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US Anthropologist in Mali Becomes Sought-After Blogger

Screen capture from Bridges from Bamako blog
Screen capture from Bridges from Bamako blog

A U.S. anthropologist has become a sought-after Internet blogger in the wake of the recent upheaval in Mali.

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 on transferring power to civilian rule.

The blog's writer, Bruce Whitehouse, a Fulbright scholar from Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, offers in-depth analysis, historical background, links and local reaction to events in Mali. The posting was quickly picked up by influential news and opinion disseminators on the social media website Twitter.

"Bridges from Bamako," which sometimes includes literary, mythical and cross-cultural references, has received thousands of views daily since last month's coup in Mali.

Another popular posting was when Whitehouse discussed the coup leader's wardrobe. His blog showed a series of pictures taken from state television with Captain Amadou Sanogo wearing a dyed shirt under his fatigues and carrying a 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.

Whitehouse said the shirt represented a hunter's cloth and the stick an object of power.

Whitehouse says he is applying anthropology to contemporary political analysis as well as echoing 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," Whitehouse said.

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

Many readers thank Whitehouse for providing the blog, which they say often surpasses other information they are receiving about the situation in Mali.

Due to increasing power outages, Whitehouse says he sometimes rushes by taxi to a generator-powered cybercafe to finish his postings. But for Whitehouse, who first came to Mali in 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 said.

Whitehouse, who teaches classes in Bamako and conducts research on the complexities of Malian marriages, says he gladly would host a blog with much less readership, if the situation in Mali became calmer.