Brief update for Thursday, April 5

7:00 a.m.: I don’t have much time to write today’s post: power is going to be cut soon, and will remain cut for ten to twelve hours if the past few days are any guide. The state-owned utility companies are rationing electricity and also water in all neighborhoods (though our water has yet to be cut). So I will limit this post to a few indications of the current state of affairs in Bamako.

Yesterday, Wednesday, I traveled through downtown via taxi as well as through a couple of southeastern neighborhoods via SOTRAMA. There was still a normal amount of traffic, fares were the same as always. But people are aware that the gasoline and diesel are running out. (The state newspaper L’Essor predicts that current fuel supplies can last about ten days.) Banque Atlantique has posted signs at its ATMs saying that they are closed until further notice. Also yesterday, my daughter’s school in Torokorobougou closed mid-morning due to power and water cuts, but is set to reopen today. Bamakois are especially worried about higher food prices, and there are rumors that a kilo of rice, currently selling for 400-500 francs, is soon going to cost 1500 francs; if such an increase does occur, it will effectively make this staple food unaffordable for many households here. Even before the coup, certain staples were getting expensive because of insufficient rains last year.

Significantly, and against all expectations, there have been no demonstrations against the sanctions or against ECOWAS that I’m aware of. ORTM news has featured various “civil society” representatives (often affiliated with MP22, the SADI-backed pro-junta organization) denouncing the embargo as illegal and immoral, but there’s been no mobilization of people in the streets. Bamako is starting to see small-scale protests against the junta, however. The CNRDRE regime has also announced that it is postponing (perhaps cancelling?) the “national convention” it had scheduled for today. Perhaps not coincidentally, several political parties and civil society groups had said that they would boycott the meeting.

In the north, the rebellion has dramatically exacerbated an existing humanitarian crisis. RFI is reporting this morning that the separatist movement has stopped its advance at Douentza, a town 145 km northeast of Mopti. This means that the zone the separatists call “Azawad” is now entirely in rebel hands. The MNLA has declared a unilateral cease-fire, having essentially achieved its territorial objectives. But L’Essor also reports that four Tuareg rebels were killed in Sevaré (just outside Mopti) as they tried to infiltrate the army base there.

5 April 2012: Another ordinary day in Bamako

1:30 p.m.: I’m taking advantage of the fact that the power is still on (a minor miracle!) to update this post. I spent several hours downtown this morning and found merchants surprisingly nonchalant about the embargo. Several swore to me that the Mali/Senegal border is not in fact closed, and that imports of fuel and food continue to arrive from Senegal. This contradicts everything that’s been written about the embargo so far, however, so I don’t consider it trustworthy. Still, it’s interesting to me that people in the marketplace are so low-key about Mali’s current situation, and the ones I spoke with are not at all concerned about political violence in the days or weeks ahead.

The service stations I saw still had fuel available and there were no lines — perhaps the lines observed in the embargo’s first couple of days were due to a demand spike (hoarding by customers) rather than a supply shortage? Moreover, a friend of mine in the U.S. was able to send a Western Union transfer to Mali yesterday, which means the banks aren’t cut off.

All of which makes me wonder whether the sanctions are working as well as they’re supposed to. Give them time, I suppose….

To read a wide-ranging exchange between five scholars on current events in Mali (Isaie Dougnon of U. of Bamako, Bruce Hall of Duke, Baz Le Cocq of U. of Ghent, Greg Mann of Columbia, and me), see the transcript on the African Arguments website.

[Note, however, that one of my remarks in this conversation was edited: On the possibility of an ECOWAS military intervention in Mali, it currently reads “let’s be honest, the last thing Mali needs right now is thousands of ECOWAS soldiers with automatic weapons running loose on its territory.” The original version read “let’s be honest, the last thing Mali needs right now is thousands of Nigerians with automatic weapons running loose on its territory. Remember ECOMOG (‘Every Car or Movable Object Gone’)?” In all seriousness, it’s not that I think the Nigerians should play no role, it’s just that their track record in West African peacekeeping operations is rather mixed.]

4:30 p.m.: Reports are emerging that the sanctions may soon be lifted — but let’s take them with a grain of salt. We also heard reports last Sunday that threatened sanctions would be delayed. Also, it’s unclear what the CNRDRE junta has done to merit the lifting of the embargo, but we’re told to expect an announcement by Capt. Sanogo soon.

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16 Responses to Brief update for Thursday, April 5

  1. aramata
    aramata says:

    Bon courage, à toi et ta famille et tes amis et tout le Mali.

    The National convention is postponed since yesterday.


  2. guidoverburghotmailcom
    Guido says:

    Hello Bruce, fascinating blog. I visited Mali in 2001 in a period of relative peace, I also went to Timbuktu that time. On the whole, it was my best trip ever and it really saddens me to see this wonderful country in a state of civil war. The media here in Europe are focusing on the role of al Quaeda and the imposition of sharia law in the Tuareg-territories. I’ve never known the Tuareg als islamic fundamentalists, what is your take on the matter?

    • brucewhitehouse
      brucewhitehouse says:

      I’ve heard that AQMI is mostly Algerian Arabs. I know Ancar Dine is led by a prominent Targui but I’m not sure how many Tuareg are in that group.

      • Yovo says:

        Du courage, Bruce! I hope Bamako stays peaceful.
        Iyad Ag Ghali has been deeply involved in the Tuareg rebellion and is now also apparently a leader in the AQIM. In 2007, he was consul General for Mali in Saudi Arabia and apparently his religious perspective became rather radicalized during that time. (source: AlJazeera)

  3. Tim Murray says:

    Hi Bruce: Thank you for these well-crafted updates. Are you thinking of returning to the US?

    Are Bamakois distinguishing between the Touaregs separatists and members of the Islamist movement collaborating with them? Our thoughts to you and your family.

    • brucewhitehouse
      brucewhitehouse says:

      Hi Tim – we are thinking about returning but haven’t yet committed to doing so. Still in “wait and see” mode. Most people I talk to distinguish between AQMI/Ancar Dine on the one hand and MNLA on the other, and I’ve noticed even the Malian press is less likely to lump them all together as “bandits armés” nowadays.

  4. Easan says:

    Thank you for the eye-witness, first person observations.

  5. Al Postle says:

    Bruce .. any idea if the internet will be shut down .. I have a son in Tubaniso with the other PCVs who are normally very active on Facebook. They have been ominously quiet ..

  6. Ali
    Alison Williams says:

    We are thinking of you everyday. I hope Capt. Sanogo says something good soon, as there are some awful things happening in the north. Lassana is fine, and leaving Bamako on Monday, a few weeks early, but he can’t get here soon enough as far as I am concerned. I am praying that Mali can pull through this and be stronger. Stay safe and good luck, Bruce.

  7. Kathleen says:

    You are doing a tremendous service to the entire community concerned about Mali. I am grateful to have the information you provide. It is one importance source to help us to track events there as we seek to ensure the safety and security of our staff in Mali.

    And as a former PCV in Mali (1974-1977) and frequent visitor, there is a special place in my heart for this wonderful country. Do stay safe.

  8. Mathilde says:

    Merci pour ce blog coloré, informatif et élégant. J’entends que vous n’êtes pas un analyste politique mais il serait bon de replacer la crise malienne dans son contexte géopolitique en pointant l’ambiguïté de la Cedeao ainsi que le rōle extrêmement trouble de la France, le pompier-pyromane de service.

    Bon courage.

    • brucewhitehouse
      brucewhitehouse says:

      Vous avez raison, en tant qu’anthropologue et non pas politologue je préfère ne pas me prononcer sur cette question. Franchement j’ignore le rôle français dans les affaires maliennes actuelles, et je doute que tous ceux qui prétendent le savoir (à part, peut-être, quelques membres du gouvernement français) ne le comprennent non plus ! Si vous voulez lire des accusations des Maliens contre la France, je vous recommande, où la France est le bouc émissaire en permanence.

  9. Deborah McNamara – Boulder, Colorado
    Deborah Carlyn says:

    Hi Bruce – Deb McNamara here (RPCV Bilasso 97-99) just wanting to thank you for this coverage. Wow. I just can’t believe this is all happening. Thanks for keeping those of us concerned informed. I am wondering what the status is with the poste? does this mean mail won’t be able to come into the country either? Tried to send my host family a package recently and just wondering what the odds may be. Thinking of you and your family there and hoping for the best. Please be safe.
    Warmly, Deb

  10. Tiina Huvio says:

    Thank you for your brief Bruce. So accurate and enlightening on the situation in Mali. The abyss into which the educational system in the country has sunk makes it so difficult even for intelligent student to reach an appropriate level which would allow them to study further. A friend working in a university in France has told that almost all the student coming from Mali fail to pass the first year of university there despite of their efforts. The foundation after the Malian high school just isn’t strong enough to build on.

    Regards, Tina

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