Thursday, August 30, 2012

Last year there was not enough rain. This year we fear, yet again, the worst- it is raining as I write this. Africa, as always. pregresses from extreme to extreme.
I have looked at the pictures on this blog from the two critical years of flooding I have lived here: 2007 and 2010. We are still in August- just- but the water stands as high as it did well into September in 2007 and 2010.
What will happen?
This picture shows the 'bridge' that Ace have put in place so that we will be able to cross from the studio and my house on the new land- from where the picture is taken- and to the hotel seen on the picture.

But this morning the sun was shining as we took a 'family picture' of the conference members at the end of a successful first two days(with yours truly reclining amongst all Djenne's Grand Marabouts...) Tomorrow Conference continues in the Djenne Manuscript Library.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Sometimes- rarely- something happens in the middle of a conflict which had seemed insoluble. The answer comes suddenly, and when it comes, there is no arguing- everyone bows to the solution and agrees. It is as if an Angel of peace had passed...
This happened this afternoon at the Prefecture.

Everyone was there: the Maire, the Prefects, the Village Chief, the son and brother of the Imam representing him, 9 of the 11 Djenne town councillors, the President of the Djenne High Islamic Council, the representative of the Djenne Ansar Dine (!) - in short le tout Djenne..
The speeches were lengthy and my Bamabara is fairly rudimentary but I could follow the gist of it. It seemed to me to be an arcane repetition of irrelevant legal details regarding the two Associations, and never-ending versions from various people about the circumstances of the founding of the library- in short I was in despair that we would ever get anywhere. I did not speak- this is a matter for the town of Djenne, not my project.

Then there was a palpable change- people were nodding and saying AWO, A KANJE.. (Yes, it is good).
The idea had been there all the time, but I had not seen it this morning. I believe it was the Prefect's after all, and he has risen in my estimation a hundred fold...

'Adhere to the Imam's Association!' said the Prefect. '
No No No No' said all the town councillors and everone to start with.

But then the beauty of it dawned on all those present, one by one: the Association of the Imam is open to everyone. If everyone joins, it will then become the Association of the Town of Djenne, no longer the Imam's! The rules and statutes of the Association are the same as most others- It is the majority of the members that choose their President and management committee...

Tonight all the councillors of Djenne went to their respective neighbourhoods to make everyone adhere to the Imam's Association!

If this is not the wisdom of Solomon...?

I just had dinner with the sages of Timbuktu, who have arrived and will be greated by everyone tomorrow and will never know how close they came to being sent home again...!

Library Project reaches High Drama Juncture
So, I went along to the Prefecture this morning for a couple of hour's intense talking to by the Prefect and his Adjoint, as they gave me a chronological representation of the Djenne Manuscript Library from its beginning to the present day. I listened relatively patiently to their version of a story that I know very well.

Their problem with the Library is that it has been, and remains a hotbed of conflict. They are the administrators of the town of Djenne and their duty is to keep the peace.

The problems are complex, but they boil down to the circumstances already explained a couple of days ago: The library was created by funding from various sources, by an Association created by the Imam of Djenne. Problems arose between the Imam and certain factions in town about the management of the Library, and the Iman and his Association pulled out, although their Association was not dissolved.
A Management Committee for the Library was put in place by the then Minister of the Culture, Cheik Oumar Sissoko, with a mandate for five years. This management committee was to have their mandate renewed by all the different authorities of the town, inluding the Prefecture. During these five years I came on the scene, with funding from the British Library. It is with this committee that the work of my project with the Endangered Archives Project (BL)started.
There was a Pilot Project worth £7000 in 2009. After this project there was a year's waiting for the funding for the Major Project (£56 000) to be sought and authorised.

During this time I sought interim funding from the French Embassy, to tide us over and give the salaries for the library archivists etc. The French Embassy insisted on working directly with the Library. The problem is that they needed an Association or a formal structure to work with. The Library Committee did not want to work with the Association of the Imam, so they went ahead and had a new Association created. As it happened we never found the funding with the French Embassy.
The Imam has now insisted that the new Association which was created was illegal, so it was dissolved accordingly. Therefore in the law, and also in practice the Prefecture claims that the first Association is still valid. The problem is that the town does not want it! The Prefecture also claims that the Management Committee put in place by the Minister of Culture, with which I have been working, is illegal.

When I finally was allowed to speak I tried to explain my opinion, which is that the people who have been chosen by the town of Djenne to represent them in this 5 year period should be given the time and opportunity to present their accounts to put an end to their mandate in a way which is stipulated in the statutes of the management committee, which after all was put in place by the Minister of Culture himself. As far as they know they have done their duty, and they need to present their work, so that a new management committee can take their place.
As far as I am concerned, I said I only wanted to do my duty and to carry out my responsabilities: I have no quarrel with anyone in Djenne.

However, there is this pressing problem:
Abdul Wahid, Grand Savant de Tombouctou, and his assistant are on their way to Djenne as I write this. They are scheduled for their conference with the Djenne manuscript owners to start on Wednesday morning, to run for a week. Tomorrow they will be introduced to the library staff, and have a tour of Djenne etc. This fact propelled the Prefect into action: he decided there and then to call an emergency meeting with all concerned at three o'clock this afternon at the Prefecture: in less than one hour. He asked me who I wanted to be present. I asked for Samake and Babou Toure of course, for Yelfa and for Hasseye Traore, as well as Ali Toure and all the town councillors. The Prefecture will call the Imam and the Maire.
More later....

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Niaber, the lady who makes recycled rubber shoe jewellery, is one of my favourite Djenne people. She was very pleased yesterday: Birgit had sent her a sizeable advance from Amsterdam to make lots of her lovely necklaces for Birgit’s arrival in December..
Those who know Hotel Djenne Djenno can see how high the water now stands outside the hotel gate. Ace has installed the water pumps to evacuate the water from the hotel court yard when it rains, and Karim has joined Kassim for the night watch- there is need for two people to pump.
Will we survive this year's rainy season?

Spent the morning at the library again, working with Mohammed (above right, with Garba) on the new website, which will give information about the library in French, English and Arabic. Mohammed is the young man we recruited from the Ecole Normale Superieure in Bamako a few weeks ago, as you may remember. I had found it impossible to choose between two candidates: there had also been a girl, just as qualified. She was also supposed to come for a trial month in September. As it turned out, she cancelled on her own accord, which was fortunate for me: Mohammed is turning out to be just what we need, so her trial month would have been a waste of time.
Mohammed is staying at the hotel at the moment. He is trying out his English on me at every opportunity. It is very good, in an astonishing and hilarious way. He is a bookish young man, with no interest in football or other normal blokey things. He is now reading Mungo Park’s ‘Journey into the Iinterior of Africa,’ on my recommendation. When he found out that I am Swedish and not a native English speaker he made me laugh by observing: ‘But your English is inspirational and prolific!’ He is full of such pithy comments.

And the library soap opera rumbles on. Today the sou-prefet summoned me: that is to say, he stopped his car and waved me down when he saw me going past on my Yamaha trailbike with Mohammed riding pillion. Could I pop by the Prefecture tomorrow morning? He would like a word with me. Of course, I promised him to be there tomorrow morning.
I have a fair idea that he is going to try and stop the planned conference with the Timbuktu manuscript expert, who is leaving for Djenne tomorrow. He will try and claim that the library project is sowing civil unrest in Djenne. If this is so, it is of course nonsense- the unrest in Djenne stems from one source only- the whole town stands united behind the library and the project. I will be polite but firm, and insist on a signed letter with clear explanation for the reason why if he wants to stop the conference, or indeed the project.
So here goes!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Mission Accomplished.
The remaining boxes were delivered to the Library this morning. Our management meeting took place as normal. The whole morning various dignitaries- neighbourhood councillors etc, kept filing past wanting to know the details of last night's incident. They all encouraged us to continue as if nothing had happened. So that is what we will do, until further notice...
Of course, this is not over.
One may question the wisdom of even airing these matters in this journal...It may be that these posts will vanish as suddenly as they arrived. If so, some people will know what was written and may wish to make note...?

Friday, August 24, 2012

Ill boding home coming...
Arrived back to Djenne this evening through a rain sodden Malian landscape, heavily laden with 300 ks worth of acid free carton: the material to be used to make up to 500 manuscript storage boxes for the Djenne Manuscript Library. The making of these boxes will provide work for at least one more person for the rest of the British Library Project, which still has one year to run.

I had picked this shipment up at Bamako Airport, and had hired a truck to bring it to Djenne. We arrived in Djenne tonight just after sunset prayers at the great Mosque and went straight to the Manuscript Library to unload. Half way through this process there was suddenly some commotion, as two figures in Grand Boubous with entourage turned up.
'I don't want you to put your foot in this library again!,' uttered one of the Boubou clad grandees, clearly addressing himself to me. On closer inspection it turned out to be the Imam of Djenne himself.

Those that have followed this diary, and my accounts of the British Library Project in the Djenne Manuscript Library, realize that I have not always been able to speak a clear language, since I have feared that the project might be compromised.
The time has now come to speak clearly. The powerful person who has tried to put a stop to the project from the very beginning is the Imam of Djenne, before whom all Mali trembles.
And why?
He found the funding to build the library in 2007, with sponsorship from the European community and the American Embassy amongst other sources. When it became clear that the library was not going to be his private concern, and that the people of Djenne wanted it to be a municipal library, the Imam pulled out and built his own library. There was a new management comittee formed for the Djenne Manuscript Library. The members were to represent the whole town. Renewal of the mandate was to be an affair involving the Mairie, the Village Chief and his 13 neighbourhood councillors, the High Islamic Council, the manuscript owners- in short, all the town of Djenne. It was with this management committee that the British Library Project started to work. The Imam was no longer on the scene;he had left on his own accord.

However, ever since the project worth 40 000 000 francs CFA turned up, there has been no stopping the Imam trying to put spokes in our wheels, including going to the Ministry of the Interior, just before the Coup, to get the project stopped on a technicality: He claimed that the old management committee of the library (his Association), had not been properly dissolved before the new one was put in place- the one I am working with. This latter one was therefore illegal.

Now, when the Imam of Djenne arrives somewhere- including the corridor of a Ministry, he will get an audience. So he managed to get the ear of the (former) Minister of the Interior, who in turn called the Prefect, who called me and my management crew from the library to tell me that we were not allowed to have an opening ceremony for the project; we could work, but not so that it came to the knowledge of Bamako or anyone else, that the project actually existed!

Now, this Minister is of course no longer there, and frankly, we thought that Mali had other things to worry about, so we have just steamed on as normal.
This is the last year of the project, and I need to get certain things done, we can no longer work 'in the dark'- we have a large conference planned with a specialist archivist/authority on Malian Manuscripts starting next Tuesday here in Djenne. It will go ahead unless I get a written letter from the prefecture here stopping the project, with a reasonable explanation why this measure is taken. This letter will have to be copied and delivered to the British Embassy as well as the Ministry of the Interior.

This is also what I told the Imam tonight, when he greeted me with his welcoming words that he did not want to see me set my foot at the Library again.
We unloaded half the truck, and took the rest back to the hotel. Tomorrow is my weekly management meeting at the library. I will go as normal. Tonight I have had three of the Djenne town councillors call me to say they are all behind me and the whole town knows what went on tonight. I do not have anything to fear.

Indeed I have a certainty that the town of Djenne is actually FOR this library, and all the good things that are happening there through the project. I am positive that they do want it to go on. They want this library to be run by the town of Djenne, and not by the Imam!

So tomorrow I will go, and the rest of the stuff will be unloaded, and we will go on as if nothing had happened, yet again. Keita is worried, and Ace is worried ...I am not worried.....

Sunday, August 19, 2012

And what might this be?
Let's see if we can't get this into Vogue...?

It is the latest effort in the small collection of leather string + beads and shells items for MaliMali- I worked on it all day yesterday at Ann's while the rest of Mali was celebration Aid el Fitr, the end of Ramadan. Very impractical of course, but rather beautiful, no? It will appear on shopping website soon!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

When Mali was thrown into turmoil in March/April, I fled Djenne while my studio team continued working on an order of make-up bags for Lela in South Carolina( They were working through the night since there was no day time electricity in Djenne. Today Lela sent me photographs of the results!

Meanwhile August skies hang pregnant with rain over Bamako. But there is some brightening at the horizon in the thick clouds of malcontent and disunity that have weighed this troubled capital down for several months: Diounkounda Traore, the acting President is showing signs of becoming a wise leader.

He has not yet announced the new unity government, insisted upon by ECOWAS and the International Community, but he has revealed that the interim Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra will stay on in this position in the new government. Diarra has been criticized on two fronts: he is seen to have continued to confer with Captain Sanogo, the coup leader, and he has been attacked as being inefficient. However, Diounkounda may well be realizing that Diarra’s continued connection with Sanogo is valid in so far as this latter still enjoys an enormous following amongst the ordinary Malian people who now refer to him affectionately as AYA. It would be foolish, arrogant and indeed dangerous to underestimate what ‘AYA’ still represents for many people: they do not see the renegade criminal who destroyed the Malian democracy, as described and believed by the international community, but instead the hero who toppled a hated and corrupt government which was nothing like the model of democracy that the West liked to believe.

The day before yesterday a meeting of the ECOWAS in Bamako regarding the assistance of the surrounding countries for the deployment of troops to the North has now finally born some fruit, alhamdil;ullah! There is now hope that the road may finally be paved for a concerted effort to liberate the occupied territories.
There was already an offer of assistance with troops from the ECOWAS a couple of months ago. Some people have not quite understood why this offer was not accepted. The problem was that there was to have been three stages of the deployment of troops: in stage 1 the troops were supposed to remain in Bamako ‘to oversee the transition’ and ‘ensure the security of the institutions’. This was not acceptable to Mali who saw it as a meddling in Mali’s internal affairs. The attack on Diounkounda Traore by soldiers supposedly loyal to Sanogo in May– there was a strong condemnation of this aggression from Cheick Modibo Diarra at the time-was seen as proof of the need for ECOWAS troop deployment in Bamako. Now Diounkounda himself has insisted that he has every faith in the security forces of Mali. This has provided the key to unlock the deadlock, and the spectre of ECOWAS troops loitering in their thousands in Bamako is no longer a threat: a state of affairs which many had feared would accomplish nothing but the spread of prostitution and AIDS.

And what else?
Spending my last time at Ann’s in Bamako: she is taking her children and moving to Conakry, Guinea, one of the many toubabs leaving an unstable Mali in order to secure a peaceful coming school year for their children. But Bamako will not be the same without Ann!
I am working once more at the Artisanat, making bogolan boots and bogolan rag rug+ leather bags!
More soon...

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Left Djenne for Bamako once more this morning, passing through a beautiful green Mali, where the rains have been abundant. Two weeks ago the Bani crossing was half its size- the river has swelled very quickly, and rains measuring 200 mm have been recorded in Tominian, not far from Djenne. What will this year bring?

The road to the Djenne cross roads was inundated in several places- will Djenne be cut off? Do we have to expect the scenario of 2010, when the hotel staff – I included- had to spend several long nights at the pumps and hauling out water buckets to save the fragile mud structure of the hotel? Things are looking ominous....

Friday, August 10, 2012

MaliMali in Vienna!
More specifically Elisabeth in her MaliMali dot dress, looking very nice indeed, if I might say so myself! Elisabeth is formerly an employee of an NGO in Bandiagara which has now withdrawn and she and her husband Hinnerk were frequent visitors at Hotel Djenne Djenno at happier times...

Thursday, August 09, 2012

‘haphazard citizen militias opposing radical Islamist forces have few resources but, unlike the regular Malian army, have a fierce will to undo the conquest of northern Mali.’, writes Adam Nossiter in the New York Times on the 7th of August. Read more:

(Interestingly, and just by the by, I once had a glamorous and wine- flowing lunch with this very Adam Nossiter in New Orleans together with my old pal Cressida Bell! . This was the only time we met. I knew his father better, the delightful late Bud Nossiter who wrote for the Washingon Post. I may now try to contact Adam, since I would like to challenge him on the following, although I am also pleased to read the information about the enthusiasm of the young volunteers in his overall excellent article):

He implies that the Malian troops are useless and unwilling to go north to fight- this is not necessarily the case.
The Malian army has had their arms ties for various reasons- they are under equipped, and cannot take on the North on their own. This is in large part due to the fact that ATT's government and his generals siphoned away large funds which ostensibly went into equipping the Malian Army, when in fact it found its way into the generals' pockets.

The present interim government has found some funds and have bought arms with which to equip the army to liberate the north, but these arms are stuck in the ports of Conakry and Dakar for political reasons. The ECOWAS are not letting them through. How does Mr. Adam Nossiter expect the Malian Army to be able to go north under such conditions?

The Malian army's morale is low, certainly. But that may also have something to do with the fact that the international community are painting them as some sort of renegade torturers, and insisting on describing Mali as if it is still led by Sanogo's Junta. I think this is an unfair description of the state of affairs. The ex-junta have gone a long way to conform to the conditions imposed on them by their neighbouring countries and by the international community in order to put in place a legitimate interim government.

Amnesty International has sent a delegation here which has investigated the events of last April when an unsuccessful Counter Coup was staged by the Ancien Regime under the leadership of the Red Berets- the presidential guard, loyal to ATT- with reinforcements from hired assassins from Burkina Faso and the Ivory Coast. Certain elements who took part have been reported missing after this event and there have been incidents of torture reported. However regrettable this is, I believe that a Coup d'Etat or an attempted Coup d'Etat are extraordinary events that cannot be judged with the yardstick of normality. They are acts of war. If you are going to stage a Coup d'Etat, or if you are paid by someone to take part as a hired assassin or mercenary you know what you are doing and you know that you may lose your life. To then start crying about mistreatment seems laughable to me.

Meanwhile, Mali has been trying to get Amnesty International to investigate the brutal murder of nearly a hundred unarmed soldiers by the MNLA at Aguel Hok last January. Their demands have fallen of totally deaf ears. Noone is interested in hearing about unarmed Malian soldiers getting their throats slit!

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Do not worry, this is not some militia man that has strayed south from Al Quaida’s training camps in the north, it is my dear riding companion, groom and recent bogolan apprentice Pudiogou- seen here next to Petit Bandit.
Although most Malian men shave their heads, and therefore need not worry about ruining their hair styles when it rains, they are worried about getting their heads wet for reasons I cannot fathom. And it has been raining cats and dogs here for about 36 hours now, which spells bad news for a town made from mud. Several hotel rooms have damage on the walls and ceiling and Ace is working flat out to restore things in time for the arrival of a prominent group of guests next week.

People send me more articles, and every time this happens I feel I ought to put things right, to say something to make people see the other side of the coin. But I am too busy with both the library and the MaliMali studio to get involved.
However, this article in the New York Times sent by Erica needs a comment:

I do not think there is anything more sinister than normal happening at Djenne Djenno archeological site. On the contrary, there is a scheme going through at the moment, which involves the planting of several hundred trees to minimize erosion on the site. This is made possible by the Prince Klaus Foundation of the Netherlands with the assistance of the Mission Culturelle here, and it is going ahead as planned. Every time I ride past on Petit Bandit I count more newly planted trees. There have always been people offering antique beads or sculptures they have found in Malian soil- at Djenne Djenno or elsewhere, and this will be hard to stop as long as people are as poor as they are here- it is of course not obligatory to buy..

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Yes, it finally happened! The long awaited and long worked on shopping part of is now live online. BUT no French version yet, and much, much more to be added and improved. I even hesitate to go online with it quite yet, but have been cajoled into action by Ann and Keita..
Spent a gruelling day in Bamako Cetral Market on the -successful- hunt for an industrial sewing machine and a roll of pattern card. (the last few year we have made do with old cement bags, but I decided we need to become more professional!)
Early tomorrow morning we are leaving for Djenne, where the hotel staff have all become bogolan apprentices.
More soon!