Ramadan in Mali is taking place against the background of an acute economic and security crisis, which makes the month seriously hard for an overwhelming number of Muslim believers in the country. Mali’s population officially consists of 90% of Muslims. Usually, the month of Ramadan is characterised by an increase in expenditure and constant mass movement towards shopping centres, especially vegetable markets.
But this year the situation is much worse. People with modest incomes who constitute the overwhelming majority of the population, have difficulties in obtaining the necessary products for a more dignified fast.
The ongoing economic and security crisis strikes all socio-professional groups in the country and has systematically upset everyday lifestyles. However, the basic spiritual dimension of Ramadan, making it the month of sharing, community and tolerance, helps relieve the social distress of some poorer members of society, who often benefit from the offerings of wealthy Muslims.
More than a week after the start of Ramadan, the Bamako main shopping centres are still as silent as graves. They do not get swarmed over as in previous years, since this month of religious devotion is also seen as one of extravagant expense. Businessmen, in particular those who have imported large quantities of foodstuffs, bitterly complain about the decline in purchasing power. Some shopkeepers can spend almost whole days sleeping in their shop due to the lack of customers.
Complaining about this unprecedented shortage of resources, Kadidia Fomba, a food store owner in downtown Bamako, says, "For years I have been selling in this market. I have never experienced such a hard Ramadan month. It really shows that people are in the grip of a financial crisis. I still cannot get the influx of buyers I have been used to in previous years."
Most of the people, who 7Dnews spoke to, unanimously stated that almost all of the food products, religious clothing and home appliances that are most in demand in this holy month, have experienced a dramatic spike in price. Unlike other years, the State has not officially made any special provision for price controls on the domestic market, especially regarding basic necessities such as sugar, bread, rice, meat and milk and flour. This lack of official action could be explained by the fact that this year, Ramadan started in Mali, while the country was still without any government.
Due to the economic crisis, several financial institutions in Mali have implemented a Ramadan policy of assistance for their clients. Loans are granted to the latter to enable them to spend the month with better financial arrangements. A month before Ramadan, loan proposals were announced by the banks and one week before Ramadan, the claimants were crowding the gates of the financial services, each one eager to get hold of their loan. "When I received my bank loan, I took the opportunity to consolidate all my monthly expenses. Our salaries are not enough to meet the required expenses and we are forced to go into debt to overcome these moments of shortage", says a Malian civil servant, adding that the bank loan would also cover the expenses of the Ramadan festival.
Those who have good relations with food storeowners were able to buy their monthly purchases on credit. Some Muslims, acting in anticipation, were able to take precautions several weeks before Ramadan by gradually purchasing the necessary products in order to better escape hardship.
To find a saving alternative, many Malians seek the support of their family members from the diaspora. "With the help of my brother living in Saudi Arabia, I do not complain at all about my Ramadan. He supported me a lot for my monthly expenses and this allowed me to protect my family from need", says El Hadj Moustaph Sacko, a Koranic school teacher.
In addition to the economic problems, this year’s Ramadan coincided with an unprecedented heat wave in Mali, which in April killed 558 people, according to the Bamako Central Hospital. This exceptional climatic disturbance makes abstention from food and drink during Ramadan even harder.
Mali is an agro-pastoral country with immense fish resources based on the River Niger. But the ceaseless rise in insecurity, especially the escalation of extremist attacks and sectarian clashes in Mali’s high-production areas are at the root of the scarcity of many of these vital resources. The central region of Mopti has so far been the largest producer of fish, livestock and milk. Its supply capacity goes beyond the borders of Mali to serve neighboring countries.
But owing to the jihadist and interethnic threats that have dealt a severe blow to local economic activities and caused thousands of Malians to be displaced, the region can no longer supply the wholesalers of other Malian regions. The latter are forced to source elsewhere and this has had a serious impact on the purchasing power of Malians. The security crisis affecting regions with strong natural potential is the origin of the shortage of certain foodstuffs as well as the increase in prices of imported products in Mali.
In those areas, where the main livelihood activities of the local population are fishing, cattle breeding and agriculture, thousands of insecure people have been forced to adapt to other income-generating activities to ensure their survival. In recent months, assassinations and abductions by suspected militants of dozens of civilians working on their farms or fishing in the River Niger’s waters have drastically slowed down economic activity in those parts of Mali.
These various factors explain, in particular, the current surge in prices of meat, fish and food products in the domestic market. "We receive less and less cattle and the little that is supplied to us is extremely expensive. Our suppliers argue that the conditions of transportation of livestock, including all the security risks, force them to raise prices," said N'Golo Diarra, a butcher in Bamako. He went on, "In our turn, we have no choice but to increase the price of a kilogramme of meat in order to make a profit."
The same complaints are regularly heard from wholesalers of fish and food crops.