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Local News

August 27, 2012

OSU Ph.D. candidate lends aid to homeland

STILLWATER, Okla. — Political upheaval in his West African homeland has led an Oklahoma State University doctoral candidate to help coordinate humanitarian relief efforts.

“It is a very important issue,” said Assoumane Maiga. “There is a lack of information sharing about Mali in the western countries. We have to let people know what’s going on there.”

Maiga, 45, originally came to OSU from Mali, West Africa, in 2007 through an international exchange program and earned his master’s degree in agricultural communication at OSU. He has just entered a Ph.D. curriculum at OSU in agricultural communication and leadership. It was just after he earned his master’s degree that he returned to Mali to resume work as a university professor.

“When I got there, Mali began to have problems,” he said.

An ethnic group by the name of Tuareg, which represents just 1 percent of Mali’s population of 14 million, wanted independence from the national government in order to form a new state, Azawad.

Maiga said that approximately two-thirds of Mali is in the Sahara Desert, a region “infested” by radical Islamic groups.

“They had their own agenda,” he said, “and that was dividing Mali into two different states, Mali and Azawad.”

In January, Tuareg fighters began attacking major cities and military fortifications north of Mali. They also destroyed hospitals, banks and other civic establishments, Maiga said.

The Mali state military began pulling out of the north because it did not have the means to fight the rebels, he said.

On March 21, rebels staged a coup d’etat and overthrew the democratically elected president, Amadou Toumani Toure, one month before a scheduled election in April.

“The military coup created a great deal of civil unrest in Mali,” said Maiga.

He said rebels soon took control over two-thirds of Mali, including major cities such as Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu, Maiga’s hometown.

Fearing for their lives, residents in the north began to flee into bordering countries.

Maiga said more than 300,000 people fled to Niger, Algeria, Mauritania and Burkina Fasso. He said more than 50,000 people moved to the south, including his own family.

A West African economic union comprised of 14 states now plays an important role in facilitating negotiations between Mali and the rebels and is helping the transitional government get established with free and open elections. A new government was established a week ago, led by new President Dioncounda Traure, Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra and 32 government ministers.

“Hopefully, they can reorganize the army, reconquer the north and organize fair elections,” said Maiga. “There is so much suffering in the north and political unrest in the south. We need to continue to help the people in the north.”

In April, Maiga made two trips with a relief organization called Cri de Coeur that supplied food, medicine and other essentials to people in the north.

“There wasn’t one single disaster relief organization in the north before we got there,” he said.

Maiga helped create a humanitarian corridor from Bamako, the capital city of Mali, to various cities in the north.

Relief efforts continue. Maiga will not be directly involved, although he will stay in daily contact with the aid program.

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