Don’t Talk About Somebody’s Mama

Malians have little patience for Amadou Toumani Touré, Mali’s former president, deposed in a coup on 22 March.

ATT, second from the right, in happier times posing with a host of other African heads of state. Image: Wiki Commons.

Monday evening, and it’s hard to tell who’s shooting up Bamako, or why. But someone cracks on Twitter “béé b’i ba bolo.” It’s one thing to stage a counter-coup or settle a score (if that’s what’s going on), it’s another thing to talk about somebody’s mama. “Béé b’i ba bolo” was one of the great foot-in-mouth moments for ATT or Amadou Toumani Touré, Mali’s former president, deposed in a coup on 22 March. “Everyone is in the hands of their mother” sounds like a sweet sentiment to express on International Women’s Day, when ATT let this particular bomb drop at the Muso Kunda (the Women’s Museum) a couple of years ago. But the other meaning of the phrase—the one ATT did not intend—is basically “save yourselves!” or “every(wo)man for him/herself!”

At the time, ATT’s opponents got their jaws around this one and wouldn’t let it go. A president of the republic who is not ashamed to tell his people or his soldiers to “save themselves!” What a humiliation for Mali, they said. ATT called on the griots, people whose eloquence exceeds his own (Bambara is not ATT’s first language, and a lot of people say his use of it is more functional than profound). They took to television and the radio to explain that what the president meant to say was, well, what it sounds like in a direct translation: everyone has a great debt to her mother. Too late. The damage was done. People started to say that ATT, the ex-soldier, was abandoning his troops in the North and letting the situation in the rest of the country rot. They said he cared more about watching soccer, drinking tea, and chasing women then he did about running the country.

That never seemed fair, but that little dust-up now seems quaint. I hear there’s a reddish fog hovering over Bamako the last day or two. Yesterday, flights were cancelled because of it. Tonight, reports have it, there’s fighting for the airport, the TV station, and around the garrison at Kati. Tomorrow?

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