Notes on miscellaneous interviews with people in Mali
|Notes © 1999 by Jim Jones, Ph.D.|
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M. N'Diaye was a Pular merchant who sat next to me in the "Dakar-Bamako Express" from 8pm when he boarded in Tambacounda until we reached Kayes the next morning at about 5am, with a break for the border formalities and for sleeping. N'Diaye told me that he and the people who boarded with him (there was quite a crowd) take the train regularly to Kayes because it is the first large market in Mali. He was carrying thermos bottles for sale, and may have had other things that I didn't see.
M. Diongie was born in 1962 in Conakry. He hoped to support himself in Kayes by working as a carpenter, painter and housebuilder. He was staying in Kayes-Ndi while looking for work, after finishing a job in Nara.
The most important thing he said was that a fundamental cause of African diunity was the practive of polygamy. At an early age, children of different wives become rivals, so they learn early to look out for themselves and not to cooperate.
This conversation took place about 5pm at the Motel Tambaoura in Kayes. M. Doumbia told me about his father, Birama Doumbia, who was born around 1905-10 in the village of Ouren (Bougouni) and died in 1952 in Bamako. He was a Bambara, the son of a farmer who became one of the first Africans to enter the Haut Cadre de Direction des Finances, where he worked as a paymaster.
M. Sidibé works as a switchman (aiguiller) for the railroad in Kayes. He was born in 1952 in Kayes. Our conversation took place at the Kayes railroad shops about 6:30am, where he took me on a tour of the shops and showed me a wood- fired steam crane manufactured by Cockerill. It has a 62.5 ton capacity and is still the strongest crane on the line, according to Sidibe. He also showed me a 1973 GM 0-3-3-0 diesel and a 1987 Canadian GM GT-22LC-2 diesel, one of ten delivered to the RCM.
Sidibe's father was a cheminot who began work as a brakeman. His two brothers also worked in the Kayes depot. Sidibe didn't know if his sons would work for the railroad.
M. Diallo is a shepherd from a village near Toukoto, who was born 1968. Our conversation took place in the second class car of the Kayes-Bamako train about 9am. He was returning from the market at Kayes with a wad of cash and a plastic covered pail manufactured in Senegal, after selling some things (unspecified). He'd spent the night before his departure sleeping at the railroad station.
M. Diawara was born in 1965 near Nioro. We had our conversation one evening about 6pm while I was staying at the campement. Diawara said that Mahina was much larger than Bafoulabé because of the railroad, which concentrated all commercial activity there. He also confirmed that people from Kayes dominated the railroad employment.
M. Tatara, who appeared to be about 30 years od age, is a farmer at Bafoulabé. Our conversation took place in his garden along the Senegal River about 4pm, just downstream from the junction of the Bakhoy and Bafing Rivers. He asserted that railroad jobs were passed from father to son and that there was no way to get a railorad job without connections.
This is an excerpt from my journal: "At Toukoto, the train stops for about 1/2 hour so everyone can jump off at get something to eat. The local folk are all set up for it -- you grab a bowl; a woman ladles rice while a man collects money; another woman serves chicken and sauce; there's a large communal bucket for hand-washing; and kids circulate selling water, tea and various fruits. You eat with your hands and then leave the bowl on the ground, or else take it to the train where someone collects it before the train leaves."
M. Keita was born in 1968 near Bamako. His father, who was also born in Bamako, worked for the post office. His mother was from Keniéba. Our conversation took place in the train from Mahina to Bamako.
He makes weekly trips from Keniéba to Bamako in order to sell gold and to purchase photographic film. During the week, he works in the Keniˆba area as a photographer, mostly for weddings and other celebrations. He buys a 36-exposure roll od 100 ASA film (Konica or Fujichrome) in Bamako for 800 CFA and can get it developed for 160 CFA per print. He charges 750 CFA for a print in Kenieba, compared to 500 CFA for a print in Bamako. Since his cost per print is (800+(160x36))/36, which equals 182.22 CFA, he makes about 570 CFA per print.
Keita had his driver's license for both car and truck. He'd been working as a driver at the time of the revolution in 1991, but lost his vehicle in an attack on the gas station where he was refueling. He was a graduate of the Lycée, and had two older brothers with government jobs.
M. Sima grew up in Brazzaville, but when the family was kicked out of the Congo in 1977, he returned to Mali. In 1978, he got a job with the Régie du Chemin de Fer du Mali in the bar car on the Dakar Express, leaving Wednesday and returning on Sunday. At the time of the interview, he worked in the Buffet-Hotel de la Gare de Bamako as a waiter, six days a week (Mondays off). He added that the Sima family has a long history in the Kayes area where they used to be kings of the region.
M. Sacko works as a porter for the Régie du Chemin de Fer du Mali at the Bamako train station. This conversation took place outside the train station about 4pm, just before the afternoon train from Kayes was due to arrive. Sacko didn't really say anything specific, but he conveyed the idea that his work for the railroad was pretty easy. There were brief moments of heavy labor, such as when a train arrived, but the rest of the time he was comparatively free to sit around with the rest of the porteurs and shoot the breeze.
M. Camara is a teacher of English and French at the Lycée de Badalabougou in Bamako. This conversation took place in a bashee (public transport) about 5pm on the way from Badalabougou to Faladia, south of Bamako.
Mr. Camara asserted that it was a common belief in Mali that the area around a railroad was inhabited by thiefs, prostitutes and other bad characters.
He also referred to a legend of a large snake that was supposed to come from the sea along a black path, carrying many people and things. The snake was sent by god (first he said "bolo" then he used another word which I didn't catch). This legend was supposed to predate the French arrival.
M. Kanaté is a social anthropologist at the Institute des Sciences Humaines in Bamako. I recorded this conversation, which took place in his office at 9:30am. When I asked if the railroad appeared in Malian oral tradition, he said that he wasn't aware of anything other than Ousmane Sembené's "God's Bits of Wood." In particular, he could not confirm Sekou Camara's story about the snake (see above).
Next, I explained how Hollywood represented a complex, multi- faceted idea in American culture and asked him to comment on the idea of the railroad in Malian culture. He thought that a large number of people would have no idea that it existed and had no particular idea about it because people were more interested in the things that were near to them.
Concerning train stations and things that happen near them, he believed that most people thought they were frightening places. "Bon, je vous donne mon opinion de moi personnel. La gare du chemin de fer à Bamako, on renconte tout sort de person a la gare. Et le bandit, et le voleur, et le mengeant (mendicant? beggar?) Il y a vraiment des gens miserables et des gens de mauvais charactre. Si vous allez accompanier quelqu'un qui va partir en train, toute de suite on vous dit qu'il faut faire attention. Il y a des bandit la bas. La nuit, c'est la nuit que tout la (?) part le nuit. Donc, c'est un lieu qui est un peu insalubre, quoi?" Roughly translated, he said "I'll five you my personal opinion. At the train station in Bamako, one encunteres all sorts of people--bandits, thieves, beggars. There are some reall miserable people and some bad people. If you plan to accompany someone to the train station, everyone immediately tells you to be on your guard, there are bandits there. At night, everything disappeears. It's a place that is a bit unhealthy."
"Je n'ai jamais voyager par train, j'etait a Kati seulement, mais je crois que dans les autres gares, c'est la meme." (I have never taken the train. I have only been to the station at Kati, but I imagine that the other stations are the same.)
"Ensuite, a niveau de l'administration du chemin de fer, il parle qu'il y a trop de "trucage," dit que c'est très mal organisé. Tout ca donne le très mauvais impression." (As far as the railroad administraiton goes, there is talk of corruption, or that it is poorly organized. All of that gives one a bad impression [of the railroad].)
M. Berthé is an unemployed student who was born in 1974 in Bamako-Medinacoura. Our conversation took place in the Section de Forgerons (blacksmiths) of the Medinacoura market about 8:30am. M. Berthé showed me around the area where roughly 200 (his estimate) people were making a variety of metal products from scrap metal, using mostly metal from empty 55-gallon oil drums. I noticed that there was also a fair amount of rebar (metal bars used to reinforce concrete) in use as a raw material, and that one man was using a piece of railroad rail as an anvil for bending long straight pieces of metal.
M. Touré was born January 10, 1964 in Kita. He was an employee of the Rotisserie Nouvelle Nelson Mandela in the Quartier Hippodrome of Bamako, Mali. He spoke to me about 5:30pm as we shared some tea at the Rotisserie.
M. Touré said that his grandfather came from Guinea to Kayes where he found work on the railroad. His father worked there as well, but is now blind and works no longer. His father did not receive a pension from the railroad. M. Touré himself cannot work for the railroad because he can not pass the entrance examination.
M. Touré has travelled on the railroad several times to visit family members in the west. Once, he bought peanuts in Kita to sell in Tambacounda. He also bought peanuts in Kita to sell in Bamako, but said this was profitable only if you could afford to hold onto them until the rainy season started (when there are no more peanuts in the market.)
I met with M. Tandina in his office at 12:00 noon. There was a student present in the office throughout the entire interview, which lasted about 45 minutes. During the interview, the electricity went off, so the fans stopped and the room became terribly uncomfortable.
This conversation was not really very useful. I asked him what he thought was the impact of the railroad on the middle Niger Valley and when he seemed stymied, I suggested that the impact could be described on two levels, human and material. Since he was part of the Direction du Personnel, I encouraged him to talk about railroad personnel and especially, any people who might have come to work for the railroad from the Middle Niger Valley.
He seemed to think that the only way those people would be affected by the railroad was if they came to Bamako to see it. Instead of talking about the make-up of the railroad's personnel, he talked about the different kinds of training they offered and the program that railroad employees followed.
If I were to draw any conclusions from this interview, there are two. The first is that the railroad did not have much of a human impact on the middle Niger Valley. The second is that the Service de la Formation Professionale has a slightly larger impact that I might expect, because other services send their employees there on occasion for advanced training. M. Tandina specifically mentioned the air force as an example.
I was on my way to the interview with M. Tandina of the Service de la Formation Professionale when I noticed a line of Mercedes Benz tractor trailers backed up to a string of boxcars, and men in the process of transferring sacks from train to truck. When I saked one of them told mee that they were unloading sacks of fertilizer that were headed to Sikasso. I commented that this seemed unusual - I'd expect fertilizer for Sikasso to arrive from Abidjan by truck - but he offered no further explanation.
M. Diakité was born in 1933 in Ségou. HNe worked as a teacher (instituteur) at Kati. at the Time: 1630.
I met Mr. Diakité by chance when he stopped to have a soda at the Buvette de la marché de Medinacoura. In the course of our conversation, Mr. Diakité referred to his childhood memories. When he was three years old (this would have been in 1936), he remembered playing on piles of baked brick along a railroad siding than ran near the church in Ségou. He said that a lot of this brick was carried on the railroad, but didn't know why or to where.
Madame Diaara was born in Ségou about 1960. She operates the Buvette de la marché de Medina-Coura. I spoke to her in the afternnon while drinking a soda that I purchased in her shop.
Madame Diarra married a man from the Central African Republic who took her to live in Bangui in 1979. She stayed there from 1979 to 1986 before running away with her two daughters, who were aged 4.5 years and 11 months at the time. She returned to Mali via Cameroon, Nigeria, Niger, and Burkina-Faso.
Madame Diarra said that there was a a large Malian community living in Bangui. The community was located at Kilometer 5 along a road opposite the Avenue des Martyrs and parallel to the river. The residents of the community are known as "Sénégalaise" but include people from Mali as well as Senegal.
I spent the morning in the marketplace in Ségou looking for evidence of commercial links to Senegal that utilized the railroad from Dakar to Koulikoro. There was very little merchandise from Senegal compared to the amount of goods from Lomé and Abidjan. The only Senegalese items were plastic buckets and wash basins manufactured by SIMPA and some flavored items - vanilla-perfumed sugar and orange water - from Ets. A.H. Fahkry in Dakar. In general, the market had fewer imported goods and fewer motor vehicles than comparable markets in Bamako.
Mr. Samaké described one of the big problems with relying on river transport to export produce from Ségou. The river reaches its maximum height at the end of September, but the harvest usually isn't ready until sometime in October, so it becomes a race to ship out produce before the river falls to low to permit navigation.
Cotton is the most important crop in the Ségou area. Some peanuts are grown for local consumption. There is sufficient truck capacitiy to transport the entire crop out of the area each year.
Mr. Keita is the director of the Office of the Secrétaire Général de l'Office du Niger. We met in his office at 11:30am. He didn't offer a lot of help with my questions about the impact of the railroad in the Ségou region, but he confirmed that the Office du Niger no longer relies on boat transport to move goods from Koulikoro to Ségou. Instead, goods reach Bamako from Dakar by train and then continue to Ségou by truck.
He also suggested that I talk to Samba Lamine Traoré, the first Malian director of the Office du Niger. I tried several times, but he was always too busy.
M. Samaké is an employee in a shop belonging to his brother Dramané Samaké, located at the Grande Marché in Ségou. This conversation took place about 8am in the shop. No one else was present.
I asked Abdoulaye Samaké about the goods in his shop and where they came from. He confirmed that there was very little in the shop that from Senegal, and showed me the vanilla sugar and orange water from Ets. Fahkry in Dakar. LIDO brand powdered milk comes from Lomé and instant coffee (Nescafe or Globo brands) comes from Ivory Coast, as did almost everything else.
M. Guindo is a former tugboat mechanic for the Messageries Africaines and later, the Compagnie Malian du Navigation. Our conversation took place on street corner of Boulevard El Hadj Omar Tall and Avenue de l'Auberge (near Place Monzon) about 9:15am, with two other men present. He was the only one who spoke French well, but one other man was a retired watchman for the Office du Niger.
Moussa Guindo worked from 1956 until 1988 when he retired. As long as he worked there, he couldn't remember the Office du Niger hauling very much merchandise down river by boat. Instead, they mostly hauled agricultural produce to Koulikoro. The main return cargo (Koulikoro to Ségou) was people.
M. Gana is a Dogon man who works as a French language teacher at the private Lycée Catholique du Ségou. Our conversation took place about 11am on the Boulevard El Hadj Omar Tall behind the Cercle Logement. There were three other men present; two Dogon like M. Gana and one other who was never identified except that he wasn't Dogon.
None of the men had even ridden on the railroad, but M. Gana had been to Bamako and seen the train station. He said that he had gone to see it as a sort of "tourist attraction" and specifically mentioned how crowded it was. He said there were "tout sort de person" at the station.
They also confirmed the relationship between the Chemin de Fer de Ségou à Bani and the brick factory located behind the Catholic mission in Segou. On M. Gana's suggestion, I went over to the Mission to see if anyone would talk to me.
M. Sinayogo is a boat builder and boat trip leader in Ségou. Our conversation took place along the bank of the Niger River just after dark (around 7-8pm) in Ségou's Somono section. A few other people drifted past and listened, then moved on, but Sinayogo participated very intently. I finally ended it when the mosquitoes got too bad. We talked mostly about the boat business, his tourist clients and how he operated the trips. He picks them up in Koulikoro and gives them a 1.5 day ride to Ségou, then another 2 days to Mopti, using a motorized piroque.
M. Sinayogo made some comments about the railroad. He never takes it between Koulikoro and Bamako, even though he travels that way often on business, because it is too slow. When I asked him to describe the train station, he hesitated and asked me if I'd ever seen it. I told him that I knew it well, but wanted his ideas on it. He understood what I was trying to do, so before he began, he qualified his words by explaining that he'd been to the station, but he'd never taken the train, so anything he said about the train would be hearsay.
He said that the train station was good, but described the trains as "mal organisées" (poorly organized) and full of thieves. He's seen his friends off at the station for train trips to Dakar, but said he'd feel too unsafe to make such a trip. He said it is necessary to watch your baggage at all times on the train, and contrasted that with his own boat trips. For his trips, he paid his staff enough that they would not be tempted to steal.
I met Mr. Togola at the bus station in Ségou about 8am while we were waiting for the bus to Bamako. M. Togola was a Peul, born "en brousse" in the region of Ségou. As we began chatting, it turned out that he had spent 1940-1948 in the French army, first in Europe and then in Indochina. As other people got interested in the story, he switched back and forth from French to Bambara, but I understood that he traveled on the Dakar-Niger railroad in both directions. His return trip was by ship from Marseille to Dakar, then by train to Bamako and bus to Ségou.
M. N'Diaye is the Inspecteur chef de la gare autonome de Bamako. This interview took place at 7:30am in his office, while about 10 people waited outside and occasionally interrupted.
I asked him three questions. The first, to loosen him up, was about the training of stationmasters. He gave no specifics, but said that a station master had to understand "securité," by which he meant the safe operation of trains and equipment, "l'aspect commerciale" which included normal business operations, and "comprendre les hommes" in order to deal with all of the people problems presented in the course of railroad operation.
Concerning individual security at the train station, he said that there were two kinds of problems. One was theft and vandalism aimed at merchandise in railcars and warehouses. The other was theft aimed against passengers. He admitted that they were both significant problems because the "Police Speciale" were undermanned. However, the situation was improved after May 1991 when the railroad hired a private security firm, SOMAGE (Société Malien des Guardians, the same people who supply house guards) to provide an additional presence. He added that a further imporvement was due to an increased tendency for civilians to report crime, so that a criminal could no longer rely on the fact that the policeman was out of sight, but had to worry about everyone.
M. Campo was a former government bureaucrat at Kita, now retired. Our conversation took place in a bachée (public transport) on the way from the center of Bamako to the Hippodrome quarter about 3pm. There were 12 other people present, but we ignored them. M. Campo agreed with my suggestion that the railroad strike of 1947 was important to all Malians as a victory over French colonialism. He added that once that strike was successful, everyone else wanted to strike as well.
M. Togo saw me and came over to practice his English, which was excellent (he studied at Oxford between 1980-82). In the course of conversation, he said that he thought the railroad had no impact much beyond the western region. When I suggested that the 1947 strike had an inspirational effect, he conceded that was the case and mentioned Ousmane Sembené's book by name (in French).