BAMAKO, Mali (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The two leading candidates to become Mali’s next president have signed an agreement to prioritise addressing the social and environmental problems caused by climate change if they take office.
Ahead of elections due on July 28, a coalition of about 100 non-governmental and aid organisations proposed the climate agreement in order to raise the candidates’ awareness about the urgency of action against climate change and other environmental problems.
The pact is a “moral contract” committing the future president in general terms to respect the Malian population’s right to a clean environment and sustainable development.
“This agreement is important for us, for it shows the engagement of the future president to tackle social and environmental problems. And these problems are being worsened by the impacts of climate change,” said Adama Traore, communications officer of Rally for Mali (RPM), the party of candidate Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, who is the favourite to win the election.
Keita, 68, was prime minister of this West African nation from 1994 to 2000. His challenger is 63-year-old Soumaila Cisse, the candidate of Union for Republic and Democracy (URD), Mali’s second-largest political party.
“What our party’s candidate proposes is in line with the environmental pact,” confirmed Moriba Samake, a URD representative.
Samake added that Cisse would like to include environmental considerations in all the country’s development activities.
“It is true that developed countries have an important role to play in reducing the impacts of climate change. They have the means to lead scientific research in order to find adaptation solutions. But poor countries also have a role to play,” said Samake.
DEFORESTATION A FOCUS
According to the URD, to reduce the impacts of climate change the party would like, in particular, to help rural people end damaging activities linked to agriculture, such as deforestation.
Like many developing countries in Africa’s Sahel region, Mali faces the environmental and social challenges of severe poverty and regular food crises.
“Onto those problems the negative impacts of climate change are grafted,” said Ibrahima Togola, head of RESO-Climat Mali, the coalition of aid organisations that proposed the climate agreement to the presidential candidates.
Classic development problems in Mali are being exacerbated by changing climate patterns, which are causing more severe droughts and irregular rainfall. A reduction in biodiversity, due both to climatic shifts and human activities such as deforestation, is also causing concern.
Togola points out that the country is dependent on its natural resources for its economic growth and development, so handling them better should be a priority.
“We must act quickly to handle that situation in politics; the country should no longer be governed as it was in the past,” Togola said.
TRANSITION TO DEMOCRACY
The July 28 elections will bring to a close a year-long transition back to democracy following a military coup in March 2012. The coup’s leaders said they were acting in response to what they saw as the failed response by democratically elected President Amadou Toumani Toure to a rebellion of armed groups of ethnic Tuaregs and Islamist movements.
Experts say Mali needs to promote sustainable development despite its economic and social emergencies. According to a report by the UN High Commission on Refugees, since clashes between armed rebels and government forces erupted in northern Mali in early 2012, hundreds of thousands of people have been forced to flee their homes.
The hostilities have added to the woes of the civilian population, already severely affected by the drought and food insecurity that prevail in the Sahel region.
The intervention of French and African armed forces last January freed much of the north of the country from Islamist control. The government and secular Tuareg armed groups signed a peace agreement at the end of June, but there are still tensions in Kidal region, where the rebels’ headquarters are located.
Aid workers say they have pressured all of the candidates for president in the upcoming election to sign the environmental pact. Another popular candidate and former prime minister, Modibo Sidibe, also has signed the agreement.
Dramane Coulibaly, Sidibe’s delegate at the launch ceremony for the pact in June, said the environment has an important place on the candidate’s agenda.
“It is the essential element of our development policy and we are convinced that all rapid and sustainable development must rely on its good management and protection,” said Coulibaly.
This is the first time climate change activists have publicly invited Malian politicians to give greater importance to this issue.
“I think they will all sign the pact because it is the electorate’s aspiration. And the candidates most likely to win will do what the population is expecting from them,” said Togola.
Soumaila T. Diarra is a freelance journalist based in Bamako with an interest in environmental issues.