Tag Archives: Alex Duval Smith

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Song of the Week

Toumani Diabate – Ismael Drame

As Europe finally appears to be acknowledging the sheer scale for the refugee crisis, we are reminded of a piece covered previously by the Hub written by Alex Duval Smith. Catching up with her writing recently, it is delightful to see some unadulterated good news being reported. Wanting to post this weeks ago, it gives me great pleasure to introduce to you Mali’s “most dedicated postman“.

Aboubacar Doumbia, the a man who “lives and breathes” public service, arrives at Duval Smith’s door as a refreshing and wholly unexpected change to the corrupt and dysfunctional public administration that characterises Mali.  Having cobbled together his impeccable uniform, including his home-made cap, he zooms around Bamako on a bright yellow scooter. Endearingly, he appears to refer to himself in the third person regularly – as a sign of respect and admiration of the virtues and ideals of his profession: “If the postman ever returns a letter to sender – which is rare – he feels terrible. That day he has failed in his duties as a public servant.”

Like Postman Aboubacar, faced with government inaction and endemic failure, German citizens have also taken matters into their own hands, and have inspired many other European citizens to do the same. A website called Refugees Welcome has been created to matchmake citizens willing to share their homes with refugees. Two of the site’s founders, Jonas Kakoschke, 31, and Mareike Geiling, 28, live with 39-year-old Bakari Conan, a refugee from Mali, whom they are helping with German classes while he waits for a work permit. The welcoming phrase ‘Refugees Welcome’ has caught on in all different walks of German life including football, which is a good barometer in any European country of how popular a policy is.

The refugee crisis is revealing a lot about the sense of global public service seen within the different populations of Europe. Britain is scoring spectacularly low at present, though it is one of the biggest contributors to aid programmes in countries neighbouring Syria like Lebanon. European aid programmes usually run along colonial ties. Mali’s main source of aid is France for example and, so the theory goes, Britain concentrates on Ghana, Nigeria and others instead. Migration usually follows a similar pattern. However, in the case of Bakari these ties have been broken by the scale of German hospitality. And though Britain’s efforts on humanitarian funding look sound, more long-term European development aid programmes have been greatly discredited by Duval Smith in her original article as well as others. She observes them as being a big part of the cause of the crisis as the do little to resolve the problems of everyday people and instead prop-up the perpetrating regimes and broken economic systems.

Without a serious shift in emphasis away from aid to increasing asylum quotas, Britain will not be moving up the score board any time soon it seems.



Toumani Diabate – Ismael Drame

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Song of the Week

Habib Koité & Bamada – I Ka Barra

Here at the Hub we try and vary the good news with the bad news. Whilst there is plenty of bad news swirling around, it is important to remember that life during war time, poverty and instability carries on the best it can. Mali’s current problems are chiefly man-made – the recurrence of conflict and dreadful economic mismanagement. In an incisive article this week, Alex Duval Smith succinctly captures the relationship between the two; how they perpetuate one another. Importantly, it explains the misery and complete lack of options it create at an individual level, compassionately showing that to become a migrant is no easy option, even to a neighbouring country let alone Europe, but what if you believe its the only way out of poverty for you and your family?  There is huge pressure to go elsewhere in an attempt to provide for those who it pains you to leave behind. Not an unreasonable belief to hold considering the dire situation in Mali, particularly in the northern half of the country.

Furthermore, Duval Smith links up the bigger picture full-circle. A common narrative is that Europe is having a problem dumped on its shores and coastlines, and has no choice but to deal with it. Relief and rescue efforts are stoic and noble at best and at worst are pandering, wasteful and – in the words of UKIP Leader Nigel Farage – “could lead to half a million Islamic extremists coming to our countries and posing a direct threat to our civilisation“. Duval Smith pins the problem back on Europe and the West for bank-rolling corruption through poorly structured aid programmes. Europe can hardly claim that it has been unaware of this problem up until the moment it began washing up on its beaches? They have routinely and somewhat actively failed to address many incumbent political and economic problems in West Africa. Worse, millions in public funds have been signed off by the European electorate with the best of intentions, only to be used to do the precise opposite.

But as we began, there is good news. Duval Smith has reported some too via annotated picture gallery of the massive 13th Century mosque in Djenne getting its annual coat of mud. This is no ordinary maintenance job as thousands of ordinary Malian’s join in, furiously working in teams to assist the skilled masons. Its a contest of speed, with respect being the greatest prize and motivator. One mason notes that more people have brought flags this year; noticing that these expressions of community are taking on increasing national significance for ordinary, peaceful Malians. These projects defy the script, that their country is hopelessly turning upon itself, and people are embracing them – reclaiming the script for themselves. So this week’s song had to match this in its positive outlook, and what better than a song entitled “Your Work”.



Habib Koite & Bamada – I Ka Barra