Friday, May 22, 2015

"A Fortress for Ewoks???"

I had been looking forward to a feature written about the hotel and also about MaliMali's fabrics in Newsweek; It is now out, but very disappointing: first of all, instead of using the gorgeous pictures that the photographer took of the hotel or of the bogolan -or of me for that matter! they trot out an old picture of the mosque!  And frankly, reading the text it would  certainly not give me any wish to go to this town or my hotel! I am very cross.

The House of Detention

Well those de-humidifiers that the organizers of the Clerkenwell Design Week had promised for my prison cell in the exhibition  dungeon did what they could, but the last three days'  of MaliMali's textile show have been a bone-chilling  ordeal, there is no getting away from it. I am today spending an indulgent  afternoon in my God mother Giulietta's lovely warm flat, celebrating my 'release' by eating lots of chocolate and doing absolutely nothing, having spent the morning clearing the show away.

And did it do us any good? Impossible to tell. The show was supposedly frequented by potential clients: architects and interior designers who might want to use our textiles for various projects. People wandered in  and out of my 'cell',  some of them casting a furtive glance only but  picking up a business card, others staying and chatting for some time, while I went through  the rigmarole of explaining everything about the bogolan manufacture in detail, only to find out as often as not when I asked who they were that they had nothing to do with design  whatsoever, but they were in 'human resources' or 'IT' or ran a restaurant up the road..... Oh well, at least it passed the time and made me forget for a moment  how dreadfully cold I was.  The faintly annoying thing was that I had to reply to exactly the same .questions as those facing me when I am at Hotel Djenné Djenno: "how long have you been in Mali?' "What made you decide to live in Mali?" etc.  etc. The picture behind me of Dembele made everyone think I was showing Kenyan fabrics because he looks like a Masai, draped in the Zebra fabric. I had to disappoint them all by explaining that  Dembele is an accountant, not a Masai Warrior.
Let's see what it will bring... I am now intending to concentrate on having a holiday!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

A Peace Agreement without Peace

 Rushing to to get ready for the MaliMali textile show at the Clerkenwell Design Week here in London which opens on Tuesday , so  sadly not able to concentrate on developments in Mali, momentous though they are:  Nevertheless,  I just watched Al Jazeera’s report on the Mali Peace treaty which was  signed  on the 15th in Bamako.  It mentioned that the signing went ahead in the absence of‘Tuareg separatists’.  Indeed, it is of course deplorable that the CMA (Coordination des Movements de l’Azawad ) was not present at the signing. However, they did finally initial the peace treaty in Algiers  on the 14,th  albeit  attaching the proviso  that more negotiations would have to take place before they were willing to sign the final agreement.
Al Jazeera and most other news channels chose to present the matter as if the north of Mali is the land of the Tuaregs and this section of the country want their freedom to create the state of Azawad. It is of course necessary to simplify if you are only able to give a couple of minutes of air time to the events in Mali, but this does not illustrate the situation in Mali at all.  Al Jazeera makes no mention of the Plateform, which includes the large number of Tuaregs who are loyal to the government and who want to remain Malian.  Clashes between these two factions have been intensifying in the last few weeks.
So what to make of this long awaited signing of the peace treaty, brokered in Algiers, signed in Bamako on the 15th with great pomp in the presence of several heads of African states?
Keita tells me that IBK rose to the occasion and delivered a splendid and rousing speech in which he more or less attacked certain of his guests, the representatives of the CEDEAO, (the West African allies ) MINUSMA (the UN forces)  and SERVAL (the French forces) for not adhering to the Ouagadougou agreement  of June 2013 which  provided for the  cantonnement  (containment) of the rebel groups (read MNLA) . Instead it is the Malian army which is now in cantonnement and the Malian government is unable to do its job in the north.  IBK in his speech mentioned that he deplored the fact that the children of Kidal have not  been able to go to school for the last three years, but made it clear that this is for want of support by the international  military presence who are effectively  preventing the Malian state from re- establishing itself in the north.  

 IBK's attack has been taken very badly by the head of the UN mission, Hervé Ladsous, who on Saturday accused Mali of being ungrateful, stating that the mission to Ma1i has been very costly in  human terms with 35 dead in the last two years. IBKs speech may have lacked in diplomatic finesse, but it did nevertheless express the sentiments of a large proportion of Malians.

 Sadly, in the aftermath of this signing , and in the absence of the CMA (Coordination des  Movements de l’Azawad ) there remains perhaps only a vestige of hope that the long brokered accord will make any real difference.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Brrr! SOOO Cold!

I have chosen this tiny item as an  symbolic reminder   that I have now arrived in Europe. It seems  to me a most European item: it is a MUSHROOM BRUSH, and it is in my friend Cressida's kitchen. Cressida is a foodie and a great cook. She has never been to Ma1i to see me: one of the reasons is that she thinks the food in Mali can't be any good. I believe she is wrong there,  although there is certainly not much use for mushroom brushes in Djenné at least since there are no mushroms there and of course I have a rule at the hotel to only use what is found locally.

Meanwhile in Bamako the temperature was 46 degrees today but  here I am wrapped up in whatever sweaters I can lay my hands on ( this happens every year!) I never remember how unbelievably COLD London is!
And to make matters worse I have chosen to take part in something called the Clerkenwell Design Week with Malimali's fabrics in  a  couple of weeks. I went to see my space yesterday: the show is held in Victorian dungeon called the Detention Centre- freezing cold and dripping with humidity! That would all change the organizers assured me, and indeed there seemed to be big 'hoovers' and other equipment working on the  unpromising premises to 'mop up' the water. How on earth did any of those Victorian prisoners survive?? Pictures to follow of the space changed into something chic hopefully...

Monday, May 04, 2015

Slightly Tipsy in Casablanca

  Having a lonely dinner overlooking a familiar view, drinking some excellent Moroccan red wine:  I am in the restaurant of the ‘BelleRive’ Hotel on the Corniche in Casablanca, on my way ‘home’ to Europe:  UK first for the month of May, then Sweden in June.

This place has both happy and difficult memories.  In June 2009 (see blogs) I was here with Keita who was then in a wheelchair, but he regained  the use of his legs through the radio therapy  that he received here: many Malians and other sub- Saharan country nationals avail themselves of the medical  expertise and facilities of the Maghreb countries: especially Morocco and Tunisia. This time it is I who am investigating some possible medical treatment, about which later perhaps.

But David has insisted that I post some pictures of this year’s Crépissage of the Great Mosque of Djenné, so I feel must try , albeit a little belatedly. ..

This year’s event distinguished itself by the presence of some Togolese UN soldiers  in Djenné to guard , somewhat ostentatiously , certain  UN personnel . Noone has ever seen UN troops in Djenné before but here they were, travelling about in a proper TANK and armoured vehicle with sub machine guns.  They seemed to be enjoying themselves at the ‘crepissage’ and told me there was nothing even remotely like it in Togo.


They were ensuring the safety of Olivier, a spokesperson for the UN forces in Mali, and a few of his colleagues, who were busy flying a drone camera over the Mosque during the crépissage,  something never seen before, and  a sideshow which nearly threatened to steal the thunder of the main event.
They had asked permission to fly the drone camera, and during Friday prayers the Imam of Djenné had sensibly told the population what to expect : otherwise a riot could easily have ensued. As it happened everyone was intrigued.

The Togolese UN tank borne troops rather stole the thunder for me too at the hotel.   I could not hope to compete  with my  two armed National Guards who were to keep watch during the night to ensure the safety of my few hotel guests who had come up for the crepissage.

The reason for my  somewhat unusual  decision to have the hotel guarded was that I had had a peculiar phone call from the security section of a major embassy in Bamako the day  before the crepissage. ‘Was I aware of anything  going on in Djenné, any panic at all?
Any unusual events in Djenné? Had I heard about any people leaving the town?’  The security officers were in possession of a transcript from a radio broadcast from Mauritania which gave the information in Songhai  and in Tamachek that ‘Djenne was in imminent danger of a terrorist attack ; that the population was in a state of panic and leaving the town  in large numbers for the safety of towns like Mopti.’ They sent me a translation of the transcript of this broadcast by email. I said I would look into it.

I phoned Babou Touré, one of the town councillors. ‘ Have you heard of any panic around here? ‘ Is anyone leaving town?’ Of course he had not heard of any such thing. Just to be certain I also phoned the Sou –Prefect, and he too had not heard anything. However, I  decided to  play safe and ordered two armed guards, just in case, not wishing  to poo-poo a  warning from such a major embassy’s security staff.  I now found  myself in the interesting situation of suddenly being regarded as the centre of intelligence operations in the area, because shortly  afterwards I  received a visit by the  Chef de Peloton,  Mulai, a charming  Arab from Timbuktu, who is in charge of military operations in and around Djenné. The Sou- Prefet had called his superior in Mopti about this, and he in turn had instructed Mulay to investigate. I passed on the report that I had received and was reassured that no one was leaving town, and  that there was no cause for panic.

And now, a week later, I am myself once more leaving Mali somewhat reluctantly,   on the eve of momentous events.  Will the peace treaty be signed on the fifteenth of this month? Mali is all but stable- the cease fire is repeatedly broken in the northern areas.  If the peace agreement is finally signed it will continue to be an uneasy peace alas...





Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Le Front de Libération de Macina ?

 Mali is abuzz with a new concept:  The Macina Liberation Front,  purportedly a new terrorist organisation, referred to in a recent document published by Human Rights Watch who holds them responsible for a number of terrorist attacks in central Mali: the regions of Mopti and Segou. Malian press as well as RFI (Radio France Inter) has picked up on this, and the spin is in full spin as it were… The Independent (the Malian one, not the UK version) has the lurid headline: ‘Mopti,  the Venise of the North, in  a state of psychosis, last weekend’. (This may be slightly exaggerated, since I just spoke to a Mopti friend of mine who said she had never heard of it).
Nevertheless:  the hotel was nearly fully booked for the annual ‘crepissage’ of the Mosque this coming weekend, but one by one the reservations have been cancelled and now there are only two rooms left.  Most of the people that were supposed to come are diplomats, and they have all been reading various think tank reports  on these terrorist attacks which are supposed to be perpetuated by this new  extremist group ‘Le Front de Libération de Macina’, and embassies are issuing new prohibitions for travel to these regions.
Of course I, as a hotel owner in the region,  have every reason to play down something like this and I am aware that my opinion is unlikely  to be taken seriously . Nevertheless, I will add my little dissenting voice to the overwhelming clamour of the MINUSMA specialists and the Human Rights Watch people, who write their reports mostly from the safety and comfort of Bamako.

The facts are the following: reports of violence in the area of central Mali since January 2015 have increased in the region of Mopti and Segou, and localities such as Nampala, Tenenkou, Boulkessi, Dogofri and  Morha have been repeatedly attacked.

Ban Ki Moon has said in a recent statement: « an  intensification of  extremist activity has been signalled in the previously spared regions of Segou and Mopti.”

But his statement , those of RFI and of  all other commentators make the fundamental mistake of not pointing out - either by ignorance or by expedience- that the regions of Mopti and Segou have the geographical dividing line of the river Niger running through them:  all the large cities and administration centres are situated to the east of the river Niger and they  follow the main road leading to the north  i.e. Segou, San, Bla, Mopti, Djenné, Sevaré, Mopti. The eastern regions also include  the entire Dogon country. These are the regions that have 'been spared' and  they still are.
ALL of these attacks have been perpetuated to the west  of the river Niger.The western  parts of the regions of Segou a.d Mopti – that part which lies  towards the Mauritanian border have continued to be the target of attacks either by bandits or by elements that have fled from the northern extremist groups since the French dislodged them in 2013. This glaring fact has not been pointed out by any one of the commentators.  I would like to draw attention to my blogs of March 29 and 30 and April 1st 2013; ,(‘Murky Waters’, Attack on Mourha’)   amongst others which highlights this very problem. It is therefore not a new phenomenon, and it is misleading to describe it as such. Some of the commentators   are here on six  month contracts.   I boast the advantage of having observed, over the last years, from a position of central Mali, the events that unfold in close proximity to me.

Certain commentators have indicated that the local administration in these localities have fled and one source even mentioned that some prefects have withdrawn to  Djenné.  The truth is  that the Sou- Prefect of Morha (west of the Niger) did ‘withdraw’  to Djenné in order to report on the situation and on the recent violence in Morha to the Prefect here. He then returned to his post. The regions to the west of the Niger have had less of an administration  presence since colonial times. Certain of these localities such as Morha rely on the gendarmerie and the higher ranks of administration of larger localities on the eastern side of the river Niger to resolve many incidents (see blog 'Attack on Morha' 1st April 2013).

All this does not mean that there has not been an increase in violence: this part is unfortunately true. But please do label things properly! Please make the fundamental  distinction between  the east and west side of the river Niger: the river itself exercises a geographical barrier that is extremely important: the extremist groups are not waterborn- or have not been so far. No incidents have happened in the areas east of the river- this is because the terrorist elements are in the main not  local: they come from their hiding places towards the border of Mauritania, they do their destructive raids and then they disappear again into the wilderness- on the east side they would have nowhere to go.

And what about this mysterious ‘Front of the Liberation of Macina?’ Sekou Amadou Barry was the religious reformer whose  Fulani Empire of Macina  was established the region in the middle of the 19th century   with a religious fervor which can be described as the fore runner of today’s  extremist Islam . An iconoclast, he is responsible for the destruction of the Great Mosque of Djenné which  had stood here since the 14th century, but which was too ornate for his liking so he built another simpler one on a nearby site.  The present mosque was built on the ruins of the old and completed in 1907.

Think tank reports are seeing a connection between  a charismatic preacher, Hamadou Koufa, whose DAWA sect of Wahabi persuasion has links with Iyad Ag Ghali’s (above) Ançar Dine. They are suspected  to be the masterminds behind this ‘Front de Liberation de Macina’ which is  supposed to be made up of Fulani who hank for the return of the glory days of the 19th century when the Empire of Macina ruled their world. Is this true? ‘It is a compelling narrative,’ as a clever young diplomat friend in Bamako so trendily expressed it to me  the other day. Indeed, and it is possibly a scheme masterminded by the likes of Iyad ag Ghali as a means of whipping up support amongst a poor and disgruntled population.   And  there is apparently a small group of Fulani who have been recruited. But the present threat of this organisation is hugely exaggerated, and  whatever is going on right now it  is a stepping up of violence on the WESTERN shores of the Niger.




Saturday, April 11, 2015

Volte - Face

Well, it seems that we shouted 'Hurrah' to speedily.
Although The CMA (Co-ordinated Movements of Azawad, which includes most importantly the MNLA) had assured the Algiers negotiators that they were willing to sign the Peace Treaty on the 15th of April and Algiers  in turn had relayed this news  to the Malian government ( who still this evening is continuing to relay this joyful message in several languages on  national TV) it now appears they have changed their minds. A press statement from Moussa Ag Attaher, the CMA spokesman  in Nouakchott insists that there are several points they cannot accept and they will therefore not be able to sign after all.
There have been several points the Malian government could not accept either, but they were made to accept them by international pressure for this peace deal which will give much more autonomy to the north  via a policy of de-centralisation.
Keita and I were wondering all day yesterday why there were no international news coverage of this important breakthrough: nothing on French news.  It is all as clear as mud what is actually going on. There are  things moving behind the scenes here, things we cannot know but only guess at...

Iyad Ag Ghali, the northern warlord whose Ançar Dine held Kidal during the Jihadist occupation, is still in hiding due to a mandate for his arrest, but he is  a big player in this drama. Another is the new Amenokal - the traditonal leader of the Tuaregs of the Kidal Area- who is also incidentally a deputy for Kidal in the National Assembly. He was in Bamako yesterday, speaking  with a severely forked tongue: he  mouths allegiance to a secular state of Mali; united and undivided while at the same time his recommendations for the solving of the crisis involves three eccentric and to  the Malian government indigestible concepts: he wants Kidal to adopt Sharia Law, he wants the unconditional dropping of all charges against Iyad Ag Ghali and finally he insists that  the Malian Army should only be allowed  to return to  the Kidal area if the Gatia force, a  highly efficient semi-militia, loyal to the government and led by the Touareg General Gamou, that  torn in the flesh for the MNLA is excluded.
So; in other words; it is all still a mess...

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Good News!

No time to write anything of note (we are snowed under by Malimali work) but I feel compelled to  say at least something about  the two major bits of good news that  today has brought:
This morning Alpha (right) my saintly but ham-fisted tailor brought his brother (left) along to see me.  Now, this was something of an apparition since  the last thing I had  heard of him was on the day we bundled him  into a  bush taxi  to the hospital in Mopti  on what I presumed was to be his final journey– he was on the verge of death from a badly infected tooth and noone expected him to even make it to the Mopti hospital. But here he was! Safe and sound but with a great scar across his neck.
Alpha, by the way, would be mortally embarrassed if he understood what his T-shirt said. He, like everyone else here buy our cast- off  second hand clothes in the market for a small fee. It is much cheaper to  dress in second hand Western clothes than to have something traditional made. This has of course  all but ruined the indigenous clothing manufacture. But that is another story… Here in Djenné though  many people still dress in their traditional beautiful Grand Boubous, and Alpha only wears T-shirts for work.
And the other Good News today  is that the northern armed rebels which include the MNLA have finally decided to sign the Peace Treaty which has been negotiated in Algiers over the last few months . The signing will go ahead on the 15th of April and Inshallah, it  will mark the end of these three years of profound Malian crisis and usher in the beginning of peace and prosperity once more for this bruised nation.