33 Meetings in Mali

From the moment we arrived in Mali, each day included a meeting, site visit, reception and/or individual introduction. We did a count and by the end of the journey 33 such appointments had been made and kept - one in Bamako, all the rest in Segou. But what a privilege! (See the list below) We were given a view into the workings, both historical and contemporary, of this very sophisticated and, though purposely  underdeveloped, economically and culturally ambitious city.

Our daily routine included being hosted by the mayor's household every day for lunch which resulted in an informal meeting ground for other invitees as well; mayors from regional cities, festival musicians, city officials, colleagues, friends and family members. Habib Koite, a well known singer in Mali and Europe, shared our meal one day before he performed that night and I was knocked out. Gorgeous music. I have his CD Ma Ya and can't stop playing it. The opening riffs to the song I Mada are my favorite lead into a song - ever.

This photograph shows M. Sow (right), who told me with a big smile that he was minister of protocol for the governor of Segou. On the left is Madani Sissoko. This picture was taken on my last day in Segou, 10 Feb. But from Feb. 2 through Feb. 8, our delegation took up more time from Madani's life than anyone else on this trip. As city council member and head of the Segou sister city commission and public relations, he was our primary liaison to every activity in which we were engaged. He also drove us everywhere we went. He is patient and committed to the goals of this sister city relationship, and demonstrated that commitment on a daily basis. His particular interests are in youth, entrepreneurship and leadership development and is pro-active in the new administration's goals for decentralization of power, transparency of government mechanisms and accountability to the people of Segou. A proposed sister city youth center (centre de jumelage pour les jeunes) is already under construction and a project with which Richmond and the VFOM will be particularly involved.

The other person we spent the most time with was Segou's mayor (maire), Ousmane K. Simaga. We were guests in his home every day for lunch; for which we owe a deep debt of gratitude to his wife and family. He hosted many of the meetings we attended and from 3rd to the 7th of February (festival week) we were guests of the festival as well as the city and so were seated in the VIP section with le Maire, local, regional and state-level officials, entrepreneurial, cultural and international dignitaries as well as guests from Netherlands, Portugal and Mexico.

Ousmane is a very charismatic figure, and seemed very popular with the public. The mairie, or town hall, while securely guarded, seems to welcome drop-in visits by residents with issues to bring to the mayor's attention. And he spoke to people on the way to and from meetings, passersby. He took office mid-year 2009 on the above referenced platform and, with some pretty pointed commissions established and personnel appointments made, appears to be putting in place the infrastructure to work concretely toward his platform's fulfillment.

One day, a very boisterous parade of 25-30 young adults rallied down the street, making its way through the mayor's vestibule and into his courtyard in a seemingly spontaneous display of support for this new city administrator. (He is on the right in this picture.) "Un Homme Neuf" (A New Man) was one headline used during his campaign and I was told that the youth of Segou are apparently well-informed, highly motivated, well-organized and paying attention. The very fact that a demonstration could erupt in the home of a public figure gave a slightly different meaning to the term "accessible" to this daughter of the land of the "free." It was exhilarating and a little unnerving.

As Robin put it, there can be a very fine line between a celebration and a riot. But why not be among the people? Simaga danced with them and then thrust Robin into the midst of them, more gently introduced Michelle and then me - I think I shook hands with every single one of them. Simaga then called out the organizer of the rally and congratulated him on his leadership and intitiative, and seemed to be well-synchronized with the reality that Segou was already in their hands. Madani stood by, joining in at various points - he was known to them as well - very well known as I was to come to understand over the next several days.


  1. Katherine D. SHARP, Public Affairs Officer, United States Department of State, US Embassy Bamako, Mali
  2. FIRST MEETING in SEGOU: Mayor Ousmane SIMAGA, and President of the Segou Sister City Commission Madani SISSOKO
  3. Elected Municipal Councilors of Segou (15 of the 33)
  4. Segou Sister City Commission (Segou Comite de Jumelage)
  5. Coordination of Segou NGOs (non-government organizations) and 19 NGOs were present
  6. Coordination of Civil Society (which includes NGOs, but also district associations, Chefs de Quartiers, religious associations (Islamic and Christian), traditional communicators = GRIOTS, women’s associations, human rights and press organisations, and the football (soccer) federation) and there were 17 people led by Mr Boubacar Theodore DIOP
  7. Forum on Governance and Culture (opening session)
  8. Press Conference with the Mayor and 15 journalists from local radio and newspapers.
  9. Mayors of Goundam, Mopti, Fana, Sikasso, Pelegana and Segouba – all guests of Mayor SIMAGA at the Segou Festival
  10. Minister of Tourism and Handicrafts, Mr N’Diaye BA
  11. Minister of Culture, Mr El Moctar
  12. Opening reception (Vernissage) of exhibition of work that culminated from 10-week workshop at local atelier. Took place in Art Gallery on festival grounds.
  13. Segou Festival organizers Mr Mamou DAFFE and Mr Mohamed DOUMBIA
  14. Music Festival organisers from Senegal, Portugal and Mexico
  15. Special Representative of the President of Mali and Head of State, Mr Seydou DOUCOURE, Delegate to the Francophonie
  16. Minister of State for the Office du Niger in Segou Province, Mr Abou SOW, former Governor of Segou
  17. Governor of Segou Province, Mr Boureima SEYBA (newly confirmed in office)
  18. Préfet of the Cercle de Ségou, Mr Boubacar TRAORE
  19. CPEL – Comité pour la Promotion de l’Economie Locale (equivalent of the Greater Richmond Chamber of Commerce, we think) led by Mr Mahamane COULIBALY Executive Secretary and M. Djibril GUISSE Permanent Secretary
  20. Working Group on Assainissement = water, hygiene and waste disposal for the purpose of better health and sanitation, under the chairmanship and direction of Mr Yacouba TAMBOURA.
  21. Madame Eugenie Ormsby, member of the Sister City Commission of Angoulême (France) – Segou’s other sister city since 1984
  22. Mr Abdoulaye SIDIBE of the Millennium Cities Initiative – of which Segou is one.
  23. Association Balanzan: Segou citizens resident in France who support education and hygiene initiatives in Segou’s schools
  24. International press photographer Africa Sam (Cheick Oumar Keita)
  25. Internationally-renowned artist Amaghiré DOLO and his workshop members who include a well-known British ecological artist Ms Wren Miller.
  26. Centre SOROBLE bogolan workshop run by the three Coulibaly brothers, who already supply VFOM member Haoua Cheikh Traore with many of the crafts she sells, including at the Richmond Folk Festival.
  27. Mr Win Winogrand, American philanthropist who is interested in promoting a music school or some other mechanism for supporting Malian music.
  28. Lycée Michel Allaire head teacher Mr Zantigui SIDIBE and staff, including English teacher.
  29. Early Childhood Educator Mme Traore and her staff at the municipal kindergarten Les Poupons.
  30. We met and lunched and photographed with a number of musical stars including Habib Koité, Baba Maal, Mangala Camara, and several others whose music we enjoyed at the festival
  31. Mr Hamidou DEMBELE, dit Diego (Maradonna) former footballer, Somono nommé responsable pour le trafic fluvial : re-organizing the river transport and seeking to reduce the number of accidents and drownings.
  32. I was asked to be present at a follow-up meeting on Feb. 10, my last day in Segou, with 5 members of the boatman's association who wanted to discuss with Sissoko the need for new leadership, the outcome of the 7 Feb. incident and so the association could formally apologize to me as a representative of the delegation involved. I was moved by directness of the entire process.
  33. FINAL MEETING with Mayor Ousmane SIMAGA and the four deputy mayors: Madani Moustafa Niang, economy and finance; Nafigué Goita, hygiene and cleanliness and quality of life; Madani Samba Niang, état civile/registration of citizens; Ibrahim Sow, sister city, education, health and culture.