Some reflections on the Mayor’s Office in Gao, a city I once called home. I first came to know this building as a place of mind-numbing bureaucracy. Years later, it came to embody the senseless violence and acts of cruelty that defined life under Islamist rule in northern Mali.
For as long as I knew it, the building that housed the Mayor’s Office in Gao, a town in northern Mali, was a graceless mass of concrete. It may have been designed and built with care, but the off-brand, neo-Sudanic structure lacked upkeep. I went there for the first time in August of 2008. As a new resident preparing for what was meant to be a two-year stint as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I went to introduce myself to the bureaucratic powers that be.
Over the course of that year, my Malian counterpart, who was also a government official of sorts, brought me to the Mayor’s Office at least a dozen times. These visits were almost always carried out as a matter of protocol. He knew, and I would soon learn, that while the people who staffed these government offices could do little to help us with projects, they were fully capable of blocking of them. Such is the petty, suffocating power of local officials in broken systems of government.
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