‘Mali is a winning business opportunity for India’

New Delhi Feb 25: Located in the heart of West Africa, a region India seeks to increase its engagement with, Mali is a winning business opportunity, says a political leader from the nation recently in the news for the conflict with Islamic militants in its northern areas.

“I have come to tell India that Mali is a winning business opportunity. It is a win-win opportunity for Indian businesses that come there,” Niankoro Yeah Samake, president of the Party for Civic and Patriotic Action (PACP) in Mali and one of the very few Mormons in the predominantly Muslim country of 14.5 million, told IANS in an interview here.

Samake, who is currently mayor of his birthplace Ouelessebougou, around a 45-minute drive from capital Bamako, was a candidate in the country’s presidential elections last July.

“Mali has opened up its telecom, agri-business and IT sectors, particularly in the area of internet service providers all of which would be good opportunities for Indian business,” Samake said.

“Besides, education, which is another of India’s strengths, is a big need for Mali, building higher and primary education in the country,” he added.

Samake said that his country is currently a safe and protected business environment with the government committed to create employment.

“Mali favours Indian investment because it would be the engine to create jobs, for our economic development. We will make sure Indian investments are protected, that government will not turn around and make any issues for foreign investors”, Samake said.

Currently, there are various Indian ventures doing business in Mali, particularly in the mining, oil and gas, pharmaceuticals and agro industry sectors. The country has large reserves of minerals like gold, iron ore, uranium and bauxite, while cotton is a major agricultural product.

As mayor of Ouelessebougou, a commune of 44 villages, Samake focussed on ending corruption and increasing government transparency. The city now ranks among the top 10 in the country with a tax collection rate of 68 percent, where prior to his election three years ago, less than 10 percent of the population were paying taxes.

“I can facilitate Indian business coming to Mali. You need the support of someone who can hold your hand and help navigate the system, who can facilitate land acquisition,” said Samake, who recently helped an Indian enterpreneur set up a small manufacturing unit in his area.

“I have a new partnership here with the Avignam Group, which helps advance Indian business in Africa and which will be representing my endeavours here,” Samake said, adding that he had the support of the Malian government and their “embassy here has provided all the help I needed to be able to reach out to the business community.”

Samake, who converted to Mormonism in 2000 when he was in the US studying in the sect-run Brigham Young University, has a $500,000-a-year charity foundation called Empower Mali that delivers schools, education, solar energy and healthcare to Ouélessébougou.

He also runs a travel business in Mali and has himself funded this visit to India.

“You may make profit by making a difference to the lives of the people,” Samake said of his endeavours here that included meeting with local tour operators.

He concluded by pointing out that Mali also offers access to the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) that includes Nigeria, Niger and Ghana.

“This economic community has oil, is growing quickly and the regional integration provides a market of 300 million people with little or no barriers” he said.

(Biswajit Choudhury can be reached at biswajit.c@ians.in)