The young Malian migrant who risked his life to save that of a small child in Paris continues to be fêted around the world. The modest African ‘Spiderman’ is now regarded as a real-life superhero.
Remember the video footage last year when we watched, with bated breath, as a small boy who had overbalanced was dangling precariously from a fourth-floor balcony in Paris?
A neighbour was trying to coax the panic-stricken child to hang on while a crowd had gathered on the street below, watching in horror as the boy clung on with all his might.
Then, suddenly, a figure was scaling up the side of the building, dashing from balcony to balcony. The slightest error would have seen him hurtling down to certain death or injury. As the crowd shouted encouragement, the young man reached the balcony and plucked the small boy to safety.
He was Mamoudou Gassama, a 22-year-old paperless migrant from Mali who had been sleeping rough and had his own worries. But when he saw the danger the boy was in, his only thought was to save him.
Gassama became an instant hero, not only in France but globally. He was nicknamed ‘Spiderman’ and invitations followed thick and fast, including one from President Emmanuel Macron to visit him at the Élysée Palace.
The City of Paris gave him its highest distinction, the Grand Vermeil Medal and he was given a hero’s welcome back home by Mali’s President, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, in the capital, Bamako.
He also saw his father for the first time since he had left home seven years ago to join his elder brother in Europe. He began his long, arduous and dangerous journey when he was 15 and travelled through several African countries including Libya, where he was arrested and beaten and made two risky boat journeys before he finally made it to the Italian shore – but not before he had been rescued off the high seas.
He spent four years in Italy before reuniting with his brother in France. Following his ‘Spiderman’ feat, he was on radio and TV talk shows where he needed translators, as his grasp of French is still very rudimentary.
He is now apprenticed to the elite Paris Fire Brigade. The commander of the service, Jean-Claude Gallet told him: “There are many common features between your gesture, Mamoudou, and the values upheld by the Paris Fire Brigade, [including] courage, audacity and also humility,” its commander, Jean-Claude Gallet, told Gassama the day after his meeting with Macron.
But the honours have not stopped coming his way. Late last year, the US-based Black Entertainment Television (BET) network presented him with its Humanitarian Award in Los Angeles.
The awards are made for acts of bravery and valour. Others honoured include Anthony Borges, a teenager who shielded his schoolmates during the school shooting in Florida which killed 17 people, and James Shaw Jr., who wrestled a gunman to the ground in Nashville, US.
With his quick thinking and bravery, Mamoudou Gassama has made not only Mali but all of Africa proud. In addition, he has shown the world that the often despised ‘boat migrants’ are often cut from a heroic and noble fabric. NA