The Mali of Erik Orsenna's Madame Bâ seems like a distant memory. After years of economic boom, the 2012 coup dragged the country into deep political and security crisis. The northern half of the country was occupied by rebel Tuareg and jihadi groups who reigned through abuse. This led to international military intervention in which France played a major role.
A landlocked country in West Africa, Mali is home to 17.6 million people with population growth of 3.6% per year. Faced with low diversification, Mali's economy stuttered to a standstill and tourism collapsed. Yet the country's solid assets (international aid, a pro-active government and a vibrant community of driven entrepreneurs) give hope that Mali may yet see renewed growth in its future, and business tourism is already picking back up in Bamako.
For AFD's private sector subsidiary Proparco, developing the hospitality industry was crucial to encouraging investors to return. As a result, the Chiaka Sidibé (EHCS) hospitality training college was founded as part of a loan scheme to the value of €16.4 million to renovate the Salam hotel in Bamako, where the college is based. The loan comes with three years of technical assistance designed to be used to set up training programmes.
Our students are aware that they're here to learn a trade and escape unemployment.
The Belgian soldier standing at the entrance to the Chiaka Sidibé hospitality college is a potent reminder that Mali remains under threat from the jihadis. Today more than ever before, young Malians need economic opportunity and solutions that fit with their aspirations. Whether qualified or not, all too often they fall into the vice-like grip of unemployment.
Faced with a smorgasbord of unsuitable university degrees and a general apprenticeship crisis, half the country’s young people are affected by underemployment or forced unemployment.
In this context, the role played by the school's managers and the project's founders is crucial: "Our company has a social duty to reinvest in training", notes Mossadeck Bally. "We're responsible for giving these young people a chance, where they might once have been added to the pool of terrorists, tempted by the adventure of crossing the desert and the Mediterranean, with all the attached risks."
Gender equality emerged as a non-negotiable slant to the Chiaka Sidibé school, here in a country where women's independence remains a central question and challenge. For the EHCS, results have defied initial expectations, with the school now boasting a mostly female student body. This is good news for the hospitality sector in Mali, where women remain under-represented both in managerial and operational roles.
Two years after opening the Chiaka Sidibé school, Mossadeck Bally can congratulate himself on a fantastic job. The country's head-hunters now come to him to hire students before they've even finished training. And the time has already come to scale things up: "Because our first batch of students was so successful and we've had such good feedback from partner companies, we've decided to increase numbers for 2017, opening up new classes in 2018 and recruiting more to be able to train up 100 students every year."
A single establishment is no longer enough. The CEO of the Azalaï Group has set his sights much further: this trader's son grew up in a family where "enterprise was second nature", and he now wants to roll the concept out in other African countries. This ambition matches a very real need, as the number of unfilled hospitality positions rises every year in Sub-Saharan Africa.
In the meantime, EHCS is seeking new investors and hopes to become an independent, solid and recognised establishment in its own right. To do so, it needs to expand its offer and build new classrooms to cover all aspects of the hospitality trade. In parallel to this, it aims to have its training programme approved by the Malian state as an official certifying diploma. And turn its Bally sauce into the region's best-loved dish.