The past week has been an eye opener to not take things for granted. A democracy that had become the beacon and lesson for other countries in Africa was pulled to its feet. As the world watched, a coup led by junior army officers brought down the soldier of democracy himself, Amadou Toumani Toure (ATT).
Much of the Western world has responded in addition to the surrounding African countries requesting a swift return to democracy. The US, EU and ECOWAS have issued sanctions and in some cases threatened them if democracy does not return. So why is democracy so important? Democracy is a relatively fresh concept for many Africans and even at that those countries that have democracies and have elected leaders, eventually find themselves distanced from the very leaders that they put in power. Democracy which entails the formation of policies and determination of state’s role becomes a hard sell in general for so called young African democracies that do not see an exchange of this sort at the local level. In order for democracy to succeed and truly be embraced, leaders need to involve their constituents in running the government. Constituents need to see how laws passed affect them at a local level. For democracy to succeed, local participation should not only be hoped for, it is essential.
Mali had been a democracy for 20 years. The one thing that weakens a democracy like no other is when there is a vast difference between the elite that make the rules and the majority of Malians. Mali has been independent for 52 years, but has seen little improvement in healthcare, education and the poverty standards. Despite an influx of NGOs, unless the Malian government takes a personal stance literacy will stagnate at 46%. 1 doctor will continue to serve 20000 people. The average life expectancy will remain 52 years—almost 30 years shorter than the average Westerner. A huge percentage of the population will continue to live below the international poverty line of 1.25USD a day. The biggest challenge remains the institutions that have been created to resolve these issues. In addition, while great foreign investments have happened in terms of infrastructure, Mali has seen little investment to enhance its primary strength in the agricultural field. 70% of Malians work in agriculture; however, changing climate and the demand on food has made Mali very dependent on importing a majority of its food. More investments need to be made to make Mali self-sustainable and profitable in the agricultural arena.
The new leader will have a plateful of challenges.
- Teaching a man to fish: Education needs to be an important part of a new Mali. Today with 46% of the population literate, Mali has very few Bachelor degree holders and even fewer Master degree holders. Very few PhD holders will ever return to Mali because of the lack of opportunity. The new leader will need to increase the number of schools in the rural areas; pay teachers better and make education mandatory. Today, children are favored to work in the fields rather than in the classroom because the first option yields an income for the family. By providing incentives to children and their parents to enroll in school as well as making schools accessible, education can become a reality for many Malian students. Yeah hopes to build 1000s more schools as soon as he comes into office as well as hiring more teachers. He hopes that each region will have its own university and that the strikes that have ravaged the educational systems since 2009 can be resolved with better pay and more investment in the student’s future.
- The healthcare situation in Mali is despicable. The average Malian finds healthcare unaffordable and unreachable. With the life expectancy very low and the death from preventable diseases very high, Yeah hopes to build hospitals in every region. Ouelessebougou will have its first hospital in the area that will house a maternity center, pharmacy and eye/dental center. In addition, it will be important to make Mali a safe haven for medical expeditions that come to serve the people of Mali. Through our years we have been blessed to meet many giving hearts and hands and we hope that they will continue to come and bless the people that need it most in Mali.
- Jobs: Malian people are not asking for a handout. No one likes to beg and Malians are no exception. However, circumstances currently do not give much choice and it is hard to pass a street without seeing a hoard of hungry children or a mother with a baby on her back and another two in her hands. An important task will be to create jobs for the individuals graduating and also those in the unemployed middle class. Mali’s unemployment is gauged around 30% and is evident in the streets where young men sit hoping that opportunity knocks. Yeah has been able to create jobs with the hospital, school and solar panel field. Also with the cotton plant reopening in Ouelessebougou, 100 more individuals have a paycheck.
- A security issue: The north is becoming more and more an Al-Qaeda battle ground. The issue of sovereignty has existed for a few centuries with the Tuareg feeling unappreciated and unaccounted for in a government they elected. The only reason Al Qaeda stands a chance in Mali is that our youth are desperate for opportunities. Normally our people are not prone to radicalization. The Tuaregs in the North believe they have been marginalized—that the government is not serving them.
- All these things can only be instituted if you have a government that is not riddled by corruption and institutions that are run effectively and efficiently. Many current government institutions are riddled with inefficiencies and bureaucracy.
Democracy is not lost. This is evident in the opinion polls where 74.5 % prefer democracy to any other regime type. However it has been hit hard in Mali. More than half of Malians feel that government has not served its purpose. Malians for the most part believe government is there to make their lives better. Lives have not gotten better.
Once the immediate security threat of MNLA is crushed, it will be important to start creating stability for our Northern brothers and sisters and also creating opportunities in the North for the refugees displaced by all the fighting. Then it will be important to return to the democratic process and allow Malians to truly choose their candidate unbiased by money and favors.
I truly believe that Malians need a leader with a vision. I truly believe that they need young blood that has been untainted by lives lost and the people’s money stolen. I believe the people of Mali will find a leader who cares in Yeah Samake. Yeah has been distraught over the current crisis that has gripped Mali. Today he told me:” My heart is crying for my country”. I hope that the leaders that are running the country today will work with the international community to end the Northern rampage of MNLA. I hope that international organizations will not forget my people suffering the North. I hope and pray that democracy will be restored temporarily with an interim government and then with free and fair elections. But most of all, I hope Mali will get the leader it so desperately needs that can show his people that there is hope and that Mali can be a great country not made great by foreign aid but by Malians themselves.
Democracy can be and will be restored. Make your voice heard at www.samake2012.com. Support Samake for Democracy!