When Mamoudou Gassama, 22, saw a toddler dangling at the fourth floor balcony of a Paris high-rise from which his fall could be certain death some weeks ago, he did not think twice before he began a sensational ascent of the building to save the child. In less than a minute he defied mortal dangers, climbed four floors to the balcony and picked up the toddler. He said he felt afraid only after he had saved the child and was now in the safety of the living room. That’s when the enormity of his bravery began to sink in and, as he put it, he started to shake. “I could hardly stand up, I had to sit down.”
International TV networks broadcast the footage of Gassama’s feat to an astonished but appreciative millions of viewers all over the world. It riveted a world which could not get enough of watching the video footage of Gassama’s daring. The seeming ease with which he moved up the balconies was breathtaking; it was easy to see he was not thinking about his own safety. It was inspirational. And it changed his life.
The President of France, Emmanuel Macron, invited Gassama to the Elysee Palace for an audience, to express the appreciation of the French people and to offer him French citizenship. He told the Macron how he had struggled to survive and how he has had no means to live and no one to help him, since he accompanied his older brother to France.
President Macron decorated him with a medal and issued him a certificate for bravery. “Even if you did not think of what you were doing it was an act of courage and strength that won the admiration of all,” said the President, who then offered him a job in the French Fire Service.
Gassama now known world-wide as the “Malian Spiderman” is a shy young man from Southwestern Mali. He hails from Yaguine town, which he departed in 2013 for his sojourn to Europe.
He had gone through the usual rough route from Mali. First port of call was Burkina Faso, then Niger and northward to Libya, the usual launching pad for clandestine crossing to Europe. He spent a year working in Libya where armed gangs prey on migrants routinely kidnapping them for ransom or even enslaving them as recent reports shockingly revealed. A year later he arrived Italy, sailing in one of those migrant boats that regularly sink.
He reached Paris in September 2017 where he joined relatives in the Eastern suburb of Montreuil nicknamed “Little Bamako” after its large Malian population. He shared a 15 square metre room in a migrant workers’ hostel with a mattress on the floor for bed. He was eking out a living from odd construction jobs, until the day of his fortune and fame, when he just happened to be passing by the building, and beheld all the commotion of people shouting and cars horning, drawing attention to the endangered child. “I climbed up like that and thank God I saved the child,” he said. Reporters tracked him down 24 hours later and he became a celebrity.
We commend the Malian Spiderman and salute his courage and selflessness. We also praise President Macron’s spontaneous action in honouring the brave young man, an act which we know will redound to racial harmony and to his greatness as a president. Such gestures can only propel people like Gassama to do more. Gassama was altruism personified.
A little slip in his ascent could have led to death, but it did not cross his mind to hesitate. He did not know if anyone would compensate him for his action. Yet he took those mortal risks. He is truly an inspiration and all Africans are proud of him. For a young man who has made a name already in trying to save a life, we have no doubt he will do well in the French Fire Service and wish him every success.
We equally agree with Colonel Tim Collins of the Daily Telegraph, London, that “Mamoudou Gassama’s heroism is a reminder that we are all capable of more than we imagine.”