Bill's Trip to Mali Part 1: The Governor
Trickle Up's president, Bill Abrams, travels to Mali, West Africa. Here, he chronicles his experiences from meeting a local governor, to meeting with Trickle Up participants, and sharing his perspective on the future of the region.
Mali is an enormously friendly country. When I walk down the street in Sevare, where our office is, people stop to shake my hand and say “Bonjour.” When we go to meetings or visit villages, we pass through a receiving line of local leaders. When Malians greet each other, it is an elaborate call-and-response ritual. First they shake hands, and ask each other, in turn, “How are you?” After each answers, they proceed to “How is your wife?” and “How are your children?” and “How are your parents?” and “How are your animals?” All the while continuing to grasp hands. I find it refreshing that here, when people ask you how you are, they are genuinely interested and expect a lengthier response.
We went to visit Abdoulaye Mamadou Diarra , the Governor of Mopti. In my travels to Trickle Up programs in West Africa, India and Central America, I often meet local officials. Usually these meetings are brief sessions during which local officials thank us for our work and we thank them for welcoming us. We shake hands, take a few photos and that’s that.
My meeting here was different.
Mopti is one of eight regions within Mali, with a population of approximately 2 million people who live either in the city of Mopti (population of 100,000), the nearby much smaller town of Sévaré (where our office is) or in hundreds of small villages. The Governor is the representative of the federal government, and the advocate for Mopti to the national government in the capital city of Bamako.
The Governor, an elegant man in his mid-50s wore a beautiful striped boubou (African robe). Seated alongside three of his deputies, he welcomed us warmly. He then, in the course of thanking Trickle Up for our work and me for coming to Mali, proceeded to do a very thorough and compelling explanation of our work. Since I spend so much time explaining Trickle Up to donors and others, it is always fascinating to me to hear how they play it back. He had a deep understanding of our program and added the context of how it fit well with Malian traditions, especially our savings and loan groups and traditional Malian informal savings clubs called tontines.
He also noted that “everyone who comes into his office knows Trickle Up.” The reason is our logo is painted on a wheelchair access ramp leading into his building. Serving people with disabilities has always been an important part of our mission, and we have a special grant from USAID to extend our work in Mali. Last December 3rd, which is the International Day for People with Disabilities, Trickle Up and our partners did a series of awareness-raising events in the region. One was to install the wheelchair access ramp, with our logo, on the steps leading into the Governor’s office building and other public offices in Mopti.
Developing the economic capacity of the region is his top priority, especially building industries, improving market access, reducing imports and creating jobs. In his view, one of the consequences of “colonization” is erosion of the country’s economic self-sufficiency. He worries about jobless men being recruited into AQIM, an Al Qaeda affiliate active in West Africa. Because of several recent incidents in the region, including kidnappings and murders, the rise of AQIM is seriously damaging Mali’s tourist industry.
Governor Diarra gave two examples of changes he hopes to make. One is to build a bridge across river that borders Mopti (the city) in order to make it easy to transport milk from rural farmers to the city. Right now, he says, farmers sometimes end up dumping their milk because they cannot get it to market.
His big dream to create a date cultivation industry in Mali. Dates are very popular here, but they are imported from Algeria. Mali’s climate is very similar to California’s, where dates grow in abundance, so why can’t Mali grow its own dates? A believer that he should lead by example, he has planted 100 date palms at his home.
For part 2, click here.