditional village leaders and com-         fear local associations’ status and resources and
mune authorities, villages and the commune           work to inhibit their ability to achieve their ob-
seat of government, and village associations         jectives. Conversely, established local associa-
and commune authorities.                             tions will have to adjust to sharing the public
                                                     arena with new local authorities.
Traditional village chiefs have considerable le-
gitimacy and their decisions typically represent     s How will the political process develop? As of
public opinion, many Malians acknowledge.            late 1997, decentralization had yet to reach the
Their post may be hereditary, but chiefs are         most important stage—election of commune
rarely autocrats and are more likely to build        councils and mayors. While it is widely believed
consensus and maintain village unity. Accord-        that many of the more than 40 national politi-
ingly, the decentralization mission’s plan does      cal parties will move to establish a presence at
not directly challenge their position and author-    the local level, little has happened to suggest
ity. One mission source pointed out that some        how this will happen and the effects it will have.
local chiefs have survived all three Malian re-      A host of difficult questions has yet to be re-
publics and he fully expects many to be strong       solved, including the electoral system to be
players under the new commune arrangement.           used, whether religious parties can post candi-
The question, then, is how chiefs will respond       dates, and the viability of women and casted
to and interact with elected commune officials.      people as candidates.
Will they or their kin be selected to run for com-
mune council? Would that potentially make the        s Can the country resolve outstanding legal
mayor a creature of the traditional leadership       issues? The decentralization mission believes the
system? If others outside a village’s “founding      basic laws are in place for decentralization, but
family” are elected, how might that affect the       numerous issues affecting its continued
relationship between chiefs and commune au-          progress remain unresolved. For example, ques-
thorities?                                           tions about land have long been the domain of
                                                     the village chief’s family. The chief is viewed
Villagers’ relationship with the new communes        as an adjudicator of existing principles, on
is framed by their strong sense of identification    which he is widely regarded as the reigning
with their “home” village. Since the village con-    expert. Even the most autocratic state agent is
tinues to provide the order and framework for        said to have opposed local chiefs on land ques-
daily life, villages and communes will have to       tions at his peril. Decentralization laws, how-
work out areas of jurisdiction and responsibil-      ever, cede the central government’ rights over
ity. The key question for villages is how they       rural lands to the commune council and, thus,
will interact with the new local authorities.        the mayor. This has prompted concern that
What role will they play in electing the com-        mayors will threaten to displace the village
mune council? How pluralistic and open will          chiefs in their traditional role.
Some observers believe the decentralization
                                                              present government was in place in 1991, severe
mission’s decision to forgo the complex, time-                economic dislocation that might have under-
consuming process of delineating the new com-                 mined the democratic transition was averted.
munes’ boundaries will cause problems. For                    From these efforts, rural Malians also got a head
example, decentralization law gives communes                  start in creating their own market networks, eas-
the right to manage resources within their terri-             ing the transition to self-sufficiency.
tories. Without specified commune boundaries,
it is unclear what will happen if a dispute arises            Since 1991, USAID/Mali has fully supported
over land claimed by two or more communes,                    decentralization. The Mission, for example, pro-
or by residents of different villages in the same             vided $60,000 to support the formation and
commune. Similarly, decentralization law states               operation of the local and regional study and
that village heads must be consulted when a                   mobilization groups in Kayes, Segou, and
commune activity involves its land. However, it               Sikasso. In 1993 and 1994, using $200,000 of
is unclear what recourse villages have to oppose              Human Resources Development Assistance
commune actions, since they have no legal stand-              project funds, the Mission collaborated with the
ing under decentralization law.                               Ministry of Territorial Affairs in organizing
                                                              training seminars on mobilizing local financial
                                                              resources. One, in Sikasso, drew more than 60
                                                              elected representatives, administration officials,
THE ROLE OF USAID                                             business owners, and others. (The Sikasso semi-
                                                              nar was the catalyst for the road-paving project.)
Before the 1991 revolution, USAID/Mali’s pro-
motion of economic liberalization and localized               In line with current strategic objectives, the Mis-
health care laid groundwork that has facilitated              sion has put considerable resources into strength-
the current decentralization effort. The health               ening local institutional capacity and democratic
care system, decentralized in 1984-85, was the                governance. One successful effort has been the
first sector to promote local planning and re-                Urban Revitalization project, designed and ad-
source allocation. The Mission contributed di-                ministered by the U.S. PVO, World Education.
rectly to this transformation through its support             The project started at a time of civil unrest and
of medical training and maternal and child                    initially supported NGO efforts to get unem-
health care programs.                                         ployed urban youths involved in productive
                                                              activities, such as neighborhood garbage collec-
USAID/Mali’s promotion of an improved food                    tion. Its focus has since broadened to include
security system after the 1984 drought and the                many more NGOs and activities.
government’s introduction of free market incen-
tives in agriculture figured prominently in the               The Urban Revitalization project was one of the
effort of the late 1980s to address the country’s             first to use a PVO–NGO-neighborhood model.
serious economic problems. Because this re-                   Under this model, World Education has worked
duced the state’s economic role before the                    with more than two dozen Malian NGOs.
                                                              These, in turn, work with neighborhood groups
                                                              responsible for helping communities plan and
   NGO partners are selected according to basic criteria,     implement activities. At each level—PVO,
receive a 10 percent management fee to cover administra-      NGO, and neighborhood—capacities are
tive costs, and are responsible for liaison with local gov-   strengthened and local people begin to see, of-
ernment authorities. At the neighborhood level, people
discuss local priorities and how to spend funds at public
                                                              ten for the first time, the concrete results achiev-
meetings. Neighborhoods are expected to establish a vol-      able through self-governance.13
untary committee of 10 to 15 residents to supervise com-
munity activities and monitor the use of grant funds.
The Mission has adapted and used this PVO-                    ter the 1991 coup. Some of these new enterprises
NGO neighborhood model, in other programs,                    have stayed afloat because of the USAID–USIA
including the Mission’s basic education pro-                  supported training for journalists, technical
grams, which are important democratic decen-                  support, and financial management training.
tralization activities. The Mission stepped into
the vacuum to promote parent-funded and                       Seventy-seven private rural radio stations, a
-managed primary schools. Through PVOs such                   first in West Africa, are among the most prom-
as World Vision, Care, and Save The Children,                 ising Mission-supported civic education inno-
the Mission has promoted community schools.                   vations. Broadcasting in local languages, these
This benefits students and teachers while giv-                stations promote public awareness and under-
ing parents invaluable self-governance experi-                standing of social, economic, and political is-
ence through their involvement with school                    sues, such as the role of women, agricultural
operations and management. The Mission has                    markets, and decentralization. In Douenza, for
also helped with teacher training.                            example, local radio announcers told CDIE that
                                                              in the public debate on forming their area’s
The Mission has helped the Ministry of Educa-                 commune they invited resource people to talk
tion—among the most centralized, top-down                     on the air about this issue.
of government agencies—reorganize to pro-
mote decentralization and local autonomy. As
a result, the ministry has created a legal frame-
work permitting innovative approaches to                      THE ROLE OF OTHER DONORS
schooling, including literacy in the nation’s
principal languages.                                          Donors including Canada, the European Union,
                                                              France, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland,
USAID/Mali has also worked to bolster civil                   and the United Nations have played a vitally
society in villages and improved networks be-                 important role in the current decentralization
tween villages.14 For example, Mission-sup-                   effort. Since 1993 these donors have committed
ported NGOs have helped village associations                  more than $6 million for decentralization
carry out cooperative enterprises with other                  through a cooperative arrangement with the de-
villages. In Safebougoula, near Bamako, a vil-                centralization mission, whereby they provide
lage association trained by an offshoot of the                assistance for a given function. For instance,
U.S. National Cooperative Business Association                Canada and Germany helped fund the com-
started to buy fertilizer in bulk for all the vil-            mune redistricting process.
lages in the district. This prompted inter-village
cooperation in other transactions, such as sell-              The decentralization mission has also used
ing surplus production.                                       these funds administratively to help cover con-
                                                              sultant fees, staff salaries, and office furnishings
The Mission and the U.S. Information Agency                   and equipment. In the program area, the fund-
have jointly supported efforts to promote civic               ing has supported efforts to inform and edu-
education through media development. News-                    cate people about decentralization and establish
papers and newsletters have proliferated since                the legal and institutional framework for the
the government loosened press restrictions af-                commune system.

                                                              After the commune elections, these donors are
  Strengthening civil society in support of the decentrali-
                                                              expected to continue to play a vital role by pro-
zation process is the primary focus of the Mission’s new      viding assistance for the necessary extensive
five-year $17.2 million democratic governance strategic       training for new local officials and ministry rep-
objective.                                                    resentatives at the commune, cercle, and regional
levels. Under the decentralization mission’s di-
                                                      On balance, Mali’s experiment in decentraliza-
rection, donors will also continue to support civic   tion is replete with promise and challenges. On
education efforts to expand capacity for local        the one hand, the decentralization mission has
autonomy and democratic governance.                   succeeded admirably in actualizing and spread-
                                                      ing the National Conference’s mandate that lo-
                                                      calities “be their own masters.” As a result,
                                                      Malians are eager to take charge of their futures
SUMMING UP                                            in ways never before possible.

Mali’s leaders have seized the opportunity of         On the other hand, there are many obstacles,
the 1991 government overthrow to embark on            problems, and unanswered questions. While
political reform through democratic decentrali-       many are optimistic about the new scheme of
zation. The government’s initiative is fueled by      local government, many look for external sup-
the knowledge that continuing the hyper-cen-          port to dull the pain of self-sufficiency. Despite
tralized, authoritarian system the French insti-      optimism about the potential to raise local rev-
tuted in the 1890s would lead to widespread           enues, new local officials are likely to face an
unrest and fragmentation. The essence of the          unsupportive mix of extremely poor and mis-
reform lies in revitalizing and empowering cit-       trustful taxpayers with outlooks framed by the
ies and villages through a new system of gov-         abuses of the authoritarian past.
ernment built on fiscal autonomy, citizen
participation, and democratic representation.

The Mission for Decentralization, the moving          LESSONS LEARNED
force behind this ambitious undertaking, has
developed the government’s plan in a commit-          1. Capitalize on government commitment.
ted, thoughtful, and measured manner. Using           Among the most striking features of Mali’s de-
participatory planning, the mission opened up         centralization effort is the government’s stead-
redistricting to the localities and worked to edu-    fast commitment and support. Mali’s leaders,
cate people about local self-governance. In ad-       deeply influenced by the 1991 revolt, subse-
dition, the mission has successfully developed        quent National Conference, and Tuareg and
the legal and institutional framework to imple-       Moor rebellion in the north, see decentraliza-
ment its decentralization plan.                       tion as a matter of political necessity. As a re-
                                                      sult, for example, they reacted decisively to
Less encouraging has been the decentralization        early bureaucratic resistance by moving the de-
experience of the 19 cities granted limited au-       centralization mission from the Ministry of Ter-
tonomy under the previous regime. Elected in          ritorial Affairs to the president’s office. In effect,
1992, the mayors of these cities have had to con-     from the outset, political will has been intrinsic
front the responsibilities of decentralization        to Mali’s current decentralization effort and, as
amidst widespread public skepticism and dis-          such, remains perhaps the single most impor-
trust, under muddy institutional arrangements,        tant factor for its continued success.
and with limited resources. They have ventured
into the decentralization arena with mixed re-        2. Support creation of an independent decen-
sults. Some, such as the mayors of Sikasso and        tralization office. The Mission for Decentrali-
Gao, have tackled their jobs with entrepreneur-       zation has been the driving force behind Mali’s
ial fervor, sometimes risking citizens’ ire. Oth-     decentralization program. Without its efforts to
ers, due to inertia or failed initiatives, face       implement the decentralization plan, promis-
electorates eager to use their new political          ing developments would surely have been
power to “throw the bums out.”                        fewer and harder in coming. The mission’s suc-
cess underscores the importance of a strong,         Given public skepticism about government,
independent institution in charge of decentrali-     regional and local group members’ explana-
zation, under the direct supervision of the          tion of and support for decentralization played
country’s president or prime minister.               a major part in giving it credibility among
                                                     many Malians.
3. Get the word out and involve the people.
The degree to which people became informed           5. Use local media to promote public aware-
about the decentralization program and partici-      ness and involvement. In Mali, an extremely
pated actively in its implementation are, with-      poor country with widespread illiteracy, doz-
out a doubt, among the program’s most                ens of private local radio stations are playing
impressive achievements. Through the regional        an important role, informing the public about
and local study and mobilization groups, the         decentralization and serving as vehicles for
decentralization mission instituted a nation-        groups traditionally excluded from the politi-
wide public education campaign about the pro-        cal arena, such as women, to be heard.
gram. Building on that effort, the mission
directly involved the people in organizing their     6. Build on prior assistance activities. USAID
new local government units. These activities         and other donors have long been involved in
helped make Malians everywhere stakeholders          supporting local development. In areas such as
in decentralization. Equally important, they         health, education, and natural resources man-
prompted an unprecedented dialog between             agement, this has created a legacy of experience
government and governed, which promises to           and functional local organizations able to play
improve a long-standing antagonistic relation-       an important role in decentralization efforts.
ship and promote the mutual trust essential for      USAID/Mali has underscored its awareness of
decentralization’s success.                          this by supporting civil society groups in its new
                                                     democratic governance strategic objective.
4. Mobilize local leaders as “credible messen-
gers.” Mali’s regional and local study groups        7. Take advantage of the cultural context.
underscore the importance local leaders can          Mali’s cultural heritage offers numerous oppor-
play in promoting citizen participation. Decen-      tunities for decentralization. Villages, for ex-
tralization mission officials initially worried      ample, have a rich associational life and strong
that tough questions would trigger open con-         interpersonal networks that have long served
flict. However they quickly discovered that lo-      as a means to mobilize resources. There is also
cal leaders could be their strongest allies. At      strong social pressure to work together for a
local and regional group meetings, they found        valued collective purpose. Thus, although vil-
local speakers could calm tempers and refocus        lagers have long concealed taxable property
discussions in ways that would have been dif-        from the state, many Malians believe this can
ficult for central government bureaucrats.           change with full local self-government.

    To order paper copies of this report, order number PN–ACA–901, please contact USAID’s Development
    Experience Clearinghouse, 1611 N. Kent Street, Arlington, VA 22209, by phone (703) 351-4006, fax
    (703) 351-4039, or Internet:

    To access from the internet, the address is Look under Documents and Publications,
    then under USAID Evaluation Publications, in the sector on Population, Health, and Nutrition.

U.S. Agency for International Development                                          Washington, D.C. 20523

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