Saturday, April 7, 2012

Mali Coup d’état; Islamic Sharia in Timbuktu!

Mali Coup d'état; Islamic Sharia in Timbuktu! 

From Travelogue to Timbuctou ( November 1979)

1. Mopti on River Niger    2. Djinguereyber -Oldest Mosque, south of Sahara

3.With the Governor of Timbuctou in front of his office 4.University of Sankhore
5 River Niger from the boat on way 6. Street in Timbuctou
7 &8 Houses in which Major Gordon Laing of West IndiaRegiment, and Frenchman Rene Caille,
stayed and street scenes

Mali Coup d'état; Islamic law in Timbuktu!
Consequences of Nato, Ankara & Riyadh Spreading Democracy
In my last piece "Try Indian Express & Arms Lobby Cronies for Treason"
Military Coup d'état in Timbuktu*; Rumours in New Delhi
I had promised a follow up with a real military coup, in Timbuktu, unlike a charge of treason by a corporate pressitute Shekhar Gupta at the behest of his corporate masters and arms lobby agents . This pressitute must prove his grave accusation, failing which he should be punished for spreading treasonous rumours. Unless exemplary steps are undertaken, the country will go from bad to even worse than now.
The author was concurrently accredited during 1978-81 from Dakar ( Senegal in West Africa ) to Mali, in which is situated the fabled trading post Timbuktu , a centre of Islamic civilization ,culture and learning during ancient and medieval times , where one could barter an ounce of gold for a pound of common salt . During emergencies the rate was at par. Mali is still Africa's third largest gold producer.
The author visited Timbuktu in November, 1979, perhaps the first Indian official to do so in 20th century. The previous visitor Major Gordon Laing of West India Regiment was assassinated in 19th century (details in the travelogue below).My successors did not succeed because of the Tare rebellion in Timbuktu region
Coup d'état in Timbuktu and declaration of a new Tuareg state , Awazad
Rebel Tuareg  National Movement for the Liberation of Awazad (MNLA )which overran much of northern Mali after disaffected soldiers toppled the central government in capital Bamako in the south , declared an independent state Azawad on Friday, 6 April ,dividing the former French colony of Mali ,while neighbors planned military action to counter the coup and the secession.
The MNLA statement listed decades of Tuareg grievances over their treatment by governments dominated by black southerners in Bamako. It recognized all borders with neighboring states and pledged to create a democratic state on the principles of the United Nations charter. The statement was issued from the town of Gao, which along with Timbuktu and other northern towns fell to rebels in a matter of 72 hours this week as soldiers in Mali's army either defected to the rebellion or fled. One report suggested that the control was not in the hands of the separatist MNLA but of the Ansar Dine Islamist group which seeks to impose Sharia law across Mali including in Timbuktu .( Excesses of extreme Islamist groups in adjoining north Nigeria have been reported  from time to time).
The Tuaregs rebellion succeeded following the confusion in Bamako after a March 22 coup by mid-ranking officers whose main goal had been to beef up efforts to quash the rebellion. Mali's worried neighbors want the handover of power back to civilians as a precondition for moves to help stabilize the country and have imposed economic and diplomatic sanctions aimed at forcing junta leader in Bamako Captain Amadou Sanogo to step down.
The blue veiled Tuaregs are a Berber people with a traditionally nomadic pastoralist lifestyle and different from southern Malians. Numbering , perhaps around six million, most Tuaregs live in the Saharan parts of Niger and Mali but, being nomadic, small groups are also found in southeastern Algeria, southwestern Libya and northern Burkina Faso, and a small community in northern Nigeria.
The nervousness in neighbours is understandable as it is among countries where 25 million Kurds live divided in many states. Ankara noted the coup with concern as the ruling Islamist AKP has imprisoned many military officers and a former Military chief .Tuaregs move freely in Sahara states whose borders, as elsewhere in Africa, were arbitrarily drawn up in 19th century by marauding and cruel white colonialists and imperialists, some even claiming to civilize the natives and saving their souls by making Christians out of them.
USA with British poodle and Sarcozy's France may have gone bankrupt and in decline, but they are endevouring their utmost to renew this century's occupation and plunder of mineral and other treasures buried under vast stretches of Sahara desert and elsewhere up to the tip of the Cape of Good Hope .Planning ahead Washington created an Africa Military Command but could not yet find an African vassal state to house its HQ like in Qatar and Bahrain.
The Washington led neo-imperialists are following the old divide and rule policy and backing right wing religious and even extreme Islamist groups and parties to hold back secular , socialist and nationalist forces revolt , a tactic London and then Washington copied against Col Gamal Nasser and other nationalists leaders and now in Syria , with support and petrodollars from Riyadh and Qatar , both such paragons of democracy .Islamist are now in power in Ankara and Tunis and Moslem Brother hood candidate has been nominated for the presidential elections in Egypt .US led West ,Saudi Arabia ,Qatar and Turkey seem to be in forefront to assist Islamists even Al Qaeda forces to take over north Africa and elsewhere too.
The rebellion against the civilian regime in Bamako and the Tuareg rebellion have been carried out by the spread of arms after the destruction of the Libyan state and stealing of arms and even missiles by groups in North Africa .The disaffection and rebellions are bound to grow and multiply in the region.
In Paris, the French foreign minister, Alain Juppé, told reporters that there would be "no military solution with the Tuaregs — there needs to be a political solution." He urged neighboring countries like Algeria and Mauritania to press for a political settlement. The rebel takeover has deepened concerns that Islamic militants could turn the poor, remote desert reaches of northern Mali into a redoubt for the regional affiliates of Al Qaeda.
Plunder and Killings in Libya
Washington  along with its poodles stole Libya's foreign exchange reserves amounting to over US $100 billion and looted gold stocked inside Libya since oil rich Libya's leader Gaddafi  rightly did not trust Western banks and securities ( Only time will tell what happens to China's $ 1.3 trillion held in US securities and more dollar reserves elsewhere ).But in this century of competition for Africa's resources, US led West is facing a tough adversary from the East , Beijing ,rich with trillions to play with and invest and is doing so .Naval watching and inwards looking Indians just across the Indian Ocean from Africa remain caught in feudal time warp ;weak and almost with a nonexistent Delhi centre with unruly political barons in the states holding it to ransom under the so called Coalition Dharma .Most unfortunately India adopted a faulty British Constitution and totally unsuitable electoral law which has strengthened caste , communal and other divides .At the same time corporate barons and their allies and proxies in the political and official classes ( read Radiia tapes) are looting the wealth of the masses apart from daily extortions almost like Chauths and Sirdeshmukhi of declining Moghul era's Maharatta barons  or of Rohillas ,Jats , Sikhs and others under an impotent emperor  confined to the Red Fort, somewhat like the Race Course road resident now a days.
On slave trade from West Africa– a glimpse
A few miles from Senegal's capital Dakar in west Africa, lies the island of Goree, which long served as a thriving entrepot for European slavers to herd Africans from the hinterland, mostly helped by rival tribes , to be sorted out like cattle for export to the new continent of Americas, to labour there as domestics or in plantations. 
When posted at Dakar in late 1970s I went over to Goree many times, now a small, picturesque town and a UNESCO heritage site with museums including ' The Maison des Esclaves '("Slave House"), which was constructed in1786 , which displays slavery artifacts, and the Fort d'Estrées built in the 1850s.  
Once I chanced on a jazz festival there to which some well known and rising young talents, mostly from USA had come over to participate .Many others also came to West Africa in search of their roots .A few hundred miles south of Dakar is river Gambia, the locale for the book 'The Roots'. 
There were colourful and lively Jazz bands vying with each other. But there was one young girl whose singing left a searing imprint on my soul, as if after visiting the museum and the dungeons below ,where Black Africans were chained like animals ,she had transmuted into music the bruising of their souls , tortures and suffering of centuries - free human beings turned into animals ,sold and bartered like any other commodity. Even now a flash of that wailing music, the cry of a caged soul pierces down my spine.  
All that Jazz; 
The enslaved from West Africa, isolated both socially and geographically from their native environment created the jazz music as an expression of their culture, borrowing from European harmonic structure, Christian religious hymns but based on African rhythms. The white hunter, forbidden to enslave other Christians invented the lie that he was enslaving a savage , converting him into a Christian to save his soul (as now a days , under the charade of globalization, US led West is saving the world's poor in Asia and Africa from poverty!) This allowed the enslaved to invent a music which diverged widely, even violently from all previous canons of musical composition and performance, as if in defiance to grab at the opportunity and the freedom .In the only domain he was his own master, improvisation ran riot as it still does. Indian classical music too is rooted in improvisation, which respects all religions, with performers though respected, used to be poor. The Indian and black musicians soon discover many affinities when they come together. 
From the very beginnings and at the turn of the 20th century Jazz has been a constantly evolving, expanding and changing music, passing through several distinctive phases of development. A definition that might apply to one phase—for instance, to New Orleans style or swing—is not applicable to another segment of its history, say, to free jazz. It has used both creative approaches in varying degrees and endless permutations. It is not—and never has been—an entirely composed, predetermined music, nor is it an entirely extemporized one.  
Early definition of jazz music with its chief characteristic improvisation, made it too restrictive, since composition, arrangement, and ensemble were also essential components throughout most of its history. Similarly, syncopation and swing, often considered essential and unique to jazz, are in fact lacking in much authentic jazz. But despite diverse terminological confusions, jazz seems to be instantly recognized and distinguished as something separate from all other forms of musical expression. To repeat Armstrong's famous reply when asked what swing meant: "If you have to ask, you'll never know."  
Flying over Sahara desert (Some thoughts on Niger's Uranium & Pak Nukes)
While posted at Dakar in Senegal in West Africa ,I commenced in October 1980 the first leg of my travelathon crisscrossing continents on an Air Algeri flight which after a brief halt at Nouakchott , Mauritania , zigzagged East to Niamey, Niger's throbbing capital (thanks to uranium). Looking down from the plane, the journey across Sahara, crossing river Niger, over Timbuktu and Gao was fascinatingly dull. I wondered if all these little known places and Bamako (Mali), N'djamena (Chad) and Bangui (Central African Republic) might become household words like Kuwait, Abu Dhabi and Dubai, once the reportedly buried uranium wealth underneath were mined to fuel energy needs of last decade of this century and early 2lst century.
But in spite of wake up calls in 1970s of hydrocarbon energy shortage, the corporate interests in oil and gas, which is so profitable, did little to develop nuclear or other means of energy. So Niger has become notorious for its uranium mines for weapons use, and sometimes for its famines. President George W.Bush used alleged attempts by Saddam Hussein, proved concocted, to get uranium from Niger for weapons, as one of the causes belli to invade Iraq.
However, it was the Bhopal ( India) born Pakistan national and German trained metallurgist and nuclear scientist and a globaliser in nuclear weapons technology ,Dr. Abdul Qadir Khan, who last year brought into world focus, Timbuktu ,which even the much traveled Indian journalist Khuswant Singh thought was a only a verbal expression , when I told him about it. For in November 1979 after presenting my letters of credence in Bamako, saying now or never, I undertook a journey by road and by boat on river Niger, to sample some romance of the earlier travelers, to the famous Eldorado, where during medieval centuries a pound of salt fetched an ounce of gold, attracting traders, invaders and scholars making Timbuktu a great centre of Islamic culture and civilisation. 
Who would have ever thought in 1979 that Khan would love Timbuktu so much that he would even invest in a hotel there (It appears that Hotel La Colombe (?) has been named for his wife -shades of a minor Shah Jehan ).But even Dr Watson would tell Sherlock Holmes why, so that he could travel from Pakistan to Timbuktu and back and supervise transfer of yellow cake to Pakistan and elsewhere. One can easily fly east from Timbuktu to Niger or go by road or river. He went around openly, flying around to Morocco, Mali, Chad, Sudan and every where the maker of the Islamic bomb was a welcome hero.
The media accused Khan last year when the scandal about his proliferation activities exploded, of him even using Pakistan military aircrafts to transport furniture for his Timbuktu hotel project from Pakistan.  Pray Dr Watson, what came back in empty Pakistani military aircrafts. Yellow cake, of course. Not even the gullible would believe that such top secret transfers were not known to the all powerful ISI, the Intelligence Services of Pakistan or the western intelligence services. Recently a former Dutch Prime Minister said that he was stopped from moving against Khan by USA's Central Intelligence Agency.
 Click below for travelogue to Timbuctou.

It has been used by Turkish Daily News, Ankara in 1996 and Asian Age, New Delhi, 2002,Boloji etc


S.S. Timbuktu
Mopti November 8, 1979.
So, finally I am on my way to Timbuktu. Aboard a German­ built river vessel - aptly named Timbuktu. Only wish had done it 160 years ago. Things could not have been all that bad then. This is supposed to be a luxury cabin, but the Grundig all-world receiver doesn't function, the frig is too small, the cool blast from the air conditioner could have been colder. And since the boat is anchored, nothing is functioning now. But I am not complaining. The life of an explorer is, after all, hard. I begin the last phase of my hard journey at 2000 hrs. Everyone on board has been warned in advance about the VIP explorer. So I lose the aura of mystery and charm of anonymity.
I left Bamako on 6th morning for a two-hour drive to Segu, an important industrial centre. There was little traffic and the road running parallel to river Niger was excellent. The topography reminded me of North M.P. region bordering U.P, dry shrubby interspersed with some mango trees. An ideal climate for grapes and citrus cultivation. Saw only millet being cultivated sporadically. The water potential of river Niger for irrigation is immense. As it flows mostly through flat lands, with small barrages or irrigation pumps, agriculture could bloom which could easily make Mali not only self-sufficient but an exporter of agricultural products. In contrast, the Egyptians have exploited every drop of water from Abu Simbel to Alexandria or for that matter the Iraqis, the waters of Euphrates and Tigris. Lack of population pressure, perhaps explains the scanty utilization of Niger's water. (So would have concluded Professor Arnold Toynbee).
Segu is a small and dusty town with dry land architecture of a medium-sized district town in Rajasthan, barring the absence of milling and jostling crowds, which only Indian towns have. Called on the Governor, a rather taciturn and humourless bureaucrat one often comes across in India. I made my call as businesslike and brief as possible and left with an escort, a Police Inspector, to visit the State-run textile factory, built by the Chinese. The machinery is sturdy and not too modern and seems to be well run by the Malian technicians. There are supposed to be still 50 Chinois, although I espied only one. No more loitering around than in any Indian factory. Rated capacity 10 million yards per year. Didn't embarrass the Director-General, who was busy holding a conference, about capacity utilization.
Next on the menu was a sugar factory, again gifted by les Chinois, located another 60 kms. away of unsurfaced and dusty track. Crushing capacity 1000 tonnes per day. Once again not too complicated machinery, being competently run by the Malians themselves. Again saw only one Chinese, although nearly 40 still continue to be there.
The Police Inspector and the guides were full of pride at Mali's industrialization. I dutifully listened to the intricacies of spinning, weaving and dyeing, thinking of my 5 months apprenticeship at Delhi Cloth Mills in Delhi in 1957. Didn't give our own textile or sugar production figures, as the Malians would not have believed it any way. Complemented the guides, including a petite Malianne, on their industrial progress and know how. Got myself group photographed and returned to the Officers' Rest House. In the evening visited the ancestral home of Malian Ambassador (in Dakar) Guisse, established by a Faith spreading priest from Senegal in the last century. Rambling big old house with women and children milling around exactly like in an old joint family house in India. Neither the patriarch nor any one else could give the exact number of children in the family.
The Rest House was like any Circuit House in a medium Indian District, with aging mattresses, torn mosquito-nets and rattling air-conditioners. Sat out on the porch in the evening. Many Malians joined me and enjoyed my bad French and company; so I thought, till the bottle of Scotch was finished. I had a reasonably cooked meal. Complimented the cold and stern but rather good-looking Bambara Directrice of the hostel. By the time she had thawed, was too tired and went to sleep like a log. In the morning again visited Malian Ambassador's ancestral home. Had group photographs, for which the women turned out in all their festive finery. Left for Mopti, elated by the goodwill created.
 The over 400 kms. drive between Segu and Mopti was no different except for the length of distance and time & for a few desiccated hilly outcroppings. The road was reasonably good. Reached Mopti around 1.30 P.M. Called on the Governor, who had received the message of my visit and was patiently waiting, A friend of the Malian Ambassador Guisse, I handed over his letter. A Military Officer till the coup 11 years ago, the Governor has successfully turned himself into a civilian administrator. But still believes in the authority imparted by the uniform of the Commandant (Lt. Colonel). Mischievous mention of my NDC course made his military training to almost bring him to attention and made him even more polite. Discussed possibilities of cooperation between India and Mali. Found him rather knowledgeable about India till I realised that none of us had had lunch, He went to his adjoining bungalow on the Niger and I to my expanding Motel in Sevare 12 kms. away.
Mopti is an ancient trading centre, surrounded by the overflow of the confluence of river Beni and Niger and marshes. Les Chinoises are present here also, teaching intensive rice cultivation. So are the Americans with their Peace Corps volunteers. There were the usual bureaucratic boards proclaiming new projects, in case one did not notice the new methods of cultivation. In the evening, the Governor provided his Technical Counsellor as my escort. He was like our BDO, who can reel out statistics by yards. Took a few photographs (as proof of my visit) of the town with traditional ochre coloured banco houses and the 60-year old mosque. Visited a centre for fisheries, small atelier for construction of perouques ­traditional narrow long boats. Returned to the Motel after being suitably illuminated on the historic and commercial importance of Mopti.
 Next morning, after bath and breakfast, left a gift of silver cuff links and a Panipat table napkins set for the Governor. Bought a patterned woolen blanket for 5000 Malian Francs (Rs. 95). I am now waiting without an AC or even a fan in my cabin for the boat to depart. Still another three-and-a-half hours to kill. Shall try to concentrate on "Black Holes" in the universe and "Love and Addiction", the latter a typical American best seller, which reduces love to a profit loss relationship. Sickening and pitiable.
November 9, 1979 2200 hrs.
The boat has stopped at a largish village called Dire, where under the flash lights of the boat, a thriving market between the local population and the boat travelers has sprung up. There is much haggling and shouting. The local people wear pleasing and exotic local designs mixed up with imported designs, mostly stripes. The big boat's arrival (only for 4 months during Niger's flooding) is apparently a great occasion for the villagers, for which everyone seems to be festively dressed up. Nevertheless, such a market has flourished here for centuries. Went down with a plain looking Canadian social worker from Bamako and her rather vivacious mother. Ate peanuts and returned through the milling crowds. Understand there is an experimental solar pump working nearby.
 Tomorrow morning, will arrive at Timbuktu's port of Kabara, 12 kms. from the town. Have so neatly organised the expedition that there should be no slip now. I had purposely joined the Malian table in the boat's dining room. All of them are very solicitous and hospitable. The ship has about 12 French and other non-descript European travelers. Struck acquaintance with some. Found them disappointing, complaining about lack of maintenance of the boat and over-crowding; afraid that the boat might sink. Enquired if they know swimming, adding I did not. Sarcasm went flat.
The boat, especially the crowded lower decks, is a world of its own, with people cooking and eating even on the top deck and the corridors. Not that I expected Maxim or Tour d'Argent standard, but the cuisine could have been better. The ship and its services are totally Malianized. Adequate and austere. No frills. That is the hardy lot of our explorer in the tradition of Mongo Park and Livingston. Shall recommend that tins and spices be carried by my successor explorers.
The boat journey has been tranquil - no rolling or heaving. More or less uniform scenery with mud huts and Savannah land flora. Occasionally sand dunes encroach right up to the river. Took some photographs. Hope they are printable. Noticed a curious thing at one stop called Tonka. Old portable steam engines with boiler shells lying around. Of 50/60 year old vintage. Must investigate. Possibly an unsuccessful attempt at industrialization? Once again no serious attempt at sedentary cultivation. With various international funds and Arab organi­zations flush with surplus money, ideal place for a Punjabi farmer-entrepreneur. Have packed up and wrapped up a Moradabadi vase etc. for the Governor of Timbaktou. This, along with Ambassador Guisse's letter should make things easier. I hope that the uncertain flight on Sunday morning to Bamako takes off. Four days out of nowhere, even in a well-known place like Timbaktou might be too much. Keeping my fingers crossed. Took another two tablets of quinine. No point in getting down with malaria, if it can be avoided.
Timbaktou November 10, 1979.
So, I have reached Timbaktou. Disappointed. No. Was prepared, having gone through illustrated books on the ancient Eldorado. The mystery and the attraction was for the Euro-peans, which the Berbers (North Africans) ferociously guarded it as an endless source of slaves and for exchange of one ounce of gold dust for a pound of salt in normal times and par exchange in times of scarcity. The Berbers and the Arabs knew Timbuktu, had spread Islam and converted the Pagan rulers to the faith, in fact, making Timbuktu one of the greatest centers of Islamic learning.
Very little now remains of the past glory. From a peak population of over 100,000 it has now dwindled down to barely 20,000. Only two years ago made into a region ruled by a Governor (something like India's pre-independent district). Located 12 kms. away from Niger, on the edge of the Sahara desert, extending from North Africa to its outskirts, where at the modest hotel I have been lodged into. The streets are sandy, reminding one of the Loharu or some such town at the edge of the desert in India, before Bansilal's dynamism got the roads paved and agriculture-based affluence changed mud huts into brick houses.
As the Protocol's telegram had not reached the Governor, not surprising, arrived at the Governorate from the non-descript river port of Kabara. The Governor was extremely pleasant and helpful. Been on civilian duty for a year only. During training in USSR made friends with Indian officers. Straightaway arranged my flight back to Bamako next day, much to my relief. Arranged the sight-seeing with the Department of Tourism and sent his Information Officer Toure as an additional escort. The Governor was delighted with the Moradabadi vase. (The UP handicrafts can pitch its export sales on the slogan of "Our handicrafts reach Timbuktu"). Straightaway started the tour of the old city starting with the growing library of Ahmad Baba, a great historian and religious scholar who, out of hundreds kidnapped by the Moroccans in the l6th century and taken to Marrakesh was the only one to survive and return to Timbuktu.
The library is a fitting tribute to the Baba, whose library in l6th century boasted of several thousands of volumes, when most European scholars could count their collections in tens. So far it has retrieved nearly 1500 volumes, including one as old as 1292, found in a Bedouin tent. I have photographed it for posterity. The library also boasts of an excellent collection of currently published books on Islam, and history of Timbuktu and the region. Noted down names of books which interested me. Could easily spend weeks going through these volumes. However, the real ancient  heritage in the form of books and writings is jealously guarded by the old established families of Timbuktu. Thousands of these works were carted away by the Moroccans and hundreds are in Paris. The owners here are highly reluctant to expose them to the visitors. One of them, my friend Toure informed me, had a hall full of them stacked up to the ceiling.
Also visited the oldest Djinguereyber mosque south of Sahara, built in the l4th century. It was designed by Es Saheli, an architect of Spanish origin with its typical architecture of stone and banco, reinforced with palmyra logs, with its crenellated walls and conical towers. The ostrich egg at the top represents the moon, symbolizing perennial light in the land of Islam (Daru-Islam). The palmyra logs apart from enhancing the esthetic beauty provide scaffolding for the annual repairs after the rains. The third oldest mosque used to be the University of Sankore, a flourishing centre of learning from l4th century onwards. (Leo Africanus refers in his chronicles to 20,000 students and 130 Koranic schools in Timbuktu.)
 Also visited the plaqued houses, where the first-ever Europeans to come to Timbuktu had stayed. Major Gordon Laing of West India Regiment, who did reach Timbuktu by the Saharan route from Libya in 1826, was murdered on the city's outskirts while trying to return. Barring converted Europeans and renegades, who formed part of the Moroccan armies, Rene Caille, disguised as an Arab, was the first European to go back alive next year, after visiting Timbuktu by the Saharan route, but on reaching Fez, had to hide in the French Consul's house, till safe passage could be arranged. Such was the hostility of the Berbers and Arabs against European attempts to trace the Eldorado. The name of Timbaktou derives from, the place of old woman (tin) who used to guard the water well (baktoo) for the caravans coming and going across the Sahara. Only a touristic board now indicates that hallowed spot. All places of historic importance have been duly photographed for posterity and as a proof against detractors (of my visit).
Let me now digress a little on the history of the region, with the middle reaches of river Niger as its artery. From Bamako to Gao, 1400 kilometers of the navigable waterway has assured, from ancient days, movement of people, merchandise and ideas. At the fringe of the Savannah land in West Africa, easily accessible to tropical forests in the south, its strategic location at the edge of the formidable but camel navigable Sahara extending up to Mediterranean and thence to Europe gave birth to flourishing trading centers like Djenne, Gao and Timbuktu. With affluence followed arts, culture, conquerors, adventurers, religious crusaders and thinkers, making Mali a cross-road of civilizations. The earliest to establish them in the area was the Empire of Ghana (no similarity with the present-day Ghana), beginning in 3rd/4th century AD, possibly founded by North African Berbers. Around 8th century, the local Sonikes took over and ruled it till overwhelmed by the crusading zeal of the puritan desert Berber (Touaregs - blue veiled men) converts, but it ended in general disruption and decay.
Once again it was the crusading zeal of newly converted Pagan Mandingo tribal rulers, which laid the foundation of the Empire of Mali in ll Th century, reaching its zenith in the l4th century, under Mansa Mousa. He dazzled the world with his riches when he performed his historic Haj in 1324. The monarch was preceded by 500 slaves, each carrying a gold stuff weighing about 20 kilograms of gold and followed by nearly 100 camels each bearing about 150 kilograms of gold for purchases, gifts and alms. His generosity along the route so depressed the price of gold that it took a generation for it to recover.
After the fall of the Mali Empire came Songhais from Gao; and Moroccans from the North, not satisfied with profits from the trade in gold and slaves, but to capture the goose itself. The first Moroccan expedition was led in 1590, by Judar Pasha, a converted Spanish eunuch with a force of 4000, equipped with artillery and fire arms (little known in the area). Nearly 3000 perished in the Sahara but the surprise and the superiority of the arms won the day. Moroccans poured in nearly 25,000 soldiers, thousands of them Europeans, converts and renegades. But the source of gold was down south and finally the Moroccan forces, in the usual fashion by inter-marriage and inter-mingling became part of the local population. The destruction caused by the Moroccan intervention and the opening out of the sea-routes to the Guinea coast in West Africa by the Europeans, led to the ultimate decline and decay of the region.
Bamako November 12, 1979.
Returned back to civilization yesterday noon. It was bit of a relief. Hotel De 1'Amitiee, built by the descendants of the Pyramid builders (Egyptians) on the lines of Oberoi Intercontinental, is possibly the best maintained and run in this part, including Dakar hotels and d'Ivoire in Abidjan. On l0th evening in Timbuktu, with the Governor's tacit encouragement, my escort Toure took me to a typical only male gathering, which meets regularly on Saturdays. There were eight of them, mostly married and Government servants, dressed in typical booboos (long flowing robes which can cost up to as much as Rs. 4000 each with months of intricate hand-crafted embroidery), they were sprawled or reclining on a large duree which covered the first floor roof. Normally they discuss gossip or listen to music.
Wish I had taken a cassette recorder to tape the haunting local music, akin to desert Tuareg music. I drank a few cups of sweetened lemon water spiced with ginger. This was the only time I drank un-bottled water during my safari and paid the penalty for it, in the tradition of Ibn-Batua ,­ not that I could have refused this part of the hospitality. As is the local tradition, ate bread (like the Egyptian or Syrian-fermented and round like thick chapatis-Indian bread) with meat curry prepared with 12 local condiments of Timbuktu. The taste and smell was absolutely delicious. In the traditional Hamitic (North African - Berber) tradition, which has permeated down to the land of the black (Bled-As-Sudan), I was offered the choicest morsels of meat. There were no knives or forks. I generally discoursed on India, the industrial advances (doing my duty), democratic functioning and our secular set-up.
Returned on foot through sand covered unlighted streets of Timbuktu, reminding me of my own childhood walks through Indian villages in the dark. Soon after return, started feeling the repercussions of drinking unfiltered Niger water and by early morning had involuntary purgings of my stomach and felt rather fatigued, further aggravated by lack of sleep that night and the night before. The hotel had a power cut (like Delhi nowadays) and it was quite something to pack or to shave in the morning at 5 A.M). With a single candle filched from Hotel De L'Amitiee. Left three bottles of water for the Canadian social worker and her mother. This gift of water in a desert that too bottled, for the Europeans were highly appreciated. Mr. Toure presented to me in exchange for silver cuff links I had given him, necklaces and bangles made of weeds, a typically local handicraft - highly intricate, delicate and painstaking work, though not of lasting nature.
At the Timbuktu airport bought two pairs of chapels with Timbuktu emblazoned on them. Returned to Bamako accompanied by the Governor, who had to attend a Government meeting on the usual bureaucratic tussle between powers of judiciary and the executive. The flight, inspire of the forebodings of my friend, the Alitalia Manager, Sir Richard, who had strongly advised me to avoid it, if possible, was smooth and comfortable. It was a Russian aircraft, austerely converted to seat 52 passengers. The extra attention, because few Ambassadors based in Dakar or even Bamako visited Timbuktu, by shapely Bambara Hostesses, was rather flattering.
                                                                                                                       (Gajendra Singh)
PS. This travelogue was essentially written for Tinoo and Bulbul, my son and daughter. I hope you also enjoyed it.
@ (The author has no objection to the readers reproducing parts or the complete narrative, in or out of context, or even passing it off as their own travelogue)