Saturday, March 31, 2012

Birgit's picture of an unknown bird of prey surveying the land from my flambuoyant tree.
Mali is in serious trouble. The brief moment of euphoria for the many who supported the coup is rapidly vanishing as it becomes clear, not that the junta has no support, but that they have insufficient arms and hardly any ammunition and that they are virtually powerless in the face of the Touareg onslaught. Who can fight without ammunition? The army had no choice but to retreat and Kidal fell to the rebels. It appears also that I was misinformed, and that Tessalit is not recaptured but still in rebel hands. What happened to the arms and ammunition that ATT is supposed to have had in the Arsenal? Were there ever any? Was he himself aware that the Arsenal was empty? Or was it his generals only who were aware, having helped themselves instead to the funds for armaments? Would Captain Sanogo and his band even have attempted the Coup if they had known?

My journalist friend Levy is in despair. It is the lowest moment Mali has ever known he says.
What will happen? Noone knows. Meanwhile here in Djenne life continues just as usual. The salaries for all the Civil servants of Mali were paid today.
And as far as the library project goes, some good news in the middle of the disaster!
The sizeable chunk of money that was sent from London last Monday has arrived safely and the project goes ahead just as normal.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Pro-junta demonstration in Bamako yesterday.

The meeting of the Cédéao -Economic community of the West African Nations- scheduled in Bamako today has been cancelled reported the on-line version of the French news paper Le Point a short while ago. The delegates, who included Blaise Compaoré, the President of Burkina Faso as ‘mediator’, appear to have made U-turn mid air, when it became clear that the airport of Bamako had been invaded by pro-junta protesters.
And why would there be protests against this meeting?

Well, please bear with me while I digress for a moment. Has anyone been to Burkina Faso? If you venture that way, make sure you don’t speak the name Thomas Sankara too loudly. People around you will shuffle nervously and glance around….
In 1987 Blaise Compaoré seized power from his brother in arms Sankara who was assassinated. By whom? Well, ahem….
Since then Compaoré has ruled Burkina Faso. He has changed the constitution so that he can present himself forever at the ‘elections’.
This is the man chosen by the Cédéao to come and lecture Malians on the virtues of Civilian government and Democracy.
If I were Malian I too would join the anti Cédéao demonstrations!

Le Point reports furthermore that 'quasi the entire political class in Mali is against the junta.' Yes, you bet they are! They have everything to lose. The system which fed them has come to a halt. It is my firm conviction that no one from the ancient regime will be able to present themselves at any forthcoming elections. They are all, virtually without exception, known to be corrupt. A military contact of Keita told him this morning that 2 000 000 000 fcfa – an astronomical figure- as well as 40 vehicles had been seized in a field belonging to Modibo Sidibe, one of the forthcoming presidential candidates, who is now in jail. He had held government positions for two decades. The maximum salary for a state employé such as a minister is 300 000fcfa per month! Rudimentary mathematics show that he must have worked in the region of six hundred years to accumulate this wealth.

The world opinion is against the coup. But would ‘the World’ please take a look at what ‘democracy’ meant here? The ‘World’ believes that democracy is a magic word. But it is only a word that may have no connection to reality.

This is not a Coup, it is a Revolution. The French know all about revolutions, don't they?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

More communiqués from Captain Sanogo (right in picture)of the CNRDR on Malian TV:
‘The CNRDR commands everyone in possession of government vehicles to return them’. That was a couple of days ago. Soon afterwards two beautiful brand new government 4X4s left Djenné bound for Bamako or Kati, the garrison town 15 kilometres from the capital where Sanogo has set up his head quarter. One of the 4X4s was allegedly driven by the Deputé (member of Parliament)for Djenné and the other by his chauffeur. The Deputéof Djenné is an URD politician (The URD is one of the major parties), and the vehicles were in Djenne to be used to conduct the URD campaign!
This sort of flagrant mismanagement of government resources was one of the reasons for the enormous dissatisfaction with ATT, and the belief, clearly not completely unfounded, that the coming elections were going to be a sham.

And what else is happening? I wish I could tell you. Keita is getting inside information from his army infomers, but I am under strict instuctions not to talk too much. Let me just say that I find the international reports of events here astonishing. It is reported in most quarters that the junta is finding themselves more and more isolated, and the impression given is that is is a question of time before the new regime will fall. This may not be the case. The junta is not quite as isolated from Malian public opinion as foreign observers seem to want to believe.

As far as the military action in the north is concerned, it is no secret that the northern town of Tessalit, occupied by Tuareg rebels before the coup d'etat, has now been recaptured by the Malian Army forces. Colonel Gamo, himself a Touareg on the side of the Malian Army had been forced to withdraw when his previous demands for reinforements and air strikes had fallen on deaf ears. Within a day or two of the coup the town was retaken. A top general whose name I am not allowed to mention has been released and is coordinating the northern military efforts.
The banks were open again today and the airports too.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Right: Toubab with Babou Toure at the Crepissage

I reported two days ago that ‘The opinion of absolutely every Malian I have spoken to’ was favourable to the Coup. I have now spoken to others, and of course opinions are divided. ‘Why make a Coup one month before an election?’ ask the dissenters, such as Babou Touré, a Djenné town councillor, teacher and one of my co-administrator in the Library Project. ‘Why not let the democratic process take its course?’

This morning’s weekly library meeting turned into a heated political discussion as the library matters were swept aside on the tide of more pressing matters. (The digitization work is continuing regardless, like an unstoppable train. The workers were there even the morning of the Coup announcement!)

Samake (right)is the third member of my little Triumvirate that meets every Saturday at the Djenne Manuscript Library to deal with the matters arising in the project. He is a historian and the second in command at the Mission Culturelle, a local representation of the Ministry of Culture.

Samake took the position adopted by my Keita and all his friends: The forthcoming elections would simply have seen ATTs old cronies and the fat cats of the old administration take up new positions within the government, whichever party was to win. ATT had failed miserably in dealing with corruption within his government. His ex-ministers, notably Modibu Sidibé, former Prime Minister, should not have been allowed to present themselves as Presidential Candidates, instead they should have been put to trial for gross misconduct and corruption. This is now what will happen.
Ali Touré, member of the library management committee and admirer and suitor of our first researcher Ariela, (who is now stuck in Bamako unable to leave) now popped his head around the corner and joined the fray on the side of Babou Touré. ‘This miserable Coup has put us several years back again! Why not wait and see what would happen at the election! Why suspend the Constitution!’ exclaimed the excitable Ali, jumping up and down.


What happens in the wake of a Coup d’Etat? Last night rumours reached us that petrol was being sold for 2000 francs CFA a litre in Bamako. The normal price is just under 700FCFA. Keita and I jumped into our Mercedes and hurried down to the petrol station where prices had not yet risen. We filled the tank.

The banks, schools and large business are closed. The Regime has decreed that everyone must return to work on Tuesday morning. The work in the ministries will continue as usual with the ministerial secretaries taking the provisional administrative positions until the new ministers have been announced.

But throughout all this the little people continue as always, their life more or less untouched by these momentous events. The women carry their bundles of firewood to sell in Djenne every day from the bush; the food market continues as always with the local produce spread out on the ground in the market place; the talibés do their daily rounds to beg for food ; the Bozo fishermen throw their nets as usual from their slender pirogues...

Thursday, March 22, 2012

In the wake of a Coup d’état:
Yesterday at about 5pm when I came back from my dusty ride on Petit Bandit , there was a little gathering talking excitedly at the back of the kitchen.
‘There is something big going on in Bamako’, Maman informed me. ‘The TV and radio have both been cut’. Papa’s phone rang. Someone in Bamako informed him that the airport had been seized.

Levy, our journalist friend was having dinner here at the hotel. He arrived with Keita around 7.30 pm. He informed us that the international news channels reported that there were disturbances in Bamako in the vicinity of the presidential palace. As we were having dinner the mobile telephones continued ringing with news: two soldiers shot dead by the Presidential Guard. A military friend of Keita’s in Gao reported that all senior Malian officers had been taken captive by the army. It was therefore an uprising at national level it seemed.

After dinner some more of Keita’s friends arrived and more telephone conversations ensued with various well-placed people in Bamako and in Segou. The uprising had taken control of the two Bamako bridges. Keita knows many people within the military. We found out that a young captain had begun it from Kati, the garrison town a few kilometers from Bamako. This was an uprising within the lower to mid echelons of the army, whose indignation with the President’s handling of the recent crisis in the north had been steadily mounting over the last weeks.

About ten pm there was a sudden excited announcement from Maman that the TV had come back to life and that a message was displayed across the screen: Dans quelques instants un announcement par les Militaries. We all settled in front of the TV screen and waited.
And waited.
And waited.
The message was still there displayed across the screen at 4 am this morning while Malian music videos were still playing endlessly on a loop. (Malian music videos are quite entertaining, in small doses only. They invariably involve the stars performing in parking lots or by swimming pools, ultimate symbols of success here) I finally dropped off to sleep, but was shaken awake by Keita about 4.30 when a band of soldiers in combat gear appeared on the screen, one of them reading a message from a paper. The problem was that there was no sound! But the written message displayed on the screen was clear enough to tell us that the government had fallen:
Comité Nationale pour la Redressement de la Démocratie et le Réhabilitation de l’Etat.
Half an hour later the message was replayed, this time finally with sound. The gist of the message , delivered by a ‘spokes person’by the name of Lt. Amadou Konaré, was that the Army had felt it was their responsibility to deliver the country from the ‘incompetent leadership of ATT.’ They were to restore the country’s integrity and uproot the rebellion in the North. They pledged solemnly to restore the country to democratic rule once their mission had been accomplished. A little later a Capitain Amadou Sanogo spoke, and was introduced as the President of the Comité. He urged calm and assured the Malian people that the situation was under control and that all actions of violence or looting would be dealt with severely.
This morning I spoke to Ann, my Bamako friend close to the first bridge, the Pont des Martyrs. (Ironically this name celebrates those that died in the coup organized by ATT to overthrow Moussa Traore in 1991. The anniversary of that coup is only 4 days away, on the 26 March).
Ann said shooting was heard from the bridge by passing vehicles. The cross road by the German Embassy next to her house was occupied by military vehicles. There seemed to be celebration taking place and soldiers were shooting into the air.
There are rumours of the President ATT having fled to Guinea.Others say he has been given refuge at the American Embassy. Noone knows.

What made all this happen?
It is my firm belief that ATT had become seriously out of touch with the people of Mali. The high ranking officers were equally out of touch, and happy to line their pockets and tow the line with the administration. ATT was also keener on listening to the advice of foreign diplomats than keeping an ear open to the the vast majority Malian people and the groundswell of the Army. He was keen to leave his presidential mandate at the end of this month, with the planned election of the 29th of April. He did not want to leave with blood stained hands, and tried to put off action in the North for his successor to deal with. However, it had become too late.
A meeting of the African Nations a few days ago in Bamako had advised negotiation and diplomacy as the way forward to deal with the Northern rebels. ATT announced that he was intending to continue negotiations. This decision proved to be his downfall, and events quickly turned against him.

The refusal of ATT to retaliate with a strong force in the wake of the massacre at Aguloc, a northern town between Timbuktu and Kidal , a few weeks ago made him appear as a traitor to the majority of the nation. There were nearly a 100 Malian soldiers massacred by the Toureg rebels. These Malian soldiers had been unarmed and had their throats slit to a man by the rebels who were awash with state of the art Libyan arms. Why were the Malian soldiers not armed? Why was there no retaliation? Why did ATT let his army be slaughtered like lambs without defense? The wives of these massacred soldiers marched in Kati after this event, unleashing the unrest in Bamako which led to ugly scenes of retaliation against Touregs as the mob took action by themselves. Since then ATT's reign has been on a downward free fall.

The word ‘negotiation’ had been uttered too many times and the time had come for well planned military action in the opinion of absolutely every Malian I have spoken to. Let us just hope that the new administration will align themselves with the correct foreign powers. Let us hope that an incisive and swift action in the north can up root the terrorist elements and bring peace once more to this peace loving nation Mali.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Great News ! Alhamdilullah!
MaliMali has received a very generous donation from Geraldton , Western Australia. 3000 Australian dollars, which translated into slightly more than 1 500 000fcfa (2300E). This is not far off half of the required amount to do another cataract campaign at Christmas in Djenné! Many many thanks to the couple –two physicians- (whose names I may reveal later with their permission.)
We can therefore today officially launch the new appeal for funding: we need another 2 200 000 fcfa (ca 3384E). We will then be able to call back Dr. Keita and Moussa Koné and the rest of the team with their equipped operation vehicle and we will once more operate on 100 patients, who will come from Djenné and from the surrounding villages.(see blogs December 2011). We hope to do this at Christmas like last year.
Should you have any spare cash, this is a really worthwhile cause, and the funding goes directly into the project without any administration costs whatsoever. Please look up ‘donations’ page for details of transfer.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Ariela Marcus-Sells is a PHD student from Stanford doing research at the Djenne Manuscript Library(seen here conducting field work…)
She found out about the library through this blog!
Her research concerns 18th Century Sufism in West Africa and her doctoral thesis bears the provisional and rather poetic title Sainthood and Magic in the Writings of Sidi al Moktar and Sidi Mohamed al Kunti.
She was kind enough to write me a letter which I passed on to the project head office in the British Library, just to cheer them up. This is what she says about the Djenne Manuscript library:

I have briefly surveyed the manuscripts which have been identified thus far and have found several documents which I am sure will be of great interest to scholars of African History, including manuscripts relating to the history of the Empire of Macina, the Sokoto Caliphate, and al-Hajj Umar Tall.

Regarding my particular interest, the Djenne manuscript library contains at least three manuscripts related to the Kunta which I have not seen listed in any other catalogue. Moreover, the library contains a wealth of documents relating to Sufism and dating to the eighteenth century or earlier which will be invaluable for clarifying the nature of Sufism in the region during that period.

How about that!

Ariela is the first proper researcher studying the newly digitized images on the computer screens in the reading room. I have argued that the library must look after her well and that she should be given free access to whatever she needs. If she finds a manuscript that she needs on the library data base which is not yet digitized it will be done for her. It would be digitized later on anyway as part of the project.
Ariela has been working in Timbuktu of course.
Many researchers find the conditions there almost impossible. Although Timbuktu is awash with funding from all over the world, notably from the South African Government; the Ford Foundation; the Mellon Foundation; the regional Government of Andalusia, Spain and many other sources, it is extremely difficult for scholars to access the documents. It is impossible to take copies. Scholars therefore have to stay put in Timbuktu for years sometimes to work on the documents in situ. Although there is state of the art digitizing equipment, there is virtually no digitizing taking place.

The problem that scholars are encountering in Timbuktu, and which I am trying to work against here in Djenne, concerns a fundamental perception of access to knowledge. The traditional Islamic education is one of slow initiation into mysteries and knowledge is withheld from students in the early stages of education. The talibes in the Koran Schools here do not understand what they read, write and repeat. It is only in the later stages of their learning process that they will understand the sense of their lessons. This knowledge is something that has to be earned. This is of course diametrically opposed to our Western idea of free access of knowledge for all. It explains the reluctance of the manuscript owners to show their manuscripts. Dr. Constant Hames, one of my two academic sponsors for the project, was amazed that we had managed to persuade the Djenne marabouts to make available to the public the manuscripts which were always held to have “secret knowledge status’, in particular the esoteric manuscripts.

An additional problem occurring in Timbuktu is the fact that tiny family libraries are springing up all over Timbuktu, sponsored by some of the institutions mentioned above. This development is reported around the world as a laudable thing, while in fact it is of no use to anyone. No one visits all these little libraries which are mushrooming all over Timbuktu.
Djenne does not want to follow in the footsteps of Timbuktu. We want to discourage anyone from splintering off and opening their own library. In keeping the Djenne Manuscript Library the resource for the whole community of Djenne we hope to find funding for conservation, cataloguing etc. in this one centralized library.

It was originally decided by the management committee that scholars should pay an entrance fee at the Djenne Manuscript Library. I have been able to dissuade this and Ariela is studying for free in the workroom.
This morning a meeting was held at the library. It was decided that she will be able to take with her low resolution pictures in J peg format for her own personal study. This will however involve a fee, decided at 500 fcfa per image- less than a euro. This price is reasonable I believe and comparable to other institutions. Half of the proceeds will go to the manuscript owners and half to the manuscript library, who will have to find money some way to pay its staff once the project is over.

I was quite pleased with the outcome of this morning’s negotiations which were held with Hasseye Traore; the President of the library management committee(right); Yelfa the archivist; and Ali Toure, another member of the committee. (The latter has developed a crush on Ariela and wants to take her as his third wife, a fact which most definitely worked in her favour in Ali’s argumentation.)

Monday, March 12, 2012

It finally took place yesterday:
The long-awaited and legendary Crépissage, the mud plastering of the Great Mosque of Djenné, the 11th of March 2012.

It is normally a yearly event, but it has been on hold for the last three years while the Aga Khan Foundation has been doing extensive refurbishing of the mosque.

It began on Saturday about 4 pm when the mud was collected by the river by all available hands and donkey carts . Petit Baba was in charge of Dolly and one of our carts as usual and I decided, rather fool hardily, to ride with them on Petit Bandit. He behaved very well but was extremely excited of course and kept performing Piaffe (cantering on the spot).

There were some tricky moments when we headed for collision with one of these oncoming groups; the young men of each neighbourhood competing with each other for speed and delivery. We met several groups that came bearing down on us accompanied by the beating of drums and had to escape into side streets.

The mud is delivered in front of the mosque. The buildings seen behind are on the east side of the square facing the mosque.

In the morning at 5 am the dignitaries, which this year included the Minister of Culture, gathered to hear the prayers and blessing for the event and to see the laying on of the first mud.The prayers must be effective because there has never been any accident as far as anyone can remember. This is extraordinary, since several hundred men are climbing on slippery ladders at great height.

A shot from inside the central tower.

The North Façade with the entrance of the nobles.

The organization of the event works like clockwork as hundreds of people know exactly where to go and what is required of them. There is never a moment of confusion and never any collision of groups- if the organization of everything else and of Mali itself would only work like this Mali would be amongst the forefront of nations!

The women bring the water from the river.

Baba our waiter was right at the centre of events, having first served everyone breakfast at the hotel before dawn.

Friday, March 09, 2012

I am happy to announce that we were fully booked last night despite the troubles. There was a delegation from the Dutch Embassy which included the Ambassador and his wife, and there was the Governor of Mopti with respective entourages. 10 gendarmes with machineguns patrolled the perimeter and the hotel garden all night. Dinner was served as usual in the garden under the stars in the light of the full moon helped along by little paraffin lamps on the tables. The Djenne griots sang the praises of those present.
All went smoothly until the main course. I went into the kitchen to check what was going on, since I thought it was taking too long. And what do I find? Fatou and Papa are ladling out some disgusting looking slop next to the Poulet Namasa and the Concombres Braises. Our mashed Cassava, normally delicious and normally standing up in little peaks like a good mash should, had turned into some sort of soup-like baby food!
I had a nuclear fit, there is no other way to describe it.

“What the HELL is THAT??” I bellowed.
Noone responded.
Papa looked at the floor while Fatou developed a sudden interest in the ceiling fan.

Baba and Maman, waiting to take the plates out, were trying unsuccessfully to calm hysterical giggles.

It was too late to do anything about it. The plates left in the sorry state in which I found them. I nevertheless continued my ranting and added, for good measure, that they would all get the sack.

(It is not the first time that mishaps have occurred with the Dutch Embassy here. We are only continuing in our time honoured fashion: for precedent see entry February 19 2007 entitled How to ruin one's reputation with the entire Dutch diplomatic corps in West Africa in one fell swoop: .)

Fortunately there was nothing wrong with the taste, and fortunately Dutch diplomats are a forgiving and kind species. I noticed that the Ambassador was even mopping up his Cassava Slop with some bread, Alhamdilullah!

And finally,on a different note, Christine from Heidelberg sent me the following email regarding the building in the last entry:
Dear Sophie -
since I discovered your blog I'm an admirer of what you do with so much passion.
I feel kind of demanded to tell you that the beautiful building (from the trip advisor email) is NOT in Bucharest.
It is the Fisherman's Bastion in Budapest/Hungary.

Many thanks for that Christine!

Friday, March 02, 2012

The temperature is rising in Djenne- my bedroom showed 32 C yesterday afternoon. I am not adverse to the heat, on the contrary, but the time is approaching when I start dreaming about Europe. I have spent 8 uninterrupted months in Djenne now. This picture- apparently the view from the Bucharest Hilton- may have something to do with this sudden onset of Heimweh for Europe again. It was sent me in an email from Tripadvisor (we now have 50 reviews!) illustrating the world’s 10best views from a hotel window.
The picture, with its Ludwig of Bavaria style edifice, also had the effect of propelling me out of my chair where I had been snoozing in the midday heat under the fan to go searching for my sketch pad once more… I think we will have to make something like this out of mud!It will add those rooms we needed before the problems started, and will need again insh'allah!

It is quite possible, I am convinced. The scale will be changed to suit the new land, where we have now nearly completed the landfill . The level of the new land, about the size of a football field, is now rising to around one metre higher than the surrounding area which was inundated in 2010. Dolly the donkey and his girlfriend, still with no name, as well as two labourers and le Fou have spent about two years of patient digging and moving of earth to accomplis this feat.

I will show this picture to Boucoum my mud architect when he comes for dinner with me and Keita tonight. It will need enormous foundations, but it should be possible! The decorative details of the façade will of course be Djenne style. Naturally, it is not a sensible thing to do in the present climate. We should of course wait and see what happens regarding tourism…. But sensible behaviour has never been my forte…