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Once upon a time long ago, Americans ran USAID projects in Mali. In the mid-1980s, USAID built houses for people displaced by the Manantali dam. The person in the cooperating ministry overseeing the project attempted to shakedown the contactor building the houses for kickbacks. The contractor went to the American USAID staff member who supervised the project directly and he put a stop to these demands. That American visited the project frequently and eventually died in Mali with his boots on, still supervising the project. Having failed at getting graft from the project, what did the ministry overseer do? Why he formed his own NGO, of course.

 The United States proposed to provide irrigated land and land titles to people who had never had either and to show Mali how we do irrigation in the United States of America where farmers run their own irrigation systems and finance intensive and profitable farm operations based on the equity conferred by their property rights in land. The narrative that follows describes how these good intentions have been sidetracked so that the few may reap bountifully from the suffering of the many. It also shows how systems which protect farmers interests in the US became tools of extortion when applied in Mali without due consideration of prevailing corruption.

The $253 million Alatona Irrigation Project (AIP) was part of a $461 million Compact between the United States represented by the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) and Mali (Millennium Challenge Account, or MCA), which also included upgrades to the airport. This was the largest US project ever.  Originally proposed to cover 16,000 hectares, the project was scaled back to just under 5,000 hectares due to the inflated costs paid for irrigation development ($16,000 per hectare rather than charges which normally do not exceed $10,000 per hectare).