Segou, Mali, November 7, 2007

Trip Start Sep 19, 2007
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Trip End Jan 05, 2008


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Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Perhaps I've been in Africa long enough that my expectations for towns have hit rock bottom but Segou, a town on the Niger River's south bank about a half day's drive east of Bamako, was actually quite lovely.  The town seemed almost as poor as others on Mali, but it's no joke that its riverside location and smattering of French colonial architecture earns it the moniker "The Malian Riviera".  We stopped in town for only a couple hours to walk around a little and buy a few things at the market, but Segou seemed to be a rather friendly and low hassle kind of a place. 
Now I'm not really sure if the widely held assumption that a democratic form of government leads to good governance and less corruption is necessarily true, but our experience is reasonably democratic Mali would provide some supporting evidence.  In Mali we experienced little official corruption, no bribes to be paid, and no encounters with police or other figures of authority on the make.  This contrasts with countries like Nigeria where demands for payment for fabricated infractions can be extortionate or places like Egypt (and to a lesser degree Morocco) where small side payments called Baksheesh are a constant fact of life in dealing with authorities. 
We found one such example of friendliness and lack of corruption as we left Segou.  Halfway down a crowded street we all realized the crowds were signaling to the drivers they were going the wrong way down the one way street.  However, there was no way for the truck to back up or turn around on the busy market street so Dave continued forward to the traffic circle at the main road where the policed summoned Daphne to the side and Dave got out to explain.  Whereas in many places corrupt gendarmes would pull White drivers over to fine them for fabricated infractions, here where the driver could have been fined for a legitimate traffic transgression our punishment was that we had to drive back down the street in the right direction and leave the city (via the same traffic circle) by the correct route out of town. 
We camped that night a short distance east of town in a well-populated agricultural area where we were visited by Bambara locals in both evening and morning.  Every so often a donkey cart hauling wood would pass through our campsite, tents spread near the truck along both sides of a dirt trek through the fields, and I could also see the eerie sight of convoys of dozens of such carts traveling through the night along the main road a short distance away. 
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