VCU Professors visit Mali


VCU professors, Richmond Sister City Commission vice president, Virginia Friends of Mali members in Mali, January 8 through 11, 2013.

Mayor Ousmane Simaga interviews the youth documentarians of "My Country, My Cloth / Ne Ka Jamana, Ne Ka Fini" following the premier at Segou's city hall on January 9 at 3pm. The project was coordinated by Dr. Shawn Utsey, professor of psychology and chair of the department of African American Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University. Each child received a copy of the film.

The first evening after our meetings were done, we were able to simply take a walk. We walked from Segou's city hall in the Administrative District, to the river and then along it's parallel road back to our hotel, the Esplanade, which is owned by the mayor. This was a lovely, if brief, respite.

The group split into two - one which went pay formal greetings to city and regional officials and the other which went on a Geography/Agriculture tour. Accompanied by city counselor, Kadiatou Tall aka "Mme Diao" (a member of the sister city, health, and education committees, as well as a farmer/entrepreneur), we visited a large rice farm with a fish farm, a private nursery with the state as a client for reforestation projects, and then her own farm, fishery and pastoral operation.

In terms of the current crisis in Mali, the most interesting visit, in retrospect, was our field trip to the Bridge at Markala, strategically significant for 2 reasons: 1) it is the only bridge outside of the capital city of Bamako to cross the Niger River; and 2) constructed in the 1920s by the French as a dam with a series of 14 gates that launched the largest agricultural irrigation project in the country, which continues to this day.

On our last afternoon, we did a typical tourist thing - one which should never be missed: a leisurely, 45-minute trip up river in a pirogue to Kalabougou, a village of blacksmiths whose wives are the most famous potters in West Africa. The ride is restful and provides a glimpse of the wildlife and ecology of the land and waterways of this Sahelian region - the contradictions of being the nether regions between desert and river delta. We were accompanied by a representative from the Office of the Niger who provided a discussion on the state of the river's health and methods for addressing its significant pollution problem. They are facing issues of use and abuse that every major river in the US has had to address.