Friday, March 23, 2012

Update from Mali: Coup d'Etat and my Etat d'Esprit

Around 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 21st I ran across the street to get lunch.  I normally go earlier but that morning, Larry Lai – vice-president of Education Development Center, Inc., USAID/PHARE's contractor –  came to visit a public school in Bamako to see a lesson delivered by a teacher trained in the balanced literacy approach.  As I uploaded the photos from his visit, I noted the time.  'I better run to get food before Fatumata sells out of rice!' I thought.  As I ran out I passed Cassie in the courtyard on her way back to PAJE Nieta's office after a morning of editing Bambara lessons for their out-of-school youth project.  We quickly agreed on dinner plans for the following night before saying goodbye.

After greeting Fatumata, I took my rice and hibiscus juice and went to sit in the park to eat my lunch.  I ate quickly – I still needed to put together my lesson plan for English class at Abdoulaye's computer center and email the pictures from Larry and USAID's visit and I just had an hour before I needed to leave.

But as I crossed the street one of PHARE's scriptwriters hollered “Hurry up!  Rebecca is calling you!”  Rebecca is my supervisor and the director of pedagogy for USAID/PHARE.  I found her sitting in the front seat of one of the project cars with her phone at her ear.  “Get in the car,” she said with a stern face.  “May I grab my phone and computer first?” I asked.  “Get in the car,” she repeated.

I did as I was told and listened to Rebecca tell me why we were rushing away from the office as I buckled my seat belt.  She said a march was planned to take place from Kati, a city 20 km (13 miles) from Bamako, to the President's palace – Koulouba – by soldiers who were unsatisfied with how the situation was unfolding in the north.  Our office lies at the foot of the hill of the president's palace – not somewhere you want to be when large masses of people are protesting for more arms.

We arrived at Sylvaine's home – the senior advisor in pedagogy and reading for the program – and we shared a beer as we let the news settle in.  We talked about what we thought would happen and then learned the American School had already decided to cancel classes for the following day.  Something serious was going on.

Rebecca called Oumar, one of PHARE's drivers, to take me home.  When I got in the car he asked where my bags were and I said they were still at the office.  He immediately called the head guard and asked him to return to the office on his motorcycle to retrieve my computer, cell phone and, camera, which were all where I left them when I left for lunch at 1:30.   I thanked him profusely – what if our office is closed tomorrow – and then Friday and then all weekend – and I don't have my phone or computer? I worried.    

Once home I began to straighten up the house and unpack my bag.  The night before I returned from a trip to Mopti, San, and Segou to evaluate medersa training sessions on the balanced literacy approach.  We were scheduled to return on Thursday but came home early when we learned that Segou had not yet started their training sessions due to a misunderstanding with the bank.  Our team (me along with two representatives from the Ministry of Education) spent Tuesday straightening out the money matters between the bank, USAID/PHARE, and the Teaching Academy of Segou before making it home in time to celebrate Naw Ruz with Abdoulaye and the Baha'i community.  At the time I was just happy to be back with Abdoulaye and celebrating the Baha'i new year – now I am even happier because if I had not come back early I would still be in Segou for the indefinite future (at least until Tuesday when the military lifts the curfew/travel restrictions).  

Oumar returned with my bags a few hours later.  Mankan bora deh! he said.  It is rowdy out there.  He said the Minister of Defense had gone to Kati's military camp to discuss the situation in the North and it had not turned out well and they chased him out of the city.  A ma ni, he said.  This is bad.  

Abdoulaye got home soon after and I sighed with relief – I did not like him being away when things seemed so uncertain.  We ate dinner with Ousmane and listened to the news that ORTM, Mali's national radio and television station, had been taken over by the military.  We discussed the possibility of a coup but I also brushed aside the thought – maybe things will calm down.  Abdoulaye and I hung our mosquito net outside and by 10:30 were fast asleep.

Around 4:30 a.m. on March 22nd Abdoulaye and I woke up to the sound of gun shots.  Nothing nearby and nothing as intense as what people heard who were closer to the city center but gun shots nonetheless.  After one shot we turned over – maybe it is nothing we mumbled.  After the second gunshot, Abdoulaye suggested we go inside and I snuggled into my pillow.  After the third we jumped up and grabbed our mattress and mosquito net – this is not the time to be sleeping outside.

Then, at 5:30 a.m. Abdoulaye's phone rang.  Ousmane was on the other end and told us to turn on the television – that Mali's government had been taken over and the military had successfully implemented a coup d'etat.  

We spent the new few hours watching France 24 on t.v. and listening to Radio France International (RFI) for updates.  I spoke with one of my Peace Corps directors who instructed me to stay inside (the military had imposed a mandatory curfew until further notice) and to call if I had any concerns.  I am lucky because I have an internet key and a television – it is a blessing to be able to stay so connected!  

After following the news and watching ORTM military reports broadcast in between music videos (it appears the junta has an affinity for Malian music videos circa 1980), we settled in for our snow day of sorts.  Ousmane and Abdoulaye went out to purchase ingredients to make rice and sauce à la guinéene and I trimmed the shrubs in our little courtyard.  This morning Abdoulaye and I ventured out to get breakfast (daytime curfew has been lifted but everyone must be inside by 6 p.m.) and now he is watching Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory on ORTM (I guess the junta likes the idea of finding golden tickets, too) while I write this blog post and prepare to do some homework.  

The recent events in Mali, covered closely by blogs and news sources covering the Sahel, have called into into question what democracy is in Mali – a country formerly hailed by many as a diamond in the rough of West Africa, and Africa, for holding democratic elections since 1992 (in 1991 ATT – Mali's president up until March 21st – held a coup d'etat to overthrow Moussa Traoré's government).  Mali will celebrate (or will they? And if so, how?) the 21st anniversary of ATT's coup on March 26th, 2012.  While I understand, to a degree, the unfolding of events here – I also have many of the same questions as others - namely, what made Mali's democracy so democratic?  How will the events in the south of Mali impact the rebels advancing in the north?  Will Peace Corps close their operations here?  Will USAID suspend their projects?  Life is looking a little uncertain right now but I know it will become a little clearer in the following days and I will update here when I know more.

While I am left with many questions and am eagerly awaiting what comes next, I will also capitalize on the next few days to catch up on my school work for SIT.  Next week's topic?  Transformational change and how to enact it.  Fitting don't you think?   

Thank you to all my friends and family that reached out to make sure I was OK and also my new SIT family who sent emails and facebook messages making sure I was alright.  I'm so thankful for you all!  

PS - this has also been a special time to hear more about Abdoulaye's experiences with unrest in Guinea...he experienced his first in 1996 when he was in the sixth grade 

**  Thank you to the anonymous reader for their clearing up of the dates/Guinea history


  1. Thanks for the post, Chupi - glad you are safe and sound and have Abdoulaye there with you.

  2. Thanks for this post! I guess your next step to becoming truly Bamakoise will be to get an air conditioner so you can avoid sleeping outside! :)

  3. There was no coup d'etat in Guinea in 1998. There was a failed attempted coup d'etat on "le 2 et 3 Fevrier 1996". In 1998 presidential elections were being held in Guinea, which the incumbent president won. In fact there has never been a successful coup d'etat in Guinea. When Lansana Conte took over power in 1984 it was after Sekou Toure's death. When Dadis took over in 2008, it was after Lansana Conte's death. Those events were not surprising because after the death of those presidents there was no leader and a huge vacuum was left to be filled. Only the military(outsiders) was capable of doing so since the so-called "government" in place was run by incompetent nincompoop.

    Nice observation however with the songs played on the radio and TV by the juntas. In Guinea, the state run TV and Radio saturated the airwaves with songs from Bembeya Jazz National, and other great Guinean artists of the 1960s,1970s. Though there was no Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
    Stay safe, and thanks for your service.

  4. Thank you for the lesson! I should have written 'unrest' rather than 'coup;' I appreciate the lesson nonetheless. I also would have checked the dates but my internet has not been as fast as I would like with a 3G key. Thanks for reading!

  5. Hi Jennifer, glad to hear that you're safe and living in interesting times. Thanks for keeping us updated on events in your neck of the woods! I'm proud of you for all your good work and service on behalf of us all!


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