Parlez-vous français? Language and agricultural aid allocation strategies in northern Mali with Emily Maiden

In January 2012, insurgent groups in northern Mali began a violent campaign against the central government. By March 2012, then-President Amadou Toumani Touré (ATT) was ousted in a successful coup. The ongoing unrest has drastically shifted the strategies foreign donors are using to allocate aid, particularly to northern Mali. While bilateral donors have drastically scaled back all programmatic aid, NGOs including Oxfam International and the Red Cross have stepped in to provide humanitarian aid. This shift from programmatic to humanitarian aid has left the agricultural sector particularly vulnerable. Since most of the food grown in Mali is grown in the northern region, such a drastic decrease in agricultural aid will have catastrophic effects in terms of projected food shortages. Furthermore, using evidence from new World Bank survey data gathered in northern Mali in 2015, we find that the agricultural aid being distributed by NGOs is not targeting those most in need. We find that French-speaking villages are more likely to be targeted for aid compared to non-French-speaking villages. We argue that in northern Mali, under the current sociopolitical conditions, speaking French makes these villages more attractive to aid organizations, regardless of their actual need for assistance. This appropriation principle means that aid is not going to the most vulnerable, but to the most politically or socially connected. We also find proof of a second layer of aid misappropriation. While Sonrai and Tamasheq-speaking villages receive less agricultural aid than French-speaking villages, the aid they do receive goes to those households most vulnerable to exogenous shocks. However, in French-speaking villages, the most vulnerable households are not guaranteed to receive agricultural aid. If desperately needed agricultural aid continues to be misappropriated, it could lead countries like Mali to become even more unstable.

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