Views from the field: Q&A with Cécile Tassin-Pelzer, former EU Head of Cooperation in Mali
In March 2012, Mali’s northern territory was seized by rebels backed by Islamist groups. In the midst of that struggle, the president and government were ousted in a military coup d’état.
Since then, the EU Delegation has played a prominent role in Mali’s recovery as one of a group of international donors who together pledged €615 million to support the country. Cécile Tassin-Pelzer, who recently finished her posting to Mali as Head of Cooperation, discusses the EU delegation’s key projects and how foreign donors can best operate in a fragile state whose multiple problems increase the complexity of cooperation.
Capacity4dev (C4D): What is the situation in the country now and in which sectors does the EU delegation operate?
Cécile Tassin-Pelzer (CTP): Mali is a less developed country where all development indicators are weak or very weak, and in 2012, there was a coup d’etat followed by a serious humanitarian crisis. From 2013, the European Union changed what it was doing in Mali. We kept the development and humanitarian cooperation, but now we also have a mission to support security.
Now it’s a fragile country and we realise that it was a multi-faceted crisis which throws up many problems. That’s often the challenge in fragile countries – you have to be able to deal with all the problems at the same time as they are interlinked. That’s why we continue with regular cooperation, helping with governance and taking a hard look at why the crisis arose. It wasn’t just a putsch that came out of nowhere so there were real governance problems for years and maybe we didn’t acknowledge that early enough.
There are very serious problems with malnutrition and not only in the north of the country, like you might think.
In the following video, Cécile Tassin-Pelzer explains the scope of EU Cooperation in Mali (English subtitles available in settings)
C4D: What has been happening since the Mali donor conference at which 615 million euros was raised, and was it a useful model for other countries?
CTP: Back in 2013, the European Union took the lead jointly with France. It was a French intervention initially in Mali and the French called on the rest of Europe to help. After the conference, there were follow-up meetings every six months for two years, alternating between Bamako, Paris and Brussels. I think that’s a good idea at the beginning when you really need to attract new partners and obtain extra funds, but after that you have to focus on implementation. Now we have a very sophisticated aid coordination system which is very active in Mali. We have meetings every two months with the prime minister and also thematic group meetings with the relevant ministers. In 2017, it’s the European Union that is presiding the coordination of the technical and financial partners in Mali.
EU Military Training Mission in Mali
The European Union has provided military training to Mali’s army since 2013 at the request of its government and in accordance with U.N. Security Council resolution 2085. Nearly 600 officials from EU Member States and other European countries have trained more than 10,000 Malian soldiers. The mission has no combat role, but provides training in the areas of command and control, logistics, International Humanitarian Law and protection of civilians.
For more information visit EUTM Mali’s website
C4D: What about efforts to boost decentralisation in Mali?
CTP: Decentralisation began in Mali in 1992 but has made little progress and we think it’s one of the reasons behind the crisis. It’s a crisis between the northern regions and the rest of the country because state services weren’t reaching them sufficiently. Social services have been decentralised but the transfer of resources, human or financial, hasn’t taken place and decentralisation is more visible on paper than on the ground. It’s a process that we’re backing, providing budget support. One indicator that we have is the increase in resource transfer from the central to decentralised level. Decentralisation is really at the heart of many aspects of the peace process.
C4D: To what extent do you collaborate with other participants in the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa?
Created in 2015, the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa has made €2.6 billion euros of EU funds available to West, North and the Horn of Africa by September 2017. The Trust Fund aims to support projects tackling the root causes of migration.
For more information visit DEVCO’s website
CTP: In 2014, the EU Delegation and EU Member States finalised an EU joint programming document including a joint analysis and division of labour. That’s for instance how the EU Delegation ended up going into the education sector as we realised there were few projects there so we were encouraged to move into this area.
In terms of budget support, it’s true that we [the EU Delegation] are the last remaining Europeans to do this because of the fiduciary risks and the complexity. There’s a lack of trust in the management of public finances and Embassies don’t necessarily have the capacity through a team of macroeconomists like we do. It’s not because Member States don’t want to do budget support themselves in Mali that they don’t want us to do it, and when our current budget support programme was reviewed by the FED (European Development Fund) they were in favour of what we proposed.
We have created nine national projects since the Trust Fund began, notably projects for the creation of jobs which include professional training and which target young people especially because it’s young people who migrate the most. It’s also young people who are most at risk of falling into violence and radicalisation. It’s never just isolated projects that we do. It’s always in partnership with institutes or NGOs who look at the fundamental causes of radicalisation, violence and inter-ethnic conflicts. Unfortunately in Mali the security situation is deteriorating, especially in the centre of the country.
C4D: Can you describe one of your key projects?
CTP: We have one project, which is frequently attacked by terrorists. We’re building a road between Bamako and Timbuktu and since work began, it has been very complex to manage all the aspects of the project, in particular the interruptions caused by the attacks. Unfortunately, more than 30 Malian soldiers have been killed around the work sites. Soon we’re going to be able to inaugurate the road’s arrival in Timbuktu, which is something quite extraordinary in the current context.
C4D: What advice do you have for those turning up in a fragile country?
CTP: What stands out in a fragile country is the complexity of the problems. You have to be on all fronts and analyse all the underlying causes. I think it’s important to be humble because there are many things we don’t understand when we turn up from elsewhere. You can’t think to yourself that you’re going to completely resolve an issue. We bring our modest contribution and do our best. You have to take time to analyse and share a lot of information with partners. There are many of us in Mali and it’s important to coordinate. You have to have continual dialogue with the government which is, of course, our main partner.