Bruce Whitehouse, a Lehigh University anthropologist and Fulbright Scholar, moved to Bamako, Mali in August for a year-long study of the budding metropolis, believed to be Africa’s fastest-growing city. His aim was to describe some of the changes, the challenges and the delights of living in this city.
Then, a military coup took place. Whitehouse is now blogging live from a city on the brink of revolt. Here is his April 5 entry:
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 65 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.
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?