Monday, June 30, 2014


 I touched down once more on African soil towards sunset last night and this time Algeria opened its doors to me without problem;  Carin waited at the airport and drove me through Algers on a balmy Mediterranean summer evening towards the ambassador's residence: a lovely modern  Algiers house, where we were joined for a pleasant dinner with Christina,  the impossibly glamourous and filmstar- looking Norwegian chargé d'affairs , talking much politics and Mali situation  but also plenty of fun girly talk.

Meanwhile something quite extraordinary took place at Hotel Djenne Djenno last night: there were 12 Greek tourists staying at the hotel  and having dinner under the stars! That  is virtually unheard  of course: I would love to think that it is a good sign that tourism is about to return, but alas it must be regarded as a freak occurence...I was in frequent contact with Baba in the hotel and this morning they left without any problems, alhamdilulla!

Tonight is the show-down between Algeria and Germany in the Worldcup quarter finals: it would have been fun to stay but I will be winging my way to Bamako towards an uncertain few months: decisions must be made about our future in Djenne and at the hotel in particular.  Should I stay or should I go?

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Mali's government under criticism

The Malian government has come under fire recently from two international heavyweights: the IMF and the UN.  The first of these attacks seems perfectly justified, delivered by the super elegant Christine Lagarde ( I think I am going to dye my hair white like hers, since it is already half way there? But I digress....) 
The IMF has refused   to cough up the next instalment of its loan to Mali ( forty six million dollars over three years).  Instead the loan has been delayed at least until September pending investigations regarding the scandal over the presidential jet, bought not long after IBKs inauguration as president for a sum reported by IBK as forty million dollars and by his prime minister Moussa Mara as thirty six million dollars. 
Whatever. I cannot believe how idiotic this purchase was!

UN:"'the Time for Negotiations have arrived!"

The second attack was delivered last Wednesday by the UN’s deputy peace keeping secretary Hervé Ladsous  who criticised  the Malian government over its inaction with regards to the negotiations with the armed groups of the north.  Now this is more contentious ground, and this criticism seems typical of the lazy attitude that prevails regarding this situation. There is a real problem here: with whom are they supposed to negotiate? It is clear that these armed groups now include strong elements of the very Jihadists that were previously the enemy! Surely this needs to be addressed first?
In my travels around Europe this time I have not let one opportunity slip to question whatever high ranking French official I have come across on the situation in the north of Mali. My friend Jeremiah invited me to a do at the Institute Française in London where I managed to collar the French ambassador, who looked a little taken aback as he sipped his champagne but nevertheless offered the useless and much repeated idea “ what we want now is reconciliation”. Excuse me, but how exactly?
 My next victim was the  educational attaché at the French embassy in London at a conference on the downturn in studies of modern languages in European universities (I was invited only because my pal Bella had organized it at the British Academy, and there was a jolly reception afterwards) He was even more startled at the question and refused boringly to comment since it was not his department.  
 I had better luck with the Algerian consul in Stockholm who was chitchatting with me over a coffee while they were preparing my visa. He politely offered the idea that is the universal attitude to the situation: The Tuaregs have been neglected by the government in the south. They need to be heard. Therefore negotiations need to be undertaken. Yes indeed. Everyone understands that, even the Malian government. 

Abdoulaye Diop, the Malian minister of foreign affairs explained once more the Malian governments position to the UN: the Malian government is ready to engage in negotiations but the groups of the north must be disarmed according to the Ouagadougou agreement  and they must take a distance from the Jihadists.
This does not seem to me an unreasonable request, but it is destined to fall on deaf ears. The people who matter appear to have an agenda of their own and the rest are too lazy to engage in the problem and try and undertand it. 

 Needless to say, the MNLA welcomed the pronouncement by the UN.

Friday, June 13, 2014

I can't bear it

I don’t want to write. I don’t want to think about Mali.   It is an insufferable mess. I can’t bear it. At the end of the month I am going back to a country without a rudder, without a guiding light, beset by problems much beyond the grasp of its pitiful leadership.

IBK, supposed to be the saviour of Mali, voted in by a landslide victory is proving himself to be a worse than hopeless president. I have been quiet about it for months since I was a staunch IBK  supporter. But there is no denying that that the Malian government is useless, almost as useless as the Malian army: the uselessness of which has been universally acknowledged by everyone but me and Keita of course.  

What turns my stomach most is the hopeless situation in the north of Mali.  Through the doomed  intervention of its troops on May 21 in the tragic battle of Kidal, Mali has probably sealed it fate:  there will most probably be an AZAWAD, and the French and the international community will stand by and cheer it on.  The dossier concerning the massacre at Aguelhoc in January 2012 is loitering unread in the Court of Human Rights at the Hague : no one gives a shit about murdered southerners. The MINUSMA have solicited the much hated (by the Malians) and despised Burkinabé President Compaoré to be the mediator in the negotiations between the armed rebels and the Malian government. Why don’t we just put everyone out of their misery and make AZAWAD a reality? That is what everyone really wants, apart from the Malians ( and the largest  number of Tuaregs) , but who cares about them? Let’s just put all those lovely Ançar Dine Islamists, and all the other criminals too, resurfacing as big chums of the MNLA in power in the north, why don’t we? The more the merrier! That is what everyone wants. 

Let’s talk about something else, and something bearable: no, much more than bearable, something lovely: I have spent a few days by the lake in Sweden and I have caught up with my brother Anders, with whom I had not spoken for many years. It was such a waste: I love my brother and we had such fun and then we just fell out for reasons that shall remain shrouded in clouds of forgetfulness. But now we are friends again. And that is in no small measure due to the noble  Keita: ‘Have you spoken to your brother?’ He enquired every year, and I replied sulkingly  in the negative. Last Christmas he asked the same thing, and I replied in the same way. But now he decided he had had enough of this. ‘ You are the Big Sister’, he started, with an accurate grasp of the geneaology. ‘You are going to call him, it is your duty’. It is very rare that Keita becomes emphatic. When he does he is to be Obeyed. I had no choice but to email my brother. I received an immediate response and now all is well and I have found my brother again!

Thursday, June 05, 2014


 No, no, I am NOT in Algeria, at least not yet. I have just arrived in Sweden to spend three weeks. But there are finally some exciting developments on that  aborted Algerian trip:
Having been very excited about my planned Algerian visit at Easter time I had made all sorts of research. I had watched all the Algerian films I could lay my hands on and had become quite an expert on Algerian modern history. There was however one tiny bit of research I had omitted to do : did I need a visa?
I did.
Having been refused entry into Algeria for a lack of this item and unceremoniously bundled on to the first plan to London on my way from Mali to Europe in April, I then attempted to obtain the missing visa at the Algerian Consulate in London so that I would finally be able to make the planned visit to my friend Carin Wall, the Swedish ambassador to Algeria on my way back. This was not to be. 
The London consulate staff were sticklers for rules and extremely unpleasant. I was refused a visa because according to the regulations I should apply for a visa in my country of residence, i.e. in my case Mali. Not even a letter to the Consul from Carin made any difference, in fact they seemed to positively relish the idea that they were not giving any preferential treatment. This nearly caused a diplomatic incident and Carin was understandably irate.
The new plan was that I should apply for my visa in Stockholm at the Algerian Embassy. Now, this proved an inspired idea: diplomatic letters winged their way through the ether to prepare the way and lo and behold: I arrived at the embassy this morning.  I was immediately whisked into the office of the Consul where I was given coffee and cakes and treated to a little chat about the loveliness of Algeria while my visa was being prepared!  I am now in possession of a three months multi entry visa given on the spot.  Alhamdilullah! I had been steeling myself for an uncomfortable  30 hour wait at the airport of Algiers on my way back to Mali...
But meanwhile the situation 'at home' in Mali is nothing to shout hurrah about. We had a longstanding booking at the end of June with an Italian Tour operator. The hotel was going to be more or less full. We had prepared for this and had done an overhaul of the air conditioners etc. But a few days ago the booking was cancelled. No reason was given, but it is of course because of the recent fighting and increased instability in Mali. The Italians had been the last to give up Mali as a tourist destination and they were also the first to come back gradually over the last year: they are cheerful and hardy travellers and they have never  cared very much about what the government may be saying as far as travel warnings go...but this time they pulled out. What will the future hold now for Hotel Djenné Djenno? Is there a future or must we give up now? Difficult decisions will have to  be made soon...