Saturday, June 29, 2013

Djenne Rocks!

There may not be any hotel guests around and perhaps my evenings are a tad lonely now and then as I re- watch old films or play computer chess. ..But during the day we are having fun in the bogolan studio: To my unspeakable surprise and joy Baba has discovered David Bowie! He has downloaded the whole lot on his telephone. There is particularly one track that gets us going: REBEL REBEL! Put on your dress! REBEL REBEL your face is mess!


Papa, my earstwhile chef, now turned Bogolan apprentice (right) gets into it too!
Thank God for forgotten music suddenly remembered!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

'I am a soldier of the state'

Tiena Coulibaly the ex-finance minister spoke calmly about his removal from his post and his becoming minister of industry and commerce instead in the following words: 'I am not guilty of anything. I am a soldier of the state. Wherever I am, I will defend the state and its procedures. I do not see this as a sanction. The Prime Minister has the right to take this decision, and he did. He told me only that I will be changing my position, and as a good servant I told him there was no problem', Coulibaly explained in a telephone interview reports Malijet.
A storm of comments to this article show that I am not alone in my jaundiced interpretation below- the majority of commentators have no doubt that there is skulduggery afoot....they want Coulibaly to resign in protest, which clearly is not an option for this dignified man with his almost  saintlike attitude.  But among the commentators there are those who think it is is a good idea that he stays, even in this more humble position- to keep an eye on things....

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Huff,Puff& Indignation!

The disgruntled tot is once more apt to illustrate what is going on...

There has been a ministerial reshuffle here. Now, just ask yourselves why, in Heaven’s name, there should be such a thing, less than 5 weeks from the presidential elections?? What could possibly be achieved , apart from confusion? Indeed.  

I venture the following simple answer:  Confusion of financial matters at the end of the reign of the interim government is exactly what is needed  in order for the outgoing powers to be able to line their pockets before it is all over. This is their chance!
The interim government is deliberately removing the highly efficient Finance minister, Tiéna Coulibaly,  put in place by the ousted Cheick Modibo Diarra (himself probably ousted because he was too rigourous )  in order to put someone more amenable in charge: a person close to the Interim President Dionkouda Traore, and a person who belongs to ADEMA, the  president’s party: Kader Konaté swaps his position as minister for Industry and Commerce  to take over Coulibali’s position in charge of Mali’s finances!

  Coulibaly had it coming: he made himself unpopular recently by refusing to grant a number of new 4x4 vehicles to members of the Commission pour la Dialogue et Reconciliation’, a group of officials chosen to lead the reconciliation attempts between the various parties of the Malian conflict. ‘Non!’ said Coulibaly.  ‘We can’t afford it. Mali is bankrupt. You can use the old cars’.

Now, clearly, if you are the outgoing powers, and have only 5 weeks left to make your fortune, this sort of attitude is not helpful is it??? So what to do?

 A reshuffle is the answer!


Saturday, June 22, 2013

Lost my temper again...

There have been a few farafin guests in the hotel recently. (Farafin=African/Malian) This is of course great, apart from a phenomenon which got me really angry this aftenoon. They all work for either NGO’s or big companies. They will be able to claim their hotel room back with the receipt. And what they all want is to have false receipts – this one wanted us to write a receipt for an extra room for a third collegue who never arrived.  He also wanted me to write the reciept for three nights rather than one only!
I was called from my room where I was having a siesta, because the hotel guest had said he wanted to speak to me personally. When I finally realized what he wanted- regaining full consciousness rather slowly after my slumber- I got really angry and told him that this is the sort of behaviour that had been part of what caused the Coup! I said that there could be no place for this in the new Mali and that he should be ashamed of himself, then I swung around and left. Ok. Perhaps this was taking it a bit far,  I could have left it with a chilly  and simple 'No, I am afraid that won't be possible'.

Goodie Two shoes... but it is the truth! the endemic corruption in  Mali is at the very core of why this nation is one of the poorest in the world.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

It has been signed.

The ceasefire agreement brokered in Ouagadougou which has caused so much controversy was finally signed between the Malian interim government and the MNLA yesterday.
The agreement allows for the Malian army's presence in Kidal, and the disarmament of the MNLA and their 'containment' under the auspices of a security commission with representatives from both parties.
So are people shouting hurrah? Certainly not. The negotiation was enforced by the French and the pressure was on from the international community to sign this agreement, but the principle of negotiating with the still armed MNLA was abhorred by the Malian people including  a large proportion – possibly the majority- of the Tuareg people themselves. There are straight parallels here between the compromise which had to be accepted by the British government in face of the IRA.  A bitter pill has had to be swallowed for the sake of Realpolitik.



There are no celebrations in the streets, certainly. But there is somehow a feeling that a leaf has been turned and that we are starting a new chapter;  the one containing the presidential elections, so important to the return to normality for this poor and bruised nation. And after that, who knows what the chapter after will bring? Maybe a slow return  of tourism – that is certainly what Amadou Diakite is hoping for. Those who have been to Djenne may remember Kita Kourou, a small and charming local restaurant and hotel in the heart of Djenne. It got a favourable mention in all the tourist guide books.
Amadou Diakite has had to accept his private Realpolitik and closed down his operation in the town of Djenne a couple of years ago when the tourists disappeared. He is now running a little roadside café at the Djenne Carrefour (the turning to Djenne from the main artery north/south) There he earns enough to survive by offering tea and simple fare to the Malian travelers waiting for the taxi brousse to Djenne to fill up , or for the Mopti bus to arrive towards Bamako. I  was in the latter category the other day on my way to do some MaliMali business in Bamako.



But urgent business saw me on the 5am bus returning to Djenne two days later: Philip Boyle, the British Ambassador  was coming to stay  at Hotel Djenne Djenno with his large personal security team! His main objective was to visit the Djenne Manuscript Library. So of course I hurried back to prepare the place and meet him. It was a successful visit I think: everything was accomplished: visit to the library, the mosque, tour of  Djenne’s  small back streets to admire the unique architecture- this part rather muddy and unpleasant underfoot with the beginning of the rainy season already upon us- official private meetings with Prefect and Imam.


We had sunset cocktails of course and then Karim , our hotel griot and gardener, serenaded us at dinner which was eaten under the ‘hangar’ since a sudden rainstorm  made a starlit dinner in the garden an impossibility.
So, finally I am able to say that I have not only made contact with the British Ambassador in Mali, (attempted unsuccessfully with his predecessors some may recall)  but that he actually arrived quite on his own accord and that we had a lovely time and it will certainly not be the last time I think! Phil’s visit was not only fun but it was very important for the British Library Project. Up until now I have been the only one representing  London, since the beginning of the project in 2009. Now I have the weight of the British government behind us and the Library!


Monday, June 10, 2013

MaliMali sponsors 'Crepissage'

Oh, yes!
Almost forgot the following important message:
Although the library belongs to the population of  Djenne  and normally money is found to do it through a communal collection,  no one had any money in this year...but  MaliMali was able to sponsor it through donations we have had!
Thank you kind people who have sent us money.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

'Crepissage' de la Bibliotheque de Manuscrits de Djenne

The Crepissage (mud plastering)  of the Djenne Manuscript Library may not be as famous as that of the Great Mosque of Djenne, but it takes place every year  just like on all the mud buildings of this town.

When the Great Mosque, which lies a stone’s throw away from the Library, is plastered, it is a great Djenne Festival. Everyone takes part and everyone gets messy and covered in mud. But any other building in Djenne is plastered by the masons, often  with the help of the talibes from the Koran schools. This is the case here, with Grand Marabouts de Djenne Yelfa (right,) one of our two  library archivists and well known to readers of this journal by now,  and Hasseye Traore,  President of  the Djenne Manuscript Library management committee  taking a supervisory role only  while Yelfa’s talibe’s do the dirty work. 


The mason is precariously perched on top of the ladder

 but however dangerous this work looks,  no one can remember anyone ever falling off a ladder in Djenne during ‘Crepissage’!
I will be trying to find a home for the above sandals before, but if not, there will be a MaliMali sale in my Ladbroke Grove flat at the end of August, with lots of other things too. I will be spending a whole month in my own Notting Hill pad before returning to Mali! Very excited and cheered up by this prospect.
 Those that were part of the 'Sophie Salonistas' may be pleased to learn that Tuesdays will resume again for a short moment, as if nothing had happened in between...

Friday, June 07, 2013

Djenne Jeremiad

A few years ago I found this picture on the floor at Malik Sidibe’s studio in Bagadadji, Bamako, about to be swept out. I asked the grand old man if I could have it, he agreed and even stamped the back of the picture with ‘Malik Sidibe Studio’.

I can never watch this little girl without smiling. She cheers me up every time.
And now she illustrates perfectly what I feel like.  Everything is wrong!

Confusion reigns everywhere:  On the top of the list there is the Kidal crisis which is disturbing me greatly.

Secondly there is a huge MaliMali disaster in London:   the sandals Adama and I worked on for more than two weeks  in Bamako have been rejected by the smart Kensington  shop that ordered them as not being good enough. I have had to return the money and thirty pairs of sandals are sitting in London.  I bear the lady of the shop no grudges, but am of course sorry about what was clearly a misundertanding and a case of misplaced expectations. We worked extremely hard on these shoes and spent a lot of money getting them produced and sent. I think they are lovely. However, it is not Gucci quality clearly, and certain rough edges are unavoidable if you work with a local cobbler at the Artisanat of Bamako.


Having said that, I am the first to express that if Mali wants to progress there should be no favours given and merchandise should be of competitive quality with the other merchandise on sale to the West London ladies. But that is perhaps impossible at the moment- there is no high quality shoe factory in Mali. Most people seem not to bother to even try to make things here. Edun, the fashion company which is set up by Bono’s wife Ali Hewson to create work opportunities in the spirit of ‘Aid by Trade’ has quietly shifted their manufacture – it does not manufacture in West Africa. If you look at what they do in Mali you will find that they mention that a ‘lining’ in one of their ultra expensive garments comes from Mali!  OK. But  I say: this is what we have. This is what we have to work with, there is no other option but to try!

There is a MaliMali Fedex parcel story which is turning into a tragi-comedy- I really don’t know whether to laugh or cry, but since there are too many other things wrong, I tend to tip over in favour of the latter. This parcel was sent on the 14th of May from Bamako to New York. It is a gift from a father in Australia to his daughter in the U.S. on her birthday which was on the 23rd of May. There should have been plenty of time for the parcel to wing its way first to Paris and then straight on to New York. But no. The parcel was lost and then found and has been traced to Memphis Tennessee (!) and then to an obscure airport in UTAH! Finally it was supposed to be delivered two days ago. But again, no. I get a message from Fedex saying the address is wrong. I check the address:  it is correct. I have no strength to go on it is too boring. The parcel is still not delivered. The price of Fedex delivery from Bamako is extremely high. The price of the merchandise on the website is often half or even more simply in Fedex charges.

To continue this Jeremiad in the spirit it was begun let’s cast out eyes to the town of Djenne: there is an enormous cement building going up smack bang in the centre of Djenne where nothing but mud is allowed according to UNESCO rules.

Furthermore there is trouble rumbling at the Manuscript library regarding internet access to the manuscripts.

And Petit Bandit is only nibbling half heartedly at his millet and getting thinner and thinner. What is wrong?

Then there is…. And…and…and then….

Thursday, June 06, 2013

The Malian Army, as mentioned two days ago, have marched north towards Kidal, and have successfully captured the town of Anefis, where they encountered MNLA resistance. There have been 10 rebel casualties reported and two Malian soldiers injured. The Army continued northward this morning, but were stopped in their tracks by the French at the gates of Kidal. Mali jet reports:
‘Only a few  kilometres from the town of Kidal, the Malian forces have been stopped by the French who are manoeuvering to start negotiations in extremis with the rebels from the MNLA so that they put down their arms. France intend to give a last chance to the MNLA , favouring a peaceful reconquest by negotiations.’
We are on the edge of our seats.
 Of course the reconquest of Kidal by peaceful means would be the preferable option. But the possibility seems remote. The MNLA are dug in, and are hardly likely to change their tune. But who knows? With the weight of the French behind the negotiations, and with the French finally asking the MNLA to lay down their arms, perhaps it will work? Even Holland admitted yesterday that the flag of Mali needs to fly at Kidal before elections can be held.
Failing the above scenario, it is hard to know what sort of ‘negotiations’ the French are talking about here. The Malian people have shown clearly that they do not accept an armed MNLA in Kidal. The MNLA have shown clearly that they intend not to give in. So if they don’t accept to put down their arms, what is there to say?

Let's wait and see. But whatever gratitude the Malians feel towards the French and however commendable it is to try and resolve a conflict by negotiations, would it really be possible for the French to force their former colony to dance to their tune ? Mali is, however poor and however weak now, still a sovereign nation. Once more it must be understood by the international community that the MNLA, who are now jeopardizing the peaceful return to democracy by their refusal to lay down their arms, does not even represent the Tuareg people of Kidal! The entire Malian nation including the majority of Tuaregs except this tiny pocket of rebels want the Malian flag to fly over Kidal!

Tuesday, June 04, 2013


 A couple of nights ago our friend the journalist Levy had dinner with us in the Djenne Djenno garden under the Malian stars. The conversation turned as always now towards the subject of Kidal. The embryo of a possible solution was engendered, which now seems too late alas…
Our idea was this: ANKATA KIDAL! (Let’s go to Kidal!)

There will be a peaceful march on Kidal. The people of Mali will quite simply begin the long journey northward and go! Like the tiny trickles that eventually make up the great river, one by one the vehicles will join the convoy with white flags and Malian flags draped over every car and lorry. No one with weapons will be allowed to join the convoy. We will march on Kidal and in every village we pass more people will join and they too will drape the white and Malian flag across their vehicles.  Young and old the Malian people will lay down what  they are doing and turn northwards with us. The road blocks will let us through- who will stop us? This is what everyone wants.  By the time we reach Kidal we will be a thousand strong.  What will the MNLA do? Kill us? Of course not. They will be forced to lay down their arms by peaceful means!
We will march on Kidal, Wallai! This march on Kidal will open up the road for the Malian administration and finally the Malian army will follow and the entire Malian nation will be regained peacefully by the Malian people themselves this time!

I was totally ready to drop everything and start to move on this beautiful idea this morning, but the law abiding Keita suggested that we needed to inform the authorities. ‘Don’t be silly!’ I objected. ‘ You don’t ask for permission to start revolutions!’
However, we seem to be too late. Today the Malian Ministry of Defence confirmed that they have deployed troops which are on their way to Kidal. Inhabitants of Anefis, a locality 150 k north of Gao and 200k south of Kidal have confirmed seeing large number of Malian troops, heavily armed. This comes a couple of days after reports of the black population of Kidal suffering arrests and being ‘chased out’ of Kidal. A lorry of 25 young black Kidal inhabitants arrived in Gao this afternoon. These young men had been forced onto the lorry at gunpoint without even being allowed to go and gather their belongings.
Large numbers of people were marching in Gao last Friday and Sunday to manifest their dissatisfaction about the Kidal situation. Today there was a suicide bomber in Kidal who fortunately managed to blow himself up only.
What will the next few days bring?
Ala K'an Deme, Ala k' an Jamana kissi.
(God help us, God protect our country.)