Mali has been an independent country since 1960 and had an active multi-party democracy since 1991. They have seen conflict and changes in government and economic failures and progression.
It’s interesting to see it all happening in live time – the way Mali seems to be caught in the middle. Stuck between the traditional ways of life and the modern conveniences that are being sold to them through capitalism and international relations/trade. You see signs of this tension everywhere.
You see it in the traffic – people drive wherever they want how they want and the roads are filled with motos on your left and right and no one wears a helmet. There are people pushing carts of goods to sell, motorcycle trucks carrying full loads, trucks that are literally held together with string and tape and filled to the britches, people and kids everywhere – it is insane!
You see it in the perception of women. The ideal beauty form being confused as people want you to gain weight – a sign of wealth and prosperity as your family eats well, and the Hollywood ideal of thin sticks leading to a lose-lose situation on body image for everyone.
You see it in advertisements as people through together logos and slogans in a as-seen-on-tv manner often without understanding return on investment or marketing.
You see it in youth who are losing faith in their future because they no longer want to stay in the village and farm but the economic opportunities in the city are limited and underutilize the skill set of a growing young demographic.
You see it in the school system, as Koranic, public, and private schools battle for extremely limited resources and under produce results that decrease opportunity for reform or growth in the education system.
You see it everywhere. To be honest seeing the confusion catches me in a sort of tension. I don’t know if the modernization that is being strongly suggested (read: forced) on this underdeveloped economy was the international community’s best move. At the same time I know how hard life in Mali can be for many many many people. I know that some sort of progress is necessary because children are going hungry, families are getting sick from preventable diseases, and mothers and babies are dying because of lack of healthcare. But do these problems merit the type of development that the international community is bringing? My time in Mali is making me understand the importance of a benevolent leader who wants the best for their country and can lead the changes that the people want to see. Maybe a country like Mali would have chosen a different path other than following in the developed world’s footprints. Maybe they would have found viable solutions that would engage their youth in innovative ways, and honoured their traditions while ushering in a new world of economic development. We don’t know because we don’t give enough space for those leaders to be born. We also know that basic systems aren’t in place making it even more difficult for those leaders to effect change. In order to run a country you need a decent education – which is failing here. You need basic systems and access to a network of supporters which happens but takes time to cultivate. You need people to dream of what’s possible and right now people are in resilience and “just make it through” mode.
It’s a complex maze this life in Mali and I want to see people happy, healthy, and well. I hope that Malians and the international community alike can start to find the solutions that will bring the lasting change that people want to see.