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In Mali, when Taoudéni, the former prison, dreams of being an “economic hub”


For those who dream of visiting Mars and who, like most of the planet, have neither the means nor the technical skills to build the necessary spaceship, there is a more economical formula: consider a trip to Taoudéni, in the far north of Mali.

For that, it will be necessary first of all to find in Timbuktu a robust all-terrain vehicle, then a solid escort in charge of your protection and finally to put the course full North by rolling foot to the ground for 800 kilometers in order to avoid being kidnapped. by the jihadists of Jamaat Nosrat al-Islam wal-Mouslimin (JNIM, or Support Group for Islam and Muslims, GSIM), or their subcontractors. After forty-eight hours by car, the red sand dunes of this extremely arid part of the Sahara will open to you.

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For many Malians, the name of Touadéni still resonates like a nightmare. This is where the dictator Moussa Traoré, in power between 1968 and 1991, had his prison built. A prison which did not need bars and where the residents for life were charged, with blows of cudgels, to collect the salt of the surrounding open-cast mines. No need to think about escaping, the desert and the 50 ° C in the middle of the day being the best of nets to retain all those who could imagine for a moment to make the beautiful.

Grain of madness

During the last thirty years, Moussa Traoré has fallen, the prison has closed, the state has deserted, rebellions have flourished and jihadist groups have taken root. To respond to the demands of the Berabiche Arabs who inhabit the area, an administrative region was created – the largest and least populated in Mali – but no governor, no official has ever come to settle.

Suffice to say that it takes a lot of hope and a serious touch of madness to launch a major project here. With the support of the World Bank, German cooperation (GIZ) and the Malian government, Moulaye El Oumrany, the nephew of the dean of the Berabish community, has taken the lead in “Repopulate” this fictitious capital whose inhabitants left by “Convenience” and make one “Economic pole”.

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Returning two years ago from Germany, he notably imagined building on this infertile land, where the rare water points are salty, a semi-automated farm. “Due to the situation in Mali, the project has taken a bit of delay but we are now going to start implementation”, assures the director of the NGO Peace and Progress. “When we started, it was utopian but other partners, such as the United Nations and the French Embassy, ​​are starting to follow us”, underlines Moulaye El Oumrany.

Before starting, it was first necessary to carry out geophysical, hydraulic, sociological and economic studies. Responsible for the prospective part, Ali Niang, who is not the type to be discouraged at the first difficulty arises, tells with humor: “I don’t know how many consultants we have hired. They say yes and when they get home call you the next day to say they are giving up. In Touadéni, people have fun saying that they have never seen a foreigner twice. ”

“Israeli model”

Before looking bigger, the agricultural project should begin on an area of ​​4 hectares. “We have designed a farm adapted to its environment, taking inspiration from the Israeli model with date palms watered by drip. But before these matured in three to four years and the people could sell the fruits, we started with market gardening activities, with plantations of eggplants, peppers, potatoes and okra. “, explain Moulaye El Oumrany and Ali Niang.

To access topsoil, you must first remove 80 centimeters of sand, then correct the acidity of the soil with lime. Parallel goat farming provides organic fertilizer.

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“The objective is to reintegrate ex-combatants, but so far not a single one has come”, Ali Niang laughs. The place is however protected by the former rebels of the Arab Movement of Azawad who perceived the economic interest of the project. He can already boast of not having encountered any security incident. “Our real clients are the beneficiary communities. If they are happy with our work, it is the best way to be safe ”, he notes. The first harvests are expected in September 2021.

Find all the letters from our correspondents here.

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