Many people have heard of Timbuktu as a legendary place that symbolizes the end of the world. While it may no longer be the greatest university city of its time, Timbuktu still thrives as a major town in northern Mali.
The country of Mali in West Africa may seem like a long way from the United States. In some senses, it is. Mali is one of the poorest countries in the world and is located on a distant continent in an unstable region, far from any seacoast. But there are good moral, economic, social, and cultural reasons to be interested in Mali.
Like Americans, Malians are proud of their history and proud of their rights and liberties. Through its $461 million MCC Compact, Malians are taking ownership and responsibility to develop their economy and reduce poverty in a manner that is sustainable and that reflects local priorities.
MCC Compact activities are increasing agricultural production and productivity, the backbone of the Malian economy, through two projects that will stimulate long-term economic growth.
The first consists of a large-scale integrated agriculture project that is providing not only road and irrigation canal construction to improve production and access to markets but also agricultural and financial services, community development, and social services and land rights. Through MCA-Mali, the Malian-run agency implementing the MCC Compact, the area is undergoing a physical, social and economical transformation. About 5,200 hectares of low productivity arid farming and grazing areas are being transformed into highly productive irrigated farms. Schools, clinics and wells for potable water are being constructed, and the foundation is being built for more and better farming through physical and policy improvements. Land titles will be provided to small farmers for the first time, providing incentives to invest and opportunities to get credit. People have accounts at micro-finance institutions for the first time.
The second major Compact project focuses on Mali’s airport. Because Mali is landlocked and its one major airport has one of the shortest and oldest runways in West Africa, the volume of goods that can be safely transported in and out of the country is severely limited. The project is rehabilitating and extending the runway as well as building a new terminal and associated infrastructure. These improvements, together with management system improvements and private-sector partnerships, will improve airport security and efficiency while allowing for new small-business airport concessions that will create jobs and increase revenue. It will also allow thousands of small farmers greater access to lucrative markets. The airport-based MCC-funded projects are expected to result in increased economic growth through greater trade and tourism.
These activities, based upon the sound principles of effective and results-focused development, are helping the people of Mali transition out of poverty. America’s security and prosperity are inextricably linked to the security and prosperity of other nations, including the world’s poorest. Mali may be far from the United States, but U.S. investments in there will ultimately benefit Americans through increased trade and enhanced prosperity in Mali and West Africa.
Timbuktu may sound mythical but U.S. investments are having real impact and achieving real progress.