By Elisabeth Jessop
Coup d’état: a term I learned and studied repeatedly in school meaning overthrow of the state. Never did I imagine that I would live amidst one. Never did I imagine hearing gunshots in the air as the military rushed to overthrow the government.
Where am I, you might ask? I am currently in Bamako, Mali, West Africa. I have been here for the last few months working as a field intern for a Malian Presidential candidate named Yeah Samaké. I was in downtown Bamako Wednesday afternoon, March 21 when I heard news of unrest in the Kati region. Not thinking much of it, I headed home, unconcerned. Little did we know what would happen in the coming hours. It is crazy how things can change in a blink of eye.
On Wednesday afternoon, March 21, Malian military troops at their base camp in Kati (just outside of Bamako), became upset with the visiting Defense Minister because they have not received enough weapons, or food, to match the power and control of the nomadic Tuareg rebels in the North. Currently, there are about 180,000 Malian refugees displaced and without food, shelter, and other basic needs because of the situation in the North. The coup was very spontaneous and not very well-planned, in my opinion. Till now, the whereabouts of President Amadou Toumani Touré (ATT) remain unknown. The military, led by Captain Amadou Haya Sanogo, took control of the palace, radio and national TV ORTM. Military quickly surrounded the central parts of Bamako, and later the neighboring areas of Bamako as well, making it difficult to go anywhere. Military leaders quickly captured several high-ranking government officials supportive of the President, some of whom are Presidential candidates. All throughout the evening and throughout the next 2 days, we could hear residential gunfire as the military shot their guns in the air, warning citizens to stay off the streets. Leaders disbanded the constitution and military rule was imposed.
So what does the coup mean for the presidential election?
Elections may not happen on April 29th, 2012. Yeah instantly condemned the coup and has been working feverishly to get in touch with other political leaders to create a united front that will stand for democracy. He has met with the military leadership to see how fast democracy can be restored.
He has displayed a kind of poise and strong leadership that Mali needs at this uncertain time. It is at times like these that true leaders emerge that want the best for their countries future. Yeah Samaké is the leader that Mali needs, now more than ever. I have been inspired by his intense desire to serve his country.
When I was first offered the opportunity to come to Mali, I felt unsure. I was looking for a service opportunity with a nonprofit organization. I had already spent a semester abroad and the opportunity to work on a presidential campaign was not appealing to me. However, something made me feel this was the right thing to do. Little did I know, I would learn more about service and charity during the time I spent with Yeah, than I could with any nonprofit organization. It has been one of the best decisions I have made. My life has been changed because I have been inspired by Yeah.
Yeah is currently the mayor of his hometown of Ouélessébougou. He is also a 2012 Malian presidential candidate. He plans to stabilize Mali’s democracy and spur development in education, health, the economy, and national security. This is what makes him different.
As I have worked with him, what stands out to me most is Yeah’s character.
Those who meet Yeah love him immediately. He has a glowing smile that radiates through the room. He is full of energy, life, and passion. He is PASSIONATE about serving his country and his people and is genuinely good man working to truly make a difference. He lived in the United States for about 10 years before returning to Mali. How many Africans leave their home country, go to America, and return? Very few.
He isn't like other politicians you hear about. For one, he's honest. I can ask him anything and everything and he will give me the facts, even though I might not like it. He is not corrupt. In fact, he is doing all of his fund-raising in the US with individuals to avoid corrupting influences. He thoroughly thinks through the issues at hand before suggesting a long-term solution. He is very optimistic about Mali’s future and the great things he can do for his country. Oh and did I mention that he never even makes fun of my bad French? He only encourages me to keep doing my best. Yeah never wastes an opportunity. One of the most valuable things he has taught me: "Have you ever been opportunity knocking? Explore - you don't know what's out there waiting for you."
I am ambitious, but Yeah has encouraged me to reach above and beyond the stars in places I didn't even know existed.
As Mayor he has achieved much. Within 3 years, he increased the tax collection rate from the initial 10% to 68%. He has brought 140 water pumps and electricity to the villages in Ouélessébougou and helped build their first high school and hospital. If he has done all this within 2.5 years, what could he do for 14 million Malians during his 5 years as President?
With this unexpected turn of events, I am convinced more than ever that Yeah is exactly the leader Mali needs to try to sort out the causes of the rebellion and get Mali back on its feet. Without a doubt, he will be a key player in the restoration of democracy and will help regain the confidence and trust of the people. Africa needs more strong leaders like Yeah.
Certain things puzzle me about the coup:
Why did they remove the president from power? Elections were only a month away...Why didn't they simply protest to be sure that elections would be held on April 29, as planned? (There had been talk of postponing the elections until July so the president could make some constitutional changes)...It was much too spontaneous. Sanogo claims that he does not want leadership and will hand everything over to the temporary government once it is in place. How are they going to set up this temporary government? They are saying they will involve the leadership and opinions of every political party and create a temporary, unified government. Will that work? I am concerned that there will be tension between the loyalists of ATT and the other political parties.
I am discouraged to see the "fall of democracy" in Mali, after 20 years of hard work and stability. It is almost as if the time tables have turned and we are back to 1991. But I have high hopes for the future of Mali.
I'm not going to lie, it has been fascinating to watch the military on TV, to see and hear everything unfold in Bamako.