As I drive through the streets of Bamako, or visit a restaurant or the markets, the absence of foreigners or the “toubabs”( white people) seems evident. It would be fair to say that the coup has destroyed this country in more ways than one. The tourism industry crashed overnight as foreigners fled Mali for safer havens. A few weeks back when I visited the artisan market where sellers of Malian handicrafts will gather, the lack of foreigners was evident. From seller to seller, the story was the same. Business was almost non-existent. Most hotels have shuttered due to business dying down and most restaurants that cater to the foreigners have had to reduce hours and staff.
But in the face of all this downturn of the tourism industry, the one thing that has surprised me is the Malian entrepreneurial spirit. That is the one thing the coup failed to destroy. As I drive down the streets it is not hard to find the people selling their wares on the roadside or as they walk with baskets on their head. In fact the number has seemingly grown in the last few months. Goods are more expensive, but Malians are in a way taking their future in their own hands.
Entrepreneurship is nothing new to Africa. One can actually say that you will find more African entrepreneurs than any other continent. In fact, women seem to be taking the charge on this. Everyone here has an idea of how they want to make it big and many will sacrifice much to ensure that it happens. And that is what Mali needs at this critical time. The government has already shown how ineffective it is in stabilizing the economy. The rising food prices seem indicative of that. As a foreigner here, I myself find the food prices more expensive than they were a year ago. It seems only right that Malians take matters into their own hands and dictate how they get to make their impact on the economy.
The one thing I love about Mali is its entrepreneurial spirit. Everyone here can make money if they are willing to work hard for it. I have always said about Mali. You can find someone to do anything or make anything you need/want. Mali has no shortage of hard workers. Empowering Malians to affect their future is one of the reasons we did the soap and shea butter project a few months back. There will never ever be a shortage of need for these two items in Mali.
The coup did not damage the Malian spirit of entrepreneurship. It emboldened it.
Hopefully, the same spirit that you will see on the streets of Bamako will affect the leadership in Bamako. The delayed action in handling the Northern situation and the ongoing refugee crisis are just two the things the government is delaying handling appropriately. It is a hope that the elections in May 2013 will bring forth a leader that can actually do what they say and not high talk and low ball. Mali needs hope from top down and it needs stability to return to all sectors of Mali.
Mali’s hope is Yeah Samake. We can sit all day long and talk about what Mali’s leaders are pretending they do. Or we can look at a record of a man who has done much for his community in Ouelessebougou and continues to bring foreign attention to Mali’s refugee crisis. A man of the people. Yeah Samake.