Turmoil in Mali affects MSU community


All study abroad trips to the African country of Mali have been canceled.

Although students cannot travel to Mali currently, on Tuesday, Mali came to MSU. The African Studies Center held a teach-in at the International Center called “Why Mali Matters” to talk about the current crisis in Mali and how these implications are interrupting interactions between MSU and Mali.

“Mali is a wonderful, diverse country,” said Vicki Huddleston, keynote speaker and former U.S. ambassador to Mali. “Mali matters because we cannot stand on the sideline while people get pushed out of their country, and the problems will move out of Africa to Europe and then to the U.S.”

Huddleston first presented to a group of about 40 people, explaining why the Malinese government is having trouble controlling the country.

As a result of the turmoil in Mali, MSU canceled all study abroad trips in summer 2012 and also decided to officially cancel the 2013 trips this past November. The programs to Mali are planned to run again in summer 2014, pending travel recommendations and the country’s stability, said Cindy Chalou, Office of Study Abroad associate director of operations.

In the lecture, Huddleston said Mali is divided by the 15th parallel into north and south Mali. Angry military officers from Mali overthrew former president Amadou Toumani Touré in March 2012 because they were not happy about his handling of the Tuareg people — nomads who reside in the Sahara Desert who rebelled three months before. The Tuaregs eventually took over northern Mali in April.

The Tuaregs subsequently were dominated by Islam extremists in May 2012, when both groups combined and claimed independence.

Stephen Esquith, dean of the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities, led the most recent study abroad program to Mali and spoke on a panel about MSU’s relations with the country. He said because the Mali program involved civic engagement, it allowed students to create meaningful relationships, and canceling a second year of the program is upsetting.

“We were very disappointed, but the university has a good mechanism for assessing risk,” Esquith said. “I think the students understood because they don’t want to be in a situation where they would be in harm’s way.”

Graduate student Lauren Kelley, who attended the event, said having such events are a good way to give students the opportunity to get involved with these types of world issues.

“It’s disappointing that the study abroad trips got cancelled, but we do have to take safety into consideration,” Kelley said. “Just because they can’t go doesn’t mean they can’t do things from here and get involved with the issues.”

Chalou said she knew students were disappointed when the programs were canceled, but said they are going to run a program in summer 2014.

“Between word from our partners in Mali with the program’s classroom instruction, and community engagement and the U.S. Embassy that the country would not be stable, we were not about to send students,” Chalou said. “We are going to open a session for the summer of 2014, but we are going to monitor the country and, if it looks unsafe, we will cancel it again.”

Esquith said although these programs have been cancelled, students should not give up on going to Mali.

“An important takeaway from this whole thing is that, while we have had to suspend the study abroad programs, we haven’t cancelled them,” Esquith said.

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