A camel (Abid Katib/Getty)
Some good news at last for François Hollande, mired in a furious scandal over a former minister’s secret Swiss bank account: a new camel is on the way from Mali.
In a dispatch worthy of Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop, Reuters reported from Bamako on Tuesday that Malian authorities planned to send a replacement to Paris for the camel presented to Mr Hollande in grateful thanks for France’s military intervention in Mali when he visited the country in February.
The first animal, defence minister Yves Le Drian reported earlier in the week, was killed and eaten by the family Mr Hollande had left it with in Timbuktu.
The president, who before winning the Elysée Palace liked to buzz around Paris on his three-wheeled scooter, joked at the time that the camel would come in handy for getting about the congested capital. But the complicated logistics of shipping the beast back to France apparently led to the decision to entrust it instead to a local family – who promptly made it into stew.
Reuters reported that an official in northern Mali said:
“As soon as we heard of this, we quickly replaced it with a bigger and better-looking camel.
“The new camel will be sent to Paris. We are ashamed of what happened to the camel. It was a present and it did not deserve this fate.”
Mario Monti with Francois Hollande on February 3 (BERTRAND LANGLOIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Italy’s foreign policy has long been founded on supporting its western allies in times of need.
Unlike the French, Italy backed the US invasion of Iraq in 2003; it has troops in Afghanistan and, unlike Germany, it supported – though with some foot-dragging – military intervention in Libya in 2011.
But electoral considerations have trumped solidarity with France over Mali, forcing an embarrassing u-turn.
Mario Monti’s foreign and defence ministers last month pledged logistical help in the form of transport planes and refuelling for the French. “We are beside you, Paris,” newspapers proclaimed. But on Sunday, in Paris, Italy’s technocrat prime minister had to explain to François Hollande that no such support would be forthcoming after all.
Franco Frattini, former foreign minister and member of Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right party, is particularly disappointed, having passed a resolution in parliament on January 22 – with support from members of the centre-left Democrats and the centrist UDC – that backed Italian logistical intervention.
“Because of the election campaign we run the risk of not fulfilling our European duties of solidarity,” Mr Frattini told the FT. Read more
Residents welcome Malian soldiers as they enter Timbuktu on January 28, 2013 (ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images)
French and Malian troops this week took control of the historic city of Timbuktu from the jihadist militants that had taken over the city in April 2012. The adjective often used to describe the desert city is “fabled” – but what is the fable of Timbuktu?
In the 19th century, the city was considered so hard to get to that the Société de Géographie offered a 10,000 franc reward for the first person to reach the city and make it back. By the time the young Frenchman René Caillié arrived there, disguised as an Arab, the centuries-old reports of riches and splendour that had lured so many explorers had disappeared into myth. Caillié described his arrival in a book published in 1830:
Timbuktu circa 1950
“I now saw this capital of the Sudan, to reach which had so long been the object of my wishes…
I looked around and found that the sight before me, did not answer my expectations. I had formed a totally different idea of the grandeur and wealth of Timbuctoo. The city presented, at first view, nothing but a mass of ill-looking houses, built of earth.”
• Timbuktu’s golden age One definition of the word ‘fable’ is ‘an untruth; falsehood’. But Timbuktu did experience a golden age – Caillié was just a few centuries too late to see it. As E.J.Kahn, Jr. wrote of Timbuktu, “for a while, it was a shining city of the Empire of Mali, which early in the thirteenth century succeeded the Empire of Ghana as West Africa’s paramount nation.” The root of the city’s prosperity was its geographical location at the crossroads of a caravan route between Africa’s Arab northern regions and west Africa. Situated between the Sahara desert and the fertile banks of the Niger river, Timbuktu became a busy trading hub for merchants exchanging west African goods including gold, ivory, and salt, for Mediterranean products such as glass, ceramics, and precious stones. Read more
French army troopers arrive at base camp in Sevare on January 25, 2013 (FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images)
French and Malian forces have made rapid advances in recent days in their efforts to defeat Islamist militants in Mali. On Saturday they captured Gao, which has been under control of the Islamists since last April.
Xan Rice, the FT’s west Africa correspondent, spoke to a teacher from Gao, who did not want his name to be used, about the liberation of the town.
Here is a transcript of the teacher’s account:
“We had a big celebration when the French and Malian army arrived on Saturday. On all the main streets people were out welcoming them.
“It was ‘Long live France, long live Hollande, long live Mali’s army’. The town is secured. We also have soldiers from Niger and Chad here. We are all very happy because nobody liked the Islamists. They were strong but they lost a lot of equipment and vehicles when they attacked Konna [a central town, where the conflict started in January]. We knew that when the army came here, the Islamists would fly away.
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