On Monday August 15th Ras Bath, a local radio activist, was arrested for speaking out against the Malian government. The President IBK (Ibrahima Boubacar Keita) was elected in 2013, and subsequently delegated a number of his family members to minister positions throughout the government and parliament. He is known for eliciting funds from the international community and then putting very little of those funds to good use on the projects they were designated for. He likes high profile gestures that aren’t managed well as opposed to searching for the best solutions and results for the millions of Malians who could benefit. A perfect example is the “gift of IBK” when he gave thousands of tractors to Malian farmers in a flurry of press releases, news coverage, and photo ops. The tractors it was found months later never made it to small scale farmers (who could benefit the most), but instead went to some of the richest members of Malian society and a number of IBKs own friends and families.
Ras Bath speaks out against IBK and the reigning government and is known as the voice that “opens the eyes of Malian youth to the injustices of the government” (a quote from one of my Malian friends), the power of speaking out and mobilizing for a common cause. So when he was arrested without any public justification and he called for demonstrations for his release. Yesterday (Wednesday) was his hearing and he was charged with “public insult through sexuality.” And the crowds went wild (don’t worry parents I was safe and sound at home across the river and out of danger). Thousands of Mailans took to the street to demonstrate their belief in freedom of speech, of a democratic government, of unlawful arrests. Malian young people are a strong force in the country. In 1991 it was because of student protests that brought forth a multi-party democracy; after the brutal attack and murder of thousands of young people. Fast forward to today and people have a respect and understand the power of young people. So yesterday, the government got nervous seeing these young people come together. Police were brought on scene, and unfortunately things got violent. Around 3 people were shot, 2 police cars were burnt, and many people were injured and teargased.
The government has now blocked social media sites (twitter and Facebook). Learning from the Arab spring revolution, where people used social media to help mobilize and eventually bring down the reigning government, IBK has now blocked this avenue for further demonstrations. So for the moment we have a democratically elected leader, who is arresting and imprisoning youth activists, has blocked means of mass communication and reporting, and is squashing the basic right to freedom of speech.
Another noteworthy piece of information is that according to my early morning google news scan I couldn’t find any western reporting agencies who had latched on to this story, or the hundreds of others being largely overlooked on the international stage (see #thisflag movement in Zimbabwe, the fizzled yet ongoing #bringbackourgirls campaign, and the all out social media ban in countries like Iran, China, and North Korea). Without access to share perspectives and find like minded people governments are stifling new innovations and strategies that could lead their countries to exciting new heights. Speech and communication are what separate us from some of our primal animal instincts and that fact should be celebrated not stifled.
IBK you failed as a leader yesterday, I can only hope for a better tomorrow.
For some more information read this (and for you English speakers copy and past the article into google translate t o get a sense of what’s going on).
P.S. This situation does not increase the security threat to me or my colleagues in any way. Our activities continue remain outside of the political sphere, and the protests are happening in another part of the city that is wholly separate from where I live and work. a.k.a. don’t worry mom, I’m safe and sound.