Short-sighted Sweep of Bamako

Here in Mali the streets are lined with thousands of businesses made of corrugated tin and seemingly thrown together in whatever space people can carve out for themselves. From selling clothes, cigarettes, and fixing bikes/motorcycles to restaurants, vegetable stands, and toys – they are all sold on the side of the road. It can make driving a little dicey as people stop abruptly or park less than courteously but it has been a  part of life in Bamako for a while.

A few months ago the government started telling people that they were going to clean up the city and any unregistered businesses along the paved roads would have to be disassembled. The government also promised to set up And so in early August the government started “the great clean up of Bamako.” The military police were sent out to start enforcing that people take down their structures. They started in the main market, and after a failed protest one Saturday the clean-up extended throughout the city.

My first reaction was shock but when I asked my friends and colleagues a lot of them supported the overall need for cleaner streets that were wider and safer. If the government had stopped there they might have gained some traction. But alas, the new market is no where in sight. They  are now destroying some very legitimate businesses throughout Bamako. The result has been the elimination of thousands of people’s livelihoods and their fundamental inability to provide for their families. In a country with high rates of poverty and malnutrition ripping away the means they have created to provide for themselves in a seemingly stagnant economy is not providing much hope for the future.

The majority of businesses affected have been small establishments that you can tell are not bringing in hundreds of thousands of dollars. They are a means for people to provide the basic necessities for their families.

The expanded clean-up is also destroying some long standing establishments throughout Bamako as well. Places that were able to break out of the small business category and provide a place to hang out or bring visitors for Mali’s middle and upper classes as well as the foreigner populations. Great establishments for music and food that could have underlined a future tourism industry have been destroyed. Another loss in a country already struggling with conflict and injustices.

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This is Rue Princesse a street that had a number of restaurants, bars, and little shops that has been destroyed in the great clean-up. Photo credit: Kerri Agee

There will be a straw that breaks the camel’s back. You take away their livelihoods and ability to provide for themselves, you silence people by blocking social media, you squash protests with violence and end lives of young people speaking out, and you do little to invest in job creation or youth engagement; you create have the makings of a revolution. The social revolution pot is boiling and the government is stirring who knows what it will take for Malians to rise up and fight for the Mali they want to see. I am interested to see what the catalyst will be.

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