Monday, July 16, 2018

Timbuktu done..

 And back in Bamako briefly before setting off shortly for other northward climes... the above is an admirable attempt by someone at the UN to beautify, with a little fountain in a plastic wash basin, the new 'airport' in Timbuktu, which is now situated in a large prefab after the destruction of the airport building a couple of months ago during a Jihadist attack.  I nearly did not get on the flight- it is getting virtually impossible now and I had to plead with my friend the Governor of Timbuktu (see the very first entry to this  journal...) to arrange a place for me to return to Bamako. He did. Al hamdullillah, and here I  find myself, after a challenging visit to the team in Timbuktu as always... More later. The nature is so different: here the plane leaves Timbuktu where not a drop of rain has fallen, and it arrives in a verdant rainy season  Bamako...

More soon...

Sunday, July 8, 2018


An early morning view of the River Niger from the balcony of the Swedish Residence.
I am so lucky to stay here now, although Eva is on holiday- I will see her for the  last week of my stay in Mali at the end of the month  and that will be the very last time in this place which has occupied such an important position  in my universe during  the last 5 years: Eva is now retiring.

I wish I could write freely about my plans and and movements, but alas it would be foolish...I spent last night at the American Club in Bamako where they were having a belated Independence Day celebration. There I conferred with Paul Chandler, a interesting American who knows a lot about Mali and how to get from A to B using unorthodox methods because he organizes music festivals all over the country, mostly in inaccessible places. He put me in touch with various people who will hopefully be able to get me to Timbuktu and back by traditional means, since the UN flights are becoming virtually impossible to board. I spent most of Friday at the airport trying to get on a flight to Timbuktu, but was told to come back and try again after the weekend. So that is what I will do tomorrow morning of course. But failing that, I will get there by other means of which i cannot speak until I am happily back again..and I may not say much while I am there either, since I do not want to draw attention to myself. So please bear with me in what may be a week or so of radio silence. I am in touch with Cat, the new ambassador  at the British Embassy.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

The Pulse of Bamako

Although there are no posters up yet of the candidates for the first round of the Presidential elections, people talk of very little else here.
 I have to travel around  in the yellow Bamako taxis for a large part of the day as I am shuttling around the capital trying to arrange everything- between UNESCO's head office;  the Post office to send off MaliMali stuff; the electronic hard wear shops of  'le Grand Marche' to buy computers and printers etc to move into the new studio in the Al Aquib library in Timbuktu; the 'Maison Africaine de la Photographie' to arrange for the exhibition which we will have to celebrate the end of the Djenne Projects in December; the American Club to watch some world cup matches, and, just to put the icing on the cake, the swish office of Madame Diallo, the Minister of Culture centre below, in the company of Cat, the new British Ambassador:
 And every time I ask the driver who he will vote for. My fellow passengers in the taxis are also up for a political discussion.What seems to be an interesting choice is Cheik Modibo Diarra, top above, the ex Prime Minister under Diankounda Traore, the interim President after the coup who eventually sacked him: not because he had done anything wrong, on the contrary, he was working quite hard trying to prevent wrong-doing, but that  can be very inconvenient of course...
Diarra is a Malian hero- an astrophysicist who worked at Nasa. He has now teamed up with the only other credible politician in Mali as far as my fellow Taxi passengers are concerned (and I totally agree with them): Moussa Mara, below,  another ex Prime Minister who has a flawed record, but not because of corruption, nepotism or any of the usual ministerial vices.

 But  he sanctioned the reckless attack to reclaim  Kidal by the Malian Army which ended in disaster in May 2014. Some would say he was absolutely justified in this attempt, others would call it a display of shocking lack of judgement. In either case, it could perhaps be called an act of misplaced patriotism- and it must be said that he had the majority of Malians behind him in his decision...

Diarra is an independent, and Moussa Mara has his party called 'Yelema'. Now it appears that Diarra has teamed up with Mara who is backing his candidature, under the banner of Yelema. Many, including me, feel quite excited about this team...and some say that failing that, they would support IBK for a second term... better the devil you know, perhaps? I have not spoken to anyone yet who is backing Soumi- Soumaila Cisse, the main opposition to IBK- but of course they are many. But my fellow passengers are voicing the opinion 'Ala k'an Kissi!' (May God protect us...) Indeed.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

A letter from the Minister of Culture

And a very gratifying one too...
It was addressed to the Village Chief of Djenne and leaked to me from a source inside the Ministry who wants to remain anonymous. This should finally put an end to the continuous rumblings of discontent which have plagued the Djenne Manuscript Projects from the very beginning of the digitization work in 2008 when I was first asked by the Djenne population to get involved and try and find them some funding.   A faction in town, led by the semi illiterate Village Chief, hostile to the Djenne Manuscript Library, have done all in their power to try and put a stop to the projects, spreading rumours that the British Library are stealing manuscripts and making vast fortunes on the back of the Djenne population's  manuscripts without paying anything back. (See Blog entry 'Let me have a good Gripe' on  August 31).

It appears that during a ministerial visit to Djenne in March, the village chief thrust a letter into the hand of the Minister of Culture- a very pleasant lady who has been educated in Canada and speaks perfect English- which once more demanded the immediate closure of the Library and the return of all the hard drives containing the digitization material claiming that it was illegal. The letter above is her reply, finally sent in late  May, which was just leaked to me:

this is my translation:

Subject: Your letter of the 14th of March 2018
To the Village Chief of Djenne:

I acknowledge receipt of your letter, referenced  above, concerning the hard drives from the Djenne Manuscript Library.
I inform you that the said hard drives have been handed over to the National Archives of Mali, during a solemn ceremony in the presence of the manuscript owners of Djenne; representatives of the Imam of Djenne; of the previous Village Chief and of many other notables amongst whom were the Deputy Secretary of the Malian Presidency; the ambassadors of Great Britain, of Sweden and of Germany. The hard drives are preserved at the National Archives of Mali and put at the disposal of students and researchers to be exploited in their study.
The digitisation of manuscripts, which is a legal act, is an efficient means of safeguarding and preserving ancient document collections.
I assure you of the accessibility of these hard drives at the National Institution and I invite you to trust in my continued collaboration.
The Minister of Culture

 So let's hope that this puts an end to it...

Monday, June 25, 2018

The Dozo and the Fulani

On Saturday 23rd of June 32 Fulani herdsmen were assassinated in the village of Koumaga in the Circle of Djenne according to Reuters. The Malian government gives the figure as 16. 'Murdered in cold blood' writes Malijet. It appears they were attacked by the Dozo, the traditional hunters.

This is an escalation of a new situation that I reported in this  blog on March 29th - Stuck in Sevare.
This serious  incident is reported as tribal feuding because of ancient gripes concerning rights of grazing and cultivation. This is not entirely the truth of the matter: It goes deeper than that.
The Malian state presence is virtually nil in Central Mali which has led to a  break down in law and order. The Dozo have taken up their antiquated weapons in an attempt to protect their village populations from the attacks by those Fulani that adhere to the Macina group- which now goes under the name of  JNIM since March 2017 it when it  merged with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Ansar Dine and al-Mourabitoun . The Malian government is now accused of encouraging the Dozo,  and indiscriminate killings of innocent civilians are taking place- on both side of the conflict.
The BBC described Saturday's attack as follows:  'The hunters, known locally as "Dozo", surrounded the village in the Mopti region and separated members of the Fula ethnic group from the other villagers before killing them.'
These Dozo hunters have normally served more of a ceremonial purpose in the villages during peaceful times, but in the current climate of increasing insecurity they have taken it upon themselves to act as a vigilante militia.
There is no doubt that this crisis is escalating in central Mali. But it may be worth looking at  northern Nigeria, : An article from July 16th 2016 throws light on a similar  feud  multiplying in a frightening manner at  the approximate time of the rise of the 'Front de Liberation de Macina.' in Central Mali:

 'Before now, the herdsmen have been known to wreak havoc in certain communities in Nigeria, but now, the rate at which they commit these crimes has increased exponentially. According to statistics provided by the Institute for Economics and Peace, 1,229 people were killed in 2014, up from 63 in 2013 and Benue State seems to be the hardest hit in recent times.'
The article goes on to ask:
'Are Boko Haram members mistaken for the Fulani herdsmen?'
 Interestingly, the Macina Group have been called 'Mali's Boko Haram'. The Nigerian article goes on to report that

 'in the heat of the herdsmen crisis, the Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar III, advised Nigerians to stop attributing ethnicity and religion to the Fulani Herdsmen crisis, citing that such actions are not peculiar to the Fulanis.'

It is a little disingenuous of the  Sultan of Sokoto to is pretend  that these clashes have nothing to do with ethnicity. In doing so he is disregarding  a crucial ingredient in this scenario, specific to West Africa:
The Sultan of Sokoto  is traditionally a Fulani, and the Sokoto Caliphate in northern Nigeria was founded at the jihad of the Fulani War in 1809 by Usman dan Fodio. This was one of the first in the wave of  jihads that swept across west Africa in the nineteenth century with the dual purpose of purifying Islam and gaining political power.  The most important manifestation of this surge of Fulani power and influence in Mali was  Sekou Amadou's Fulani Empire of Macina: from its conquest of Djenne in 1819  to its demise by Scheik Oumar Tall, the crusading founder of another theocratic empire in 1862.
The rise of the Macina Liberation Front in Central Mali was directly inspired by the nineteenth century Fulani empires.  Whether the terrifying escalation of the Fulani attacks in northern Nigeria has anything to do with a harking back to the glory days of the Sokoto Caliphate is not proved but worth more than a fleeting thought. 
Maybe the time has come to stop  describing these phenomenons just as  as inter tribal clashes for grazing lands? Do we need to look at how the past influences the present in this particular instance? 

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Indulge me please.

I am just about to take off for Africa once more, but before that there was an important mission to fulfil: I had to buy a hat.
 There is a wedding in the ravishing little Oxfordshire  village of Blewbury more or less the day I get back from Africa. It risks being quite a smart wedding. To be on the safe side I decided to organize my hat buying before leaving.  Indulge me therefore while I revel in some unrepentant girly narcissism for just a little while. Soon, soon I will be talking endlessly about all the African adventures and hardships which will no doubt befall me. 

I did buy one of these following hats. I wonder if anyone would be able to guess which?

This one wasn't too bad..

 Mother of the Bride...?


This one was called 'The Audrey':

 The Canadian Mounted Police look..

HELL no!

I like it , but too beachy?

 Tiring stuff this Hat buying business..

And last night I went to Europe House- that lovely place which has acted as a hub of socializing for me whenever I have been back in London over the last twelve years- Jeremiah has organized a multitude of great exhibitions there, and last night was just one of these- the Czechoslovakian photographer Dagmar Hochová  whose great pictures captured the Soviet invasion of ’68 but also just fleeting moments of life in joyful and sometimes startling images:

Speak soon from  more southern climes...

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Baby Mozart.

Well, he was not quite a baby, but only 12 years old when he wrote his first opera, La Finta Semplice which is showing for a couple of nights a the Queen Elizabeth Hall. I met David, ever ready with a spare ticket in the stalls, at the South Bank last night on a beautiful sunny June evening.

My mentor and adoptive mother Princess Lulie*  used to say that Mozart saved her life many times. ‘Yes, but not this Mozart’ said David, who thought the opera was ‘totally pointless’ and did not see any of his later genius in embryo in this comic and absurd opera, so full of formulaic commonplaces and entirely predictable music.  However, he did think that it was beautifully performed.  I am of course no Mozart buff and drank it all in thankfully. I remembered my Lulie’s words, as the lovely singing started to soothe my jarred nerves. The Timbuktu situation of which I cannot speak is unresolved and it is bringing me down. I will have to travel to Timbuktu in a couple of weeks without any clarity – it will feel as if I am going to set out  into the Heart of Darkness all alone... having to resolve a very difficult situation. But there was Mozart, even just Baby Mozart, and I was becalmed.   I walked over the bridge towards the Embankment in the soft night over the dazzling river Thames in the company of others who were elated by the performance, and even on the tube home total strangers struck up conversations; ‘you were at the QEH, were you not? What did you think?’ And we all loved it. Sometimes it is better not to be a music critic like David... here is his review:
 *my obituary of Princess  Lulie: (