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  • on 20.01.2014
  • at 04:00 PM
  • by Kevin Hind

How a coup d’état drove a scholar to social media 0

Call me a curmudgeon, but I had never really understood the value of social media. I didn’t see the point of mundane tweets and posts on the lives of the glitterati, or the need to share personal views in a public medium.

A coup d’état in Mali in March of 2012 rocked this perception and led me to view social media in a different light. No longer would I perceive these forums as vapid echo chambers, but as critical spaces for news, dialogue and even social change.

I’ve been working and researching in Mali for over 25 years now. Most of my scholarship deals with agriculture, food security and resource management issues. For years I collected information from traditional sources: my own field work first and foremost, but also scholarly publications and traditional news reports. Until recently, Mali almost never made the international press, making the need to speedily access news seemingly unnecessary.

The pace and fluidity of events in Mali since March 2012 would change the way I operate as a scholar.

A coup d’état was staged by disgruntled military personnel that month, putting an end to nearly 20 years of procedural democracy. The weak state apparatus then lost control of the northern two-thirds of the country to a variety of rebel groups with different agendas, including Tuareg separatists, Islamists, drug traffickers, and al-Qaeda affiliates. With rebel groups pushing south in January 2013, the French military intervened, eventually reclaiming the major northern cities for the Malian state. Elections were held this past July/August, followed most recently by continuing attacks in the North and the government’s detention of the coup leader, Amadou Sanogo.

I am a geographer, and not a scholar of politics, but the unrest of 2012-2013 was impacting the issues I study, most notably food security in the northern parts of the country. I also analyze natural resource management and agricultural issues within a broader political economic context, making an understanding of policy and politics essential. Finally, I have a non-ivory tower tendency to share what I learn with policy and lay audiences – often expressed in pieces I write for Al Jazeera, the New York Times or the Washington Post. As such, the policy orientation of my applied writing doubles the need to stay on top of politics.

To make a long story short, in early 2012 I found that my shunning of social media was limiting my ability to exchange ideas with others who knew the country well, and impacting my capacity to stay abreast of the quickly evolving post-coup situation in Mali. To complicate matters further, I was based in Botswana that year and didn’t have as ready access to information. Finally, because of security concerns, and the fact that I had described the coup leader as a ‘thug’ in one of my columns, I knew it just wasn’t wise to travel to Mali during the peak of the unrest.

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