US Anthropologist Becomes Sought After Blogger in Mali

Below is a longer and more multimedia version of radio/web story which ran on Voice of America.

U.S. anthropologist Bruce Whitehouse has become a sought after blogger in the wake of the recent upheaval in Mali.

I caught up with him from his base in Bamako to get a behind the scenes feel of his recent transformation.

A recent post on the “Bridges from Bamako” blog is titled “Light at the end of the tunnel?”

It analyzes a recent statement by coup leaders to transfer power to civilians.

Whitehouse, a Fulbright scholar from Pennsylvania-based Lehigh University, offers in-depth analysis, historical background, links, on the ground reaction, and predictions.

The posting was quickly picked up by influential news and opinion disseminators on the social media website Twitter.

“Bridges from Bamako”, which sometimes also includes literary, mythical and cross-cultural references, has been getting thousands of views on a daily basis since Mali's coup last month.

Another posting which piqued interest was when Whitehouse looked into the coup leader's wardrobe. His blog showed a series of pictures taken from state television with Captain Amadou Sanogo wearing a dyed cotton shirt under his fatigues and carrying a wooden stick.

“People were very interested in how this young army officer was presenting himself and how he appeared in public and they were commenting on the uniform and this garment that he was visibly wearing underneath his fatigues and they were commenting on the fact he was carrying a stick around,” Whitehouse said in a telephone interview.

He opined the shirt represented a hunter's cloth and the stick an object of power.

Whitehouse says he feels he is bringing touches of anthropology as well as acting as a loudspeaker to what people are saying on the streets of Mali's capital, Bamako.

“There are aspects to what has been going on here for example the coup leader's uniform and the way he presented himself in public that I felt as an anthropologist I had some unique insight into but on the other hand there was nothing in my post about that subject that ordinary Malians were not already talking about. So in a sense I see myself as just giving voice to what people here on the street are saying and I think maybe journalists and scholars in other fields might be overlooking some of those things,” he said during our interview.

Journalists who noticed the blog have been calling Whitehouse for his opinions on the overall situation in Mali. Earlier this month, he was invited to take part in an online forum discussing Mali for the prestigious website African Arguments. And his university has been promoting his work.

Many readers thank Whitehouse for providing the blog, which they say surpasses other information they have been getting about the fluctuating situation. Due to increasing power outages, Whitehouse has sometimes been rushing by taxi to a generator enabled cyber cafe to finish a posting.

But for Whitehouse, who has been coming to Mali since the late 1990s as a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer, the success of his blog has been bittersweet.

“I cannot take much pleasure in it because whenever there is that much interest in this part of the world, it is because something bad is happening. Frankly, I could probably write the most informed and high quality post about everyday things going on and there would not be that much interest but as soon as bullets start flying and you have a coup d'etat that is when people start to take notice.”

Whitehouse, who also teaches classes in Bamako, and is conducting research on the many complexities of Malian marriages, says he would gladly have a blog with much less readership if the situation in the very much unstable Mali became calmer.

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