A jocular former paratrooper, Amadou Toumani Touré was once dubbed Mali’s “soldier of democracy”, the man who ousted a dictator in a 1991 coup before organising elections and handing power to a civilian administration the following year.
He was elected president himself in 2002 and has since acquired a new title: he is, in the pantheon of world leaders, the biggest champion of clean water and functioning lavatories. That is what development workers call him and he describes it as a compliment.
“Water is life, as we say here, and sanitation and a clean environment are the basis of human development,” he says. “A poor man who is clean can become rich. But a rich man who is sick can easily become poor.”
In Mali, a parched west African country dominated by the Sahara desert, Mr Touré has made sanitation a focus of government policy and launched the first national version of a global charity campaign to “End Water Poverty”. But the harsh reality is that if there were a contest to put the most political muscle into promoting safe water and lavatories, he would face little competition from other heads of state.