It was anger and indignation that dominated the workshop on basic social services. And the emergence of a requirement: that everyone mobilize for the recognition of the people’s rights to water, electricity, transport, etc.
The anger was in reaction to the coming privatization of the Malian Company of Textile Development (CMDT), of the national water and electricity company (EDM), and of the National Society of Equipment and Works (SONETRA). Dismissals, deterioration of civil rights, rising prices ... each one of these changes, far from improving the daily life of the populations, sows the seeds of “social destruction.” “Even in Fana, we still do not have water, nearly fifty years after independence,” denounces Ms. Maryam Sarid, who took part for the first time this year in the Forum of the People.
But it was the privatization of the Malian railroad, in October 2003, which caused the most indignation. Retiree Sigina Ballo, originally from Sikasso, remembers his early childhood, before 1945, when the French colonial administration organized the recruitment of the young men for the army. Of those who did not leave, a group was sent to work on the railways-under forced labor. “Many men died, far from their people. I remember the songs that their widows and their daughters would hum in the evening. It is unacceptable that a national good of this scale is sacrificed and, worse still, without consulting the people who built it with their own blood and sweat.” Beyond the social effects on the railway men and their families, all the people of Mali discover little by little the impact of this concession on their everyday life: villages cut off from other villages, farm produce condemned to rot on the spot, patients who can no longer reach health centers, the decline of businesses along the former routes. Along the Koulikoro-Kayes line the victims of this privatization stretch out as far as the eye can see. “Sometimes I awake in middle of the night, unable to sleep,” says Mr. Souko Assa Badiallo, former assistant secretary-general of the federation of the railroads of the Confederation of Malian Workers (CSTM). “This railroad has a history and a heart. Today we are told that its privatization was inevitable because it was badly managed. But the railway men, though they never stopped warning about the bad management, nonetheless gave all they had, to meet the demands of the company and the travelers!” “It is not a question of privatization, but indeed of cut-price selling,” denounces Mr. Ben Kattra, trade unionist with the National Union of the Workers of Mali (UNTM). “The trade unions can cry foul but nothing will change if civil society is not mobilized. Everyone is implicated, all the sectors of society! We must end the hypocrisy of all those who do not hesitate to complain about privatizations, but still take part in it.”
On the question of mobilization, the workshop participants are not lacking for ideas. Their various proposals testify to this: turning the force of Forum of the People on the Fana authorities, to demand the construction of new wells for potable water; requiring the G8 heads of state, who claim to want to combat poverty, to restore without delay the public utilities that their multinationals have bought back; identifying the people responsible for bad management and plundering of the national companies, and judging them; requiring all candidates to get involved, to the extent of their power, in the re-nationalization of the public utilities, and not initiating any new privatizations. Now it just remains to convince the fatalists that a national decision can be called into question when it does not meet the expectations of the majority. Isn’t that the definition of a democracy?