Monday, April 30, 2012

What a Mess !

More amateur political commentating, this time emanating from the jacuzzi at Champneys Health Spa in Bedfordshire:

My world has crumbled- what to do? There is only one answer: spend a few days at a health farm, indulging is some unrepentant pampering. I log on now and then when I surface between the Pilates classes and the pedicure/massage sessions to try and figure out what is going on in poor Mali.

The news coverage is more than sketchy.

The ECOWAS has offered 3000 troops to go to Mali. The decision came at a meeting in Abidjan on the 27th of April, in the presence of the interim Malian president Dionkounda Traore.
Mali has told them to get on their bike: Why?

I was only guessing the answer to that- the reporting is so bad that it is virtually incomprehensible. My guess turned out to be correct and Keita confirmed it over the phone…

Why doesn’t Mali want the 3000 soldiers? God knows they need some help! The fact is that these soldiers were not to be deployed to go and help recapture the occupied north; they were to stay in Bamako to ensure the transition to democratic government apparently!
It was also decided by the same ECOWAS meeting that the transition period would take one year. That is not their decision! What irks most Malians is that the ECOWAS have no right to meddle in Malian affairs. The meeting that was already held in Ouagadougou on the 6 April with the mediator chosen by the said ECOWAS, Blaise Compaore had already set out the frame work for the transition. There was no need to go over old ground. So now there is impasse- and Malians are quite angry with their new interim president Dionkounda Traore for allowing himself to be trampled on by the ECOWAS, and not representing the country properly. But who knows? Perhaps he agreed to the one year transition date, enjoying the thought of staying for a year as president?
The point is, it is not for the ECOWAS to decide! The Malian constitution has provisions for cases like this. The transition may take longer than a year even. It will take as long as it takes. The north must be liberated before the elections can take place. And while all this useless politicking is going on, people are dying in the north, and the rebels, terrorists, Islamic fundamentalists and other assorted elements are getting more entrenched every day! It is a sorry affair, deteriorating by the day, exacerbated by 'international helpers' such as the ECOWAS who are making things worse!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A la Recherche du Vieux Manding

I have always been proud that my Keita is a Keita; a member of the Malinke race and a descendant of the great Soundjata Keita who founded the Mali empire in the 13th century. The term Manding is even older and denotes the territory of the Malinke. The epic of Soundjata was transmitted by the griots (minstrels) of Manding by oral tradition, just like our medieval epics: the Chanson de Roland, the Beowulf, the Arthurian legends or the Niebelungenlied. My French version is a pre-Independence version by Djibril Tamsir Niane, who has used as his source the griot Mamadou Koyoute from the Siguiri area of northern Guinea, in the heart of old Manding. Manding has fluid border lines; it exists as much in the collective imagination of West Africa as in actual geography: Manding is the Camelot of West Africa: a Promised Land of magic where the secrets of the ancients are kept intact. As a geographical identity Manding includes northern Guinea- la Haute Guinee, and the areas south of Bamako in Mali- the Manding mountains and the savannah areas bordering the Joliba- the river Niger.
Ecoutez-donc, fils du Manding, enfants du Peuple Noir, écoutez ma parole, je vais vous entretenir de Soundyata, le Père du Clair-Pays, du Pays de la Savane, l’Ancêtre de ceux qui tendent les arcs, le Maitre de cent Rois vaincus’…’Soundyata, le Fils du Buffle, le fils du Lion, l’homme au noms multiples contre qui les sortilèges n’ont rien pu..’

‘Listen, then, sons of Manding, children of the Black People,listen to my words: I will speak of Soundyata, the Father of the Bright Land, the land of the Savannah; the Ancestor of the Archers; the Master of a hundred vanquished Kings,….Soundyata, the Son of the Buffalo, the Son of the Lion, the man of many names against whom all spells were powerless..’

So begins the tale of Soundyata in the words of the griot Mamadou Koyoute.We wanted to listen , we had 5 days to spend, and so we went in search of old Manding: Keita, I , Levy and Lassina.
Keita is a Keita from Kayes, and had never been to Manding.
The reality of today’s geographical Manding is one of deprivation. it is one of the more underdeveloped areas of Mali. Across the border in Guinea the deprivation is even more tangible. In Siguiri and in Kankan, two of the larger towns of Guinea, there is no electricity, and barely any running water. There are no visible municipal services; people subsist in these towns in a small-scale self reliant manner which reminded me of the favellas of Rio. There are occasional light bulbs run by solar panels or individual generators lighting faintly the streets of the ramshackle shanty town at night,
The currency of Guinea, the Guinea Franc, is more or less worthless. We had to pay 100 000 Guinea francs each for a piece of chicken with chips, to the great merriment of Levy, Keita and Lassina. To fill up the tank in the little motorbikes which criss-cross Sigiri you will need about this much cash! I was annoyed by the fact that the hotels which had not seen a lick of paint in the last ten years, let alone an overhaul of any air conditioners, had nevertheless kept up with inflation and charged more than we do at Hotel Djenne Djenno! I do not mind paying for a good hotel, but I object to paying the same price for the remains of a hotel!
This is of course Keita heartland.

But nevertheless, old Manding will not reveal itself in the shanty towns of Guinea. Old Manding is an illusive territory of the spirit.

What happened was unimaginable: An acquaintance of Levy’s called him on his mobile - he had dialled the wrong number. Levy asked casually what he was up to , and he said he was in Kangaba for the ‘Kaba-Blo’. Kangaba is the Manding town of southern Mali par excellence. The Kaba-Blo is the ancient rite of the replastering of the walls and the renewing of the straw roof on the sacred hut of the Malinke: the Kaba where the secrets and fetishes of the ancestors are kept. This event takes place, like the return of the Flying Dutchman and like all good rites worth their salt, every seven years. It was scheduled for the following day! I am not a mathematician, but the chance of this must be 7X 365, thus one in 2555 according to my calculations!
Of course we left Kankan in haste and returned to Mali and to Kangaba for this precious and rare ceremony.
It rained during the night- a heavy long rain accompanied by a violent tempest with great fork lightning. Rains are unusual in April in Mali. It was seen as a sign of good fortune and boded well for the ceremony, although the rain had destroyed some of the mud plastering which had taken place during the day. However, according to the old Manding sages, the fact that the mud had descended from the Kaba was not due to the fact of the rain, but rather the young maidens and young men that had carried out the plastering had proved themselves to be lacking in the following: the Kaba must be plastered by young girls who are still maidens, and young men who are legitimate: born within wedlock.
The following day there was a rapid hunt around town for new girls, and those that carried out the replastering this time had not even reached puberty, just to be certain….

Photography is not allowed at the Kaba-Blo, so alas I cannot show any images. All telephones must be turned off. The spectators are kept at bay while the locals carry out their age –old ceremony with little regard for the assembled crowd which included many great Malinke politicians and Bamako dignitaries, as well as Habib Koite, himself a griot and musician of international fame. The Kaba hut itself is sitting in a large compound by two ancient and large Silk Cotton Trees.

A group of ceremonial hunters and local griots walk around the hut, chanting melodious incantations. Eventually the grass roof is raised and slowly placed on the hut, during much drumming and chanting. Legend has it that the roof will raise up and place itself by its own accord.

And that was about it! Was it worth the hurried return from Guinea?
We were all a little disappointed but for different reasons: I because I couldn’t see or hear very well, and Keita and the others because they didn’t think that anything magical had actually happened!
This is an interesting difference between Africans and Toubabs; Africans actually believe in Magic, while Toubabs are keen on these traditional events because they are charming and uphold traditions which may otherwise be lost….

And what about poor Mali itself? I have left until end June, I am writing this in the comfort of Bloomsbury, London,…

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

News, some unconfirmed, from Bamako....

Leaving for Manding country and northern Guinea this morning with Keita, our journalist friend Levy and Lassina, another friend of ours.
But suddenly things are moving here in Bamako...there were several arrests during the night and this morning. Members of ATT's former government were arrested by the military, for reasons not yet established. The targets were Sadio Gassama, former Minister of Defense; Sumaila Cisse, the President of the party URD, and Modibu Sidibe, the two latter both Presidiential candidates, and the former of these two mentioned frequently in this blog recently as one of the most corrupt of all in the former gouvernment.
Lassina just witnessed the arrest of Sumaila Cisse before his mansion, half an hour before arriving here. Lassina ran into a friend at this scene; a source close to Modibu Sidibe. According to this source the arrests, at least the arrest of Modibo Sidibe, was a result of a plot that had been discovered to assassinate captain Sanogo. A group of Nigerian Mercenaries are also said to have been arrested, commissioned by Sidibe.
What is true? What is happening? Did the new Interim President Dionkounda Traore, the present highest authority here authorise the arrests? What is the international news saying- I have no electicity and no battery left in my laptop, so no means of finding out! Just enough to post this hopefully..
More soon....

Friday, April 13, 2012

More Frivolity from the Front Line

Well, on the surface at least….

Fashion is regarded as a frivolous pursuit. But this time it is a question of survival, and it is deadly serious. MaliMali is going to have to save us! There is unlikely to be any tourists in the next year or two.
There is a staff of 10 people at the hotel and five at the MaliMali Studio, not mentioning Madame Koita and her orphans, and Mr. Diarra and the adult literacy evening classes. All these were surviving on the spin-offs from tourism: the hotel guests bought in the MalMali shop, which made us able to continue and sponsor our various projects. (see
But what is going to happen now????

MaliMali has to go global.
Today I did a fashion shoot at Ann’s. These pictures and others will form part of the MaliMali range which will be available online within a couple of months when I have seen my website designer.
And what about Mali itself?
A young man who Ann met at her hairdresser’s today said he had wanted to enlist in the army to go and fight in the North. He had not been accepted though, since he did not have a BAC! (the equivalent of A-levels!) Well bloody Hell! Who needs A-levels to fight for his country? Here we have a true Patriot, and he is sent away! Instead he has now decided to become a hair dresser, a noble profession no doubt, but can Mali really spare him at this time? I was very cross and called Keita: ‘Get on to one of your officer chums, will you? This is ridiculous!’

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Musical Madness and Inexcusable Decadence in Bamako

It started yesterday about 4pm when Ann had a sudden overwhelming urge to mop the floor.
There is Oscar for such things, but Ann told me that sometimes she needs to re- establish contact with her domestic self. When this happens she puts on music and the mop becomes her dancing partner. Her happy musical choice was Marianne Faithfull’s ‘Broken English’, which propelled me too out of my afternoon slumber.

Is there anything as powerful as suddenly hearing much loved but long forgotten music?

Patti Smith followed with her great album of cover versions – Gimme Shelter, Soul Kitchen etc.
By the time The Velvet Underground had serenaded us over supper we had entered into a state of unstoppable euphoria and decided we had to go out on the town.
Bamako nightlife with its empty bars and night spots welcomed us, the only toubabs left. We had whisky and coke at The Diplomate which was offering Mande music; a beautiful Griotte in diamante platform shoes sang to the accompaniment of a band of electric gonis. .
Continuing on to the Terrace we sang old Rolling Stones numbers in the car at the top of our volume, but couldn’t remember the lyrics to ‘Paint it Black’ to our great frustration. Nevermind, the DJ at the empty Terrace had computerized equipment, so we just tapped it in: Paint it Black, and there it was: 'I see a Red Door and I want to Paint it Black...No Colours Anymore I want them to turn Black Fantastic strength, big loud speakers, an empty dancefloor and all the music in the world just for us!

We had some more whisky and coke and the only other person present, an old man in the corner of the vast bar (the Lebanese owner it turned out)joined us when we found Morrison Hotel and the three of us jived madly to Road House Blues:
The future's uncertain
And the end is always near.
Let it roll, baby, roll.
Let it roll, all night long.

No Pixies available alas, and no Iggy Pop. However, we consoled ourselves with Smells like Teen Spirit and jumped up and down so wildly that I broke the heal on my shoe and had to walk barefeet through the warm Bamako night when the Lebanese owner invited us to continue as his guests to the night club Byblos. (The Lebanese Owner had lived in Bamako for ten years but had never heard of Djenne!) Byblos was empty apart from a bouquet of ladies of the night who draped themselves enthusiastically around our escort, who is a habitué at this nightspot it appeared. He showed off his two toubab ladies happily, got behind the bar and made us Mojitos.. and we danced and danced some more ….

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Dr. Guida Landoure by Ann's mango tree.

Our friend Guida is born into an old and distinguished Djenne family. His father was a much loved Grand Marabout with the unusual advantage of being highly educated in both a European and Islamic tradition, a privilege which he also bestowed on his sons. Guida’s brother Ousmane has a PhD in economics and lived in Paris for about 10 years, where he enjoyed an enviable career as a banker until he turned his back on the world, returned to Djenne and followed in their father's footsteps. Guida has recently returned to Mali, having finished his PhD in neurogenetics in Washington DC and at London UCL. There was never any doubt in his mind that he would not return to Mali after his studies. He, like my Keita, could never imagine living anywhere else. Guida’s background gives him a good vantage point to observe and comment on the recent events in Mali: he understands the West, he understands Mali. I invited him to Ann’s this afternoon and played reporter:

here is my interview:

S: Did you support Sanogo’s Coup d’Etat?

G: It is difficult for me to say a clear ‘yes’. Mali lived in a military dictatorship for 23 years, between 1968 to 1991. A revolution was needed to get rid of it. Many people were therefore hesitant in endorsing a coup which might return us once more to a military dictatorship. However, once the Coup was announced, most people were in accord with the reasons behind it.

S: What were the reasons?

The junta gave as a reason ATT’s mismanagement of the northern conflict. But the coup was at the same time an expression of the profound malaise which had been growing in the population. Almost all Malians agree that the country was not governed in these recent years: the impunity and corruption have been embedded in the system, and the mediocrity in the administration, producing a total disenchantment with the democratic system. That’s why, since 1992, the first democratic election, we never went beyond 20% of participation in the elections. Even in the last elections, when ATT was re-elected, only 18% of the electorates’ votes were casted for a total of 5- 6 000 0000 people eligible to vote. He was elected by only 400 000. Is that a mandate?
Let me give you my example of the corruption in our country: I came back in August 2011. I was a government worker when I left the country, so I had to have a training leave authorization. I am still waiting for the paperwork to re-start working. It is just a question of writing a one page document (they have samples, they just need to change name and date) that has to be signed. They are waiting for a bribe! When I was leaving U.S. people thought I would be a big professor, others thought I could be a minister (they think it is easy..!) But they cannot understand that I am still waiting to get the authorization to start working! You think this is a good example of democracy ? People think we are in democracy because we hold elections. No, democracy is not just changing presidents. It is about government accountability, it is about having a fair justice, it is about good management of the country’s wealth. We lacked all that. Our democracy is a façade.

S: Do people feel as if their vote makes no difference?

G: Yes, and above all they do not trust that any of the candidates on offer will make any difference. They also feel that the president is known before the voting begins. There is of course a means of registering this mal contentment, and that is by spoiling the vote. Malians are not really aware of this, but it would be the democratic way of manifesting disenchantment, rather than not voting.

S: So it was not just a problem with ATT it was a problem with the democratic system?

G: The candidates on offer were perceived to be perpetuating a corrupt system. They were part of a political elite, having more or less all been ministers at one time or another, and they were mostly known to be corrupt. Not one of the major political parties had stood against ATT in the last elections. Why? Because he had made sure that they did not.

S: How?

G : In order to be seen to be making an effort to control corruption within the government, ATT had commissioned a ‘Verificateur’, an independent investigator to observe closely the financial dealings of the various government departments and ministries. The result of these lengthy investigations were delivered and showed flagrant misconduct and enormous mismanagement of government funding in most cases. ATT decided unilaterally and arbitrarily to pursue only 20 of the hundreds of cases of misconduct that were reported. This is not an assumption; he said it publicly on TV. He gave as reason for this leniency that he did not want to embarrass publicly the perpetrators of these crimes, not to humiliate them, but instead he would deal with them privately. He would also have a tool to pressure them because more often than not these people were affiliated to big political parties! So most of the corrupt officials never went to trial. Some of these were members of parliament for the major parties, the parties that should have made up the opposition in the last elections. ATT is said to have suggested to the would-be opponents that it would be politic not to stand, since he had information on them that would not sit happily with the electorate… Now, however, ATT’s mandate had run out and the time had come for these parties to re-emerge.

S: What will happen now? Sanogo has stepped aside. Will these corrupt politicians, most of who had been arrested, just be released and not go to trial? Will they continue just as if nothing had happened?

G: There is tension in Bamako now over this very question. It is not clear what will happen. It will take quite some time before new elections can be organized- the problem in the north has to be solved first. If the interim government does a good job, they will be able to manage the situation so that this problem does not even arise. In any case, it is difficult to imagine that a Modibo Sidibe would now be able to attain any sizeable proportion of the vote. He and others have been discredited.
In addition, the real problem is that people do not trust politicians. If Sanogo has been popular, it is not because people embraced his action, it is because of his rejection of the politicians. Those politicians are the same guys that put young people on the street back in 1991 to demonstrate against the dictatorial regime. They claimed to be “sincere” democrats, and promised all good things to us. But once they came to power, instead of solving our problems, they worked on emptying our treasury. Today they are the ones with big buildings. You can find many government employees who are billionaires. It is the same disenchantment that brought ATT to power in 2002 because people thought he was not part of the system. But 10 years later, it is a complete disappointment. I agree that as far as infrastructure goes, he did many good things, but these results are not edible.

The question is how much more could have been done? Mali is third producer of gold in Africa, if not lately second producer of cotton, and we export fruits and livestock. But we are 174th in 177 countries according to UNDP. This just means that the money goes somewhere else. I was not an opponent of ATT. He is the only person I have ever casted a vote for. Politicians have weakened with this coup.
If you hear and understand Sanago’s statement of giving the power back to civilians, the prime minister will now have all power, not the president, according to the constitution. They want this prime minister not to be from a political party, and the other members of the interim government will be chosen according to capacity not political affiliation only.

S: And what about the North?

G: If I were the President of this nation I would not spend one franc CFA on trying to keep the Touaregs if they want to go. Let them take the large part of the North- perhaps not Timbuktu and Gao, but the rest. The problem of the AQIM and the terrorists is a separate issue. But the Touareg rebellion itself, and their demands for a separate state, I think it should go to a referendum in the North, perhaps conducted by the UN. If it is clear that the majority want to secede, let them do so!

S: I think it seems strange that the first images we have seen from the crisis in the north have just come in from Timbuktu the other day. What happened to the intrepid war correspondent? I have a feeling that all the reporters are just hanging around Bamako, quoting each other and taking pictures of the junta making pronouncements. Why don’t they go north? Are they too scared?

G: Syria is the focal point just now. There are plenty of reporters and photographers willing to risk their lives in Syria- it is a question of news demand. Syria is more important than Mali. The atrocities committed when the rebels took Gao were not recorded on any films, they were regarded as an internal affair, and no reporters or film crew were dispatched . But once the international community got wind that Ansar Dine or AQIM were in control of Timbuktu rather than MNLA, this became a matter of enough interest to send a crew! The recent atrocities started on January 24th 2012 when MNLA and AQIM captured about 90 Malian soldiers and slaughtered them. They castrated some and let them go, they raped women. But no one reacted to that. But when I was in the West I heard about things that happens in Afghanistan; I heard that Kadhafi’s fighters raped women (this went on U.S. news for 2 weeks), and so on… It is clear that western countries follow their interests: this is not new, they themselves say that they do not have friends, they have interests.

S: So, finally, a last word on the situation in Mali: what will be the lasting effect, if any, of the Coup d’Etat? Will it have made any difference?

G: The Coup was not a good advertisement for our country. But it served as a wake-up call for the people. They have woken from their apathetic slumber and they will take more interest and responsibility in this country’s affairs. It is hard to imagine the old political ruling class in charge once again as if nothing had happened. Some people like my father and brother gave up and went to find a refuge in Djenne which is also noble, but I also think we should fight. This attitude resonates more and more in discussions even between highly educated people who have been left aside or chosen to step aside.

Guida’s conclusion was echoed in an email message from Joseph Brunet-Jailly , a Frenchman with Djenne connections over many years, a founding member of Djenne Patrimoine. He had received the following message from Mali yesterday morning:

"ces deux semaines, par le désaveu cinglant que des gens du peuple ont infligé à la classe politique et militaire malienne et par le bouillonnement que ça a entraîné dans les esprits et les familles, nous projettent vers un avenir, certes incertain, mais où de nouvelles forces et une nouvelle génération politiques vont obligatoirement s'affirmer."
("These two weeks, by the stinging repudiation that the common people have inflicted on the Malian political and military elite, and the fermentation it has brought with it in the minds and in the families, we are moving towards a future, albeit uncertain, where new forces and a new political generation will necessarily assert itself. ")

Friday, April 06, 2012

Good Friday at the poolside, Hotel Amitie, Bamako

After delicate negotiations with myself I arrived at the conclusion that the suffering in the north is hardly going to be alleviated by my not going to the pool in Bamako…

So a whole day was spent without news, but one day is now a long time: Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu were taken in three days...
Not only time seems to be changing its speed and characteristics: emotions too are stretched and spinning and unstable like quicksand.

This morning Ann and I were optimistic: we started telling ourselves that perhaps a Touareg state would be fine after all, as long as it was swept clean of terrorist elements, with the help of a friendly and decisive ( as well as well armed) ally in the shape of France or the US. I spent a happy day at the pool side designing my new 15 room mud palace in Djenne in my mind.

Back at Ann’s this evening the news of the International condemnation of the MNLA’ s unilateral declaration of the Touareg state of Azawad took us at first by surprise. Mali’s interests are not totally ignored by the international community it appears!

Then we plunged again in downward spiral when watching France 24 which showed Timbuktu in the hands of the Islamists, black flags fluttering atop their army vehicles as they drove through the streets where African women were seen in Hijab, and where their leader was touting his gun in the air and wowing that they were not stopping, that they were continuing south, and would bring with them Sharia law wherever they went!
A debate followed where it was suddenly made clear how extremely urgent and dangerous this situation is. The MNLA are no longer the main players. Their declaration of independence is irrelevant, just as Sanogo too is of course now more or less irrelevant. The Islamic fundamentalists, extremely well armed and with a thorough knowledge of the terrain are in charge. The African nations of the ECOWAS have declared that they are preparing an army of 2 to 3000 soldiers to intervene, and France has pledged to help materially and logistically. The details are still being debated, and a schedule is not yet fixed. It would probably take several weeks.

This is going to be far too late and far too little! In the words of one of the France 24 debaters:

L’Avenir du Mali ne se joue pas dans 10 semaines, il se joue demain matin! (The future of Mali is not happening in 10 weeks, it is happening tomorrow morning!)

Meanwhile Amede of la Maison Rouge, called me from the airport, where he is waiting for the plane to France. He informed me that he had just had news that Koro, a Dogon town by the frontier of Burkina Faso has been taken by the rebels. This intelligence has turned out to be a mystery so far: Keita's sources in Koro say it is false, while there are other sources that confirm it!

And now, even while writing this message, Ann calls me: Sanogo is making a statement on Malian TV! Indeed, Captain Sanogo has agreed to step down and to hand over power to the Prime Minister in an interim government. This will allow the sanctions to be lifted, and hopefully the promised troops to be deployed north.

What next? Is this enough for today??

Thursday, April 05, 2012

A Bamako Blog of This and That...

There is no longer any electricity in Djenne during the day, Al Hadj, the work room manager at the Djenne Manuscript Library informed me last night.

Nevertheless, my two Djenne teams are not deterred by such details and are working between 6pm and midnight on both fronts: at the manuscript library the digitization process is continuing and every night about 200 pages of precious ancient Arabic manuscripts are still being photographed.

As far as MaliMali goes Barry my tailor has recruited reinforcements to finish the 150 bogolan make up bags for our friend and client Lela,the dynamic beauty product entrepreneur from South Carolina who is a frequent commentator on this blog in recent days.

Keita has returned to Segou. I will see him again before leaving, Insh'allah..

When will I leave? I don’t know. I am not ready to leave.

In Bamako all is well on the surface at least. Today as I am writing this there is even electricity at 10. 30 am while normally the current is turned off between 8am and 6pm to economise and conserve fuel. But everyone senses that this veneer of normality is thin and fragile as an egg shell. What will happen? When will it happen? Everyone is waiting for something as yet unknown to manifest itself. It is to the credit of the ordinary Malian citizens, this peaceloving and gentle people, that Bamako is calm, for it is now in effect a virtually lawless city.

I am staying with my Belgian friend Ann who has a travel agency: Tounga Tours, and a guest house Auberge Tounga. The second of these enterprises has run well in the last couple of weeks with toubab refugees from the aid agencies in the provinces now leaving the country and spending a couple of days in Bamako before catching their flights.
The first of these enterprises, Tounga Tours is of course now virtually non existent. Therefore imagine our surprise and our giggles when Ann received a confirmation that a lone American tourist will be arriving in Bamako on Monday for the Mali part of his whistle stop tour of West Africa as if nothing was happening here! He is travelling to more or less all the West African countries in 20 days. If this is Monday it must be Bamako….?

Ann has three small children. She is also not sure of what to do. She also does not want to leave. We are making provisional plans of making for the Guinean border (about three hours drive) in case of emergency and Ann is keeping the petrol tank filled up to be able to leave if necessary. Guinea is not part of the Cedeao, the ECOWAS countries who have closed the borders as part of the embargo.

We had drinks with Amede of La Maison Rouge, Mopti at a lively and well-frequented Amandine’s last night. He adheres to a conspiracy theory which I have found on the internet too. According to this theory Sanogo with his coup of 22 March is just a puppet in a Machiavellian scheme masterminded by the French to first of all wrest control of Mali from ATT, who Sarkozy could not abide, and later, by isolating Mali and bringing the country to its knees, to prepare the way for the French to be able to arrive as the liberators and restore order again on their terms, which would include installing their darlings the MNLA in a Touareg homeland, whilst being able to manipulate, by sham ‘democratic elections’ the fate of the rest of Mali. Of course, should this theory be true, it has now backfired at least partly, since a Sahel State controlled by Ansar Dine or AQIM was not included in this masterplan.

Mali is rife with conspiracy theories and rumours.

The remaining Malian Army, reinforcements from Sikasso and Kayes has supposedly arrived to defend Sevare and Mopti where now no foreigners remain, as far as I know. Their defense of Mopti would now no longer be against the MNLA who have announced a ceasefire, but against the Ansar Dine and their fundamentalist allies whose appetite for Malian territory has not yet been satisfied.

News is reaching people by telephone from family members in the north, or from soldiers in hiding in Gao or Timbuktu. Fortunately virtually everyone, even simple infantry soldiers now have mobile phones. Boubakar, a friend of Keita’s who drove us to Bamako the day before yesterday, has a brother who was the quartermaster of the Malian Army in Gao. How can he now leave? Even if he puts on civilian clothing, he will be stopped and have to show his identity card if he wants to leave. If he cannot show one he will be taken prisoner or shot. Boubakar and his family is trying to get a civilian identity card to him to get him out of there.

Organisations and associations springing up every day who want to talk and want to solve the current impasse.

The Bamako based Malian newspaper the Independent wrote this morning:

Mali occupied: What to say? What to do?
The first observation is that those who do not speak Tamachek* or Arabic have now become strangers on the soil of the SONI and the ASKIA. This is nothing surprising, this fact is embedded in the logic of the racist and segregationist movements that are the MNLA and the ANSARDIN, the members of which still condone and practise slavery.

*The Touareg language.

A deep and possibly insurmountable gulf exists between the peoples of the North and South. The perception is that the Touaregs believe themselves to be the masters of the black population of the South.
The 'soil of the Askia', however, is the soil of Gao. It is the soil of the Saurai (Songhai) a proud warrior race, which is also the predominant race in Djenne. Gao will not sit happily in a new Touareg state, although France 24 have now presumed to include it in their new map of Mali!

More soon...

The Sleepting Camelis a popular watering hole and guest house particularly for English speaking travellers and Bamako NGO staff. It is just around the corner from Ann's and I have strolled over for some news. Matt the Australian owner is preparing his departure. There are a few toubabs at the tables drinking beer, studying maps and making evacuation plans. 'The border to Guinea is closed', Matt informs me. But nevertheless it is the opinion of the others that the closure of the borders does not include those that want to leave Mali, but rather the import of goods into the country. Nevertheless, it might be an idea to get a visa now, rather than on the border. A visa for where? Burkina or Guinea? Let's see...

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Merci Dieu Merci Sanogo

Lorry spotted on our way between Segou and Bamako this afternoon.
While the World views the Touareg rebels as Romantic minority freedom fighters, many southern Malians view Sanogo as their own Freedom Fighter. He is their Che Guevara or their Thomas Sankara. He is the People's Hero, and the 'Movement du 22 Mars', the sympathisers with the coup, has a large following. But how long can Mali last the sanctions which have been imposed since yesterday? A week to ten days is the estimate. Bamako appears surprisingly normal at the moment. As we entered the city this evening it was impossible to tell this is a city in a deep crisis. Plenty of people on the street, the shops open and people having ice cream or pizza at Amandines as if nothing is happening...

Communiqué from the pool side of Hotel Independence, Segou:

Arrived safely last night from Djenne, travelling south on the main artery linking North to South. The road was curiously empty. The toll booths were normally the road tax is paid were all deserted. At one point we met a lone Malian Army vehicle travelling north. I joined the patriotic Keita and Levy who were waving frenetically to show them a little encouragement. We got a hoot from their horn and a flash of their front lights.

Before leaving Segou I convened three emergency meetings: to explain why I had to leave and what had to be done in my absence.
The Manuscript Library team arrived first. I paid them next months salatries for the project, wished them well and hoped we would meet again in more peaceful and pleasant circumstances. Samake is still in Djenne, and had no immediate plans of evacuation, although he was receiving urgent calls even during our meeting from friends and family in Bamako, pleading with him to leave immediately. I asked Yelfa, my Arabic master, Grand Marabout de Djenne and archivist in the British Library project, whether he would leave if things took a bad turn in Djenne>.
Yelfa looked at me at first as if he didn’t understand the question. Then he started laughing. ‘What?’ he exclaimed, no doubt speaking involuntarily for all the Marabouts of Djenne, ‘Leave Djenne?, Never!’ His ancestors have seen empires established and fallen in Djenne before….It matters little in the world he inhabits.
Next came a meeting of MaliMali. There are orders to fulfil. Barry our tailor is working flat out on an American order. I do not want this to stop. He needs the money. This has to be fulfilled and be delivered to me in Bamako somehow. The weaving and bogolan will continue in my absence.

The meeting with the hotel staff was brief and to the point- all will run as usual, with or without hotel guests. June will be closed as usual with only a skeleton staff. There was one change only: Fatou, our sou-chef, has been given leave to join her husband in Sikasso. She lives in Djenne with two of her small children, simply because of the salary she receives here. Papa will now have to hold the fort and she must leave until the situation calms down.(with her April salary intact of course.)
When crossing the Djenne ferry I cried. What will the situation be when I return? When will I return?

Levy and I are leaving for Bamako in an hour or so. Keita will accompany us on our way and return to Segou again tomorrow.

There seems to be no question that there will now be a Touareg State established. Sanogo must give over power immediately, however well intentioned his coup was. He has no choice. Mali does not have a single friend as long as he stays. The African Nations of the Cedeao (ECOWAS in English?) has him in a corner and he must yield. And who are these allies to Mali that now are turning on him so ferociously? Did all these leaders come to their power in fair democratic elections? Are they so exceptionally hard on Sanogo because they want to make an example of him? Are they hoping to deter future Coups that may later be directed at themselves?

As I write this, an argument erupts in the garden of the Independence between the Lebanese owner and his electrician. The Lebanese owner expresses the same view of Realpolitic as I above: Sanogo must cede power. 'Jamais!' exclaims his electrician,a Sanogo supporter. The two are prevented to attack each other physically by the onlookers.

Now the owner comes over to speak with me. He says that Sanogo has recalled all the remaining Malian troops to Bamako to protect him and his junta, because he fears an attack by the combined forces of the Cedeao who will arrive to wrest power from him. Is this true? Who knows! If that is the case we are leaving from the frying pan into the fire...

So what glimmer of hope is there in all of this?
Perhaps only this: the Toureg rebellion is made up of a loose amalgam of varous factions: some want the whole of Mali, and want an Islamic State with Sharia law. Some want only the north. Some have interests related to drug smuggling and other contraband activities. Some are linked to Al-Quaida. None has ever had an independent state.
The situation reminds me of Lawrence of Arabia's taking Damascus with his band of Arab rebels. The scene is unforgettable in David Lean's film. While Lawrence and his desert army sit arguing in the Damascus Town Hall, unable to agree on who should be in charge, General Allenby is waiting quietly on the sides, practising phantom flyfishing. 'But should we not be doing something, Sir?' exclaims his advisors. 'Why'? replies Allenby.
'We can't just wait!
'Why not? counters Allenby serenely. It is normally the best thing.'

(The comparason breaks down of course as far as General Allenby goes. Who is now waiting in the wings? Who will establish order? What will this order be?)

A Toureg state may not be a total disaster for Mali. The Touaregs and the Southerners mix like water and oil. There will never be real contentment, and a rebellion will always be brewing.

If a limited Touareg state could be established with the territory they have already claimed, and this would then leave the rest of Mali in peace, maybe this would even be a good thing for Djenne for instance. Djenne would be the new Timbuktu on the tourist map of Mali. It is already a hundred times more beautiful than Timbuktu! We have as many ancient manuscripts as they have! We can do music festivals too! This is not the end.
A new Mali will rise from the ashes.
But the real conflagration may not yet have taken place...

Monday, April 02, 2012

It is 1.49 in the morning.
This will be the last sunset on my terrace for some time to come. We are packing up.
Tomorrow we leave Djenne for Segou.
Rumours are rife: The Rebels have taken the town Gosi between Timbuktu and Douanza- 40 dead, possibly all Malian soldiers. A Malian officer friend of Keita's, in hiding in Timbuktu, told Keita on the phone that the Rebels will arrive at Sevare at 5 am.this morning.
Gao has been ransacked and banks and private businesses looted and destroyed.
We have a couple of 'refugees' at the hotel tonight. A Malian father and grown son with their driver. They had been on a family visit in Sevare, but events took a nasty turn, and they decided to leave for the comparative calm of Djenne. On Saturday night about 23h they had seen the first convoys of soldiers and army vehicles coming in to Sevare from Gao. It was a pitiful sight, with many soldiers seriously hurt, some walking without shoes, saying they had not eaten for two days, some seemingly drugged or mumbling incoherantly, all totally demoralized.
The convoy, which also included civilians, kept filing past all night. The wounded were taken to Mopti hospital.
The worst blow to the Malian Army was the desertion of Colonel Gamo, a Toureg who had been the commanding officer. He announced his desertion Sunday morning on Radio France Inter. He took with him 500 soldiers and 300 Army vehicles. The Army has been left virtually without command and without ammunition.

The taking of Timbuktu was accomplished even before the rebels had time to arrive from Gao.
A large number of the soldiers in the Malian Army Camp were Touaregs, and they simply turned their guns on their Southern Comrades and took the camp, leaving little to accomplish for their Rebel brothers when they arrived.

It was a sorry evening at the hotel, with my Keita and our friend Levy the journalist overwhelmed with the terrible situation.

They feel totally squashed and humiliated. They feel that the world has abandoned them and that international opinion is hugely unfair. What they, and indeed I too, cannot understand, is that there has not been one single voice that has spoken up in defence of Mali. Not a single condemnation of the Touareg Rebellion.
Not a single friend has mentioned that the Touregs are the aggressors here.

Noone has mentioned the fact that terrible atrocities have taken place, such as the massacre at Agulec before the coup, where nearly a hundred unarmed Malian had their throats slit. As ATT rightly said at the time: if it had been the Malian Army that had committed this massacre, it would have been trumpeted across the world as a Crime against Humanity. However, it was committed by the Touaregs, a minority group of desert dwellers seen as 'Romantic Freedom Fighters' who have somehow managed to seduce the imagination of the world.

Why does the world not care about Southern Malians? Why are we completely abandoned? was the burning question tonight. Why does France invite Touareg Rebel leaders to be interviewed on their news channels? There is a huge sense of unfairness here.

Our fried Cisse joined the sorry gathering. 'It is all like a dream'. How can this be happening?' Noone understands.

Keita wants me to ask a question on this blog: Do the United Nations exist? If so, is it only for the rich nations?

We are too tired and confused to even sleep now, and Keita and I sit in our salon for the last time, having taken down our most precious pictures from the walls, packing cases scattered on the floor around us...

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Just back from what is possibly my last ride on Petit Bandit for some time.
During my ride I received two phonecalls, both informing me that the Army has not fled Mopti/Sevare. There was some movement of army vehicles and rumours started spreading that the Army had taken flight. Instead they are regrouping it appears. But nevertheless I have decided to leave for Segou and then on to Bamako on Tuesday: just a week or two earlier than planned.

Should I stay or should I go?

Timbuktu is taken by the rebels- apparently virtually without resistance. There are rumours that the soldiers in Mopti and Sevare have already fled, and there is noone left to defend these towns. Is this true? Sevare is two hours from Djenne.
The British Embassy are urging all Britons to leave. The Swedes say nothing, but they don't even know I am here.
I am the only toubab in Djenne.
Amede, my friend at La Maison Rouge in Mopti has spoken to French people who stayed in Gao when this town was taken yesterday. They said that there was no violence, but that the Touareg soldiers had entered their houses and requested, rather politely, but at gun point nevertheless, that all valuables and cash be handed over.
Keita is leaving for Segou on Tuesday. I could go with him, in fact I think I must go with him...
So much to do first! So much to think of. The 10 staff is staying on full salaries until end of June when I normally come back. There are orders for bogolan to finish. There is the library project which must go on....
So, must dash!