Namballa Keita: A Soldier and His Village
If the Senegalese Tirailleurs(Riflemen), those brave soldiers from Black Africa who helped liberate France from the grips of Fascism between 1939 and 1945, have been the subject of much talk in recent years, the question of what they did with their lives once they were back in their villages has been rarely asked. True, they did not receive either their due social recognition or a fair reward for the blood they so valiantly spilled for the freedom of the colonial master. However, in the face of such a blatant injustice, did their lives stop? No, far from it. All of them, without exception, had to heal their deep wounds while trying more or less successfully to fit into the life of their often sleepy villages. Some even took charge not only of their own intellectual and social emancipation but also of that of their native communities.
Such was the case of “Brigadier” Namballa Keita(1915-1999), a French Soudanese who enlisted in the Regiment of Tirailleurs Sénégalais on February 12, 1940, in the village of Gossas, where he had been for a few years a seasonal worker in the peanut-growing basin of the colony of Senegal. Having served in Morocco, Tunisia and seen action on the Italian Front, he returned to the French Soudan in 1945, with a reading and writing competence in French, the miraculous key that opened for him the key to a long and memorable career in Public Health in his country of Mali. Because he wanted at all costs to ensure a better future for the children of his native village of Nana-Kenieba in the Mande region, he used his own money to undertake the creation of a public school, convinced as he was that the looming independence was going to be a pipe-dream if his people were not educated. This school opened its doors in early October 1960, thereby becoming the first of its kind in the history of independent Mali.
“Namballa Keita: A Soldier and His Village” is the story of a young visionary, who was determined to recover from the trauma of war by forging a better future for his people. It invites us also to question the dystopian reality of our “independent” nations gripped by a crisis of fanaticisms caused by the demise of the very school that carried the hope of Namballa Keita and his generation.