Mali: At election time, traditional 'griots' have become messengers of peace

Apr 25, 2013

Cherif Diabate is the creator of the network of griots that will take part in ensuring peaceful elections in Mali. (Photo: UNDP Mali)

In his fifties, Mossa Al Mouamar Ali, nicknamed Moussa Moussa, proudly bears his traditional boubou (a light tunic and pants) hand-stitched by tailors in Timbuktu, a region currently facing a precarious security situation on the ground.

Just like his father and grandfather in their time, Moussa Moussa is the chief griot of the region (a type of poet, singer, historian and journalist wrapped into one), a living purveyor of Mali’s oral traditions.  

“We are fulfilling our role as griots whilst adhering to the rules and regulations handed down by our ancestors,” he said. “For instance, when a married couple has a dispute, we intervene and reconcile the two; if two villages are in conflict with each other, we enable them to find a peaceful solution. When people want to make important decisions, they can consult us and we know what answer is required to resolve the various issues.”

Indeed, in Mali, the griots play a very important role in terms of the country’s social structure, with marriages, births and funerals being some of the events organized by the former. They also play a leading role during such activities.

“I have already been called upon to intervene in conflicts, usually for land-related or field-related issues,” Moussa Moussa said. “You know, some people study journalism, others IT. And us, well, this is what we know how to do, and it’s because we’re involved that everything works out in the end.”

Well aware of the crucial role griots play, the Malian government has decided to involve the griots as part of the campaign to raise public awareness and promote civic education to be launched before the presidential elections in July 2013.  

The vote will be facilitated by a supporting project established for the electoral process  and financed by the Malian goverment and its partners; the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) will be responsible for managing the funds. The elections therefore constitute a key stage on the path to restoring peace, stability and development once more.

It is estimated that the elections will cost US $128 million, of which $50 million will be financed by the Malian government.

UNDP will also be responsible for providing support to the various management bodies supervising the elections, including the Ministry of National Administration, the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer and the  National  Independent Electoral Commission. UNDP will also provide  logistical support – for the vote itself and also to encourage voters to come out and vote – while promoting peace and fostering dialogue among  all stakeholders.

The griots will be involved in public awareness efforts regarding the vote by advising communities on how to maintain peace and harmony during the elections. Their network (Réseau des Communicateurs traditionnels pour le développement, or RECOTRADE) will be activate during the pre-electoral period.

On April 24, UNDP organized a workshop to inform traditional communicators of the importance of conflict prevention during election time and how to facilitate exchanges in terms of their contribution to promoting peace and fostering dialogue. Held in Bamako, 50 griots attended the workshop as well as national and international partners.

“We must talk with everyone, no one must be left out; that way we will achieve concrete results,”  said Moussa Moussa.

During the event, Aurélien Agbénonci, the UNDP’s Resident Representative in Mali, said, “Organizing the upcoming elections is an important step towards resolving the crisis. You are making an important contribution to the future reconstruction of this country.”

“We know what is best for our people,” added Moussa Moussa. “What these poor people want more than anything is to live in peace and  tranquillity, and we are going make sure this message of peace reaches  everyone.”

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