Well, at least a few vehicles were turned over and burned, and some police and soldiers were beaten and pelted with rocks.
The incident happened over by my old house in Sanoubougou Two, last Monday, January 30th, 2013. I never had the time to write about it until today.
I was driving by the main road in Sanoubougou 2 while the episode was occurring. I did not know what was happening further up the street, but I was wondering why there was such a tremendous congestion of people and motos in the area as I drove through there to Sanabougou one, to head out of town to the village that morning.
There has been this ongoing struggle over some land in Sanabougou Two.
This involves a young man from a rich family, who feels he can do whatever he wishes because he has the money and that generally enables him to do whatever he wishes. Has nothing to do with fair, the law, what is right, when you live in a place where corruption rules, you can buy almost the right to anything, even if the “right” shouldn’t be sold.
There is a property he wishes to develop into a gas station. However, the property actually cuts into the school yard, and includes an old cemetery. How can this rich guy buy and own a community cemetery and part of the government own school property?
The people of Sanoubougou do not want a dangerous gas station with leaky gas barrels, trucks and truckers, and traffic congestion on part of the schoolyard. Naturally, they also have relatives buried in that old community cemetery. I don’t think they are permitted to bury people there anymore. However, I was told that the law states that a cemetery cannot be used for anything else until 50 years after the last burial. People have been buried in this Sanabougou cemetery as recently as seven to ten years ago.
The rich young man actually ignored the community and began some construction several times. The community came out by the hundreds to rally each time. Of course, the poor local construction workers are not going to put their life on the line, as it is not their battle. They drop and run, and will not go back. The rich punk waits a while, then hires another crew, and the same thing happens again and again. He actually bragged to people,
“It’s just a matter of time, the people will get tired of coming out and I’ll have my beautiful new gas station.”
Another time the rich man hired a police officer to stand guard over a work crew while they worked, to chase off any citizens who come along giving the workers trouble. It did not work. The people of Sanabougou showed up again threw rocks at the police officer and the workers. The police officer’s head was split open, and some rumors said he died, but I don’t think so. The Policeman was hospitalized and stitched back up.
Finally, last Monday, obviously not getting the message (as the arrogant rich often don’t), he hired a whole new crew to begin a big drive on the construction. The rich man arrogantly showed up in his fancy Mercedes car, with a few trucks of gendarmerie, soldiers and police. And truck Loads of workers to ram through as much construction as they could quickly. The police and gendarmerie were hired to stand guard and intimidate the Sanoubougou community by flashing their tear gas and guns.
When the entourage arrived, word quickly spread. People came flooding out of the surrounding community in masses. Thousands and thousands of them descended on the illegal work site. The police fired shots in the air, but more and more people came to protest and they started hurling rocks the gendarmerie and police, who then began to fire off tear gas. This enraged the swelling crowd and they threw even more rocks and overwhelmed the police. Reports say some of the police were cut and bleeding from the pelting and needed hospitalizing. The workers fled (rightfully so). The people of Sanoubougou turned over the rich arrogant man’s Mercedes and the four-by-four police vehicles, and the trucks that brought the supplies and burned them. Then the youth hacked the vehicles with machetes after they burned. There was little left to the vehicles, not a salvageable piece.
The police, gendarmerie, the rich man and his cronies fled and were chased. They ran into a near by Muslim mosque for protection, and the thousands of people surrounded them. The people of Sanoubougou would not go in to the mosque to pull them out. However, they told them to come out and be killed because we are going to end this today. We told you that you are not building a gas station on our school and over our ancestors bodies….you are not listening to us, so let’s get it over with. More and more police and gendarmerie arrived, and the people finally dispersed after hours of siege.
But I think it is going to be over. There is no way in hell that the local mayor and government officials can let this rich man from Kati, to the west of Bamako, build this. The law says he can’t build there, and the Sanoubougou people have proven to their local officials they will not accept their corruption, their cash buyoffs from the rich and entitled to circumvent the law, and the will of the people.
It is not clear if the present police and gendarmerie were ordered there by their superiors, or were simply hired guns for their rich friend. I suspect the latter is more possibly the truth.
However, if this is not the case, I do feel sorry for any of the police who were ordered, by no choice of their own, to defend something that should not have been defended.
However, there is this side of us all that enjoys a story where the small people stand up against the injustices, corruption and dishonesty of the arrogant rich who rule over people for their own financial gain. They think they can hire enough muscle to push it over people, and give enough money to bend the law. Sadly they often do, and often win. But not this time.
In a way, this story makes me proud to say I once lived in Sanoubougou two. It gives me hope that Mali will yet have her day.
Unfortunately, it sometimes takes episodes like this before the honest everyday masses of people get the upper hand over the elite crooks, and corruption, so that positive change can come. Those benefiting from the corruption do not give up their money making boon of power and influence that easily.