‘Justice doit être ouvert vers la société’

This was the core message in the opening address of minister Mamadou Konaté to the first conference of public prosecutors of Mali held under the theme ‘the public ministry for public action’ earlier this month. ‘You are’, he said to the prosecutors, ‘a key advocate of the public interest and an advance post into society for justice.’ Minister Konaté wants this conference to take place every year – a gathering at which to reflect on standing up for the public interest and better serving the citizens of Mali.

He is an impressive and hugely driven figure: a lawyer with more than 25 years of experience at the international business level who is now politically in charge of a justice system of one of the poorest countries of the world. The country has limited state capacity and legitimacy, limited tax revenues, tensions connected with the conflict in the North, tensions in the region, and corruption challenges. In addition, the country is on the cusp of a huge cusp huge economic and social challenge: it has a population of just over 18 million citizens of which 50% are under 15 years old, and is growing at a fast pace of 3% annually. This youth bulge corresponds with low adult literacy rates of just 34%. For any one of these challenges, let alone all of them together, having a well functioning justice infrastructure is pretty crucial. In that respect, Minister Konaté has one of the most important jobs in the cabinet.

The youth will need education and jobs. It’s impossible to see how registering businesses, making it easy for them to purchase and sell, own, have bank accounts, register intellectual property rights, hire and fire people, have a safe working environment, pay taxes, and govern themselves is possible without a legal system. And that’s just one justice needs area. The Justice Needs and Satisfaction survey we did among 8000 citizens of Mali in 2014 shows that land-related issues rank amongst the most prevalent justice problems people face: land property, land use, water irrigation disputes, rights of access or passage, and land grabbing feature prominently. The journeys to justice (formal and informal justice) in this area are evaluated low when it comes to price (its too expensive), voice, respect, stress and emotions, procedural clarity and damage restoration. In rural regions the assessment is lower than in urban areas. In fact, the problem is even bigger: the survey also tells us that 18% of the family justice problems relate to inheritance, which often includes land. Whether it is business or land: for the sake of stability and social cohesion you need clear rules, effective conflict resolution systems, and good enforcement in both areas.

Minister Mamadou Konaté is not alone; he has help. Under the leadership of the seasoned rule of law advisers Roelof Haveman and his Mali colleague Mamadou Ba, both of the Dutch embassy in Bamako, an innovative program to support some of the minister’s efforts has been put in place. It puts data about the needs of citizens, transparency about the quality of justice delivered, the efforts of high quality civil society organisations at the core. Most importantly, it does not operate on the basis of ‘grand design’ planning (like ‘reforming the courts in a grand ‘three year plan’). Rather, it takes an iterative approach: see what is broken, see who may have solutions, try them out and if they work, scale up, if they don’t, try something else. This is a cutting edge way of working, supported by cutting edge research until now not applied in the justice sector. Another supporter is Ibrahima Koreissi, the extraordinary leader of Deme So. With his colleagues he has set up an amazing network of paralegals, all through the country. This is no ordinary paralegal programme. It is supported by an IT platform called Tien Sira in which data about the justice questions asked of the paralegals and the responses they give is stored in a database and openly shared. As Ibrahima Koreissi puts it: “pour un justice transparante”. Advocate General Diawarra from Mopti shared another transparency practice that he called ‘control citoyens’: periodically inviting citizens into the court to provide comments on its functioning. He had it up and running in a previous court he worked but when he left it petered out. He desperately wants to see it put into operation in every court in Mali. The advocate general also does a weekly radio show in which people can call in with questions about the justice system. Its popularity is a sign of the thirst for justice and the relatively simply things that can make a huge difference.

These examples clearly show that people matter a lot in the Mali of today. The state is not that strong yet. Capacity is limited. So justice entrepreneurs must be spotted in time, supported in their efforts, given the space they need. Minister Mamadou Konaté is somebody who matters in Mali. He is an impressive leader, who can set priorities, inspire, and give space to many other justice entrepreneurs. He has a clear vision of a justice system that works for citizens. He prioritizes an evidence-based approach that involves surveys and indicators to support policy objectives. He knows what he wants, but he is also not bothered about asking for help and advice. He is a refreshing, new kind of minister, who deserves all support.