Hotspot Mali – German Armed Forces, Colonial Continuities, Islamism

For the German-speaking public, the West African country of Mali is often reported under the following keywords: Bundeswehr mission. Islamism. Causes of flight. But what exactly are “we” doing there anyway? On December 3, 2022, our development policy event “Hotspot Mali- Bundeswehr, colonial continuities, Islamism- How to get out of the permanent crisis in West Africa?” took place at the Bürgerhaus Stollwerck with the aim to inform about the background and development of the so-called multiple crisis in the region of West Africa. The focus here was on the question of how the colonial era is connected to these developments and how colonial continuity still makes itself felt in the reality of life for local people today.

Managing Director Momo Sissoko welcomed around 120 participants at the start of the event. In addition to representatives from local politics, the audience also included actors from development cooperation and civil society. In his welcoming speech, Momo Sissoko explained the background of the developments in Mali and West Africa, which are important to understand the current situation on the ground: The aftermath of the attack on Libyan President Muammar Al-Gaddafi in 2011; the failure of the UN mission MINUSMA; the distrust of European states and transnational institutions such as the UN; and the search for new military cooperation.

After the welcoming speech, the first mayor, Dr. Ralph Elster, addressed the audience with a greeting. He emphasized the importance of the event for an improvement of the development cooperation, and the concern of the city of Cologne to become active as a promoter at this point. Afterwards, the Malian ambassador Oumou Sall-Seck was connected from Berlin, who gave an insight into foreign policy work in her function as a diplomat.

Moderator Mariama led through the following speeches of the experts, who gave a very versatile insight into the topic through their different perspectives. They reported on the basis of their own experiences from intercultural education work, their own flight or migration history or their work in the field.

Using the proverbial iceberg as an example, Serge Palasie explained, for example, the factors associated with the concept of flight. When we talk about flight, our minds usually conjure up an image of full rubber dinghies on the Mediterranean. But under the (also proverbial) surface of the water, so much more happens – even long before and after the escape itself. In this context, the bureaucratic hurdles and the emotional multiple burdens in the migration process were also discussed as examples.

Impressive stories about the pre-colonial history of the country of Mali also found their place on the stage. These representations allowed to shift the perspective on migration once more. The colonial powers certainly would not have asked for entry permits back then, nor would they have filled out papers anywhere, said Elizaveta Khan of Inhouse e.V. in her lecture “Which Eye Level?”

It quickly became clear: there is not just one narrative around the concept of migration. The associations it evokes differ depending on who is moving where. There were many thought-provoking impulses. The further the event progressed, the more the scope of the issue could be grasped. Starting with the construction of nation-statehood, philosophical questions also arose. Is there a right to have rights? How do we determine what justice is? And is eye level even possible in a racially structured world?

In the panel discussion that followed the experts’ speeches, the audience had the opportunity to ask questions. The offer of an open exchange was gladly accepted by the participants, and thus different positions came into conversation with each other that evening. Some also shared their own impressions and experiences of the situation in West Africa or their own migration history. The question of what consequences and responsibilities result from what was heard for actors in politics and development cooperation was also critically discussed.

But there was not only serious content on this day. Comedienne Ayan Ali provided a brief livening up in between and made the audience laugh again. And after the guests had strengthened themselves at the end of the official part at the rich buffet with West African specialties, the beats of DJane Burcu invited to dance.

Through the multifaceted contributions, the participants were able to gain an understanding of the complexity and multidimensionality of the situation in West Africa and take away impulses for a change of perspective in development cooperation.

The day was all about networking and exchange, and the opportunity for discussion was taken up by many participants well into the evening. Through the networking platform created here, migrant and local actors from politics, civil society and business can work together in the future. We are confident that the exchange promoted by the event will establish itself sustainably beyond the project in order to contribute to a more sensitive cooperation in the field of development policy.

We would like to thank our sponsors, the City of Cologne and Aktion Neue Nachbarn for their support.