Mali: Mamadou Cissé and the watermelon thieves

| October 6, 2014

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Mamadou Cissé is a broadcaster with Radio Welena in Nossombougou, a remote area 75 kilometres north of Bamako, in southwestern Mali. He has worked at the station for 12 years. Mr. Cissé is the presenter of a farmer program called Biminimissa, or “Pioneer farmers,” and owns a farm in a nearby village. He rotates crops through the seasons, alternating maize, millet and watermelon on his two-hectare farm.

Last farming season, his watermelon yield was so good that thieves began to visit his farm, pilfering the best fruits as they matured. But he noticed a pattern. The watermelons disappeared only when he was presenting an evening program. So he devised a cunning plan. He had always presented his show live on-air. But one day, he sat down in front of his microphone and inserted a cassette into the tape deck. He pressed the record button and began to speak into the microphone. Now the show could air while he kept watch over the farm.

The trap was set. The recorded episode began with Mr. Cissé’s usual introduction. But the broadcaster was seven kilometres away from the studio, keeping an eye on his farm. The thieves listened to Mr. Cissé’s program near the farm, waiting for the right moment, unaware of Mr. Cisse’s whereabouts. At the end of the program intro, they seized their chance. They crept into his field, keeping their eyes open for the best fruits. From his hiding place, Mr. Cissé recognized their voices— a well-known hunter and his wife.

The thieves reached the middle of the field, tapping watermelons and listening for the hollow sound of mature fruit. Just then, Mr. Cissé turned on his torch and emerged from his hiding place. He declared, “So you are the ones doing my harvest these days.” Taken by surprise, the thieves exclaimed, “This is devilish! How can somebody be on air and on his farm at the same time!”

Before he could nab the couple, they turned their backs and fled, disappearing into the darkness. But the news spread quickly across an amazed village. Ashamed, the couple returned a few days later to apologize, and the thieves and the DJ now live together peacefully in the village.

Having saved his watermelons from thieves, Mr. Cissé earned 400,000 Central African francs (about $800 U.S.) from his harvest. He used part of the money to buy two bulls and a cart to ease his farm work.

In July and August 2014, Meli Rostand conducted research for Farm Radio International at six radio stations in Mali and Burkina Faso, including Radio Welena. His work is part of FRI’s African Radio Research Program Initiative (ARRPA). In 2011, FRI conducted research at 22 radio stations and organizations in five other countries; Meli’s work concentrates on Francophone stations in Mali and Burkina Faso. Through Meli’s research, FRI hopes to get a clearer picture of the conditions under which farmer radio programs are created in Francophone West Africa, of the strengths of the radio stations and the challenges they face, and of how to better support our broadcasting partners.