Ouelessebougou, Yeah’s home base, became the next town for the campaign to hit. I was fortunate to witness this one first hand. Rains welcomed the morning and brought impending doubts as to whether the event would occur. It rained for four hours straight and we were glad that the event committee had pushed the event to the afternoon. The event kicked off around 5 pm.
Ouelessebougou motorcycles greeted the delegation, consisting of Yeah and other members of PACP, 5 miles outside of Ouelessebougou. They then proceeded to herald them in honking incessantly. The view was amazing. There had to be at least 300 motorcycles each holding two riders. Most of them donned the t-shirt that showed they were members of the Yeah Samaké supporter’s club of Ouelessebougou. The majestic view continued for miles and miles and could be heard from town as the 300s of motorbikes descended welcoming in the three cars that held delegation members.
As the cars drew to a halt, musicians and welcoming crowds of a 1000+ people greeted Yeah and his party. The celebration of arrival continued for a good 30 minutes as hands were shaken, people greeted and greetings exchanged. A feeling of realization of the magnitude of the task ahead hit me. Here were 1000s of people that believed in this man and were willing to celebrate his message.
The event commenced with 4 groups of musicians. Music has and will probably continue to be a method of praise, story-telling and celebration for Malians. It has been something that has been new to me. After each musician, you give them some money to show your appreciation. That has been the other new thing for me as well. The musicians that greeted the party told a story of Yeah and his lineage. They also outlined the history of Mali and what Yeah could accomplish.
The first speech was delivered by the dugutigi( chief of the village). The dugutigi of Ouelessebougou is the oldest man in the village. He has seen the most changes in his village. He is a strong supporter of Yeah and the changes that have been brought to Ouelessebougou. Next, the Imam, welcomed Yeah and his party. He imparted benedictions for the success of the campaign. The Catholic pastor too conveyed his support. Ouelessebougou boasts the presence of this pastor who is renowned in the world for performing miracles.
The formalities of the event continued with speeches by Fomba, the secretary-general. He pumped the crowd up by telling them of what Yeah was capable of. Change was imminent and would come with Yeah being elected. Next, Garba Vice-president of the party spoke. He spoke of his background in the US and how he met Yeah. Among the Malian community in the US, Yeah is well-known for creating educational opportunities for young students to come study in America. By the time Yeah took the podium, the crowd was pumped. There were chants of “Yeah Samake” and “President” that rang through the crowds. Yeah started his speech by speaking of blessings. True blessings come when a son returns back to the land of his birth. Yeah said that he returned to Mali to fight for opportunities for his people. Malians are not poor and Yeah made sure his people understood that. Even though I could not understand much of what was being said (as the speech was in Bambara), I could see that Yeah was welled up with emotion. This is a cause that he has breathed since his childhood. He wants to become President not for any financial gain. The President of Mali has an income of $78,000/year. Change needs to happen in the educational system, in the healthcare system and in the business sectors. The poor need to stop becoming poorer.
The crowd was enthusiastic and roared their support. Several times during the speech people stood up. Several people even left their seats to stand behind Yeah to demonstrate support and solidarity. The event ended with as much pomp as it started. The final musicians celebrated Yeah and his party.
The event was an amazing event. You would think that Ouelessebougou would be an easy village because it is Yeah’s birthplace. However, Malians don’t give anything easily. Years and years of poverty and lack of jobs/education determine the political landscape. The event was a great success. Huge support was garnered. Hopefully lasting memories will lead people to the polls in April 2012. Just starting events of a dream becoming reality!