Viva la Mali

The pundits have been attributing the terrorist attack at a hotel in Bamako to Al Qaeda instead of ISIS.  The suggestion is Mali is unrelated to Paris and may be a competition between the organizations for who can strike the most fear in the hearts and minds of the west.  All that may be true, but having walked the streets of Bamako, I can’t believe that what happened in Mali is not related to what happened in Paris.  I’m sorry but they are “kissing cousins,” not extended family, despite the difference in race.  Yes the folks in Mali are black Africans, living in the country  with the mythical city of Timbuktu.

My grandmother used to threaten, when I had been particularly bothersome, that she was going to knock me all the way to Timbuktu. I never been sure where Timbuktu was, or if it was real Grandmomma said it was where lots of African Royalty lived; and was a city of gold, and that the kingdom had stretched from one end of Africa to another. Later, I study the ancient kingdom and learned her description was in fact, gleaned in part I’m sure from her Mom, who was one of those captured West Africans, brought here in chains, and it was probably not too far off.  My grandmother wanted me to study French as she had at Dorchester Academy, a private school for black kids in South Georgia.  She told me that was the language of Timbuktu.

Sure enough, landing in Bamako in 2000, my first thought was, wow, “is this country independent or still a colony.”  Bamako is decidedly French in appearance, of it buildings, its cars, and its streets. Everyone spoke French and dressed French; the food was French and the customs French.  For Malians there was no better place to go study or to visit than France.  Not only was that there money Francs, well the African version of Francs.  A common currency tied all the Franco-phone countries like Mali, Cote d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso and Senegal, all of which I visited in the five years I spent at the Center for Trade and Technology Transfer.  The Center was an African outreach and development effort funded by the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus, who recognized after a series of Summits were being, held on Africa in the late 1990s that new legislation and emphasis on Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa in particular was going to be a growing market.

Smoke was the first thing that I notice.  It was familiar, very much like the kind that used to be all around houses in rural Georgia when we burned trash in the backyard, back in the sixties and seventies, before we found out what air pollution was.  It was bluish and gray, a haze that covered the capital city like a blanket.  I had just been in “Abidjan”, Africa’s Paris and now I was in its little sister Bamako, which is like going from New York to Newark or Atlanta to Savannah.

Like any other small town the first word that came to mind, was quaint.  Bamako was the capital city of the land; and was almost evenly divided between Christian and Muslim, although clearly Muslim was the majority.  I, being an American in Africa for the first time, didn’t think about these things, when I jumped out of coach in my blue jeans and could feel folk’s eyes on me, like I was butt naked.  I was a woman in pants, which while not unusual for Christian women, was not the way to win friends and influence people.  I had packed some long dresses and put on one as soon as possible, which I found out was more acceptable, because the men, I was meeting with about business opportunities between Malians and Georgians, all told me how good I looked.

But what I remember most was not just that most of my meetings were with men, where I’d be the only woman, and the other women ate among themselves in another room.  The gender segregation and separatism, as well as the stopping of all activities for regular Islamic prayers, during the day and evening, were familiar.  However, what stood out the most was the sense of extended family.  Large groups of the same family lived in the same house, shared meals with and operated family enterprises. It reminded me of back in the day, before integration, when black families in the south lived the same way. It was called close-knit. That’s what Bamako felt like and now it’s been shattered by thugs posing as diplomats.

So no matter what the pundits say it is related to France, occurring only one week later.  It happened there because they could not get to Paris and because the US through its Africa Command has a strong presence in that country.  Mali is not an isolated story; its’ a part of the story.  As Michael Jackson and Lionel Riche wrote, “We are the world.”  We are brothers and sisters, let’s not create a racial divide, what happened to the Russian jet is terrorism and so is what Boko Haran is doing in Nigeria, what happened in Paris and what happened in Bamako.  They are all about trying to make us put up walls, which technology has obliterated.  We can’t go backwards, we must move forwards together.  So let’s pray for the world, as the song Jesus loves me, says “red, yellow, brown, black and white, all are precious in his sight.”



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