This entry was published on 04/04/12, but writing began on 22/03/12, when a coup d’etat occurred in Bamako, Mali. This is my account….
I am writing this blog post at a stage when I am not yet able to publish it. We have received advice requesting that we don’t give updates on the political situation incase we draw attention to ourselves or our reports are adversely used in the media.
The situation is as follows:
There have been ongoing troubles in the North of Mali, as previously highlighted here: https://maliandme.wordpress.com/2012/02/09/serene-siby/
On Wednesday, several of the girls went to AMALDEME to run an after-school sports session. A short while later they returned home, explaining that there was turbulence in downtown Bamako, some of the children hadn’t turned up, and they had been advised to return home. We were then informed by JJ that we mustn’t venture out of our area, particularly downtown. We were told that something was happening involving the defence minister, and that there were troubles around the president’s house. We were then plunged into darkness for a while with a daily powercut. Later on, we were told that the Malian National TV Network had been taken off air after being stormed by the military. We were told not to worry about the situation, but that reports were on BBC news, so to inform people at home.
That evening, Fran stayed at the office to sleep on the roof with the others, whilst Hibz and I went back to the apartment. At around midnight, I heard gunshots from my room. This was the first inkling that something big was happening. Throughout the night, machine gun fire was heard at random intervals. Those on the roof reported seeing flares being shot, and also hearing the guns. At about 3am, Hibz received a text from a Malian friend, saying there would be no work or business in the morning, the army had taken over the ministries, and that the president was no longer in Bamako.
In the morning, I woke up to a text requesting that we do not leave the apartment as there was reported gunfire in the area. We checked the news to see that the military had ‘seized control of the country’, which heightened our concern. We were half expecting to be evacuated from this point on, so carried our cash and passports with us. After a while, we were told to come to the office, and that Papa would escort us, which he did, using the backstreets to avoid the threat of bandits due to us being white and the lack of police authority. On arrival at the office, we were told not to leave the building. None of the IS staff came into the office that day, although Dicko the security guard was on duty. We heard little bits of gunfire during the day, and kept up to date with news broadcasts. The summary was that the whereabouts of the former-president was unknown, the army had taken control of the state, and that everything would ‘resume as normal’ on Tuesday (27th). We had a phone-call from IS York to say that staff there would be calling our emergency contacts, so to perhaps give them a heads-up in advance to limit any worry. I kept people back home updated throughout the day. Being kept inside led to a little anxiety and cabin fever. Not knowing what the security situation was was also frustrating, plus we could hear intermittent distant gunfire throughout the day. I became particularly concerned when it was reported that the country’s borders had been closed by the military… Now we couldn’t just fly home. The UK Foreign and Commonwealth updated their travel advice for Mali, writing that UK nationals should avoid all travel to the northern provinces (as was already the case), and to avoid all but essential travel to the rest of the country. It advised nationals in Bamako to stay indoors. The news didn’t update regularly enough for our liking!
Here are some example reports:
At around 4pm, Fred, our country director came to the office having been in security meetings during the day. He advised that people were not sure how the scenario would unfold. The leader of the army rebels is unknown to higher powers and thus people do not know whether his intentions are genuine. Fred explained that should we need to be evacuated, it would now have to be done through diplomatic channels due to the airport closure. This would be undertaken by US or French governments. He suggested we could go out to nearby shops for food as all seemed calm outside at present, plus Hibz and I went back to the apartment to pack an overnight bag so we could stay at the office with everyone else. Fred will attend another security briefing tomorrow, and officials hope the situation will be a little clearer. Apparently, we will only be evacuated if a cause for concern grows, such as if the rebel group begins to crack between its members.
Into the evening, the situation seemed quite quiet, and some people were confident that the country would be ‘business as usual’ by Tuesday, after the soldiers declared so. After dark however, the gunfire started up once again. There was some very loud rapid fire close to the office. Several explosions could be heard into the night. By around 11pm however, things quietened down again.
Some news reports are now doubting the army group in control. They say a coup is unjustified when president Toure was due to step-down honourably next month anyway. They report that the soldiers have no plan of action. Soldiers were reported to be driving around the streets in pick-up trucks, beer in one hand, machine guns in the other.
And so here I am. It’s midnight and I decided to write this blog-post for future reference. I intend to update it as things progress. My personal thoughts are that surely it would be difficult for rebels to have a country ‘running as normal’ by Tuesday having just carried out a Coup? The leader of the rebel group is not known to officials, thus neither are his intentions. If the rebels were genuinely concerned for the welfare of military soldiers, why drive the street wasting ammo and causing fear? Why get drunk whilst doing so? Why loot the presidential palace and set it alight? I am not confident that this crisis will blow over. Nobody even knows where the former president is, and government ministers are still being held by the troops. I am concerned for Mali’s stability, and right now it would be quite cool to just go home. But we can’t, so hey-ho. Oh, and the British Consul has finally been in touch with a couple of group members- things are running slowly as he only started in the role on Monday… Poor guy!
I take back the ‘calm’ bit about last night. I feel asleep to the constant sound of gunfire. It was like being in a war zone. I also thought about how I’m actually stranded in Mali- if I wanted to, if there was a family emergency, whatever the reason, I couldn’t actually leave this country to go home. It’s a daunting thought. That said, I slept well last night.
This morning, one of the office staff came in work. He casually declared that the coup is ‘finished’. The take-over is complete, so everything can resume as normal. Once again I am sceptical- as previously stated, there is no president, no government, nobody knows who Sanogo is, the borders are closed, and there is continuous gunfire at night.
Fred, Rene and Jean-Pascal came to visit. Rene explained that the hotel opposite our apartment, Residence Bouna, was raided by soldiers last night for food and drink. The manager was injured in the process. Rene explained that the soldiers were raiding many hotels at night. The soldiers have a list of people they are searching for after curfew, including the president, ministers and election candidates. They found and arrested two at a hotel down the road from us yesterday. The gunfire was loud last night- the staff explained that they are moving from area to area and so yesterday it was the turn of Hamdallaye where we live. The borders are also closed to prevent those they are searching for from leaving the country. This behaviour doesn’t seems the type carried out by those looking to quickly restore democracy. There are rumours that officials now have an idea that Sanogo is acting on behalf of somebody else, a former president who may be looking to regain power in a less than democratic manner. We will see….
We’ve just spent half an hour filling up buckets, washing clothes and showering, having heard from Rene that the water supply will be cut. We are charging phones incase the electricity goes too. The US embassy has apparently texted its nationals telling them to prepare for water, electricity and internet outages. (04/04/12- The outages never occurred. In fact, the electricity supply was more stable than usual in Hamdallaye!)
We’ve been told by Peacecorp staff that there’s a rumour the parachute regiment, who are loyal to Toure, are to launch a counter-attack against the rebels tonight. Something I’d like to note is how our Malian friends are rushing around to help us. Yesterday, Abdullaye helped us carry home sacks of water sachets from the shop. Today, Adam the tailor did the same, and Abdoul the tailor called round with some of our clothes and to check we’re OK. Abdullaye also called to see that we were OK and updated us on the fact he still had a water supply (it’s difficult for us to know as we have a tank, so will still have a bit of water before it runs out). Tonight, our friend at the pizza shop will bring us pizzas round after our 6pm curfew. The official curfew is midnight-6am.
A quiet night last night and a quiet day today. Apparently the new leaders allowed a couple of planes in yesterday to evacuate some foreign ministers. We had a Skype session last night with IS York and Martin explained the decision-making process and reassured us he’s in constant talks with DFiD and the FCO etc. When asked about moving out of Bamako, he explained that Bamako is the safest place to be due to communication links, proximity to the airport etc. and that they are constantly reviewing the situation. We asked him to consider, when making decisions, that we would all like to go home now at the soonest opportunity. Today Fred visited and said that as soon as the borders are open we will be evacuated. Today we were allowed to visit nearby Lafiabougou market providing we took taxis there and back.
Hibz’ birthday. A rather uneventful day due to being on lockdown, although as a birthday treat, Rene declared it safe to visit the orphanage. The gunfire has calmed now.
Things calmed rapidly following Hibak’s birthday, hence a lack of updates. The gunfire halted and other areas of town became accessible again. We began completing our project debrief forms in the knowledge that we would soon be departing. Once the airport reopened, IS York booked us flights home for April 2nd. We spent the last week finishing-off projects where possible, although the SEN workshop was unable to go ahead due to the political instability, and the final art and sports sessions couldn’t take place as Amaldeme had closed for the school holidays. Luckily, Fran and I were able to finalise and complete the SEN information booklet which was to compliment the workshop, and this will be handed out by IS staff. The sensory playground equipment was almost ready by the time we left, and will be installed in coming days. We enjoyed a goodbye meal at Chez Fred towards the end of the week, and gave our thanks to the IS Mali staff. Throughout our project they have been welcoming, supportive and hard-working, and we are grateful that they have vowed to complete our projects. We also said goodbye to project partners.
I do hope Mali can overcome the troubles it faces. As we left, the British FCO had declared the whole of Mali a ‘red zone’ and Brits were advised to leave. According to reports, the country is running low on cash (at the banks), food and fuel. Mali is facing sanctions from ECOWAS, including closure of borders with surrounding countries and the threat of removal from the CFA currency system. The Tuareg rebels in the north took advantage of the political instability and violently took control of Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal, rendering the northern province almost entirely in their control. I fear this will greatly impact on the livelihood of the wonderful citizens of Mali. The situation Mali faces supports the need for the global community to come together to aid international development. Despite the troublesome end to our project, we had the most amazing adventure and were made to feel so welcome by the Malian people. We carried out rewarding work, and we made life-long friends. The whole experience has been immense. I am writing this final paragraph from the comfort of my living room in (a very very cold 3’C) England. In a couple of weeks from now we will attend a debrief weekend in York, where ICS volunteers from various placement countries will come together and share their experiences. We will also be expected to carry out UK action in relation to our work. I hope to reflect a little more on my time in Mali in future entries.