Sunday, July 28, 2013

Election Bulletin from Djenne

One hour remains in which to vote. We already knew that the Djenne turn-out would be high- the Prefect told me yesterday that 93% of all the ‘Carte Ninas’, the prerequisite for voting, have been picked up- that is a very high number.
This morning as I went past the voting centre at the main School in Djenne there was plenty of activity and a festive feel in the air. The Djenne grandees came out wearing their Grand Boubous, sheltering from the sun under large colourful umbrellas. Their wives too in their finest outfits with gold in their hair made their way to the Sory Thiocary School in the centre of Djenne. This town is divided between the three main parties, whose candidates are Dra Dembele for ADEMA, Ibrahim Boubakar Keita for RPM and Soumaila Cisse for URD. The pater familias will of course tell his wives and eligible off spring whom to vote for. But will they? The fact that the voting is of course totally individual and confidential tickles me. Now, here is a chance to disobey your husband and he will never know! I wonder if many women will not avail themselves of this lovely opportunity to be naughty... And it did cross my mind that if they all did, and voted for CHATTO, we would tomorrow have a female president in Mali- there would not even be the need for a second ballot! However, that is unfortunately not likely...

I have spent some time on the phone and texting Anne Maria, my friend from the Danish Embassy, who is interviewed by Danish TV this afternoon. She wanted glimpses from various parts of Mali- how is the atmosphere in Djenne? Keita also managed to get her some of his Malian Army officer friends in Timbuktu on the phone to describe the Timbuktu situation- all was calm at that time.


But by midday I found out from Baba who just came back from voting that all was not quite as rosy as I thought alas... He said that many, many people could not find themselves on the lists at the Mairie. People had to go and find their picture and name with Carte Nina numbers as the first step in the voting. Once they had managed to find themselves on the lists, they would know what voting bureau to go to – the voting bureaus are all 24 found in different class rooms at the main school above.


Finding yourself on these lists, which became quickly torn down, trampled underfoot and destroyed by the press of the crowd was not easy. Many people, mostly the old and illiterate became discouraged and went home. Now this is of course quite terrible! These people who may never have voted before should be given every help possible- but none was at hand! Baba told me that if one texted one or the other of  the two mobile networks of Mali the Carte Nina number, an automated response would follow, with the number of the voting bureau. The campaigning  potential of this was of course  quickly realized by the main parties, and soon the IBK supporters etc had set up their little groups where the supporters could come and SMS messages would be sent off on their behalf. But there were plenty of people wandering about forlornly trying in vain to find themselves on the hopelessly torn lists.. So Baba and I set up a help station too and started SMSing!

There is now just a few minutes left, so I will take a last trip in to town to check out the situation! Next time I write it will be from London, inshallah..

Friday, July 26, 2013

Thank God for Night and Day

One of the loveliest things about life is that is starts again every morning. Can you imagine what it would be like if it didn’t have the break of a night in between all that happens? If everything just carried on and we didn’t need to sleep? Suicide rates would sky rocket.
The best thing about the night/day arrangement is that it gives one the opportunity to reinvent oneself every day. There is always a hope that things may improve and that one might be more organized, smarter, more successful, kinder tomorrow...

Yesterday was a Bad Day. As usual I got up with the best of intentions, glad that it was a new day in which to have another go at being kind to my employees and those in the library team. But this plan invariably breaks down. It is harder just now since it has been  full moon which affects me badly, and I am also rather stressed out because I am leaving in less than a week and have a lot to get done. The Library project is in its final days. I went in to check the progress and found that one detail on the excel document describing the manuscripts- the physical measurements-  had been totally ignored by the team. They have less than a week to fill in the whole lot! Two years of measurements!  ‘Oh, but it is not very important, is it?’ ventured Mohammed. ‘You bet it is.’ I snapped with some emphasis.

‘ If you don’t do it, I will have to spend the whole of September at the British Library filling it in, and I have other plans!’

I went back to the hotel and the studio to check on the progress of the MaliMali team and found to my utter horror that Alpha, my new tailor, had drawn in RED BIRO on the front of a white dress decorated with black bogolan lines- a fabric that I only can make and which I had spent at least a day working on, including visit to the river to wash it. It is an order for Bamako, and I have no time or wish to redo the fabric.  And Alpha decides to draw on it in red biro! He made a mistake, he said. I HOWLED at him to get outta  there and that I couldn’t even abide the sight of him. Then I decided I could not even bear staying in the studio so I  wandered back to the hotel, where my fortunes changed again- living in Mali is, in the well-turned phrase of my Dutch friend Birgit ‘the square root of emotional roller coasters’.
I sat down in the bar to calm down and nurse an ice cold beer when the hotel guests turned up. Yes! We had hotel guests yesterday, three jolly Frenchmen who had nothing to do with the elections or the crisis. They were here making a documentary about the French explorer Rene Caille, probably the first white person to arrive in Djenne in the first part of the 19th century,  about 30 years after  Mungo Park’s famous voyage which brought him close, but not quite to Djenne.

One of this threesome was an actor, playing the part of Rene Caille! The explorer had travelled in disguise and pretended to be an Arab. When I found this out I pleaded with him to get dressed up so that I could be pictured with Renee Caille!  And here we are... M. Caille I presume?
But after this uplifting interlude I ventured back to the studio, where I found poor Alpha lying on a mat in the corner, quietly crying... How dreadful am I to cause this gentle man such pain! He might not be a very good tailor, but he doesn’t deserve to be treated with such contempt as I just did. So, unnoticed,  I quietly took the red stained garment and went to try and remove the stain. This turned out to be fairly simple, so I went back and told Alpha that all was not lost. It would all be OK, and tomorrow I would show him how to mark the garments without using biro. And Alhamdilullah, the next day he did come back and all is now well once more! Isn’t it great that night follows day, and that day comes back again all new and shiny and full of possibilities.

Take tomorrow  for instance: the EU Election Observers arrive to Hotel Djenne Djenno- one from Italy and one from Sweden. Election is almost here and this time it is really quite exciting and full of possibilities.  I have given my guesswork below, but there could be enormous surprises!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Oh! How could I forget...

There is of course the cuddly astrophysicist! 
Cheick Modibo Diarra; ex-NASA space programme; ex-interim Prime Minister, who fulfilled that position admirably until he was kicked out in unclear circumstances, probably not reflective on his performance or character.   He would be my second choice.  He has spent long in the US and is au fait with the all-important Baby element in election tactics.


IBK also understands it..

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Making of the King

In Bamako again to send off MaliMali merchandise.
 14-hour journey on the Bani bus from the Djenne Carrefour conveyed me once more to the capital, not without a couple of breakdowns on the way.  The country is gripped by election fever. I am asking everyone if they have collected their Carte Nina – a requirement to be able to vote. Virtually everyone I ask has done so. It seems as if the turn-out will be quite high (amongst  those able to vote...) An argument broke out on the bus between supporters of IBK and Sumaila Cisse (above)
with a smattering of Mariko voters (above right) entering the fray.
The extreme left Oumar Mariko addressed the nation in his allocated slot of 10 minutes on ORTM  (Malian TV) wearing a peasant’s smock. He is perhaps the only candidate to offer any political ideology in the established sense.

Malians – and Africans- in general are not into ideology but see their Presidents as Kings.They want to pay allegiance to a Hero/King figure.  A candidate needs to be not only rich but already known to the electorate. He needs to be famous, or infamous- it doesn’t really matter which , as long as he is not unknown.  ADEMA the oldest and most established party here has made a very large mistake in chosing Dramane Dembele, a virtual unknown from the party ranks.  Dembele is not only unknown but suffers from the added handicap of being young. The rationale for their choice was that Mali needed a new face- their slogan is ‘Le Nouveau Visage au Mali’, someone unblemished by dirty dealings in the previous ATT era.
 But I believe that even Modibo Sidibe, well-known for mishandling of funds on a large scale as the Prime Minister of  ATT, stands a better chance. People have seen his face, they have heard his name, they believe in his aura. He IS someone. Draman Dembele is not.
I am talking of Kings, because there is only one woman candidate. However, although the fabulous Haidara  Aichata Cisse (above with fuel bottles in front) , Maire and MP of Bourem close to Gao won’t win this time, she might do quite well.  She gained acclaim from the whole nation during the last year when she gave several spirited performances in televised panel discussions on France 24. When faced with MNLA members on the same panel she was exactly as rude and indignant as the Malian people required: ‘ What are YOU doing here?’ Why am I even talking to you? You should be behind bars! There is a warrant out for your arrest!’ etc etc..  to the  delight of the nation.

As far as the Making of Kings goes, age does count here.  One candidate who is yet too young but  will do well in the future is Moussa Mara, Maire of the Commune IV of Bamako, which he runs with commendable rigour and success. But his day has not yet come.

But who has arrived at a venerable age and who is untarnished by the previous government’s misdoings? What credible candidate –apart from Mariko- ran in opposition to ATT in the last elections? Who is well-known to the Malian nation? Who presents not only a King figure but a father figure for a bruised nation? Who carries the torch and the hallowed name of Soundyatta and Modibo?
The ground swell is for Ibrahim Boubakar Keita- it is his moment.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Wimbledon, Election campaign and Kidal

Two important things yesterday- first things first:
Murray won Wimbledon for the Brits. For the first time in 77 years the nation who invented the game claims victory. But hold on- who invented it? Was it perhaps the French? They did invent some things after all... wasn't it called  Jeu de Paume?  Anyway, I was hugely annoyed by  lack of electricity in Djenne- could therefore not witness this historic moment. Hurrah from Djenne for Andy!

And the other thing yesterday was the kick- off of the Malian election campaign.  28 presidential candidates had their investiture ceremony by their respective parties. 28 candidates gave their speeches, assuring the Malian voters that they are the only choice for the Mali of the future.  Some three or four  of these are heavyweights and needed sport stadia for the huge crowds that had gathered to support them. Sumaila Cisse, the candidate for the URD was in the sport stadium of Mopti.  Ibrahim Boubakar Keita aka  IBK (above)  for his party RPM took on his supporters in the 26 March Stadium in  Bamako while Modibo Sidibe, he candidate most Malians feel should be languishing in jail for past mismanagement of funds in the ATT government, entertained his many supporters in Kayes. Malians are a forgiving and tolerant people, sometimes to their detriment...
All the candidates promised to improve education; create work opportunities; fight against corruption and create a strong and well equipped army. There is no time of course to actually find out how the various candidates are hoping to achieve their identical goals. The election is 20 days away! My hunch is that the battle is between IBK and Sumaila Cisse...My keita went to Mopti yesterday to support Sumaila Cisse’s  URD with a considerable crowd of friends that he had commandeered. When Keita decides to support someone he becomes something of a local force. This fact was recognized by the Djenne M.P Sekou Cisse (URD) who paid us a visit the day before yesterday.


Some 150 soldiers from the Malian Army entered Kidal at long last on Friday. Malian TV showed happy crowds – some black, some Tuareg- welcoming them and waving Malian flags. So far so good. But what happened next was not shown and less encouraging- those that had demonstrated their support for the Malian Army’s arrival were promptly attacked and certain among the black population had to flee to safety at the Malian army camp, according to RFI (Radio France Inter). It appears that the attacking was carried out by the MNLA's women and children who were throwing stones etc. The MNLA's soldiers are of course in 'containment' according to the Ouagadougou agreement.
At the same time, the MNLA are refusing  Colonel Gamou (above) entry into Kidal with his men. Gamou is an exciting figure: (I am having a school girl crush on him...just look at that Gary Grant chin!) a  famous Tuareg colonel who was part of the  MNLA, but who swapped sides and was integrated into the Malian army many years ago.  Last year during the Islamist conquest of the north, he was cut off and stranded in the middle of nowhere with his regiment of badly armed Malian soldiers. When he realized that the opponent had far superior fire power  he pretended to swap sides again  in  order to save his troops, and for a moment everyone thought he was actually betraying Mali and deserting. But no- he later escaped with his men and surfaced again in the Niger, having saved the lives of his 500 troops. Gamou was with the Malian army contingent that successfully attacked Anefis recently, which prompted the emergency talks in Ouagadougou. The MNLA are not keen on him...

Monday, July 01, 2013

Manuscripts and Voting...

The biggest news today is the acceptance by London of my reworked proposal for a further 2 years of funding for the Djenne Manuscript Library. We will receive £56000 and the project will keep  6 people working full time for two more years – I am quite chuffed! The team has worked faithfully through two years of difficult conditions- during the last year when Mali has been at war we have often been without electricity  during the day, but in the spirit of Dunkirk the staff has soldiered on regardless even if it meant working during the night, and we are now going to be able to present a collection of in excess of 130 000  images from these precious and ancient Arabic manuscripts.

And what else?
There is trouble brewing with regards to the elections. My dear friend the journalist Levy went to  pick up his ‘Carte Nina’ the other day here in Djenne. This is the identity card necessary to be able to vote in the forthcoming  Presidential elections on 28th of July. But no, there was no card available for him. He was told that he would have to wait until the next elections! Now, Levy is exactly the sort of Malian that absolutely has to be given his chance to vote! Passionately concerned about the future of his country, vocal and encouraging others to seize their chance to exercise their democratic right to vote, he has been told ‘ No, sorry , there has been a mistake, we can’t find your registration’.

It seems, according to the newspaper Echo (for which Levy often writes)  of Friday that there are1 167 000 people like Levy in Mali!
And that is not all: there are 360 000 people who are now 18 years old, and therefore have the right to vote, but cannot. Why? Because they never had the chance to register. The registration took place in 2011, for the forthcoming 2012 elections which never happened, as we know too well. These young people were too young to vote in 2012, but not now! So, the arithmetic is worrying to say the least: out of 7 000 000 people who theoretically should be able to vote, there are already 1 527 000 that cannot! And that is before we even start talking of the displaced population of the north, whose voting possibilities will be very difficult to secure. In a population which has never exceeded 30% at the ballot boxes, it may raise questions of legitimacy for the president that is voted in, and that can turn spark further unrest.
But the Americans and the French plow on regardless. There has to be an election at any price, right now! it seems.
Of course. Democracy and elections are always right. Just look at Egypt!