Public Affairs Group
2015 has been another turbulent year for Mali. I am very proud of the work the Public Affairs Group has done in response to this and to meet our aim of increasing awareness in the UK of Malian news, politics and culture as well as MDG’s project work. Enjoyable though this has been our work has been chiefly concerned with conveying, contextualising and explaining a tragic story. This year civil and military violence became an immediate reality every Malian has to contend with; not just those in the north, or outside Bamako. Ebola struck and threatens, like war, to break out again. But within this there are other stories. With Mali’s political, security and economic recovery appearing to stall it has been difficult to balance the obvious successes in other areas of Malian life, particularly in sport and culture. There have been peace agreements also, and epidemics were contained and routed. From here and as a Group, what are the key messages we need to promote? What image of Mali do we want to help portray? What image exists in the minds of Britons already, if at all? And where does MDG’s important developmental work fit into all this?
It is has been made abundantly clear in our public affairs that MDG’s projects are needed more than ever. To support this, the approach we have taken this year is strike that difficult balance; encourage concern and understanding for Mali by incorporating serious and difficult issues within the experiences that make people adore the country in the first place. This report offers an insight on how we went about making this happen and how we will expand this into the future. So, with that, it gives me great pleasure to pen my first contribution to the annual report as Public Affairs Coordinator since I took over from Dan Price in 2014. As many of you know, Dan was a tremendous Coordinator and I am sure you are relieved to hear that he continues to do wonderful work for MDG. Since I’ve stepped up he has often lent me his great strategic mind, vision and attention to detail. I must extend special thanks to him for this.
African music popularity in the UK continues to grow. Mali’s phenomenal music and performing arts is therefore the centre-piece of our Public Affairs strategy. On the Mali Interest Hub (mali-interest-hub.com), our ‘Mali Song of the Week’ (SOTW) feature has been used to introduce a whole range of different aspects of Mali’s current affairs. Each week, a topic and song are married to produce a short article. This year the SOTW blog celebrated its 2nd birthday, its 100th edition and reported from Glastonbury Festival. I strongly recommend you check out the page and tune in each Wednesday for a fun way to stay up to date with everything Mali.
The Mali Interest Hub has also published longer, in-depth pieces on Mali’s history and politics, produced by MDG volunteer Jonathan Marriot. One of MDG’s key assets is its specialised experience with working in Mali in a focused manner. We recognise that we can provide an important commentary and perspective on Malian affairs, specifically to the English speaking world. As with all organisations, our online presence is increasingly important with presenting this message and our work here is vital to supporting MDG’s general aims and objectives, particularly in fundraising.
In addition to his work on the Hub Jonathan has continued to assist the Honorary Malian Consul to Britain – Mark Saade – in his tireless work to raise the official profile of Mali here in Britain. Jonathan’s work has involved administrative support, event organisation and identifying key UK stakeholders. Over the coming months and years we will maintain this important relationship and build new ones with other organisations. We envisage the Hub having an important role in this and as it gets busier it we’d love to have your input too, so please get in touch. Anyone got their perfect ‘Mali Song of the Week?’
Looking ahead, we have already set some broad aims for next year. We have been terribly lucky to work with a range of very talented and dedicated people this year, from University Professor Kevin McDonald to ever-popular Malian band Songhoy Blues, among countless others. We’re delighted to be part of this network and are gearing up to play an even more active role in this regard. We’re already planning some great events, collaborations and projects for the coming year, so watch this space.
On the whole, we have found that focusing on Mali’s cultural assets has made the country more accessible to people living in the UK and places MDG in a stronger position in raising awareness and funds in the digital age. Unknown to most, Africa has well and truly joined the digital age. A 2013 report found that 9 in 10 adults had at least one mobile phone in their household and though internet coverage remains limited, individual Malian’s are as active on social media as much as those in any other country. Here, as MDG’s public presence changes, there are opportunities for fostering an ever more valuable bond between Britain and Mali.