By Joe Penney
When I went to Mali to do a story on how its economy is faring, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The landlocked West African country is currently facing the biggest challenges of its 52-year existence: Jihadist rebels, many of them foreign, occupy its northern two-thirds, while politicians associated with the former regime and ex-coup military leaders squabble over power in the south.
If you just read the headlines, you might think the world has turned upside down in Mali. And indeed in the north of the country, it has: nearly 450,000 people have fled the violence there and now eke out a precarious existence in the south as well as in refugee camps in neighboring Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Niger, according to UN figures. Yet despite the political turmoil, to my pleasant surprise I found out that economically speaking Mali’s lower third — where the vast majority of its 15 million people live — is actually doing quite well.
By Joe Penney
By the time the aid workers arrive at Mbera refugee camp at 7am after crisscrossing a 15 km (9 mile) trail through sand dunes from the adjacent town in a convoy of white Land Cruisers, Malian refugee and mother Zeinab Mint Hama has already been up for at least an hour.
As she did back home in Lere, Mali, Zeinab starts her days early to avoid the blazing midday Saharan sun, with temperature reaching up to 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit). She and the 64,000 other Malians who have fled violence in their home country to settle temporarily at Mbera, a United Nations-run camp about 40 km (25 m) from the Malian border in neighboring Mauritania, are persevering to establish a sense of normalcy to their new lives.