For those who have asked, and those who have wondered, Mali is not very far from Ghana. The 'southern most troubled areas' are about 600 miles, or 1,000 km away. We have one country between us, Burkina Faso, and yes, Ghana, like all other West African countries, is on a heightened security alert. Clearly, we watch the news, as do you, and we wish peace and a rapid solution for all sides involved. We think especially of the women and children that are vulnerable, and for the families of those who are ordered to the area. West Africa is a wonderful place, Mali is magnificent. Troubles, whatever their cause, whatever the reasons, whatever the misunderstandings, whoever the people involved, are sad, especially when people are killed and displaced. This is not a new phenomena it has been around for thousands of years, and although much reduced in our modern world, there are still pockets of 'bigger troubles' in some areas than others.
Having grown up in the UK during the days of the IRA bombings on the mainland, and the regular bomb threats in school; as well as driving past a particular Hotel in Brighton hours after a major hotel was blown up, just failing to kill Margaret Thatcher, the then Prime Minister; having been in the USA when the 'Batman Movie' horror took place; having been flying a small plane in the UK at the time of the underground bombing a few years ago; and having worked in some places where the 'risks' are higher than average we consider this as a normal, albeit unacceptable, part of life - everywhere in the world.
Today, it does not matter where you live in the world, we are all at risk from something - sometimes we are not as aware as other times. At times those risks rise, at times they fall. In Aviation we take risk management for breakfast every day, and understand that being aware of the risk is the first step towards its management.
We all know that the media has a sad tendency towards sensationalism and antagonism.
What are the facts that we have right now:
Mali is a fantastic country filled with wonderful people.
It is full of culture and history.
It is home to Timbuktu.
With about 16 million people in a country which is the size of Texas and California put together, it has a population density of just 12 people per km2 (USA 34 , Germany 229 , UK 260 , Ghana 103 )
Much of the land is infertile, the North is part of the Sahara Desert, the South is fed by the river Niger and has some sub-tropical areas.
Mali experiences the Harmattan at this time of year - they experience it for longer and more densely than we do.
The children sing songs, and dance, and play.
The women fetch water and cook for their husbands and family.
The men often farm the poor soils, animal husbandry is very common.
It is a poor country.
In Mali they have less than 1 doctor per 20,000 people (the USA has 1 doctor per 375 people, Germany 1 per 283, the UK 1 per 365, Ghana 1 per 12,000)
Their life expectancy is 53 years (USA 78 , Germany 80, UK 80, Ghana: 61 )
The average age of the population is a little more than 16 (USA 37 , Germany 45 , UK 40 , Ghana 22 )
They suffer with Malaria and Schistosomiasis, poor soils, a harsh climate and poor infrastructure. The north is more poor than the south.
90% of the country is Moslem, the majority of them are praying for peace several times per day.
Most of the population would open their doors to you, offering you a cup of strong, thick, black tea, sharing what little they have with you, without giving it a second thought.
When they laugh, you hear music, as their heads tilt backwards; sadly today few are laughing, and tears are brimming in their deep brown eyes.
We have an expression in Ghana that says 'When two elephants fight, it is only the grass that suffers'. In Mali the grass is the general population, the women and children, the men folk who want to continue in their often simple way of life.
Yes, there are those who want to fight, they have their reasons, on all sides. But let us not focus on the negatives, there are so many positives about Mali and we all hope and pray that one day we will be able to take some of our health education programmes there. They have a need, but until peace prevails, we will continue to watch and wait for the opportunity, and one day it will surely come.
The truth is never what we all get fed by the Media, it is far more complex, and I accept that I will never fully understand it, and I am sure that many people in Mali do not fully understand it either - how much less those from the developed nations. All sides have their reasons, and yet we all know that this conflict will only end with discussion. As Winston Churchill once said' to jaw-jaw is better than to war-war'. I cannot think of a single armed conflict that has ever been declared 'over' in the battlefields, no, it always ends up with signatures on piece of paper, sitting at a table, and with handshakes between leaders, always. We hope that such an agreement will come swiftly and that peace will prevail in our region.
Yes, we will change some of our systems and routines. We will be more cautious about going to the 'higher risk areas' but we will not let 'fear stop us doing our work' - the people of West Africa are amazing, wonderful and we love working and living here. For visitors, we advise the usual travel precautions, but I think that we have all got used to that in recent years - regardless of where we travel to.
Spare a thought today for the people of Mali, our neighbours, and let us all hope for a swift and as peaceful as possible resolution for all parties.