Poor G8 summit seeks own solutions
By Will Ross
BBC, Gao, north-east Mali
If the organisers wanted to ensure the event in West Africa bore no similarity whatsoever to the G8 summit, I think they succeeded.
There may have been red carpets in Russia but in Mali there was just sand underfoot and being on the edge of the Sahara desert, there was plenty of it.
The directions to the venue would have read as follows: locate Mali on a map of Africa, look for Timbuktu, move your finger to the right a bit along the Niger River and that's where we are – Gao.
The town may be remote but it is accessible – there are few countries in the region that can match the 1,200km tarmac road connecting the Malian capital, Bamako, to Gao.
Whilst Presidents Bush, Blair and company arrived in St Petersburg preoccupied with the escalating crisis in the Middle East, the delegates gathering in Mali had other immediate concerns: as the temperatures reached 40 degrees in the shade, if you could find any, the first priority was where to locate a source of drinking water.
A white sheet painted with the words “free entry, free expression” was hung at the entrance to the venue, a secondary school.
With little hope of the G8 leaders acting in the interests of the developing countries, one of the summit's organiser's, Dao Dounantie, was keen for home-grown solutions to be found to the problems of unfair trade practises, debt and immigration fuelled by unemployment.
Madame Traore: “Help us with your technology and then we can work together.”
“The solutions to the problems in Africa are in Africa – you will not find them in Saint Petersburg.
“But no individual country in this region can succeed on its own so we need to put our heads together and develop solutions here which should then be supported by those leaders.”
Under a tree, a mother sat breast-feeding her baby next to a group of cotton farmers debating the future of an industry on which a quarter of the Malian population depends.
There are concerns here that the subsidies currently paid to American cotton farmers distort the world cotton price and the Malian cotton farmers cannot compete.
Abdoulaye Cisse from a Malian farmers union asks: “Why can we not determine the price of our cotton? After all people from outside tell us what price we have to pay for our fertilisers.”
He lamented the fact that most of the clothes worn in Mali were imported.
“We need investment in factories to process the cotton here in Africa then we can make clothes ourselves.
“But building the textile industry in Africa will only be possible if African countries work together.”
As if on cue, 13-year-old Amadou walked past wearing a second hand football shirt. His chosen team plays thousands of miles away in London – Chelsea.
On the back of his shirt – the name Drogba – Abdoulaye's hero is the Ivorian striker, Didier Drogba.
But where's the shirt made? Indonesia – oh and it is polyester. The global economy throws up plenty of problems for a cotton farmer in Mali or Burkina Faso.
The organisers chose to host this summit in Gao for a good reason; to focus attention on the young people who out of desperation head here before trying to cross the Sahara desert in search of work in Europe.
Malian participants are concerned about the cotton industry
A few sandy streets away from the summit I met 23-year-old Peace.
She left Nigeria last year desperate to lift herself and her family out of poverty.
“My parents are poor. I had to leave university after one year because I had no money and without any work I decided to travel.
“Some men in Nigeria told me it was possible to go to Mali and then continue to Algeria, Morocco and Spain. They told me about the advantages but nobody told me about the disadvantages.”
Peace never made it to Europe – she has been deported twice from Algeria and is now stuck in Gao without enough money to get home. I asked how much she needed to save.
“Two or three hundred euros would be enough.”
The fact that her chosen currency is the euro suggests she has not given up on her journey.
Many in her situation end up owing money to the traffickers and are then forced into prostitution as a result.
As the summit concluded, the French proposal of selective immigration was condemned as being likely to increase the problem of Africa's brain drain.
There were calls for action to end or at least slow down the immigration flow.
Human rights campaigner, Sidibe Diaba Camara, called for the G8 countries to play their part.
G8 leaders must play their part on trade and debts
“We want the total cancellation of debt. Then with the money saved, programmes can be created for the youth.
“If young people have job opportunities, emigrating will not be so attractive.”
There were also calls for the politicians in Africa to also play their part and ensure the money saved from debt cancellation is wisely spent instead of being siphoned off to fund mansions, Mercedes and champagne.
As the summit drew to a close and Diallo Mariam Traore put away her packets of ground maize, couscous and sesame seed cakes, she showed me a black pellet which looked like it might have been left behind by a donkey.
In fact it was a processed plant which she said was rich in iron and good for pregnant women.
Keen to add value to the wealth of African raw materials and knowledge, Madame Diallo had a message for the G8 leaders.
“Your countries are very rich so you should come here and help us with your technology and then we can work together to process our products – then we will both benefit.”
The hope here is that any decisions taken in the future taken by Presidents Bush, Blair Putin and others, will be made without ignoring the consequences for the likes of Diallo, Peace and Cisse.