In 2012, Mali experienced a massive, multi-faceted crisis that revealed deep fractures in its society, culture, and politics and led to the disintegration of its government. High levels of corruption and rampant inefficiency in the Government are widely seen as the root causes of the crisis, as these failings contributed to the continued marginalization of its citizens by gender, ethnicity, social status, home region, and age. The tensions resulting from the marginalization had spilled over into a militant-led rebellion and a coup d’etat by members of Mali’s own defense force in 2012.
The first democratic elections after the coup were held in 2013 and the rebellion was officially ended by a peace treaty in 2015. Despite this, the marginalization continued while the Government was still hampered by a culture of clientelism, corruption, and consensus politics. As such, all the right ingredients remained for another crisis to flare up, unless Mali’s Government found a way to curb corruption, reach out to its citizens, and more effectively serve them.
In the time leading up to and during the crisis, the citizens of Mali had been disappointed by the government to the point where about 70% of the national population had lost faith in the system of democracy as a whole. Therefore, it was crucial not only strengthen the government, but also to restore the people’s faith in it.
The National Assembly is at the heart of Mali’s democracy but had previously been rendered ineffectual by its prioritization of consensus over debate and a culture lacking oversight by and interaction with civil society. With financial and technical support from the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the National Democratic Institute (NDI), the Malian National Assembly launched the Plan Stratégique de Développement Institutionnel de l’Assemblée Nationale (PSDIAN), or the Strategic Plan for the Institutional Development of the National Assembly in 2015.
PSDIAN’s vision is “to make the National Assembly a pluralistic, independent, open, and efficient institution that meets the aspirations of the sovereign people in a united, secular, reconciled, and prosperous Mali” by 2025. The plan lays out ten strategic goals which were further broken down into specific objectives.
Starting at the Foundation
To provide technical assistance in the implementation of PSDIAN, the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs launched the Projet de Renforcer l’Assemblée Nationale du Mali or the Project to Strengthen the National Assembly of Mali (RANM) in 2015. NIRAS was appointed as implementation partner in 2016.
The goal of the RANM project was to strengthen the National Assembly’s representational, legislative, and control capacities in line with PSDIAN. Because the PSDIAN’s goals were wide-ranging, RANM took the approach of streamlining all the project’s required activities into three outcomes groups that were each administered by three full-time experts.
The Network of Female Parliamentary Members was systematically invited to all of the National Assembly’s activities. That made for a true opportunity in the integration of gender in our actions.
Outcome 1: Strengthening the operational capacities of members and staff of the National Assembly and the (newly formed) High Court of Justice, empowering them to efficiently execute their duties and responsibilities.
Just over 97% of activities planned in this area have been completed, including the creation of a Steering Committee (Comité de Pilotage, or CoPil) drawn from the National Assembly to manage the implementation of the programme (including the setting of its objectives), coordinating CoPil with relevant stakeholders (such as civil society organisations) in the setting and implementation of objectives, and the implementation of a monitoring and evaluation system.
In addition, this outcome framework also dealt with improved transparency, recordkeeping, research, debate, and consultation with citizens and civil society in the creation of new laws. This not only protected and strengthened the legislation, but also protected the rights of those touched by the laws.
Emphasis was also placed on strengthening the rule of law during the establishment of the High Court of Justice, and through such activities such as improved budget analysis and engaging in the fight against corruption along with civil society.
With regards to human resources, the project provided technical support in the creation and implementation of various Assembly programmes, plans and strategies; as well as the creation of procedures encompassing aspects such as debate in the National Assembly and the steps involved in ratifying new legislation. RANM then took the step further by training admin staff and strengthening managerial capacity to allow for the smooth operation of the Assembly behind the scenes.
Outcome 2: Strengthening the Network of Female Members of Parliament’s (Réseau des Femmes Parlementaires – REFEP) leadership in the legislative process, particularly to benefit disadvantaged groups.
Thanks to leadership training and capacity building by RANM that resulted in 13 out for 14 REFEP members feeling more confident and able to take up leadership positions, this objective saw great leaps forward in the role played by women in the Assembly. REFEP members frequently took the lead in Assembly debates, and were successful in the promotion of four new laws – three of which were in protection of women’s rights – the Law on Quotas, the Law on Female Genital Mutilation, the Law on Gender-Based Violence, and the Law on Begging.
All of these laws were either heavily informed by public consultation, or inspired by it in the course of REFEP engaging in greater social involvement. In turn, REFEP’s activities led to a greater sensitivity to gender in the National Assembly, including the adoption of gender budgeting. Female members of the Assembly have also been sent out as part of various national and international delegations, where they have acquitted themselves well.
The Law on Quotas centers on ensuring that women continue to be appointed to elective and nominative posts, thus ensuring that women will continue to have a growing part to play in legislation, justice, etc.
Outcome 3: Bringing the National Assembly and their sub-groups into regular contact with the public.
The implementation of this objective group resulted in a much more open Assembly that communicated progress and news via social, print, and broadcast media, open-door sittings, and field visits all over the country, including elected representatives visiting their constituents.
As a result, the National Assembly was more responsive to needs communicated by citizens and civil society, of which the adoption of the above-mentioned laws on gender violence, female genital mutilation, and begging are examples.
All in all, the RANM project was lauded as a huge success, and was a significant step forward in the strengthening of Mali’s democracy, even though there is much more work to be done – especially in terms of increased transparency and accountability.
Sustainable Development Goals Promoted by the RANM Project:
An efficient National Assembly creates a legislative environment that can promote all sustainable development goals, but the direct outcomes of the project especially contributed to SDG target 16.6, developing effective, accountable, and transparent institutions at all levels; and SDG target 16.7, ensuring responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels. By strengthening REFEP and also through the laws they had passed, the project also contributed to SDG target 5.1, ending all forms of discrimination against women; 5.2, eliminating violence against women and girls; 5.3, eliminating all harmful practices, such as child, early, and forced marriage and female genital mutilation; 5.5, ensuring women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision making in political, economic, and public life; and 5.9, adopting and strengthening sound policies and enforceable legislation for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls, at all levels.