Office du Niger

The history of the Office du Niger in Mali is one of deceit, power, and corruption. Created during French colonialism, the bureaucracy disintegrated when France lost power, leaving bribery and nepotism to reign control over dams, canals, and other aspects of irrigation.

In 2004, the Office began to survey land in the Kumari region in order to expand their irrigation. Mary Crickmore, a CRWRC missionary who had lived in Mali for the last twenty years, was horrified to discover their plans to displace the native villagers who had farmed that land for decades. Worse yet, the Office claimed they would receive Millennium Challenge funds in exchange for bulldozing the villages.

The threatened Fulani people, with whom Mary lived and worked, would once have paid bribes to the Office in order to keep their land. Now, however, empowered by the literacy studies Mary had done with them, the villagers wrote to their government officials, asking to keep their homes.

In addition, one of Mary’s supporters in Oklahoma contacted his own state senator, who took the issue to Washington, DC. So many voices raised in protest at the Office’s actions spurred Millennium Challenge officials to investigate.

After visiting the Kumari region, which the Office du Niger claimed was uninhabited, the Millennium Challenge officials saw that the villagers certainly did live there, and had prior claim to the land. They removed Office bureaucrats from the project, and even invited Mary and some of her colleagues to help renegotiate their proposal for funding.

Just two years later, the Millennium Challenge announced their commitment to the new proposal, totaling $460.8 million. The compact included an irrigation plan for the Kumari region that would allow the villagers titles to their land, paved roads leading to the villages, and improvements to the airport so that fresh produce could be more readily available.

Due to a series of single voices raised against injustice, the corrupt Office du Niger lost control of both the land and the villagers, and some of the officials were even jailed for their misdeeds.

If the villagers hadn’t received literacy education; if Jim from Oklahoma hadn’t written his senator; if individuals from Bread for the World, InterAction, and other Washington organizations hadn’t taken action, several hundred Malians would have lost their homes, their livelihoods, and their dignity.