Agitation in Bamako

May 1, 2012
by 
Guy Des Aulniers, Program Officer for Emergency Relief

Monday 4 p.m. and the first shots are heard. In these circumstances, we always ask ourselves if this noise is simply a car engine exploding. But after the 10th detonation in 15 minutes, we no longer ask ourselves this question. For a moment, there is a lull, but the shots begin again around 7 p.m. I was at a restaurant with Gaston Goro, Emergencies Coordinator with Caritas Mali. We were meant to go pick up Ary from the Canadian Foodgrains Bank (CFGB), who was arriving that night, but his flight was delayed by a sand storm that hit Bamako. We called at the airport only to learn that all the flights were cancelled and the airport was closed.

The shots ring closer to the restaurant, before dying down. We take advantage of the lull to return to the hotel. All the guests have gathered in the lobby and are calling their contacts to try to learn more on the situation. It seems that members of the army loyal to the overthrown ex-president have attacked factions that organized the putsch of last March 22nd. Two radio stations have been burned and there was an altercation between armed students.

The owner of the hotel has come with a few guards. He has had all the lights turned off and asks us to go to our rooms and shut the lights. It was a tense night. We heard fighting all night. It grew calmer around 4 a.m. , but now around 10 a.m. it seems that the fighting has resumed.

On the radio and television, they are saying that there are several casualties. It seems that those who organized the coup d’état have remained in power, but little information is coming in. We believe that we are secure at the hotel, as civilians do not seem to be the target. But I don’t think it will take long before witch hunts are launched by the winning side. There can be no going back.

I have left a message with the Canadian Embassy to let them know I am here. Gaston, who stayed the night at the hotel, went home. For the moment, all I want is to sleep. I can’t do much else but wait, stay in touch with my contacts and hope. Gaston teasingly told me that he would have to drive me to Ouagadougou if I wanted to leave the continent.

In all of this, I can’t even imagine what it all means for Malians. Food crisis, humanitarian crisis, economic crisis, political crisis…. "These events will bring Mali backwards." It is sadness and not fear that is seen on the faces of people.

For the moment, it means that Development and Peace, the CFGB and Caritas Mali will have to push back the trainings that were planned in the coming days for the dioceses in the country. This training was meant to provide the basis for food distribution programs in the country. It also means that we will have to delay the call for bids for food suppliers. The biggest risk is that the food distribution might now take place during the rainy season, which could make isolated villages inaccessible. That said, however, we will do everything possible to make this project happen. The needs of the population are glaring. And it is especially at this moment that we need to express our solidarity.