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Senegal Musician Maal Named UN Ambassador on Desertification

This undated handout photo shows Senegalese singer-songwriter and activist Baaba Maal.
This undated handout photo shows Senegalese singer-songwriter and activist Baaba Maal.

Senegalese singer-songwriter Baaba Maal on Monday was named a goodwill ambassador for the U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification.

Maal has long been an activist on climate change and refugees. Since 2003, he has been committed to various development challenges in Africa, working with different U.N. family organizations.

His NANN-K Trust recently opened a solar-powered irrigation project in Senegal to fight desertification, which is one of the main drivers of people leaving the country on dangerous migration routes. The project will train people to start similar projects in their own communities.

In a recent interview with The Associated Press, Maal said he is a believer in putting power in the hands of young people and women.

"We are tackling climate change impact, but also fighting desertification on the African continent, especially in my region where we are just not far away from the desert and we see it coming to us," he said.

"And it had an impact because people who don't get more opportunities to do agriculture, fishing and many more will have to run away from their places, go to the big cities where nothing is planned for them there, and then later on, some of the young ones will just take the boats to go to Spain or some of these places or just try to cross the desert and it's really dangerous. We did lose a lot of lives."

Brought up in the small town of Podor in north Senegal, which has a fishing community at its heart, Maal was born into a fisherman caste and was expected to follow that career path, but he befriended storyteller and musician Mansour Seck, and has spent his life performing, traveling and raising awareness about the issues his homeland faces.

"Our role is first to give news about what's going on, because sometimes the local people, they don't know what's happening to them is the impact of climate change. They don't know how to stand up against that. But at the same time, when they know about it, they will say what to do," he said.

The veteran musician released his first album in seven years, "Being," on March 31 and will headline the Barbican in London for the first time in 20 years on May 30.