From Senegal to Mali… and back again
International Affairs Editor Melissa Bell takes us behind the camera and on the road with the FRANCE 24 crew as they endeavour to cross the border from Senegal into Mali to cover the unfolding coup d’etat; a task requiring patience beyond endurance.
Our goal was Mali. We were charged with getting to Bamako to cover the unfolding coup d'etat.
The drive from Dakar to Kidira took nine hours, Kidira being the frontier town at the very edge of Senegal and the last town before Mali.
Then began the long and tedious negotiations with various customs officials. We shuttled back and forth between two separate customs offices and between two different police stations in polar opposite parts of town. Our visas had to be checked, our car OK’d and our motives weighed and discussed at length. But that, it turned out, was just a warm up. A mere taster of what was to come. We were, after all, still in Senegal.
After much debate, we were given permission to cross a bridge into Mali. And then the laborious process began once more. We shuffled from office to office, explained ourselves ad nauseum, and handed over all our documents repeatedly.
At long last, we were through.
We were, through a combination of extreme obsequiousness and outright exaggeration of our contacts with the putschists in Bamako, allowed to pass into Mali proper.
At this point, hard facts on the coup d'etat were impossible to pin down. We knew that a putsch had occurred, what we didn't know - and more importantly what ordinary Malians didn't know - was whether the putschists were really in charge or if the situation was influx.
Three days on, it is still unclear whether Amadou Toumani Toure is in the hands of putshcists or surrounded by loyalists. It is also unclear what level of support the hitherto unknown junior officers who claim to be the new masters of Mali have. The scuffles that broke out between red berets loyal to Toure and the country's ‘new authorities’ last night at the TV station in Bamako, only served to cloud the issue further.
We spotted a roadblock ahead. We anticipated the standard paperwork circus of which we were by now familiar and distinctly tired.
However, confusion and arguments between police chiefs and local politicians - some well disposed towards the putschists, others clearly loyal to the former regime - seemed to have done for us.
We waited by the side of the dusty road haranguing any local official we could contact for hours. Night fell but we carried on fighting our corner. We prepared to sleep by the side of the road if necessary.
But the Malians refused to give way.
Driven to fury by our antics, the police chief from the border town, wearing his pyjamas but surrounded by an impressive crowd of policemen and soldiers had driven 80 kilometers at ten o'clock at night to come and fetch us and escort us out of Mali.
He was not a happy man. We tried to plead for clemency, but he and his men made it quite clear that we were not, and never had been, welcome.
And so the FRANCE 24 team are back in Senegal and looking forward to covering its democratic elections instead.