Friday, June 21, 2013

state action vs. citizen action

The UN's IRIN News Service reports on current conditions in Timbuktu, the Malian desert crossroads that was occupied by various groups in favor of sharia law before the French army pushed them out in a military operation early this year.

Money quotes--

From Mayor Hallé Ousmane: “Timbuktu is free again, but it is a town where there is no economy at all, a town where everything is gone, everything is lost, apart from hope.”

From Ousmane Maïga, a Timbuktu resident who fled the city and recently returned: “Now it’s up to the government to bring peace and reconcile the different communities.”

From Seydou Baba Kounta, a professional tour guide: “Since the Islamists left, nothing has been done. We don’t sense the presence of the state. The state is not here. I appeal to the state to work hard so that Timbuktu emerges from this obscurity.”

Seems like a recipe for paralysis. The Mayor suggests that the government barely exists (“Eighty percent of the civil servants are absent. Even if they were here, their offices are empty. There’s no equipment, no computers, nothing - not even a chair.") while the citizens demands government action.

Without a doubt, reconciliation is a priority. But perhaps, in this seeming power vacuum, there is space for Timbuktu's citizens to take some baby steps, using their sweat and sensibility to begin the painful process of re-inventing the city, its economy, and its governing structure. A little social anarchism would be a true revolution after the horror that played out during the past year.

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