Saturday, May 30, 2015


Yes , we went to see the celebrated film by Abderrahman Sissako last night and it was just as good, in fact much better than I had imagined. But because I am almost Malian now, and fiercely pro-Bamako in my political outlook, I had worried about it having a pro-Azawad slant, in which case I may have had to make an ostentatious  exit.  But of course the film is not about the wider Malian conflict but only about Timbuktu under the 10-month rule of the Islamists in 2012.
And it is not predictable in any way.  It is a loosely constructed cavalcade of events under an absurdist regime that forces men to roll up the trousers to just below the knee and women to wear gloves:  The reaction of the fish-selling matron who shouts abuse in Bambara to her tormentors ‘the Islamic Police’ is very funny: ‘how do you expect me to sell fish with gloves on?’ which reminded me of how resilient and  not-to-be-messed –with  Malian women are. 
The film is populated by arresting and unforgettable characters and moments: the mad seductress  trailing her  tattered  robes through the streets of Timbuktu carrying her  pet chicken in regal and utter contempt for the Jihadists (Kettly Noel above) , the football game with the imagined football;  the young Jihadist ex-rapper who was supposed to tell his story on a promotional video but was unable to do so, since it was clear that he could not quite understand why music was banned; the wisdom of the Imam in his dealings with the Jihadists (this is true, I know the son of one of the Timbuktu Imams and he always kept lines of communication open with the Jihadists); the beautiful scenery – mainly filmed in Mauritania I believe-which made me homesick for Mali.
One of the most interesting features of the film was its unpredictability: we were taken down various paths which should by all rights have led to certain conclusions: but they never did. For instance we were certain that we were heading for an unpleasant culmination –possibly a rape scene-  involving  the main Jihadist Abdelkrim  and Satima, the wife  of Kidane the main character, but no, the film never behaved  as one has been used to expect. And however nasty the Jihadists were they were never painted as anything but misguided fellow humans.  A great film.

Friday, May 29, 2015

London Delights

My London friends have taken it upon themselves to see to it that I am constantly steeped in all things lovely and European while I am here for my brief yearly visit: noone more so than David, the most frequent commentator in this journal. On Tuesday he took me to my favourite concert venue: The Wigmore Hall, for a stunning performance by James Ehnes on violin and Andrew Armstrong on piano, performing music  which was all  composed during the first world war: the programme  included  violin sonatas from Elgar, Debussy and Respighi.  But David doesn’t like it at the Wigmore Hall for some reason- and also he tells me that these sorts of concerts are old fashioned and  have no appeal for younger audiences! Oh, well , just shows how out of step I clearly am with the youth of today…but David too had to admit that it was a spectacular performance . Here is his review:

And then the next day followed 'The Audience,' a play by Peter Morgan about the Queen and her prime ministers and their weekly meetings which is now also on Broadway with Helen Mirren as Queen. In London the role of Queen is convincingly played by Kristin Scott Thomas, a very good comedy actress. And comedy it was of the highest order- especially funny the recent addition to the play which was written just a couple of weeks ago , after Cameron’s surprise election win.

And then there is Jeremiah, always ready with a stream of lovely invites: last night his Twelve Star gallery opening at the European Commission:  showing work by Albanian painter Bashkim Izano : here with my friend Clare.

But tonight my thoughts will return towards Mali: we are going to see Timbuktu, the film which is released today in London cinemas.  In the midst of all the jolly times I am following  with concern what is happening in ‘my’ poor Mali… and as many times before, Bruce Whitehouse’s blog has been able to present the current situation with admirable clarity:

Friday, May 22, 2015

"A Fortress for Ewoks???"

I had been looking forward to a feature written about the hotel and also about MaliMali's fabrics in Newsweek; It is now out, but very disappointing: first of all, instead of using the gorgeous pictures that the photographer took of the hotel or of the bogolan -or of me for that matter! they trot out an old picture of the mosque!  And frankly, reading the text it would  certainly not give me any wish to go to this town or my hotel! I am very cross.

The House of Detention

Well those de-humidifiers that the organizers of the Clerkenwell Design Week had promised for my prison cell in the exhibition  dungeon did what they could, but the last three days'  of MaliMali's textile show have been a bone-chilling  ordeal, there is no getting away from it. I am today spending an indulgent  afternoon in my God mother Giulietta's lovely warm flat, celebrating my 'release' by eating lots of chocolate and doing absolutely nothing, having spent the morning clearing the show away.

And did it do us any good? Impossible to tell. The show was supposedly frequented by potential clients: architects and interior designers who might want to use our textiles for various projects. People wandered in  and out of my 'cell',  some of them casting a furtive glance only but  picking up a business card, others staying and chatting for some time, while I went through  the rigmarole of explaining everything about the bogolan manufacture in detail, only to find out as often as not when I asked who they were that they had nothing to do with design  whatsoever, but they were in 'human resources' or 'IT' or ran a restaurant up the road..... Oh well, at least it passed the time and made me forget for a moment  how dreadfully cold I was.  The faintly annoying thing was that I had to reply to exactly the same .questions as those facing me when I am at Hotel Djenné Djenno: "how long have you been in Mali?' "What made you decide to live in Mali?" etc.  etc. The picture behind me of Dembele made everyone think I was showing Kenyan fabrics because he looks like a Masai, draped in the Zebra fabric. I had to disappoint them all by explaining that  Dembele is an accountant, not a Masai Warrior.
Let's see what it will bring... I am now intending to concentrate on having a holiday!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

A Peace Agreement without Peace

 Rushing to to get ready for the MaliMali textile show at the Clerkenwell Design Week here in London which opens on Tuesday , so  sadly not able to concentrate on developments in Mali, momentous though they are:  Nevertheless,  I just watched Al Jazeera’s report on the Mali Peace treaty which was  signed  on the 15th in Bamako.  It mentioned that the signing went ahead in the absence of‘Tuareg separatists’.  Indeed, it is of course deplorable that the CMA (Coordination des Movements de l’Azawad ) was not present at the signing. However, they did finally initial the peace treaty in Algiers  on the 14,th  albeit  attaching the proviso  that more negotiations would have to take place before they were willing to sign the final agreement.
Al Jazeera and most other news channels chose to present the matter as if the north of Mali is the land of the Tuaregs and this section of the country want their freedom to create the state of Azawad. It is of course necessary to simplify if you are only able to give a couple of minutes of air time to the events in Mali, but this does not illustrate the situation in Mali at all.  Al Jazeera makes no mention of the Plateform, which includes the large number of Tuaregs who are loyal to the government and who want to remain Malian.  Clashes between these two factions have been intensifying in the last few weeks.
So what to make of this long awaited signing of the peace treaty, brokered in Algiers, signed in Bamako on the 15th with great pomp in the presence of several heads of African states?
Keita tells me that IBK rose to the occasion and delivered a splendid and rousing speech in which he more or less attacked certain of his guests, the representatives of the CEDEAO, (the West African allies ) MINUSMA (the UN forces)  and SERVAL (the French forces) for not adhering to the Ouagadougou agreement  of June 2013 which  provided for the  cantonnement  (containment) of the rebel groups (read MNLA) . Instead it is the Malian army which is now in cantonnement and the Malian government is unable to do its job in the north.  IBK in his speech mentioned that he deplored the fact that the children of Kidal have not  been able to go to school for the last three years, but made it clear that this is for want of support by the international  military presence who are effectively  preventing the Malian state from re- establishing itself in the north.  

 IBK's attack has been taken very badly by the head of the UN mission, Hervé Ladsous, who on Saturday accused Mali of being ungrateful, stating that the mission to Ma1i has been very costly in  human terms with 35 dead in the last two years. IBKs speech may have lacked in diplomatic finesse, but it did nevertheless express the sentiments of a large proportion of Malians.

 Sadly, in the aftermath of this signing , and in the absence of the CMA (Coordination des  Movements de l’Azawad ) there remains perhaps only a vestige of hope that the long brokered accord will make any real difference.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Brrr! SOOO Cold!

I have chosen this tiny item as an  symbolic reminder   that I have now arrived in Europe. It seems  to me a most European item: it is a MUSHROOM BRUSH, and it is in my friend Cressida's kitchen. Cressida is a foodie and a great cook. She has never been to Ma1i to see me: one of the reasons is that she thinks the food in Mali can't be any good. I believe she is wrong there,  although there is certainly not much use for mushroom brushes in Djenné at least since there are no mushroms there and of course I have a rule at the hotel to only use what is found locally.

Meanwhile in Bamako the temperature was 46 degrees today but  here I am wrapped up in whatever sweaters I can lay my hands on ( this happens every year!) I never remember how unbelievably COLD London is!
And to make matters worse I have chosen to take part in something called the Clerkenwell Design Week with Malimali's fabrics in  a  couple of weeks. I went to see my space yesterday: the show is held in Victorian dungeon called the Detention Centre- freezing cold and dripping with humidity! That would all change the organizers assured me, and indeed there seemed to be big 'hoovers' and other equipment working on the  unpromising premises to 'mop up' the water. How on earth did any of those Victorian prisoners survive?? Pictures to follow of the space changed into something chic hopefully...

Monday, May 04, 2015

Slightly Tipsy in Casablanca

  Having a lonely dinner overlooking a familiar view, drinking some excellent Moroccan red wine:  I am in the restaurant of the ‘BelleRive’ Hotel on the Corniche in Casablanca, on my way ‘home’ to Europe:  UK first for the month of May, then Sweden in June.

This place has both happy and difficult memories.  In June 2009 (see blogs) I was here with Keita who was then in a wheelchair, but he regained  the use of his legs through the radio therapy  that he received here: many Malians and other sub- Saharan country nationals avail themselves of the medical  expertise and facilities of the Maghreb countries: especially Morocco and Tunisia. This time it is I who am investigating some possible medical treatment, about which later perhaps.

But David has insisted that I post some pictures of this year’s Crépissage of the Great Mosque of Djenné, so I feel must try , albeit a little belatedly. ..

This year’s event distinguished itself by the presence of some Togolese UN soldiers  in Djenné to guard , somewhat ostentatiously , certain  UN personnel . Noone has ever seen UN troops in Djenné before but here they were, travelling about in a proper TANK and armoured vehicle with sub machine guns.  They seemed to be enjoying themselves at the ‘crepissage’ and told me there was nothing even remotely like it in Togo.


They were ensuring the safety of Olivier, a spokesperson for the UN forces in Mali, and a few of his colleagues, who were busy flying a drone camera over the Mosque during the crépissage,  something never seen before, and  a sideshow which nearly threatened to steal the thunder of the main event.
They had asked permission to fly the drone camera, and during Friday prayers the Imam of Djenné had sensibly told the population what to expect : otherwise a riot could easily have ensued. As it happened everyone was intrigued.

The Togolese UN tank borne troops rather stole the thunder for me too at the hotel.   I could not hope to compete  with my  two armed National Guards who were to keep watch during the night to ensure the safety of my few hotel guests who had come up for the crepissage.

The reason for my  somewhat unusual  decision to have the hotel guarded was that I had had a peculiar phone call from the security section of a major embassy in Bamako the day  before the crepissage. ‘Was I aware of anything  going on in Djenné, any panic at all?
Any unusual events in Djenné? Had I heard about any people leaving the town?’  The security officers were in possession of a transcript from a radio broadcast from Mauritania which gave the information in Songhai  and in Tamachek that ‘Djenne was in imminent danger of a terrorist attack ; that the population was in a state of panic and leaving the town  in large numbers for the safety of towns like Mopti.’ They sent me a translation of the transcript of this broadcast by email. I said I would look into it.

I phoned Babou Touré, one of the town councillors. ‘ Have you heard of any panic around here? ‘ Is anyone leaving town?’ Of course he had not heard of any such thing. Just to be certain I also phoned the Sou –Prefect, and he too had not heard anything. However, I  decided to  play safe and ordered two armed guards, just in case, not wishing  to poo-poo a  warning from such a major embassy’s security staff.  I now found  myself in the interesting situation of suddenly being regarded as the centre of intelligence operations in the area, because shortly  afterwards I  received a visit by the  Chef de Peloton,  Mulai, a charming  Arab from Timbuktu, who is in charge of military operations in and around Djenné. The Sou- Prefet had called his superior in Mopti about this, and he in turn had instructed Mulay to investigate. I passed on the report that I had received and was reassured that no one was leaving town, and  that there was no cause for panic.

And now, a week later, I am myself once more leaving Mali somewhat reluctantly,   on the eve of momentous events.  Will the peace treaty be signed on the fifteenth of this month? Mali is all but stable- the cease fire is repeatedly broken in the northern areas.  If the peace agreement is finally signed it will continue to be an uneasy peace alas...