When young people in Mali tell Moussa Kondo it’s not possible to fight corruption and “there’s no way for someone like me” to make a change, his response is both humble and inspirational.
“I say, ‘I came from this village deep in the centre of Mali… and I had a barbecue with President Obama. Can you see the difference between those two worlds?’”
Among the life-changing projects he’s involved in, Moussa runs Accountability Lab Mali, which is devoted to creating a world in which those in power are accountable through positive engagement campaigns and nurturing the young entrepreneurs of the future.
One of their biggest programmes is Integrity Idol, a clever twist on the talent show contest which seeks out the country’s most honest civil servants and makes them “superstars”.
“We want to have a very positive conversation about corruption, so instead of pointing fingers, we celebrate the ones who are doing good, not taking bribes to sign documents, and being nice to people – rich or poor, literate or illiterate,” says Moussa, who’s been invited to speak at the 2019 Global Education and Skills Forum.
Integrity Idol began in Nepal and now takes place in seven countries around the globe. Moussa set up the Mali version in 2016 and says once the finalists have been interviewed on TV, the public get to vote by SMS and “people are talking about it everywhere”.
The scheme shines a light on those who have “found the energy and knowledge and courage” to do the right thing, inspiring honesty in the next generation of civil servants. But it also highlights the severe consequences of corruption.
“Corruption becomes something normal, something logical, but we’re trying to tell [the viewers] there is another option. There are people who don’t need to steal to make their millions, they don’t need bribes to be happy as workers.”
In 2016, Mali ranked 116th out of 176 countries on watchdog Transparency International’s global corruption perception index.
Moussa says bribery is so deeply entrenched in Mali’s political system, that some of the contestants tell him they’re treated differently by colleagues, as if they’re not normal for refusing to take money.
“But when you take money, you prevent the construction of schools, you prevent the healthcare system from being better, your education system, a lot of things. The consequences of corruption will always happen in our lifetime, whoever we are in the given community.”
It’s fitting that Moussa’s first role model – his father – was also a civil servant.
“He was not rich, but he just had the dedication to serve others. He made himself humble and he brought good ideas,” he says.
At high school, he learned a lot about Nelson Mandela and how he “gave the best of himself” to help his community; “this inspired me to bring the change that I want, however it may come.”
His father’s job meant they moved around Mali every couple of years, so although Mousa didn’t get to keep friends for long, he made a lot of them. And he says this network has helped him to “implement a lot of things I want to do”.
And he has definitely achieved a great deal already. He went from playing basketball in national championships, to interning on a daily newspaper in Mali’s capital Bamako, while also at university, before joining BBC Africa.
In his spare time, he set up a basketball programme, Giving Back Mali, to find scholarships for young Malians in places “where they could not go if they didn’t play sport”.
And he also founded the weekly newspaper L’Express de Bamako, staffed with young people who had “the energy to learn and hunger to go deeper” – another important tool to tackle corruption.
Then Accountability Lab came calling and after working with them in Liberia, Moussa offered to set up the Mali division.
Changemakers of the future
One of its newest programmes is the Youth Accountability Incubator, designed to bring about change “from the bottom up” by training social and accountable entrepreneurs.
It began in January 2018 with a cohort of just four, who, over two years, are being taught how to turn their idea into a business, with training in economics, media and networking and how to make a business plan.
“All the ideas must be based on accountability and transparency and help their community change and develop. Whether you’re in the UK, US, France or Bamako, young people in the communities know the problems they have best and the solution that will help fix them.”
It’s bringing hope to school leavers too that there might be inspiring jobs for them in future.
Moussa says Mali’s education system is one of the poorest in the continent because “there’s a lot of politics”. And there’s a mismatch between the school curriculum and the world of work.
“It’s all about how we can create a synergy between what is important for the country, for the job market and what needs to be implemented in school.”
In 2015, he was selected as one of 500 Young African Leaders for the Mandela Washington Fellowship, which gave him the opportunity to study in America. And in 2018, he was selected as one of the inaugural Obama Foundation Fellows – which is why he met the former US president at a barbecue.
“A lot of people say, ‘Moussa, if I were you, I would be living in the US right now’, but I say, ‘I’ve decided to live in Bamako so people like you can make their own way’. If we deeply believe in ourselves and our strengths to bring change, we can inspire others to do the same.”
Hear from other changemakers like Moussa Kondo at the Global Education and Skills Forum 2019. And learn more in Changemakers @GESF and EduPolicy @GESFsessions.