They Felt Ignored

by bicyclemark 1 Comment

Timbuktu photo by Emilio Labrador / flickr

Over the past weeks the stories have trickled in of events unfolding in Mali. In a rush to fill a knowledge void, many of us do quick research using sources from the past and present regarding this West African nation which in the 1300’s was an empire that controlled the very lucrative precious resource trade in that region. As a standard liberal democracy of today, it was thought of as a good example of a nation. But just as we so often hear from around the world over the past decade, a coup emerges kicking out the president, and revealing that in fact – things are not ok in this ancient land. A chain-reaction of events kicks off, with not only a military group taking over the presidency, but a declaration of independence by an ethnic group in the north, which is of course followed by plentiful speculation about ties to terrorist organization and other possible horror stories.

The frequently repeated line in the press, when attempting to explain the frustration in the country and the reasons the north broke away- they felt ignored by the central government. Others, who support the coup, felt ignored as the government worked hard to appease international funding schemes and please foreign investors (particularly banks). Whether any of these reports are accurate or not, when it comes to describing how people feel in different parts of Mali – it is a familiar phrase – they felt ignored.

How often, throughout the world, despite all the communication and representation that is possible, do people say these same words when describing government. These systems are put in place, often by people who are long gone, and among their descendants – there are those who feel ignored or wronged somehow, by the very group that is supposed to address them. Some will point to economics. Some will point to regional conflicts and trauma. Then there’s religion and ethnicity. The list goes on and on when it comes to why. In a time where there is so much evidence of what we have in common across borders; needs, concerns, goals, maybe even values – we still manage to have groups who feel so ignored they would take up arms, put up borders, and make a new country despite all the hardships that may follow that decision.  How did we do that, as a species, as a planet, how did this almost conspiratorial scenario take shape over and over again in various forms across the world? We seem to lose, rather than gain, the ability to live together in the same area, country, or region, regardless of differences.

While research about the planet and our history can and does reveal so many commonalities between people, people have created a reality that manages to divide us up in ever increasing ways. As a once famous fictitious kid on a Baltimore street corner once stated, “World going one way, people another.”

ctrp408 A West African Journey

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Yam Farming

When three friends set out on a journey through West Africa, they knew an unpredictable but potentially wonderful adventure awaited them.  And sure enough from Senegal through Mali, BurkinaFaso to Ghana and finally to Togo, they experienced the joy and witnessed the struggles of everyday life there.  As radio journalists and documentary film makers, they observed and reported, but some things even an interview can’t capture properly.

The following conversation was recorded in Berlin just a few days into the New Year. It features Steffi and Phillip, both independent media producers who just returned from Togo.  I asked them about their journey, including the stops en route to Togo, comparisons between countries, and how the experience matched or did not match their expectations and hopes for the journey. We also talk about a documentary about Togolese culture which they are also working on.

Update Ivory Coast: Post-Gbagbo

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Just a few weeks ago Pauline was here on the podcast to update us about the violence in Ivory Coast, as Pro-Ouattara (the newly elected president) forces fought against Gbagbo (sitting president who lost the election) forces. As you may recall the danger was so clear and present that she was unable to leave her home and reported that most people were doing the same to avoid the risk of being caught in the cross fire.



Photo by flickr memeber: cupcaca

Since that report the world has watched as Pro-Ouattara forces overtook the capital and forcibly removed President Gbagbo. While this does mean the new President is finally able to claim the office and get to work, this also means numerous side effects of being in a country where the President, even if he was elected, came to power by using force and violence.


As Pauline reported in her latest post following the ouster of Gbagbo:

“the first signs are not encouraging. Ouattara started off in the worst imaginable conditions, his speeches lack compassion, and his FRCI army bears all the hallmarks of a rebel group. The FRCI is gradually gaining control over the city and seems to hunting for thieves and looters among its ranks. Neighborhood grocer Salif walked to the bakery this morning and was a witness to the execution of four “thugs” in military uniform who were about to drive off in a car without license plates.”

According to the UN High Commission for Refugee’s, over 1 million people have been displaced by the fighting over the past few months.  They note the usual needs in such a situation, food and water, but an indicator of just how bad things are, they point out the need for medical assistance for gunshot wounds.

Yet another change of power brought on by violence, showing signs of being as violent as any other government before them.

ctrp373 A Tale of Two Presidents, Ivory Coast

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Photo Felix Krohn on Flickr’s West Africa correspondant isn’t too keen on walking the streets of Abidjan these days and she has to watch what she says, as the country is sharply divided by a political standoff. The standoff is between two presidents and their supporters. One the incumbent with his own dedicated citizenry, the other elected several months ago, internationally certified and recognized. How long can this standoff last? What can be done or is being done to resolve it? In the meantime, what does daily life consist of on the streets of Abidjan as well as for a longtime correspondant in her own neighborhood.


Joining me online from Abidjan, international journalist and prolific West Africa blogger, Pauline Bax.

Her work on
Her blog West Africa Wins Always