Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Youths to make history, trek to Mali from Abuja

By: Greg Odogwu journalist with The Garki Gazette, Abuja, Nigeria #WalktoMali 

Mamadou Edrisa Njie interview with Greg Odogwu Abuja, Nigeria
Some West African youths are set to make history as they embark on a two months long walk to Mali and back, covering about 3,500 kilometres, from the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, on Saturday, 18th January.

The GARKI GAZETTE gathered that the youths are made up of about twelve youth activists from seven West African countries of Nigeria, Niger, Mali, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo and Benin; they will traverse the cold-by-the-night and hot-by-the-day climate of sub-Saharan Africa in their quest to attract the world’s attention to the poverty ravaging the communities they would visit along the route.

This journey is under the auspices of Earth Hour, an environmental initiative of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) kick-started in 2007 to draw the world’s attention to the menace of global warming and encourage global citizens to take definite action to stem the menace.

According to information made available on the official Earth Hour website, “Earth Hour#WalktoMali will engage 12 Earth Hour Champions that will embark on a 3,304km round road trip from Nigeria to Mali between Saturday, January 18, 2014 to Saturday, March 15, 2014. The walk hopes to promote the culture of peace and create awareness on environmental sustainability across West Africa.

“Activities during the walk will include advocacy visits, community vulnerability mapping, community outreach, and capacity building. This campaign will take us through about 7 West African countries; make us reach 1,500 children, 7 humanitarian camps, 5 Landmarks, 14 Local communities and UNESCO Heritage sites and 7 local radio stations. [Consequently, making us to reach about 100 million in West Africa].”

When GARKI GAZETTE contacted the participants who were to take off from Abuja, the youth activists were full of excitement with exuberant expectation about their historic journey. The Country Director (Nigeria) of Earth Hour, Oludotun Babayemi, who is also the project coordinator of WalktoMali, said they were set to go, as the participants to take off from Abuja have all converged.

He said the journey was innovative and was designed to catch people’s attention and direct them to environmental sustainability, as it is the kind of activism that people do not often witness. The youth activists to embark on the Walk-to-Mali include Tassi Kodjo Kiki from Togo, Etta Michael Bisong from Nigeria; Agbor, Anthony Odo from Nigeria; Sidibe from Mali; Chembessi De Rocher from Benin; Marfo from Ghana; Kassim Nurudeen from Ghana.

The Gambian delegate, Mamadou Edrisa, who spoke to GARKI GAZETTE in Abuja, said he was overwhelmed by the beauty and hospitality of Nigeria and her citizens, which totally negates the unhealthy perception and unsavoury pictures that were painted to him in The Gambia before embarking on his journey to Abuja.

“Since I came to Abuja I have been experiencing the friendliness and hospitality of Nigerians who have welcomed me, and made me feel at home. Even right from the Aeroplane, I met an elderly Nigerian man who was so kind and friendly that he gave me the book he was reading when he noticed I was interested in it. He told me to take the book and enjoy my stay in Nigeria. I could not believe such hospitality,” Mamadou said.

“From my experience I believe the media in Africa need to improve their general reportage and portrayals; they focus so much on the negative and play down on the positive which is greater in volume when compared to the negative matters.

“I look forward to a very fruitful and memorable Walk to Mali because this journey is a dream come true for me. This is because we are going to visit and work in rural communities and I love working with the rural communities; this is what I do even in my country, The Gambia.”

Activities of the team on the road to Mali include advocacy visits to 7 Humanitarian Camps to present relief materials to displaced children, 7 local media houses, and Government Institutions; capacity building for 1,500 children on promoting the culture of peace and encouraging environmental sustainability within local communities.

Other activities include live mapping of places of interest (camps, roads, schools, health centres, water pumps) along the way, and facilitating of vulnerability maps for the 14 local communities; community outreach (education) in 14 local communities to distribute communication materials on promoting the culture of peace and provision of 2,800 solar lamps and 1,000 clean cook stoves.

Olu Earth Hour Nigeria Country Coordinator speaking to Greg

When asked whether the youths were going to make the whole journey on foot, Oludotun Babayemi explained that not all the distance would be covered by trekking, but that the team would be hitch-hiking, just like regular ‘back-packers’.

“We would not be making the whole distance on foot because if we did, there is no way we could make the round trip within the space of two months. We shall only be trekking some distance and hitch-hiking the remainder of the way. We do not have any arrangement for any vehicle to ferry us, neither do we have any private automobile at our disposal.

“Statistically, within the 3,404 kilometres we are to cover, we shall be trekking about 1,000 kilometres; for the remaining distance we shall be depending on local transport and sundry haulage along the route.”

The journey starts from Abuja on Saturday 18th January, heading to Mali through Zamfara/Sokoto; arriving Aroyou in Niger, on Saturday 25th January; on Saturday 1st February they arrive Timbuktu, Mali, and Bamako on Saturday February 8th.

The team arrives Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire on Saturday February 15th, and then Accra, Ghana, on Saturday 22nd; they arrive Lome, Togo on Saturday March 1st, and then to Grand Popo in Benin on Saturday March 8, from where they enter Lagos on Saturday, the 15th day of March.

Babayemi said they chose the title Walk to Mali, not because their destination is Mali, as Mali is along their way in the round trip; but because Mali is a historic country in Africa. He told GARKI GAZETTE that all over the world, it is known that there used to be a time when the centre of knowledge was Timbuktu, in Mali. “Our choice of name is symbolic,” he concluded.

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