Communiqué from the pool side of Hotel Independence, Segou:
Arrived safely last night from Djenne, travelling south on the main artery linking North to South. The road was curiously empty. The toll booths were normally the road tax is paid were all deserted. At one point we met a lone Malian Army vehicle travelling north. I joined the patriotic Keita and Levy who were waving frenetically to show them a little encouragement. We got a hoot from their horn and a flash of their front lights.
Before leaving Segou I convened three emergency meetings: to explain why I had to leave and what had to be done in my absence.
The Manuscript Library team arrived first. I paid them next months salatries for the project, wished them well and hoped we would meet again in more peaceful and pleasant circumstances. Samake is still in Djenne, and had no immediate plans of evacuation, although he was receiving urgent calls even during our meeting from friends and family in Bamako, pleading with him to leave immediately. I asked Yelfa, my Arabic master, Grand Marabout de Djenne and archivist in the British Library project, whether he would leave if things took a bad turn in Djenne>.
Yelfa looked at me at first as if he didn’t understand the question. Then he started laughing. ‘What?’ he exclaimed, no doubt speaking involuntarily for all the Marabouts of Djenne, ‘Leave Djenne?, Never!’ His ancestors have seen empires established and fallen in Djenne before….It matters little in the world he inhabits.
Next came a meeting of MaliMali. There are orders to fulfil. Barry our tailor is working flat out on an American order. I do not want this to stop. He needs the money. This has to be fulfilled and be delivered to me in Bamako somehow. The weaving and bogolan will continue in my absence.
The meeting with the hotel staff was brief and to the point- all will run as usual, with or without hotel guests. June will be closed as usual with only a skeleton staff. There was one change only: Fatou, our sou-chef, has been given leave to join her husband in Sikasso. She lives in Djenne with two of her small children, simply because of the salary she receives here. Papa will now have to hold the fort and she must leave until the situation calms down.(with her April salary intact of course.)
When crossing the Djenne ferry I cried. What will the situation be when I return? When will I return?
Levy and I are leaving for Bamako in an hour or so. Keita will accompany us on our way and return to Segou again tomorrow.
There seems to be no question that there will now be a Touareg State established. Sanogo must give over power immediately, however well intentioned his coup was. He has no choice. Mali does not have a single friend as long as he stays. The African Nations of the Cedeao (ECOWAS in English?) has him in a corner and he must yield. And who are these allies to Mali that now are turning on him so ferociously? Did all these leaders come to their power in fair democratic elections? Are they so exceptionally hard on Sanogo because they want to make an example of him? Are they hoping to deter future Coups that may later be directed at themselves?
As I write this, an argument erupts in the garden of the Independence between the Lebanese owner and his electrician. The Lebanese owner expresses the same view of Realpolitic as I above: Sanogo must cede power. 'Jamais!' exclaims his electrician,a Sanogo supporter. The two are prevented to attack each other physically by the onlookers.
Now the owner comes over to speak with me. He says that Sanogo has recalled all the remaining Malian troops to Bamako to protect him and his junta, because he fears an attack by the combined forces of the Cedeao who will arrive to wrest power from him. Is this true? Who knows! If that is the case we are leaving from the frying pan into the fire...
So what glimmer of hope is there in all of this?
Perhaps only this: the Toureg rebellion is made up of a loose amalgam of varous factions: some want the whole of Mali, and want an Islamic State with Sharia law. Some want only the north. Some have interests related to drug smuggling and other contraband activities. Some are linked to Al-Quaida. None has ever had an independent state.
The situation reminds me of Lawrence of Arabia's taking Damascus with his band of Arab rebels. The scene is unforgettable in David Lean's film. While Lawrence and his desert army sit arguing in the Damascus Town Hall, unable to agree on who should be in charge, General Allenby is waiting quietly on the sides, practising phantom flyfishing. 'But should we not be doing something, Sir?' exclaims his advisors. 'Why'? replies Allenby.
'We can't just wait!
'Why not? counters Allenby serenely. It is normally the best thing.'
(The comparason breaks down of course as far as General Allenby goes. Who is now waiting in the wings? Who will establish order? What will this order be?)
A Toureg state may not be a total disaster for Mali. The Touaregs and the Southerners mix like water and oil. There will never be real contentment, and a rebellion will always be brewing.
If a limited Touareg state could be established with the territory they have already claimed, and this would then leave the rest of Mali in peace, maybe this would even be a good thing for Djenne for instance. Djenne would be the new Timbuktu on the tourist map of Mali. It is already a hundred times more beautiful than Timbuktu! We have as many ancient manuscripts as they have! We can do music festivals too! This is not the end.
A new Mali will rise from the ashes.
But the real conflagration may not yet have taken place...