On Monday, October 16, 2023, the Young Initiative at Occidental College hosted a thought-provoking talk by Professor Jaimie Bleck from the University of Notre Dame, centering on Mali's current crossroads.
Despite Mali's historical inclination towards democracy, recent events, particularly the second coup in a decade led by Colonel Assimi Goïta, sparked a discussion on why some Malians are supporting the coup despite a history of democratic civil society and a vibrant media space. Professor Bleck emphasized the need to understand the perspectives of young, urban men in decoding the perception of crucial governance challenges within Mali. Drawing connections between public goods provision and the informal tea-drinking clubs known as grinw, she shed light on the grassroots resilience of democratic ideals in Malian society.
Against the backdrop of headlines detailing three coups in 10 years, delayed elections, jihadist incursions, and international involvement, Professor Bleck pointed to a potential silver lining in the form of an explosion of associational life since 1992. Despite challenges, the reported high levels of generalized trust hint at thriving democratic foundations and historical roots of deliberation in Malian society that predates colonization. The discussion centered on grinw as informal friend groups embodying democratic principles of deliberation and participation, challenging conventional notions of where democratic values can take root. As Mali navigates a tumultuous decade, Professor Bleck's insights into the voices of the urban youth and the dynamics of grinw provide valuable perspectives on how informal networks contribute to public opinion and provision of public goods.