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Award-Winning Malian Blogger Boukary Konaté Was a Teacher, a Trailblazer and a Friend

Boukary Konaté with the children of his village – photo: Eduardo Avila, with permission.

The Global Voices Summit 2017 is around the corner, where a celebration of the life and work of Global Voices collaborators like Boukary Konaté will take place.  Here we take a look back on the achievements of this Malian web pioneer.

The death of Boukary Konaté on 17 September 2017 after a short battle with cancer left a huge hole in the world. News of his illness was met with a slew of crowdfunded donations to help him meet his medical needs, and after his passing, tributes of appreciation and sympathy have streamed in from far and wide.

But how was Boukary exceptional? Here are just a few reasons.

Boukary was a prizewinning blogger who had been recognized by the Deutsche Welle Blog Awards, known as “the BOBs” in 2012:

Mardi après-midi (26 juin), la Deutsche Welle remet officiellement les prix de son concours de blogs, les BOBs. Le Malien Boukary Konaté se voit récompenser pour son blog baptisé “Fasokan”. Il gagne le prix du jury dans la catégorie “Éducation et Culture”. Cet enseignant de formation est attaché aux villages de son pays…

Une grappe d'enfants se masse autour d'un ordinateur équipé d'une batterie solaire et découvre le vaste monde à travers internet. C'est l'une des images que l'on peut voir sur le blog Fasokan de Boukary Konaté, un enseignant malien qui, depuis de nombreuses années, s'efforce de jeter des ponts entre les villages du Mali, avec leurs cultures et leurs traditions, et les nouvelles technologies. Son blog bilingue, en français et en bambara, a été récompensé par le jury des BOBs, le concours international de blogs de la Deutsche Welle, dans la catégorie spéciale Éducation et Culture.

This year's Deutsche Welle Blog Awards – “the BOBs” – were presented on Tuesday at the Global Media Forum 2012. The prize for the “Special Topic Award: Education and Culture” went to Boukary Konaté of Mali, who helps his compatriots use the full potential of the Internet. He has been blogging on “Fasokan,” both in French and the West African language of Bambara since 2008. His site is an educational tool, documenting how he gains access to the Internet with the help of portable solar panels and a car battery, and he travels around the country teaching people in rural areas how they can make best use of the Internet. Konaté said proudly that “people are always pleased to see me” when he arrives on his bike with his solar power module.

On the subject of Boukary's award-winning Fasokan blog, Claire Ulrich, Global Voices’ French translation editor and a French-language member of the jury, detailed their choice:

Boukary Konaté n'a jamais oublié le monde rural dont il est originaire, ni son métier de professeur, Il consacre beaucoup de son temps libre à des sessions de formation à l'internet mobile dans les villages, les cyber-cafés et les écoles rurales. »

Boukary Konaté has never forgotten the rural world which he comes from, or his calling as a teacher. He devotes much of his free time to mobile online training sessions in rural villages, cyber-cafés and schools.

In his blog, Boukary explained his approach this way:

« Le peu que je peux faire pour le développement et la promotion des langues africaines, je le fais pour que nos langues traversent les rivières et les fleuves et prennent place parmi les autres langues dans le vestibule de partage d'information et de savoir, qu'est Internet.

What little I can do for the development and promotion of African languages, I do, that they may ford the streams and rivers and take their place with other languages in the great information and knowledge sharing chamber which is the Internet.

The website of Radio France Internationale (RFI) noted that Boukary was one of the first African bloggers to be selected in 2010 for the first edition of the network Mondoblog which today unites 600 bloggers from 70 countries (The Mondoblog network was launched by RFI and is still supported by the Radio news station):

Boukary Konaté était un blogueur faisant partie de la première sélection de Mondoblog en 2010. Il avait été l’un des premiers Africains à donner du corps à l’expression « blogueur engagé ». Infatigable baroudeur, Boukary portait un amour infini pour la culture de son pays, le Mali. Il allait donc dans les villages les plus reculés recueillir la sagesse de ces contrées et se servait de son blog sur Mondoblog, mais aussi de ses différentes collaborations avec des médias internationaux (Global Voices, France 24) pour la faire connaître dans le monde. Ce professeur de bambara, de français et d’anglais, assurait aussi une mission d’éducation des populations des régions reculées du Mali, en leur permettant par exemple de découvrir l’Internet et ses multiples usages.

Boukary Kona was a blogger who formed part of Mondoblog's first selection in 2010. He was one of the first Africans to embody the definition of thecommitted blogger”. A tireless rambler, Boukary felt an infinite love for the culture of his country, Mali. Hence he went into the remotest villages to harvest the wisdom of each place, and used his blog on Mondoblog — but also his various collaborations with international media (Global Voices, France 24…) — to make it better known in the world. And so, the teacher of Bambara, French and English fulfilled his mission to educate the population of the remote regions of Mali, by enabling them, for example, to discover the Internet and its multiple uses.

Bloggers from within this network have been quick to pay tribute to Boukary. They include Faty, who defines herself as “a trained psychologist, who went into teaching, then into lots of other fields… committed to the hilt and a lifelong lover of her native city, Timbuktu”.

Having known him personally, she wrote:

Oui. Boukary était le seul blogueur qui avait peur de l’avion, à ma connaissance, ignorant sciemment le personal branding pour prêter la vedette à ceux qu’il rencontrait…
La culture malienne. Les traditions sont l’essence de ce héros qui su utiliser l’éducation et l’innovation pour connecter nos zones rurales au monde, mais aussi connecter le monde à cette richesse de notre patrimoine.
Boukary, repose en paix.
Tu resteras dans nos cœurs.

Yes! Boukary was the only blogger I know who was afraid to fly — quite blind to “personal branding”; instead, making those he met the stars…Malian culture. Traditions. These were the essence of a hero who know how to use education and innovation to connect our rural zones to the world, but also to connect the world to the wealth of our heritage. Boukary, rest in peace. You will remain in our hearts.

Journalist Georges Attino, a devotee of culture, music and African languages, said he regretted that he never knew Boukary and dedicated “Janjo”, the warrior anthem of traditional Bambara society, to him:

Boukary, j’aurais voulu te rencontrer autour d’un verre de thé. Pour autant même sans t’avoir vu je te connaissais. J’avais entendu parler de l’homme qui parcourait les villages à vélo et à moto. Tu voulais réveiller ces villages, les révéler à tous pour préserver le patrimoine culturel du Mali. Ce réveil passait par la valorisation des langues nationales. On avait parlé d’un projet de journal écrit en bambara (mandingue). On avait prévu de se voir pour en parler en profondeur. Comme tu l’avais dit « tout ce qui est debout se couchera un jour » et ton jour est malheureusement arrivé.

Boukary tu faisais partie des doyens du blogging au Mali. T’es le précurseur du blogging en bambara. Fasokan (« la langue de la patrie », en bambara) était même ton surnom sur les réseaux sociaux.  Quand le village se réveillera tu ne seras plus là. Ton parcours est semblable à ton nom de famille: Konaté (konatɛ) « kona tɛ » qui veut dire « qui n’est pas stérile » tu n’as pas été stérile Boukary. Tu as enfanté en moi cet amour du partage, de la culture des langues nationales.

Tu mérites le « janjo ». C’est la chanson la plus populaire de la culture mandingue. Cette culture que tu défendais tant. « Janjo » c’est l’hymne des guerriers, dédié à ceux qui se sont fait remarquer par des actions nobles. Ce chant c’est la victoire sur l’ennemi. Ton ennemi c’était l’oubli, l’oubli dans lequel les traditions maliennes pourraient tomber. Le jour s’est levé sur eux grâce à toi.

I ni ce, i ni baara (Merci pour ce travail).

Boukary, I'd have liked to have met you over a glass of tea. But, though I never saw you, I knew you just the same. I'd heard of the man who crisscrossed the villages on bicycle and motorbike. You wanted to wake those villages up, reveal them to everyone in order to preserve the cultural heritage of Mali. It was a waking-up which would give value to its national languages. We'd talked about a project to create a newspaper written in Bambara (Mandinka).  We'd planned to meet up to talk about it in more depth. As you said “all that stands will one day lie down” and your own day, sadly, has come. Boukary, you were one of the leading lights of blogging in Mali. The trailblazer of blogging in Bambara. Fasokan (“the language of our country” in Bambara) was even the name you used on social networks. When the village wakes up you will no longer be there. Your journey has been like your surname, Konaté (“kona tɛ”, which means “that which is not barren”). You have not been barren, Boukary. You have fathered in me this love of sharing, of growing, the national languages. You have earned the “janjo”. It's the most popular song in that Mandinka culture you defended so staunchly. “Janjo” is the warrior anthem, dedicated to those who have distinguished themselves by noble actions. It's the song of victory over the enemy. Your enemy was forgetfulness, the forgetfulness into which Malian traditions might fall. The day has risen on them thanks to you. I ni ce, i ni baara (thank you for your work).

Blogger and journalist Boubacar Sangaré, who had known him since their induction into the Mondoblog project, reminisced:

Passif ? Il refusait de parler de politique. Sur son blog Fasokan, Boukary écrivait en langue bambara, qu’il voulait valoriser, la sortir des emprunts et des amalgames. Ensuite est venu son projet culturel Quand le village se réveille. « Fasokan », comme on l’appelait, parcourait les villages pour collecter les traditions, la culture et les diffuser. Son surnom lui-même vient du bambara, de faso («patrie») et de kan («langue»).

Les traditions, il aimait en parler comme le Christ aime l’Église. C’est grâce à lui que l’on pouvait découvrir pourquoi une grenouille n’a pas de queue. C’est grâce à lui que l’on pouvait découvrir ce qui se cachait derrière le masque dogon.

Boukary est un baobab qui est tombé. Un puits plein qui souffrait de voir à côté d’autres puits secs. Une outre pleine dont on a pu tirer beaucoup de choses. Une bibliothèque qui n’a pas brûlé, car ce qu’il savait, il l’a partagé avec nous dans les conditions que nous connaissions tous.

Passive? He refused to talk politics. On his Fasokan blog, Boukary wrote in the Bambara language, which he wanted to promote, and free of borrowed and mixed elements. Then came his cultural project “When the village wakes up”.  “Fasokan”, as we called him, crisscrossed the villages to collect traditions, culture, and diffuse them. That name itself comes from the Bambara faso (country) and kan (language). Traditions?  He loved talking about them as Christ loved the Church. It's thanks to him you could find out why a frog has no tail. It's thanks to him you could find out what was hidden behind the Dogon mask. Boukary is a fallen baobab tree. A full well which couldn't bear to see other, dry wells alongside it. A full gourd out of which we've drawn so many things. A library which has not burnt, because, what he knew, he shared with us, in terms all of us knew well.

Boukary had also been part of the Observers collaborative journalism project of France24 TV channel since 2010. There he was valued as “master of surprising subjects”. Observers paid its respects to him in these terms:

Boukary Konaté était quelqu’un qui donnait son temps aux autres. Le numérique le fascinait et il en avait fait une arme au service de la culture : en 2014, il a lancé le projet “Quand le village se réveille”, un blog puis une page Facebook et une application smartphone où il recensait chaque semaine, avec des articles, des photos et des vidéos tous les aspects du patrimoine culturel malien. On peut notamment y apprendre à quoi servait un curieux bonnet dogon ou encore à quoi jouent les habitants dans les coins reculés de son pays. Le projet a séduit le ministère de la Culture et de l’Education du Mali, ainsi que les internautes, qui l’avaient soutenu lors d’une opération de levées de fonds sur Internet.

La marque de fabrique de Boukary Konaté, c’était surtout son temps donné aux autres…

Ses projets servaient surtout à diffuser ses connaissances lors d’ateliers de formation. À plusieurs reprises, Boukary Konaté s’était rendu dans les régions maliennes éloignées de la capitale pour former les jeunes générations aux bases du blogging et les sensibiliser sur l’importance de sauvegarder leur culture.

 

Boukary Konaté was someone who gave his time to others. Digital technology fascinated him, and he even forged a weapon out of it in the service of culture: in 2014, he launched the project “When the village wakes up”, a blog, then a Facebook page and a smartphone app by which, each week, in articles, photos and videos, he would plot all aspects of Malian cultural heritage. Memorably, we can find there what use a strange looking Dogon headdress was put to, or, perhaps, what games are played by the inhabitants of the remote corners of his country. The project won over the Malian Ministry of Culture and Education, as it did the online community, who had supported it by a fundraising effort on the internet. Boukary Konaté's trademark was above all the time he gave to others. [..] His projects above all were used to disseminate his discoveries through workshops.  More than once, Boukary Konaté traveled to regions of Mali far away from the capital to train the younger generations on the basics of blogging, and to raise their awareness of the importance of safeguarding their culture.

The site revealed further:

En 2016, il avait lancé “Malebooks“, projet auquel il croyait dur comme fer et qui visait à apporter la connaissance et les livres dans des régions du Mali où les bibliothèques manquent cruellement. Le projet a déjà permis de distribuer 48 liseuses contenant en moyenne 4 000 livres libres de droit, dans des écoles des régions de Ségou, Gao et Bamako, et à des élèves de 13 à 19 ans. Boukary expliquait.

In 2016 he launched “Malebooks“, a project in which he had a cast-iron belief, and which he saw as bringing knowledge and books into regions of Mali where libraries are painfully lacking. The project has already allowed 48 e-readers to be distributed, holding around 4,000 non-copyright books, to schools in the regions of Ségou, Gao and Bamako, and to students of 13 to 19 years old. Boukary was an explainer.

Observers also aired a tribute to Boukary between 23 and 30 September.

Closer to home, Global Voices translator Diana Rhudick memorialized Boukary and his work on the Global Voices Community Blog, gathering testimony of several people who knew him.

Online, his words will live on, such as in a 2014 video by RTM, the Malian national broadcaster, below, in which Boukary explained just what his project “When the village wakes up” was all about.

2 comments

  • Awfully sorry to read about the death of Boukary Konaté. The legacy he left behind will forever serve as a testimony to his great spirit.

    • I’m really impressed , happy to see Boukhary great realizations and sad that he left us for ever so early!!! Thank you very much Boukary . You are really an example for african raised and living in cities and ignoring their traditions like me !!!

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