Mali: On Being Knighted by Mali - Despite Coup and Pandemic Delays

Melvin Foote with his daughter Marieme Foote, after receiving the Knight of the National Order of Mali at the Embassy of Mali in Washington, DC.

Washington, DC — When Ambassador Mahamadou Nimaga told me a few months back that Vivian Lowery Derryck, Chic Dambach and I were going to be Knighted by the Mali government, of course I was surprised as well as deeply honored!  Not more than a week later the government of Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta was overthrown!

I honestly didn’t think that the award was going to be made following the coup. The military government clearly had their hands full, responding to global condemnation as well as fighting terrorists and criminals across the northern part of the country.

A few months after that the Mali Government decided to recall my good friend Ambassador Nimaga, who was clearly one of the best liked and most productive diplomats in Washington!  I really thought the chance of the Awards going forward was slim and none!

When the Foreign Minister, Abdoulaye Diop, came to Washington a few months ago, I was invited to meet with him as part of the 30-person Mali Working Group delegation.  Early in his remarks he stated that the Awards Ceremony would go forward and that they were looking for a date!  I knew Ambassador Diop well when he served as the Mali Ambassador to Washington.

In light of the coup, the meeting was rather tense!  So of course I raised the issue as to why Mali decided to remove Ambassador Nimaga at this point in time - during the COVID pandemic, and given the security challenges facing the country.  You could have heard a pin drop in the room!  Embassy staff were squirming in their seats!  Ambassador Diop gave a perfunctory response to my question, but I know he was stung by it!

After that meeting I was even more sure that the awards ceremony would not take place  - and really I had come to accept it!

I can say that I am very happy that the ceremony did go forward!  It was really a huge honor for me to join with Vivian and Chic, and I certainly look forward to continuing to support the wonderful people of Mali!

Melvin Foote is Founder, President and CEO for the Constituency for Africa (CFA), which works to educate Americans about Africa and African development issues; works to build public and private support for Africa in the United States. He worked for a decade at Africare and served as a Peace Coprs volunteer in Ethiopia and Eritrea. In 1988, he was awarded the “Order of the Lion” by the Government of Senegal.

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