Malians: New Government Must Jumpstart Economy
August 15, 2013

Ibrahim Boubacar Keita became Mali's president-elect after his rival conceded defeat in the August 11 run-off. The successful vote means that billions of dollars of pledged international aid should soon be on their way to help rebuild the country. In 2012, the economy hit its first slump in two decades after a military coup and Islamist takeover of the north plunged the country into crisis.

Business owners in capital city Bamako say the new government can not get to work fast enough.

The Kone family imports and sells cement. It's a family business: father and son, husband and wife. The son, Souleymane Kone, said the March 2012 military coup cut business in half almost immediately.

"The investors pulled out. So all the big construction jobs were halted," he said. "And on the local level, those with money are not spending it."

His father, Abdoul Kader, said things are looking up.

"Work is going to start again and things will get better," he said. "I am so happy that despite the crisis, the election went well and the candidates kept the tension down."

Mali's economy had been on a slow but steady ascent since the 1990s. It declined for the first time in 2012 - a contraction of 1.2 percent.

That wasn't as bad as it could have been. The gold and cotton sectors in the south were relatively untouched, but tourism took a major hit. And the occupation of the north hurt trade and agriculture, heightening chronic food shortages. Farming, fishing and forestry are nearly half of Mali's gross domestic product.

Economist Younoussa Maiga said an influx of foreign aid will help, but this new government also must attract investors. And to do that, it must tackle pervasive corruption.

"This corruption, it's government agents embezzling state resources. It's small-time - you've got traffic police taking a few dollars from drivers all day long. It's people being forced to pay for free public services.  There's large-scale organized corruption when it comes to awarding government contracts and the whole process of spending state funds," Maiga said. "All of this forces business owners to pay when they shouldn't have to."

For now, shopowners around Bamako, like Adama Mariko, say they are just trying to hang on.

"I'm here the whole day and I sell nothing," Mariko said.

Still, the shelves of the electronics shop are mostly empty.

"No one outside the country would give credit to Malian merchants because with the war and the rebellion, nobody knew we'd be there to repay. And you can't do business without credit," said Mariko.

Job creation is a major priority. Work is scarce for the 300,000 young people who hit the job market every year. Economists say presidents don't create jobs, though, investment and economic growth do.