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Vol 40 No 2

Published 22nd January 1999


Many complaints, some satisfaction

Once a year, Malians are allowed to air their grievances in a public forum – and broadcast on national television

The 144 employees of Timbuktu airport wrote to complain that their pay arrived late. They couldn’t afford to travel across the desert and mountains to the capital, Bamako, to read their grievances aloud. But Justice Minister Diabaté Hamidou duly read their letter. Sergeant (retired) Cheick Coulibaly had a grievance going back 30 years: he wanted compensation for five years spent doing hard labour because his political views did not match the then government’s. Dressed in a white bubu and cap, he read his letter directly to Armed Forces and Veterans Minister Mohamed Salia Sokona. Coulibaly was one of forty-odd personal petitioners to last month’s EID. Here, this refers not to a Muslim festival but to the five-year-old Espace d’Interpellation Démocratique (Forum for Democratic Petitions), partly modelled on the direct democracy of old-time tribal councils. Once a year (this time on 10 December, the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights), Malians can submit their grievances directly to Premier Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta and his entire cabinet. Since 80 per cent of Malians do not know how to read, the EID is publicised on the radio in all 13 official languages. Last year, 269 people sent letters of complaint; 98 were invited to Bamako and over 40 read their letters aloud.

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