The “Almost” We Call Africa


To the inexperienced eye things look like a disorganized mess in Mali. Everywhere I’ve been in French West Africa looks the same. But things work in their unique time and way.

Take the bus station for example. When baggage handlers grab your bags and walk around to the back side of the bus loading one bag in the opposite compartment, where you can no longer see it, watch it, where it sits with the bus storage door wide open, while your second bag is on the opposite side of the bus.

Can’t watch both now, can you?

Tourist guide books would have you in a panic about now. But it works. The Bus system may not seem organised to western eyes, but it is functions exquisitely in African eyes. The bags arrive safe, though there is never a 100% assurance (Even on our Western Airplanes). A functioning organised mess is what a West African bus station is.

For two years now I have been trying to get copies of a training course written in the Bambara language. I had yet to received even a single manual after dozens of calls.

Thanks to a lady working south of our region, who was able to wrestle down 11 of 25 training manuals, but only after driving the 300 km round trip to Koutiala twice.

She came to my office a few days ago, and we laid all the manuals out, figured out what books we had, and what we still needed to complete the program.

There are five levels in the program, we do not have the required manuals to complete any level, and of course, we do not have all the manuals required to even begin level one, which are the most critical. So we called the 150 km north, again, to see if we to could procure the missing course titles.

Well, it turns out the these missing manuals have never been printed or distributed from this Mali location. They printed and distributed only what was given to us.  Mr Dembele indicated the reaming books would need to come from the BoBo-Dioulasso office in Burkina Faso, where they were originally developed.

Fine, just make the order please.

Received an email from Mr Dembele of Koutiala last night at 22:00 hrs. The Bobo office is not functioning at the moment,

“Ils disent qu’ils sont en rupture pour le moment à  cause des matériels informatiques en panne”

They said they are not functioning at the moment because the copy machines are broken.

However, the BOBO guy, whoever he is, is calling the capital city of Ouagadougou, in Burkina Faso, where someone is also responsible for producing and distributing the training materials, to see if he can secure what we need. With a little patience, we were told, we will have news about what is possible soon.

With a little patience. Imagine that!

As of now, two offices who are responsible for the oversight of this Program, do not have the books, can’t print books, because their copiers are broken. Remains to be seen what is happening in the third office.  Three offices in two different countries can’t supply the very thing they exist to provide.  WOW.  If these guys are on salary those paying must wonder what they pay them for, right?

I also ordered every training manual in French for our office as well. Dembele said they are sending them down on the Bus. I received four books. I asked for all 25.

So I had my friend E. Coulibaly call the guy again, as he knows him. He said he does have all the French books in Koutiala, and will get them together and send the rest.  What did he not understand the first time?  Why did only four random books today?

Like the time the Licence plate office here in Sikasso told me not to come checking on my plate for at least three months while explaining that Bamako did not even have the aluminium or paint required to fabricate licence plates at this time. The shelves in the fabrication plant were empty. It seems that the new direction in Bamako, the new replacements put in place after the coup in 2012, were “Buffeting” – eating/pocketing – all the money. “ils gaspillent de l’argent” (They squander the money)

Things work in Africa, kinda, sorta. Eventually, the job gets done.

If we are the type, and I often was in the past, that wants to wrestle things to the ground quickly, seal up every eventuality, you will pop your stress cork right here, right now. I have before, it was not pretty. West Africans do not like to feel pushed. It does not make for good friends here.   I love French West Africa, it is not a racist thing, but some things work, some don’t. Some people work, some don’t.

However, given enough time, which is in short supply for we westerners it seems, things do unfold, eventually. There comes a point when even Malians hit their exasperation point, and change arrives.

Look, i really do not wish to sound ungracious. We are lucky someone developed this program in the first place, and it is a gift that we get to use it. These Malians have little to work with, and fixing copiers is expensive, the production prices are kept so low for the locals, that without strict management, there is often not enough wiggle room work major breakdowns in very easily. I get it!

I have learned to wait. Don’t always like it though.

I could have had this training underway two years ago. Have the meeting room all ready to go.

Remains to be seen if we can get this off the ground this term. But i know it is not my problem.
Maybe next year?

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