I arrived in Bamako two months ago, a few weeks after Captain Sanogo’s successful coup d’etat marked the start of a series of events threatening to change the face of Mali – until now, a seemingly peaceful country known for its music and rich cultural heritage.
Sounds of heavy artillery, violent protests and terrorist threats are not what Mali is used to, sadly this has now become a reality.
Since my arrival, the Save the Children emergency response team has spent many days in lockdown, hearing fighting as the ex-president’s guards attempted to overturn Sanogo’s troups in a failed counter-coup.
Security measures have had to increase and a curfew has now been put in place.
A changed country?
This is my first time in Mali, and over the past weeks I’ve heard many stories of how peaceful and happy the country used to be.
We can all sense the tension and worry, whether by chatting with shopkeepers or listening to colleagues discuss recent events at our weekly security meetings.
I can’t help but question these stories that paint Mali as a country that until now faced no problems – these stories do not seem to recognise that a vibrant culture, a lively capital city and a truly welcoming and friendly nation, do not mean that all is well, especially for women and children.
Mali has one of the worst infant and maternal mortality rates in the world, it suffers from chronic drought and has very high poverty levels.
I think it is fair to say that there were many problems here before the coup d’etat and the control of the North by armed groups. The current concomitant crisis has now worsened an already dire situation for people in Mali.
People in desperate need
The political and military instability in the South very much limits the government’s ability to respond to the crisis affecting over 3.5 million people and an estimated 700,000 children under the age of 5.
In addition to the drought, the conflict in the North has resulted in high numbers of refugees and people fleeing their homes.
Since armed groups took control of the region, those who stayed in the North are largely cut off from any humanitarian access due to the security situation and are now in desperate need of assistance. This is the setting within which Save the Children is starting to implement its emergency response.
As we plan our strategy for the next six months, I find myself thinking that if I could hope for one thing it would be that when this crisis is over, not only will the stories of a lively and peaceful Bamako be a reality once more, but the situation for vulnerable people across the whole country, especially for women and children, will truly have changed.
I hope that this crisis will have given Mali, and the international community, an opportunity to bring positive and lasting change for future generations.