• Report

Dispatches from Bamako and Ouagadougou

17 January 2018

Report on coordination meetings in Bamako and Ouagadougou (12-19 September 2017)

Following the cancellation of the IIAS mission to Bamako in early June 2017 and after consultation with the HaB and West African team leaders, I arranged for a two-leg trip to Mali and Burkina Faso. The purpose was to reignite the initial enthusiasm expressed by these partner institutions, particularly the Institute of Humanities, which had already received the first installment of dedicated funds without being able to effectively launch its planned activities. Indeed a certain blind spot persisted with regard to the next steps to take and which priorities would match the agenda of the HaB. This uncertainty is understandable since the ISH had not directly participated in the preparatory meetings. The summaries and back-and-forth exchanges could not really dispel all the confusion about procedural requirements. Even as a Malian national in the double capacity of regional coordinator and theme PI, I didn’t have a direct institutional connection to the institute and the final decision on the nature of the mandate for my coordinating function came only at the end of the first semester of 2017. It was against this background and within the limits of the ad-hoc assignment that my consultancy position allows that I decided to visit the ISH and INSS after resuming regular contacts with their officials and sharing a series of digests of the main communications and decisions shared across the interregional consortium as well as the regional platform in French. This helped level the information gap somewhat; howevert, as I would find out on the ground, the lag in decision-taking was essentially due to the lack of “peripheral” overview on the matter.

The following summaries illustrate my point and the need to complement remote communication with periodic in-situ exchanges.  

Visit to the Institute of Humanities – Sotuba District, Bamako

I arrived in Bamako on the afternoon of Monday, September 11. Having booked my flight over a month earlier, I had enough time to discuss the details of the meetings with the director Moussa Sow and his deputy Baba Coulibaly, occasionally with their financial agent Amadou Coulibaly. We decided to hold a two-day meeting to cover first the generalities, then the specifics of the cooperation framework. So, after my arrival, I contacted both Moussa and Baba to confirm the program.

Day 1

An ISH driver  picked me up at my residency. It took us 45 minutes to travel all the way to Sotuba. As explained to me, the new building faces the venerable Institute of Rural Economics (IER), which probably has the most extensive network of decentralized research stations for experiments on soils, plants and waterways. There is one in my village 1215 km northeast of Bamako. The new complex built in “neo-Sudanese” style remained, in many ways, a construction site, and the ISH offices were hooked to the power grid less than 24 hours before my arrival. On this architecture, its attractiveness and stylistic relevance today, there is much debate and controversy. It emerged out of a fusion between the local building style that the French colonial masons discovered along the Niger River, mostly from the upper inner delta (Jenne-Mopti) to Timbuktu. From sprawling adobe mosque compounds to riverside saho  (Bozo “boyhouses” or communal spaces for young men in fishing villages in central Mali), one-story family houses in Mopti, Timbuktu and Gao, the model combining Maghrebian and Sub-Saharan motifs and materials was adopted as “authentic” architecture by the French officials. Adding cement and metal elements to the mix, they thus proceeded to build the administrative and commercial districts in cities across the territory. It remains the hallmark of “colonial” quarters in Malian cities. After fading from construction plans in the post-independence era, it has made a sort of comeback with different esthetic results. The National Museum and Hotel Salam belong in the category of successful neo-Sudanese revivals. The government complex funded by Gaddafi’s Libya is, to say to the least, not a total flop. In this unhappy company, I would rather put the former Air Afrique headquarters, though it would be utterly wicked to assert that this is one of the things that grounded the one-time proud pan-African airlines forever. Considering this charged architectural background, the new ISH building left me relieved and hopeful that the institution has, at last, found a fitting home and in the end time, wear and tear will end up rending the retro traditional style attractive. It will find its place on the registry of venerable constructions linking the past and the present, the north and the south of both country and continent. Of course, by now, you are right in wondering about this “digression” about architecture.

To be sure, I may not be able to bring clarity to the matter, but I cannot escape a certain amount of free association as I approach, not just the new building but also the institution with a fairly respectable age by now. Indeed, the institute is one of the “natural” offsprings of the Institut Français d’Afrique Noire (IFAN) created between the World Wars (1936). It was supposed to document the societies across West Africa over which France had built a sizable empire. On this first day, I was joined by Fad Seydou, mathematician (formerly at the University of Oulu, Finland) and national coordinator of the Malian Society of Applied Sciences, with whom I had been in conversation in June about the prospective visit of the IIAS delegation and launch of HaB activities in Mali. He had recently organized a series of workshops intended for primary school teachers of mathematical and natural sciences, with Fatoumata Bintou Kéita, a biologist trained in Germany (University of Leipzig) and outreach education specialist with experience in science education among Native Canadian communities as well as in peri-urban settings (Ontario Province). The trial initiative was instructive and the two trainers issued a comprehensive report on what the experience showed about the need for a broader offer of pedagogical support to Malian science teachers. They issued a call to other scholars and professors based abroad to devote part of their visit time to workshops in special skills and teaching methods.

My own trip was too short and loaded for such a commitment, but we would attend a session given by Diola Bagayoko (distinguished professor of physics, Southern University at Baton Rouge, Louisiana) at the Massa Makan Diabaté high school. Visibly it a was an inspiring moment for the participants who listened to his personal story from primary school in Bamako to leading a science academy in the USA which had received and spent millions of dollars of public money to train minority students, namely Hispanics and African Americans, in scientific fields where they continue to be strikingly underrepresented. He gave an example of the positive results that could justify his calling the Timbuktu Institute an exemplary incubator of scientists among less-resourced communities in a social system that saw the divide between haves and have-nots in this area widen inexorably over the decades.

There are lessons to be learned from countries like Mali too. Even limited, when strategically invested, head-start and seed money could trigger a virtuous cycle by generating poles of excellence and, over time, helping a critical mass to emerge. So we found a direct connection with the ongoing preparations for the 10th edition of the Mali Symposium on Applied Sciences (29 July – 3 August 2018) in which we are both involved, and he decided to could join the meeting at ISH. Fortunately, the encounter would instantly open up a new partnership, as Moussa Sow and Baba Coulibaly invited Fad to offer a workshop in research methods, focusing on sampling, before the end of September. The meeting itself gave us the opportunity to get acquainted with the relatively long history of the ISH as a documentation center in the IFAN tradition, with a broad interest in the records of the cultural heritage and material history in Mali, at the crossroads of the Maghreb and Sub-Saharan Africa. This includes a rich oral tradition, unique written records like Timbuktu and Essuk manuscripts, as well as a distinct built heritage with many sites now on the UNESCO World Heritage registry – Djenné, Bandiagara, Timbuktu, Gao – and 17 other places on a reserve list.

This is why the discussion about the neo-Sudanese architecture of the National Museum, the ISH and other institutions is inherent to the larger debate on the conception we make of the history of ideas, the nature and mission of the humanities in Mali and Africa, a matter of immediate relevance to the HaB research project in the country. Moussa Sow’s chronicle of ISH stems from the IFAN era with prestigious predecessors like Germaine Dieterlen, Jean-Loup Amselle, Amadou Hampâté Bâ who shaped and refashioned the institution, its missions and partnerships.

Today it focuses on three areas: 1) social anthropology, 2) archeology, and linguistics/oral literature. We would spend more time on the state of the department of linguistics, which is attempting a rebirth after a long period of stagnation. Presently, one initiative that concerns all the disciplines is the general inventory of ISH publications on which scholars and research assistants have been working. The dataset is now complete. Five ongoing research programs cover 1) issues of land tenure and social transformation in the Office du Niger, the agricultural region established in the 1920s in the inner Niger delta (250 km northeast of Bamako), as an ambitious irrigation project to produce rice and other produce for the whole region; 2) an archeological survey of the Mande, especially south of Bamako; 3) a documentation and signaling system for touristic sites in Mali; a study around and with the refugees and displaced persons of the 2012 conflict in the north; and 5) cultural production as resource in the post-conflict, national reconciliation process as well as for enhancing resiliency among affected communities.

The ISH has completed a number of large-scale research projects on 1) the evolving policies and processes of decentralized governance, 2) the dynamics and manifestation of poverty among populations, 3) the Old Sosso kingdom as “periphery of statehood” in relation to Segou, 4) the ranges of hills of Koulikoro, and 5) archeological sites under pressure around Bamako. Altogether, it took ten years to run all these studies. Many projects are driven by public demand and funded by the government. This supply-side approach has its advantages and shortcomings. Others are initiated in-house or led in collaboration with partners, usually research institutions, including Malian universities and museums, as well as institutes in Marseille (IRD), Frankfurt (Frobenius), Dakar (IFAN-UCAD), Ivry-sur-Seine (IMAF), Paris (EHESS), and now Leiden (IIAS). At the moment the Frobenius Institute is heavily involved in archeological survey and American University in the study of the relocation of local populations displaced by the construction of the hydroelectric dam at Manantali, in northwestern Mali. Now the institute has a new location and significant challenge. Over the last years, research funds have been drastically reduced at the time when the ISH actually needs to hire younger scholars and acquire newer tools.

Against this background, the opportunity to participate in the HaB program came at a crucial moment, with the arrival of the new head of the linguistics department and the articulation of a strategy to relaunch research activities. Coincidentally, the ISH became the site for language and translation. As mentioned, the ISH has completed a document accounting for all its publications and this is a rich database at hand. The institute, where Amadou Hampâté Bâ worked before joining the UNESCO-led General History of Africa project, is itself a remarkable reservoir of documentation on Mali and West Africa. However, it also suffered from its numerous moves and moments of turmoil like 1991 when its documentation center suffered significant losses at the hands of plunderers. The remaining material is physically scattered and for the most part under precarious circumstances. But the department was once home to linguists like Abdoulaye Barry and Témoré Tioulenta who contributed immensely to furthering research on Mande and Fulah languages.

The ISH linguists played a major in helping visiting research teams get the picture right. They also contributed to quality control for publications intended for the rural world. In this regard, the back issues of the Revue Jamana (for the peasantry) are worth digitizing. There are important publications derived from past research projects like “Femmes et développement” (Women and development). Fresh material resulted from a government-supported project to study popular songs and recent compositions focused on the communication and reconciliation among communities. This corpus could be further explored in the HaB framework: creating a repertoire of themes, translating lyrics across languages, writing annotations and critical commentaries. The exercise also falls in line with the longstanding tradition of collecting and classifying oral tradition for ongoing and future scholarship. Training young scholars now will help meet an existential challenge faced by the institute, the renewal of its scientific personnel and the adaptation of its research program to the digital era.

At this point, Baba Coulibaly, the deputy director presented an outline of the institute's research and publication strategy to which are associated national partners (CNRST, ULSHB) and visiting scholars who choose ISH as host institution when applying for accreditation. In Mali, several institutions like ISH and the CNCM are involved in the oversight of authorizations for and access to archeological and heritage sites. Baba is chief editor of Etudes Maliennes, the most established journal for research in the humanities and social sciences, and published by the ISH. It counts 83 issues to date. There is a number of other issues published before the 1970s. The editorial staff collaborates with more recent academic journals like the Annales de l'ULSHB (humanities and social sciences) and the Revue de l'Université de Ségou (agricultural and natural sciences). In this vein, two important non-academic partners came up in the conversation. With the Groupe Odyssee and Norwegian partners, the ISH organized a conference (Bamako, 14-17 February 2017) whose proceedings have been recently published: Pouvoirs traditionnels et collectivités territoriales. Odyssee also published two complementary monographs on 1) the legal framework of devolution [decentralization] and 2) the transfer of fields of competence and resources to support and reinforce local governance.

The books were published by the Editions Tombouctou. The last few years, the ISH participated in other major scientific publications in collaboration with the IRD and Editions Tombouctou. The institute’s publication strategy now needs to take into account the inescapable role of digital resources in both the conservation, production and dissemination of scientific content. The next step will involve building a solid online platform to make publications accessible and exploitable for the scientific community. In this regard, the presence of Fad Seydou also enabled Moussa and Baba to get an overview of the publication policy of the Malian Society of Applied Scinces, which has now decided to create its own MSAS Editions to publish both specialized and trans-disciplinary scholarship in Mali and West Africa.

Day 2

We met in a seminar room for more formal presentations of the HaB consortium and the specific place of the ISH in it. The meeting was attended by senior and young scholars from the ISH program. Senior officials from the university (ULSHB) were invited but they had to attend a program at the University of Segou (240 km north of Bamako) on short notice. For the global overview of HaB, I started with 10 slides out of Aarti's PowerPoint document from July 23, 2017. I then covered the West African Platform, the four themes investigated and the characteristics of the national sites hosting them. The rest of the presentation focused on the Language and Translation theme treated through my own research and the ISH's activities. I brought along some of the documentation and equipment that I had been working with: Songhay-language lexicons and dictionaries from 1897 to 2010, an analog Sony tape player and a digital recorder (Zoom H6). So, I showed them how I work with these at home and on the road. It enabled a more focused discussion on needs in equipment acquisition and combined technical-methodological training. In turn, Baba Coulibaly presented the institute, particularly from the creation in 1962 of the post-independence structure, then attached to the Ministry of Culture, then to the Ministry of Education and more recently the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research. We spent some time discussing the recent and current projects. Between 2012 and 2016, six (6) major studies on 1) small-scale gold mining in southwestern Mali, 2) Office du Niger, 3) Mande archeology, 4) culture as resource in reconciliation work, 5) conflict-induced migration within Mali, and 6) gender factors in development efforts. The direction has worked out a strategic plan that takes into account the active participation of young scholars who will be trained collect and process data for an ever-growing corpus. Since Fad Seydou is conducting a similar documentation of memories of actors of the Malian school system from the 1960s on, he could be asked to lead a first workshop in the sampling of sources. In the case of the ISH, the topic of “living together” will remain the focus of musical, artistic and narrative collections. At the end of the session, we reviewed the budget: the net sum received on the ISH account and the four main expenditure items in the preliminary planning of activities elaborated before my arrival: digitization, fieldwork, training, and equipment. We closed the meeting on a firm commitment to proceed with the activities already planned, especially the training workshop led by Fad and the documentation work that I will be leading in and around Gao.

 Visit to the Institute of Social Studies (NSS-CNRST) – Nongrmassem District, Ouagadougou

17-19 September 2017 On September 15, I took the bus that would leave Bamako at exactly 6:00 am and expect to arrive in Ouagadougou by 23:00. Crossing a swath of southeastern Mali, we would pass through Sikasso at the Balafon Triangle bordering with Côte d'Ivoire and Burkina Faso, before heading east toward Bobo Dioulasso, then Ouagadougou. The plan seemed good but after driving all day we arrived in Sikasso around 14:45 pm. One of those mysteries of road travel in our region, we finally left the Malian border checkpoint only an hour later and milled around for a while. The bus rolled ahead at 16:15 but just ten minutes later, it came to a halt. We had to get off again. Now we were across the Burkina border at Koloko, 5. It was drizzling all of a sudden, and we rushed to the hangar aside the narrow guard house. When we departed half an hour later, the rain was falling much harder and we ran for cover onto the bus. The relief was rather brief, as we crawled to a halt a few minutes later and had to run again to a hangar apart from the guard post. From a distance, two gendarmes would call names on the identity cards collected at the descent of the bus.

When we finally left Orodara at 18:15, the cloudy weather seemed to have precipitated nightfall. I had to resign myself to the realization that I wouldn't see Bobo in daylight as some experienced fellow traveler hinted in the afternoon. He was my neighbor, not very talkative, but I learned as much from him that he was Senegalese and had been working as tailor in Ouaga for eight years. He traveled by bus once a year to see his family. Business is neither great, nor bad. He got satisfied, earned enough to live on. A quarter of an hour after Odotara, it was pitch dark, drizzly and quite fresh inside the bus. A young crew member had taken upon himself to entertain with nonstop runs of Chinese action films. Hefty combat, extreme sword-wielding, foot kicks, bodies flying out of vehicles and buildings into the void, hallucinating violent stuff. Apparently the endless video playlist was delivered with the vehicle. Fortunately I had massive closed Beyerdynamic headphones and the eye covers from the last flight. I turned on an iPod and pretended to hear or see anything else.

Another police checkpoint (19:25-40), one of the many times we had to cross on foot in ghostly rows. The guards appeared mostly courteous, as they checked our identity cards by flashlight and waved us to walk on, one after the other. We stopped twice for breaks: 20:00-20:45, then 23:40-23:55. Then at least out of Bobo well wrapped in the thick night. My INSS colleague Mamadou Lamine Sanogo had been keeping up with me by SMS. I gave up reporting projected arrival times that crew members would give me whenever I asked. He knew the distances and told me to travel safely and write when we reached the outskirts of Ouaga. We did around 2:40 am and entered the bus station at 2:50.

As I recuperated my luggage, a man walked to me and asked me if I am the son of Houssouba from Bagoundié. He had hesitated in the daytime but now that he heard my name, he couldn't be wrong. Indeed I was, and he told me about his relatives in my village, yes, related to us too. We engaged in a lively conversation about the different routes to Gao from Ouaga. He is a road master, a professional traveler and knows all the straight and crooked paths and backroads. I was going to travel northeast to Niamey, then travel west to Gao. My, my, that's a quite a detour, he shook his head. The road is in poor condition to boot. A shorter and more comfortable road goes directly north from Ouaga to Dori and Gorom-Gorom, then I would cross at Tessit to Ansongo, exactly 100 km east of Gao. The description made the way much livelier and scenic than the one via Niamey. By this time, Mamadou Lamine showed up, and I had to bid my newly found relative farewell. It was almost 3:30 am. He insisted on waiting to pick me up though the distance was manageable and a taxi driver should have been able to find the university annex (guesthouse).

To be sure, I was quite relieved to be in Ouaga for the first time ever, with someone I knew well, one with whom I could also get a preview of our meeting the day after. On Monday, Mamadou Lamine picked me up and we drove to the INSS. I learned that beside the director Ludovic Kibora and himself, Jocelyne Vokouma (social anthropologist and former governor of a region) would participate, along with the heads of the six departments and affiliated researchers. I had planned the meeting to be more compact than the two-day sessions in Bamako. The INSS was formally part of the platform but its effective participation had been postponed to 2018. In the meantime, we had to make sure that the information gap was sufficiently leveled and an active team would be in place in time.

We decided on having three parts: 1) a presentation of HaB and the regional platform, 2) a presentation of the INSS and research perspectives on its theme, and 3) a discussion with participants. I adjusted the presentation to give the essence of the broader program and the different stages at which the respective teams operated by then, as well as the perspectives for the INSS team. Ludovic Kibora followed with an overview of the institution and the discussions they had about two possible research objects: the balafon (musical instrument and tradition) and the indigo production and use (art, craft and language). A lively discussion session ensued. There were questions about the chronology of HaB: its conception, funding, relation to host states, decision-making capacity of national teams. I returned to some slides about the genesis and evolution of the program, the preliminary meetings in Leiden and Chiang Mai at which Burkina Faso did not have a representative, my personal commitment and that of other colleagues in the regional platform and IIAS leadership to see the INSS effectively integrated into the research network. To be sure, this will be a partnership between the two institutes on the basic of the MoU, then among platform teams, then across the interregional network. There are dark spot that we all have to experience and shed light on as we go. Indeed, a provocative or let's say thought-provoking question from a senior scholar was about my role and mandate. Who was I and how much leeway did I have to speak on behalf of the Leiden-piloted program?

This gave me the opportunity to present my position as PI and regional coordinator as I understood it and what seemed to be the urgency at the moment: to get activities started in Mali and Burkina Faso. Objectively, Ghana and Senegal are in a much better position since there are institutions with direct links to either the University of Leiden and the Mellon Foundation or to both. The Mellon $4 million grant to the University of Ghana had just been announced and it has a Centre for Asian Studies in addition to the Institute of African Studies, where our colleague Kojo Opoku Aidoo is based. On the other hand, Gaston Berger University had a pre-HaB partner in Leiden in the African Studies Centre. Overall, since the Institute of Humanities is starting its activities, in addition to my own work on behalf of the national team, the INSS is the farthest behind. The priority is now to integrate the program formally. We discussed the conditions and stages further. As logical next steps, there would be the signing of the MoU and a plan for the activities to be undertaken. I gave a sketch of the working plans adopted by the three teams  for 2017.

The focus or object of research remained unclear, as the INSS still had both music (balafon) and art/craft indigo on their list. The question was: which theme did we (HaB) prefer? I explained how the different teams came to their focus topics. In principle, there is no stipulation that they work on an “either or” basis. It should be more a matter of interest, capacity and efficacy. Would there be sufficient resources (skills, material and organizational means) at hand to tackle two research topics? If yes, no problem; if no, then a choice, albeit very difficult, had to be made. Thus, in the course of the discussion, a clear preference emerged for investing the indigo field under the leadership of Dr Jocelyne Vokouma. She took the floor to present the track record of the INSS in research on indigo. She did her own dissertation on the topic. She accumulated ten years of interaction with researchers and practitioners across the country. She once served as Governor of Region, as Secretary General in a ministry and as Senior Advisor on human rights. She participated with others in the “Indigo Hotel” project in Chicago and at a private museum in Washington, DC, with a collection of products, donated objects and shop items (import from Nigeria).

In terms of research, the Indigofera tinctoria, the species commonly planted in Mali and Burkina Faso, is an interesting case since it is traced to Asia (Thailand, among others). So the INSS could be a significant component in the network being formed around indigo cultivation, transformation and valorization. They had received the exchanges and updates coming from Taiwan, India and Thailand, and she expected a positive dynamic to emerge once the different teams start working together. In my presentation, I had mentioned my own interest in the indigo-language nexus since I read about Songhay-speaking communities in Burkina Faso whose ancestors emigrated from the Hombori region in central Mali and practiced a monoculture of indigo for a long time. They were considered an endogamous  society characterized by an intermingling of shared economic, social, religious and linguistic practices. Indigo has been taken by sociolinguists to be the glue of Maranse society. In my statement I relied heavily on the works of André Prost (1956) and Robert Nicolaï (1979, 1982, etc.).

Dr Alain Ouedrago who currently works on the Maranse (Songhay) language decided to give an update on the situation. Actually, of some six sites visited by Nicolaï in the mid-1970s, only one – Wanobia – remains a monolingual Songhay-speaking setting to date; that is, they still speak the Kaado kiini (farmer’s language) or Tondi kiini (hill tongue) originally from Hombori, called Maranse in Burkina Faso. (Maranse apparently comes from “Moore”, the language of the Mossi among whom the communities were enclaved. ).  The other villages speak Moore nowadays. So we are confronted with a new sub-topic: indigo, language survival and death in contemporary north-central Burkina. There was then a rich exchange among Jocelyne, Alain, Mamadou Lamine and young scholars about the socioeconomic dynamics at play. I was intrigued by two practices that were mentioned: 1) guided tours to indigo-production sites organized for school children, 2) a street museum project with indigo products by Dafin, Marka (Soninke), Maranse and Mossi artisans, 3) continued research on language and craft intersections within Burkina Faso, helping to get a clearer, more up-to-date picture of the situation, which seems to have evolved significantly and at great pace over the last two decades. One participant who is finishing his dissertation in engineering pointed out the continuum from agriculture, local languages, popular musical expressions (jeeka, takubuwanse [?]) to ICTs/digital tools. This brought us back to the pertinence of the balafon topic, which Lazare Ki-Zerbo presented in the initial meetings he once organized with the INSS and its partners.

The question remained open as to the future treatment of the balafon or musical instruments and productions by the team. For now, the consensus fell on setting up together a team that could pull on the diverse levers available in local research on indigo as well as networking across the HaB consortium. The prospect of exchanging ideas and eventually meeting colleagues in West Africa and Asia appeared attractive and exciting to all. We rounded up the discussion with a summary of the key aspects of HaB, the next steps for the regional network, notably a potential gathering in Senegal in January 2018, and the urgency for the INSS group to set forth its agenda. On behalf of INSS, Ludovic Kibora expressed his satisfaction to see Burkina Faso start with other countries in 2018 and the determination of his team to devise a working plan and integrate the program. On my part, I promised to relay the content of our exchanges to the regional platform and the HaB leadership. Before my departure, Ludovic and Mamadou Lamine drove me around INSS and University Ouaga I-Joseph Ki-Zerbo, as well as about town. Mamadou Lamine spontaneously arranged two meetings with cabinet members to introduce me and present the HaB initiative.

So, on September 19, we paid visits to the Minister of Digital Economy and ITCs, Hadja Fatoumata Sanou, and the Minister of Communication and Relations with the Parliament, Remy Fulgence Dandjinou. Both department heads displayed a great deal of knowledge about local language policies and the role of digital tools in giving a better chance to reforms intended to adopt these languages in decentralized regimes of schooling, administration and cultural production. Despite differing approaches, I could also recognize many similarities with the process in Mali. As my departure neared, I consulted frantically about routes and finally booked a bus ticket from Ouagadougou to Gao via Niamey. Staying on the main roads in times of uncertainty, that was the decision. Mamadou Lamine picked me up, and after a tour of the Koulouba district, we drove to his place outside of Ouagadougou for dinner and a relaxed tea time after the hectic downtown. He dropped me off at the bus station around 3:00 am. The call to the bus station was for 4:00 am and departure time announced for 5:00 am. If all goes well, we would reach Niamey in the afternoon, transfer to the Plateau station of the bus company for westbound lines. The bus to Gao would leave around 5:00 am and arrive by lunchtime.  

Basel, 22 December 2017                                                                    Mohomodou Houssouba