August 20, 2020
I hope you are well during these challenging times.
When I first traveled in Mali in 2010, after having been to a good number of other African countries, I quickly fell in love with the country. I am not sure exactly what it was, but perhaps a combination of Mali's history, the allure of the desert in the northeast, the numerous cultures, the music, and most of all the engaging nature of the people that warm your heart everywhere you go.
Since then, Mali has seen its disproportionate share of problems and serious challenges which continue to plague the country. Thankfully, none of these challenges has prevented Caravan to Class from realizing our important work in education in one of Africa’s most historically important places, Timbuktu, Mali.
I am sending this note as you will likely have read about the recent coup that has taken place in Mali by a group of soldiers, leading to the resignation of its President, Ibrahim Keita, better known as IBK. This coup has been universally condemned by the international community—including the UN, ECOWAS (Organization of West African States) and the European Union. However, the coup leaders very quickly said that they will shortly hand over power to a civilian transition government that will lead to new elections. As in all coups, the situation is still very uncertain, but I wanted to provide a bit of “color” and also clearly state that our work remains unaffected by this situation. We will shortly start construction, as planned, on our 15th school in the village of Dourgou, near Timbuktu.
Political tension has been a feature of daily life in Mali since the 2018 elections that were marred by a number of irregularities. Close to five months ago, the opposition leader, Soumaila Cisse, was abducted by gunmen and has not yet been released, although no one has placed blame on IBK’s people. Protests against the IBK government for ineptitude, corruption and the inability to stem the violence of some groups, has erupted and gained in traction over the past months. These protesters have taken to the streets demanding the resignation of IBK. Despite some promised conciliatory measures, IBK had refused to step down. While international condemnation of the coup has been swift, the reality on the streets in Mali, particularly in the capital Bamako, is that Malians are generally quite happy to see the IBK regime finished, mostly due to the widespread view of IBK’s ineptitude and corruption.
While the exact rationale for the coup remains unknown, it is possible that some in the military feared an eventual coming to power of a more Islamist government. From my many years of traveling to Mali, I have always felt that the country and its people do a nice job of combining their Muslim religion with the spirituality of their own local culture. Additionally, to me, the more orthodox Islam we find in parts of the Middle East and found in some of the violent jihadist groups, is incompatible with Islam “the Malian-way.” This incompatibility was well portrayed in the 2014 Academy Award-nominated film Timbuktu.
A lot remains to be see…as they say, particularly with coups in developing countries. This is a fluid situation. I wish I could say what it is exactly that is needed to affect the change in Mali that I know so many of its amazing people deserve, but that is a bit beyond contemplation at this point. I would be satisfied with: 1) more stability; 2) a leader who seems to really want to fight for a better life for all Malians; 3) less violence from outside Islamist extremists; and 4) less corruption. In my opinion, IBK failed on all of these fronts, and while forcibly evicting an “elected” leader is not the way democracies should operate, perhaps this may lead to some better changes. We will have to wait and see.
As for Caravan to Class, our work continues. Given the decrease in funding from the Trump Administration to USAID, the work of smaller NGOs like Caravan to Class is now more important than ever. This is particularly so now with the even more challenging political situation.
Finally, some time ago I thought of texting our “Bourse Jackie” Scholarship recipients (who receive university scholarships from Caravan to Class), and asking their thoughts on Black Lives Matter. I was interested in their answers. While their skin is clearly black in color and they have faced difficult obstacles in their lives in one of the world’s poorest countries, they have likely never experienced the overt white vs black racism that many African-Americans have experienced. I thought about telling them they could text me in their native French language. But given the resources spent by Caravan to Class towards their English language education, I thought it would be interesting to ask them to write me in English…which they were happy to do. These are incredibly impressive young women. Read these short texts they sent me in English on their thoughts of Black Lives Matter. Their words are unedited.
Thank you again for your support for our work.
Barry Hoffner - Founder, Caravan to Class