Editor's Note: This is part of an on-going look at the political crisis in Mali, where LDS father and Brigham Young University graduate, Yeah Samake, is running for president. The following report has been gathered from accounts written by Samake's wife, Marissa Coutinho Samake, with her permission.
The Situation in Mali is Bleak
Due to the military coup, ongoing conflicts, and unrest throughout the country, Mali has postponed their presidential elections until May 2013. But Yeah Samake continues to work to help the people of his country.
Samake is currently in the United States giving world leaders an insider’s view of the situation. He has met with U.S. elected officials, as well as state department representatives and United Nations officials to inform them about his country’s struggles.
“There is significant human suffering going on right now in Mali. People are hungry. They can’t provide meat for their families. They sit and watch their kids and worry about providing daily meat to them. As a father and as a mother that hurts,” he said.
On Monday, July 16, Samake will speak at a private home in Lehi, Utah about his experiences meeting the displaced Malian refugees that fled to Burkina Faso. The event is open to the public. Details are available at FirstLadyMali2012.
One of the reasons I am here is to help women and children in those situations,” Samake said. “I’ve been in the refugee camps. I’ve met with the people. I’ve talked with the Red Cross and UNHR and have tried to find the needs of the people. Truly food shortage is significant. But tents are lacking, as well as hygiene kits. And the children that are out of school, they also need a playground and toys to play with.”
On June 10th, Yeah Samake was a man on a mission. His mission was to truly investigate the conditions of the refugee camp in Burkina Faso and the state of the refugees living in them, so he could get the international community and the Malian government more involved.
Samake went to visit the Malian refugees in Burkina Faso. The UNHCR (High Commission for Refugees UN), reports 180,060 refugees displaced all over Mali, Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger. 65009 refugees are in Burkina Faso as of June 9, 2012. Of these numbers, almost 60% are children. About 38% are aged 18-59 and about 3% are 60 and older. The situation in these camps is getting more and more desperate. The flow of aid is unable to match the need. Samake went with Malian journalist Yaya Samaké (not a relative) to document the situation and hear firsthand what the refugees and officials had to say.
Mali Ambassador to Burkina, Seydou Traoré, admitted that they had not been to visit the Malian refugees situated in Burkina Faso. They told Samake that the Malian government had not given any aid to Burkina Faso to deliver to the refugees, further evidence that the government does not care about its own people. Samake was the first Malian to have visited the refugees in Burkina.
Yeah visited the Mentao, Damba and Djibo camps which is in the Soum province, 250 km from Burkina’s capital of Ouagadougou, with the country head of UNHCR, Fata Courouma. According to the UNHCR, these camps house 14,506 individuals and 2,472 households.
The refugees in these areas hail mainly from the Tombouctou area. Also among the refugees there are people who have served in the armed forces of Mali. Conditions are getting worse because of the rainy season coming in. The tents available are inadequate to deal with the rainy season. The number one need right now is protection from the elements. Even though food is being served, the rations do not meet the nutritional requirement and are lower than what a person would eat on a daily basis. Children that are displaced are not receiving an education. There are limited health services provided by the UNHCR and the CR-BKF. There are no words to describe the situation in these camps. It is unbelievable that it has come to this and that nothing is being done to help these individuals.
These individuals were so happy that a fellow Malian had finally come to hear what was happening to them in these camps. They expressed their gratitude to the Burkina officials and were frustrated with the Malian government because no one had come to help them. To them, it seemed like they had been forgotten by their own government.
Samake told them, “I am not come to you on behalf of the Malian government. I came to see you as a brother wounded at the situation as you live. Your suffering is our suffering. Your expectations are not met, not because the government does not have the will, but because the country is almost stopped. Let us all pray for the speedy return of peace, so you can find your homeland. We will always be by your side”.
Samake promised the camp leaders that he would do more to help them and raise awareness to the growing humanitarian situation.
Samake met one camp representative by the name of Aghali Ag Hamidou , who is from the Tombouctou region and was teaching in Bamako when the fighting broke. He left his job in Bamako and returned to Burkina Faso to help his tribe in the refugee camp. Another camp leader Almahil Ag Almouwak of the South camp said “I prefer the Malian tree to another tree.” Despite the harsh conditions the refugees are under, he was quick to say that Mali will always be their home. They want to return home. He cautioned that not all Tuaregs are rebels and vice versa and cautioned the government to stop treating them as such.
The Political Situation in South Mali
The political situation South Mali remains quite stable. The Prime Minister seems to have gotten his team together so that the country can be run. The Interim-President Diacounda Traore remains absent as he continues to have treatment in Paris. To be honest, it really matters little that he is not here as much of the government running is done by the Prime Minister and his transitional government while the President remains in name alone.
There are pitter-patters of discontent from the political circle in regards to the government management. The transitional government that was formed left out all political parties- a feature that has received international credit, but has caused contention among Mali’s political class who feel they should have been included in the government. While it seems admirable that no old guards from the political parties were represented among the transitional government, it would have been advisable to have a few fresh faces from Mali’s political circle as advisers.
The result now is that there are many parties, mainly the big ones that are creating a stir by saying the Prime Minister is ineffective and the country is not making progress.