Ill boding home coming...
Arrived back to Djenne this evening through a rain sodden Malian landscape, heavily laden with 300 ks worth of acid free carton: the material to be used to make up to 500 manuscript storage boxes for the Djenne Manuscript Library. The making of these boxes will provide work for at least one more person for the rest of the British Library Project, which still has one year to run.
I had picked this shipment up at Bamako Airport, and had hired a truck to bring it to Djenne. We arrived in Djenne tonight just after sunset prayers at the great Mosque and went straight to the Manuscript Library to unload. Half way through this process there was suddenly some commotion, as two figures in Grand Boubous
with entourage turned up.
'I don't want you to put your foot in this library again!,' uttered one of the Boubou
clad grandees, clearly addressing himself to me. On closer inspection it turned out to be the Imam of Djenne himself.
Those that have followed this diary, and my accounts of the British Library Project in the Djenne Manuscript Library, realize that I have not always been able to speak a clear language, since I have feared that the project might be compromised.
The time has now come to speak clearly. The powerful person who has tried to put a stop to the project from the very beginning is the Imam of Djenne, before whom all Mali trembles.
He found the funding to build the library in 2007, with sponsorship from the European community and the American Embassy amongst other sources. When it became clear that the library was not going to be his private concern, and that the people of Djenne wanted it to be a municipal library, the Imam pulled out and built his own library. There was a new management comittee formed for the Djenne Manuscript Library. The members were to represent the whole town. Renewal of the mandate was to be an affair involving the Mairie, the Village Chief and his 13 neighbourhood councillors, the High Islamic Council, the manuscript owners- in short, all the town of Djenne. It was with this management committee that the British Library Project started to work. The Imam was no longer on the scene;he had left on his own accord.
However, ever since the project worth 40 000 000 francs CFA turned up, there has been no stopping the Imam trying to put spokes in our wheels, including going to the Ministry of the Interior, just before the Coup, to get the project stopped on a technicality: He claimed that the old management committee of the library (his Association), had not been properly dissolved before the new one was put in place- the one I am working with. This latter one was therefore illegal.
Now, when the Imam of Djenne arrives somewhere- including the corridor of a Ministry, he will get an audience. So he managed to get the ear of the (former) Minister of the Interior, who in turn called the Prefect, who called me and my management crew from the library to tell me that we were not allowed to have an opening ceremony for the project; we could work, but not so that it came to the knowledge of Bamako or anyone else, that the project actually existed!
Now, this Minister is of course no longer there, and frankly, we thought that Mali had other things to worry about, so we have just steamed on as normal.
This is the last year of the project, and I need to get certain things done, we can no longer work 'in the dark'- we have a large conference planned with a specialist archivist/authority on Malian Manuscripts starting next Tuesday here in Djenne. It will go ahead unless I get a written letter from the prefecture here stopping the project, with a reasonable explanation why this measure is taken. This letter will have to be copied and delivered to the British Embassy as well as the Ministry of the Interior.
This is also what I told the Imam tonight, when he greeted me with his welcoming words that he did not want to see me set my foot at the Library again.
We unloaded half the truck, and took the rest back to the hotel. Tomorrow is my weekly management meeting at the library. I will go as normal. Tonight I have had three of the Djenne town councillors call me to say they are all behind me and the whole town knows what went on tonight. I do not have anything to fear.
Indeed I have a certainty that the town of Djenne is actually FOR this library, and all the good things that are happening there through the project. I am positive that they do want it to go on. They want this library to be run by the town of Djenne, and not by the Imam!
So tomorrow I will go, and the rest of the stuff will be unloaded, and we will go on as if nothing had happened, yet again. Keita is worried, and Ace is worried ...I am not worried.....