This was the core message in the opening address of minister Mamadou Konaté to the first conference of public prosecutors of Mali held under the theme ‘the public ministry for public action’ early November. ‘You are’, he said to the prosecutors, ‘a key advocate of the public interest and an advance post into society for justice.’ Minister Konaté wants this conference to take place every year – a gathering at which to reflect on standing up for the public interest and better serving the citizens of Mali.
He is an impressive and hugely driven figure: a lawyer with more than 25 years of experience at the international business level who is now politically in charge of a justice system of one of the poorest countries of the world. The country has limited state capacity. While there is a strong sense of being Malian, the thickness of the legitimacy is also not that that huge. The state has limited tax revenues, significant corruption challenges, tensions connected with the conflict in the North, and tensions in the broader Sahel region. In addition, the country is on the cusp of a huge economic and social challenge: it has a population of just over 18 million citizens of which 50% are under 15 years old, which is growing at a fast pace of 3% annually. This youth bulge corresponds with low adult literacy rates of just 34%. To deal with any of these challenges, let alone all of them together, having a well functioning justice infrastructure is critical. In that respect, Minister Konaté has one of the most important jobs in the cabinet.
The needs are huge. The legitimacy of the state requires decision-making processes that are seen as fair. Tensions in the North in 2012 have led to the commission of serious crimes (euphemistically referred to as ‘les évènements’), of which many have gone unpunished. In order to fight corruption you need clear rules and effective enforcement, which is lacking. The youth will need jobs. Many of those jobs will have to be created by the youths themselves. It’s impossible to see how they can register businesses, purchase and sell, own, have bank accounts, register intellectual property rights, hire and fire people, have a safe working environment, pay taxes, and govern themselves without a functioning legal system. The Justice Needs and Satisfaction survey we did amongst 8000 citizens of Mali in 2014 shows that 30% of the citizens of Mali experiences a serious justice problem in the previous 4 years. Land, crime and employment problems rank amongst the most prevalent categories, at respectively 37%, 26%, and 25%. If we dive deeper into those categoris, for example land, we see that the individual problems relate to property, land use, water irrigation disputes, rights of access or passage, and land grabbing. The journeys to justice (formal and informal justice) in this area are evaluated low when it comes to price (its too expensive), voice, respect, stress and emotions, procedural clarity and damage restoration. In rural regions the assessment is lower than in urban areas. In fact, the land problem is even bigger: the survey also tells us that 18% of the family justice problems relate to inheritance, which often includes land.
Minister Mamadou Konaté is not alone; he has help. Under the leadership of the seasoned rule of law advisers Roelof Haveman and his Mali colleague Mamadou Ba, both of the Dutch embassy in Bamako, an innovative programme to support some of the minister’s efforts has been put in place. It puts data about the needs of citizens, transparency about the quality of justice delivered, the efforts of high quality civil society organisations at the core. Most importantly, it does not operate on the basis of ‘grand design’ planning (like ‘reforming the courts in a grand ‘three year plan’). Rather, it takes an iterative approach: see what is broken, see who may have solutions, try them out and if they work, scale up. If they do not work, then don’t be afraid to admit failure and try something else. This is a cutting edge way of working, supported by cutting edge research that was, until recently, not applied in the justice sector. Another supporter is Ibrahima Koreissi, the extraordinary leader of Deme So. With his colleagues he has set up an amazing network of paralegals, all through the country. This is no ordinary paralegal programme. It is supported by an IT platform called Tien Sira in which data about the justice questions asked of the paralegals and the responses they give is stored in a database and openly shared. As Ibrahima Koreissi puts it: “pour un justice transparente”. Advocate General Diawarra from Mopti shared another transparency practice that he called control citoyens: periodically inviting citizens into the court to provide comments on its functioning. He had it up and running in a previous court he worked but when he left it petered out. He desperately wants to see it put into operation in every région in Mali. The advocate general also does a weekly radio show in which people can call in with questions about the justice system. Its popularity is a sign of the thirst for justice and the relatively simply things that can make a huge difference.
These examples show: individuals matter a lot in the Mali of today. The state is not that strong yet. Capacity is limited. So justice entrepreneurs must be spotted in time, supported in their efforts, given the space they need. Minister Mamadou Konaté is a justice leader who matters in Mali. He is an impressive leader, who can set priorities, inspire, and give space to many other justice entrepreneurs. He has a clear vision of a justice system that works for citizens. He prioritizes an evidence-based approach that involves surveys and indicators to support policy objectives. He knows what he wants, but he is also not bothered about asking for help and advice. He is a refreshing, new kind of minister, who deserves all support. There is a network around him he can build on and must expand. There is reason to be hopeful in Mali.
 Sources: http://www.unfpa.org/sites/default/files/sowp/downloads/The_State_of_World_Population_2016_-_English.pdf and https://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/mali_statistics.html (visited 13 November 2016)