My encounter with Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, the President of Mali at UN General Assembly in New York | Simon Ateba Updated for 2021


Updated: March 4, 2021

I was seated at the cafeteria wondering whether I should have coffee or tea, when some African men came and asked me whether another man could sit near me. I said yes.

I told the man I am a journalist and gave him my card. Then the other men became uncomfortable and wanted me to sit somewhere else. I said no. You met me here and I am not going anywhere.

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The man with them told them to leave me alone. It turned out that the man in question was Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, the President of Mali.

He introduced himself. Minutes after his aides brought food to him. He said he would not eat unless I also had some food. They asked me what I wanted, I said the same thing as the President.

They went to buy food and a drink for me, but didn’t bring exactly the same thing. So the President told them they did not buy the same thing for me, he then shared his food with me.

We began a long conversation talking about when he met Nelson Mandela. Then the man ordered coffee and told them this time they should bring the same thing.

They brought it, I tasted it and he tasted his and asked me to taste his also to know whether it was the same thing. I did and I confirmed it was exactly the same thing. We continued to converse. I asked him what it was like to be President.

You know, anything you want men run to bring it to you. Me I have to work my ass off. It took me two hours to get here. How long did it take you? He said 15 minutes. I said you see. How does it feel having it easy and these men following you around?

Then the President said, it feels great, but your life can end in a second. And when you’re gone, what is left is what you have achieved.

We talked about many things else, exchanged contacts and I told him I had to run to continue my job.

You know, I have lived long enough, and got white hair by the way, to know that whether here at the United Nations General Assembly in New York where I am writing this, or over there wherever you’re reading it, the truth remains that I am just an ordinary guy doing my job and coming across all kinds of people, those with powers and those without. But I learn from all of them.

This article was written by Simon Ateba, a renowned international journalist based in Washington DC


Simon Ateba
Simon Ateba
Simon Ateba covers the White House, the U.S. government, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other financial and international institutions for Today News Africa in Washington D.C. Simon can be reached on


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