Shared experience and surprises as Mali Democracy School alumni visit Europe

When Nana Salama Maiga arrived in the Netherlands as part of a delegation of graduates from NIMD’s Democracy School in Mali, she thought she would be immersed in a fact-finding mission to observe the workings of a fully-fledged democratic system.

But after four days in the Netherlands and Belgium visiting political institutions and exchanging knowledge with fellow politicians and civil society advocates, she discovered that democracy is not a destination, but a journey on which there is always room for improvement.

“Before the trip, in my eyes the Netherlands embodied the perfect model of a democratic system,” said Nana, a 36-year-old information systems consultant. “But during the visit I discovered that even in a politically stable country like the Netherlands, you are always looking for a better approach: the quest to implement a perfect democracy is never over!”

An exchange of ideas; a sharing of knowledge

NIMD was delighted to host 14 alumni of the Mali Democracy School at the end of 2022, on a trip aimed at building knowledge of democratic systems, sharing experiences, and forging connections with their European counterparts.

With political uncertainty following two coups and an ongoing insurgency, NIMD in Mali is committed to helping prepare the next generation of leaders for a better future, and its Democracy Schools offer opportunities for developing skills, knowledge, and networks.

“Governance and democracy interested me long before attending the Democracy School, but the training allowed me to be able to properly analyse socio-political events in my country and elsewhere,” said Modibo Yacouba Diarra, 27, who works as a governance officer at the International Rescue Committee in Mali.

Ensuring Democracy School alumni from across political divides stay in touch and lay the groundwork for consensus-based politics in the future is key, and the European trip helped consolidate these bonds.

“We face common challenges… pooling our efforts can have a considerable impact.”

The group of young politicians, aspiring politicians, and representatives from civil society groups – all aged under 37 – first spent some time in The Hague, where they heard presentations on the Dutch political system, personal insights on international diplomacy from a former Dutch diplomat, and took a tour of the Dutch Parliament.

The participants visit the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs

They then visited the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, for fascinating exchanges with diplomats working on Mali and the Sahel region. But it was connections made with young Dutch political activists, including representatives from the Dutch National Youth Council and the youth wing of Dutch political party D66, that had the greatest resonance for many of our guests.

“The exchanges with youth organizations in the Netherlands enabled me to understand that we face common challenges, and that pooling our efforts can have a considerable impact,” said Taki Kante, a Political and Economic Cooperation Assistant at the Embassy of Japan in Mali.

“As a young civil society actor, I am even more motivated and committed to acting positively within my community to promote democracy based on our values and good governance.”

Seeing theory put into practice in new political contexts

The alumni also travelled to Brussels, for an insight into the workings of the European Union institutions. There they met with the Youth Unit of International Partnerships and representatives from the European External Action Service.

“Our visit to the European institutions allowed me to understand the attachment of this organization to the principles of international law, and the improvement of cooperation with the countries of the Sahel,” said Nana, who was encouraged to join a political party after taking part in NIMD’s Democracy School.

The visit was also a great opportunity for NIMD staff in The Hague to hear feedback about the Democracy School in Mali, in which the participants study topics including the political history of Mali, human rights & justice, and gender & politics.

“The Democracy School was a springboard for me in terms of civic engagement and action, setting up of networks of young political actors and civil society, and personal development,” said Taki.

“Bonds of friendship and partnership.”

Moctar Diop, youth political secretary for the Parti pour la Restauration des Valeurs du Mali, said the school broadened his understanding of democracy as a system of government, and his recent trip to Europe helped him see how the theory he learnt applied in practice in different countries and political contexts.

And he too was struck by commonalities he shared with many of the people he met.

“The trip to The Hague allowed me to discover other systems of governance; to know the Dutch political history as well as the functioning of its institutions,” he said. “And finally, it allowed me to weave bonds of friendship and partnership with other young people who have the same aspirations.”