This is the King of the Bambara Empire in Mali. To see him you have to climb into a leaky boat that departs from Segou along the Niger River. After an hour or so, either you will see him or you will have been eaten by crocs. It’s easier to see the Queen of England who often takes the air on her balcony in Buckingham.
I’m sure she wishes all those people getting an eyeful of her would bugger off. Not so the King of the Bambara people. He doesn’t get too many visitors so he was very happy to see me. He even showed me inside his pad. He has a TV, an orange motorcycle with luxuriously padded seating, a lovely wife and, to round off the sense of domestic tranquillity, a tortoise – a very active one judging by the fact that it has to be tethered.
A more modest king you will not find. Being a little understaffed, the King of the Bambara darns his own clothes and does his own fishing. You will observe his subjects must take a lower seating position, but who would not bow to such modesty? The truth is his kingdom is hardly modest amounting to upwards of two million people. That’s almost half the population of Norway, and you should see that King’s pad.
R20 bought me the key to his village and I was free to wander around Segou Kora, strung out along the banks of the beautiful Niger River. It beats the Thames in terms of size and smells any day. I am sure he is loath to leave this idyllic spot and often turns down invites to Buckingham.“Kate and Will’s wedding? Stuff it, I’m going fishing with mates.”
All that any royal could want is here: a well for water, a market, food and cloth aplenty traded by the watery highway of the river. There are many monuments reaching up to the heavens and subjects humble and devoted who imitate his style by riding around on bikes with plush seating, just like his.
I like the Kingdom of the Bambara. I like the King dude of the Bambara. He shook my hand, gave me loads of time and showed me around. Beat that, ‘Liz. For my royal thrills, I’ll skip Buckingham and head down the Niger.