interview

Interview with Fousseyni Diop
(Bamako-Korofina, Tuesday, May 12, 1992)

Notes © 1999 by Jim Jones, Ph.D.

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M. Diop is the Ingenieur Principal, Chef des Ateliers de Korofina de la Régie du Chemin de Fer de Mali. The interview began when Mr. Diop and his driver picked me up in downtown Bamako in the company pickup truck about noon. We talked as we drove the workshops in Korofina (about ten kilometers east of Bamako-Gare) and continued after we arrived at his office. At the end of the interview, M. Diabité of the Section de Moteurs et Méchanique, showed me around the shops and answered my questions.

On the way out to workshops, we talked about Malian history and his own ancestry (he was born in 1942). In his office, he gave me a rundown on the various departments and the types of repair work that they performed. The main sections were those responsible for diesel engines, electrical generators, railcar maintenance, and a shop devoted to maintaining cylinder valve heads.

QUESTION

Diop: At the time of the rupture of the Mali Federation, there were more Soudanese cheminots than Senegalese. The Atéliers Centrale de Korofina were built to replace the repair facilities in Thiès when they became unavailable. At the time of the rupture, there was only one locomotive, the BB552, on Soudanese soil.

[Diop continued] The workshops are divided into the divisions. The Division Thermique is organized into the Section de Moteur, Section de Electrique, and Section de Curasse (cylinder heads). The Division MF manufactures spare parts. The Division Materiel Remorqué maintains brakes, lubrication, and many other tasks. There is also a Division Entretien Générale for general mainenance, and the Division GM, which takes care of the General Motors locomotives. The first GM (USA) locomotive to arrive was excellent, so they ordered two more, which arrived in 1981 and 1982, but those were less impressive. We've still got a substantial number of Alsthom locomotives, p[lus two German Henschels.

Jones: Do you have a problem stocking spare parts for all of these?

Diop: It's not too bad. The Henschels have GM engines.

QUESTION

Jones: Are you from a family of cheminots?

Diop: No, my father was never a cheminot. We lived near the railroad at Oualia.

Jones: When you were small, you saw the trains?

Diop: Exactly. We saw the trains and everyone of us wanted to become a cheminot.

Jones: Did you see steam engines?

Diop: Yes. There were "PKs" and Mikados. We loved to watch them.

Jones: (I described the entrance exam and essays for the Ecôle Primaire Supérieur de Bamako.) All of the applicants mentioned certain things in common, like the steam jetting out to both sides of an approaching locomotive.

Diop: Yes, exactly! That was great. When we were children and went to the station, the steam and noise . . .

Jones: Did you ever try to see how close you could stand to the tracks when a train went past? Or were you more sensible that that?

Diop: We did try it, but you couldn't stand for long before you felt vertigo take over. Our parents forbade us to stand near the tracks.

QUESTION

Jones: Out of all the children you played with when you were young, how many became cheminots?

Diop: Oh let's see ... there was one that became a banker, another became a doctor, there were some teachers, ... our parents are still there, but we got out.

Jones: I asked the question because it seems unusual that so many people from the village would get such important jobs. If I went to a village east of Koutiala, I'll bet I wouldn't find the same thing.

Diop: It's due to the French penetration. The French came from the Atlantic, thus civilization arrived from the west. There are people from the east that don't know what a train is. They know about trucks, but they've never seen a train.

QUESTION

Jones: Does that mean you have people working here who have never taken the train?

Diop: Sure. They work on the trains, but they've never been on the train to Kayes. These are people from Mopti, Gao, ...

Jones: At the beginning, back in the 1910s and 1920s, most cheminots were from the Kayes region.

Diop: Right. Other people, from around Mopti for example, were never exposed to the train. Civilization arrived from the west. There are many more Khassonké cheminots ...

Jones: Like the Camara?

Diop: Right. The Sissoko, the Sidibé. Fathers got their sons jobs with the railroad.

Jones: Is it still that way since independence?

Diop: No, that's finished now. There are cheminots from as far as Kidal (in the Sahara Desert borth of Timbuktu. I couldn't tell for sure, but I think this was figurative, not necessarily literal.)

QUESTION

Jones: What about the plans to link up all the railroads of the AOF? Why didn't that happen?

Diop: There are plans, but it costs money.

Jones: Just imagine how the history of Mali at the independence might have been different had the railroad connected to the Cheminde Fer Abidjan-Niger via Ségou. Then Mali would have had a choice about its relationship with Senegal.

Diop: We didn't have any choice. We are a "pays enclavé."

Jones: If I remember correctly, right at independence, Mali received a large number of Czechoslovakian trucks.

Diop: We got a lot of Krupp trucks. They traveled to Abidjan and Lomé. But there was no way to get the money for the railroad because our government was socialist. No one wanted to loan us money.

QUESTION

Diop: Mali is a crossroads.

Jones: If you think of Mali as a crossroads, then why did the railroad assume its final route?

Diop: The railroad runs from west to east because it was built to assist French penetration. They were already on the coast at Dakar and St. Louis, and they wanted to get to the Niger River.

QUESTION

Jones: There were a lot of people from Mossi (in Burkina Fasso).

Diop: Well, the Mossi were better suited for forced labor.

Jones: Why was that?

Diop: They were more pliable. They were big strong people who didn't resist. The people nearer the coast had more of an idea about French civilization, so they didn't accept forced labor.