In the 1880’s, Bamako was a small fishing village of several dozen mud huts built safely away from the banks of the Niger River. In the local Bambara language, Bamako means crocodile river. The original people, the Bozo, are still known as expert fishermen.
By the 1980’s, Mali was in its third decade of independence from its French colonial masters. The world recession and the oil crisis aggravated by the Iran-Iraq war brought on a period of despair in the region. The country had mismanaged its economy. World prices for its commodities had fallen. Drought had devastated its pasture and agriculture.
But devastating as the droughts have been for the region, the greater obstacle to economic stability and growth has not been meteorological but political. Agricultural subsidies for cotton in the USA, for example, allowed American farmers to export their produce for one third of its cost to produce. Cotton accounted for 5-10% of the Mali Gross Domestic Product. By one estimate, the sheer weight of the US trade volume lowered the world price for cotton by 25%. Other subsidies had similar impacts on world prices of basic food stuffs: European subsidies for sugar, Asian subsidies for rice, Italian subsidies for tomatoes, Dutch subsidies for onions.
Trade losses as a result of agricultural subsidies in developed countries outweigh the benefits of all foreign aid to Mali and the rest of West Africa. These subsidies keep the individual Malian farmer in a perpetual state of poverty and subsistence.