Bibliothèque en herbe

Prof. Djibril Tamsir Niane (cravate), ministre Siaka Barry, à sa droite Ms. Fifi Niane, Conakry, 14 mars 2017 (Source: Guinée7)
Prof. Djibril Tamsir Niane (cravate), ministre Siaka Barry, à sa droite Ms. Fifi Niane, Conakry, 14 mars 2017 (Source: Guinée7)

Guinée7 publie un reportage sur “la remise provisoire de la Bibliothèque Djibril Tamsir Niane”. Il n’est guère surprenant que ce site étale un projet financé par l’Etat. Après tout, son activité éditoriale est favorable au pouvoir en place.  Mais Le journaliste reste vague à ce sujet. Et les informations sur l’état d’avancement  du projet sont absentes. Dommage ! Par contre, il s’empresse d’aligner les noms grandiloquents des organisations bureaucratiques et budgétivores liées à l’initiative. On croit cependant rêver un instant d’un pays à l’économie ronflante.… Tenez :

  • Autorité de contrôle des Grands projets (ACGP)
  • Direction nationale des investissements publics (DNIP)
  • Direction nationale des Marchés publics

Et la liste est bouclée, bien sûr, par le ministère de la Culture, des Sports et du Patrimoine historique.

Alliant l’imprécision à la flatterie, l’article consacre le plus long paragraphe à l’engagement du président Pr. Alpha Condé “de réhabiliter (la bibliothèque) et même de l’agrandir et de la moderniser avec les dernières technologies”.
Le journaliste s’empresse ensuite d’indiquer que “les travaux de construction sont aujourd’hui achevés à près de 80%”.  Que reste-il-il donc à faire ? C’est malheureusement là où le bât blesse. Car il s’agit de :

  • La finition :  électrification, eau, peinture, etc.
  • L’aménagement : mobilier, équipement divers, décoration, sécurité, etc.
  • Le budget de fonctionnement et d’entretien
  • Le formation et le salaire du personnel
  • L’acquisition onéreuse de collections livres, périodiques, ebooks, etc.
  • La connexion en réseau
  • La création et l’administration du site web de la bibliothèque, etc.
Bibliothèque Djibril Tamsir Niane en construction à Conakry
Bibliothèque Djibril Tamsir Niane en construction à Conakry

On lit également que “la mission a fait quelques remarques sur le bâtiment”. Quelles remarques exactement ? Mystère !

L’article continue en révélant  la raison réélle pour laquelle cette cérémonie a eu lieu : le fameux “événement culturel très important Conakry Capitale mondiale du livre”.

Depuis le début du mois le rouleau publicitaire s’est mis en marche, notamment dans Jeune Afrique, pour annoncer la mascarade suivie de “mamaya” que constitue cette charade de l’UNESCO et du gouvernement guinéen. Les deux partenaires collaborent dans cet effort de propagande. Il risque de leur retomber sur le nez. Car, privée de l’économie, du tissu industriel, et du pouvoir d’achat, Conakry ne saurait, au 21e siècle, être une capitale —même sous-régionale— du Livre. J’y reviendrai.

Gageure et/ou duperie ?

En attendant, Pr. Djibril Tamsir Niane doit continuer à compter sur la bienveillance de l’Etat pour rebâtir sa bibliothèque. Le ministre de la Culture, Siaka Barry, “a promis que les commandes pour l’équipement seront lancées dans les jours qui suivent pour que la BDTN et la Bibliothèque nationale soient fonctionnelles avant la fin avril”.
Est-ce une gageure ou une duperie ? Comment compte-t-on équiper une bibliothèque en moins de 45 jours. Quelle est la part du récipiendaire de l’ouvrage dans la sélection des produits et servir à financer et à acquérir ? Il en sait mieux que les jeunes bureaucrates venus lui rendre visite. (Il fut mon doyen à Faculté des sciences sociales de l’Institut Polytechnique dans les années 1960-70). Les autorités se rendent-elles compte que la concrétisation d’un tel projet exige un intense travail d’équipe, d’envergure nationale et internationale ? Une bibliothèque sans livre n’en est pas une. A-t-on lancé des appels d’offre et quels sont les fournisseurs soumissionnaires pour la livraison des ouvrages et du matériel de lecture ? Le building sera-t-il doté d’autonomie en courant électrique ? Pourquoi limiter  ses services à l’usage des seuls chercheurs et étudiants ? Et le grand public alors ?

Souffrance et patience sans illusions

L’article se termine par les remerciements du Pr. D. Tamsir Diane aux représentants du “Pr.” Alpha Condé, président de la république. Doyen Niane souligne que “c’est une première que l’Etat finance un privé à cette hauteur”. Cette phrase est lourde de sens. En filigrane, on décèle la souffrance, la patience mais non les illusions de ce grand intellectuel.
Ancien bagnard du Camp Boiro dans le faux Complot des Enseignants (1961), Pr. Niane sait, mieux que quiconque, que l’Etat guinéen étouffe tout ce qu’il étreint, et pourrit tout ce qu’il touche.
Dans l’interview intitulée “De Baro à Boiro” avec Lilyan Kesteloot — sa cadette et émintent professeure à l’Université C.A. Diop—, il révèle comment les résultats de ses précieuses recherches sur la culture baga en 1968-69 furent ruinés par la négligence de l’Etat. Idem pour ses pièces de théâtre, ou ses démarches vaines de  repèrage et de conservation des ports de la Traite des Noirs, du Rio Nunez (Boké) à la Méllacorée (Forécariah), en passant par le Konkouré à Dubréka.

Maryse Condé vivait avec sa famille à Conakry en 1960-61. Dans La vie sans fard, elle évoque la répression — violente et meurtrière — contre les élèves et la purge de l’élite enseignante par de lourdes peines de prison. Maryse s’acquite du devoir de mémoire avec la véracité d’un témoin oculaire et, en l’occurrence, avec la plume d’un génie littéraire.

Le drame et la menace sont présents, palpables. Ils sont agrravés par l’absence des acteurs du secteur privé. Eux qui sont toujours prêts à financer la construction de stades sportifs et l’organisation de soirées dansantes. Mais qui ne prêtent pas leur concours à la construction de ce maillon de l’infrastructure de l’éducation et de la formation de Guinée. Je veux parler des sociétés minières, des entreprises commerciales, des opérateurs économiques, des ONG, etc.
Inexorablement, le temps fait son oeuvre. Les dictateurs se sont succédés et ont sévi sur la Guinée. Les populations  ont en pris de terribles coups. Le pays  relèvera-t-il ? Peut-être. Mais il faudra, entre autres, qu’elle mette mieux à profit l’expérience du Pr. Niane et de sa génération d’éducateurs encore en vie :

  • Ibrahima Kaba
  • Mountagha Baldé
  • Yansané Sékou Moukké
  • Mamadou Kolon Diallo
  • Thierno Diallo
  • Bahi Seck ……………………

Une hirondelle ne fait pas le printemps !… Ni l’inauguration éventuelle de la bibliothèque Djibril Tamsir Niane, ni “Conakry, capitale mondiale du Livre”, n’effaceront les ruines causée, durant le demi-siècle écoulé, par l’Etat guinéen, prédateur de la Culture et de l’Education, et archennemi du Savoir.

Tierno S. Bah

Simandou. The bribery saga reaches new peaks

Lurid bribery revelations led the government of Guinea to confiscate world-beating iron ore reserves from junior mining company BSG Resources in 2014. So when bitter rival Rio Tinto, owner of a neighbouring concession, detonated a scandal over its own secretive payments, BSGR boss Beny Steinmetz was cock-a-hoop.

Beny Steinmetz, BSGR
Beny Steinmetz, BSGR

Developments in this sordid tale have kept the mining world agog. The concessions high in West Africa’s Simandou Mountains have yet to deliver a single tonne of ore but continues to yield an unending stream of dirt—and to provide object lessons to an industry with a sorry history of dodgy deals.

Details of Rio’s relationship with François Polge de Combret, a French banker and university friend of Guinea’s president have been explosive—and have already cost two top executives their jobs [paywall]. They prove the Guinean government singled BSGR out unfairly, says Beny Steinmetz, the billionaire diamond magnate behind the company.

“It’s a big conspiracy against us,” said Steinmetz, who is under criminal investigation in at least three countries over the Guinea bribery. “They tried to paint themselves as nice and clean but they never wanted to develop one tonne of iron ore. We are the good guys.”

François de Combret
François de Combret

But emails and court testimony seen by Global Witness show it wasn’t just Rio tangling with de Combret: BSGR had its own relationship with the president’s confidant—a potentially lucrative arrangement for the banker had he succeeded in helping Steinmetz retain the asset.

Global Witness first exposed BSGR’s Guinea imbroglio in 2012. The latest revelations are a reminder that no one has come well out of the Simandou saga—least of all the Guinean people, whose country clings obstinately to the bottom end of almost every development index despite the untold riches beneath its soil.

But let’s start at the beginning.

Rio had been sitting on Simandou for over a decade. The colossal ore trove promised to be a game-changer in the global market. But Simandou is remote and mountainous, and Guinea’s infrastructure is poor. For Rio, conditions were never quite right and as the Simandou project languished, Guinean frustration mounted.

In July 2008, matters came to a head. The government abruptly cancelled half of Rio’s Simandou rights, handing them to BSGR. Steinmetz’s relative inexperience with big mining projects didn’t prevent him from cashing in: within 18 months BSGR had sold 51 per cent of its holding to Brazilian mining giant Vale for $2.5 billion—twice Guinea’s entire budget at the time.

Only later did it emerge that there was more to the deal than simply getting a stalled project off the buffers. In 2013 Global Witness revealed a massive bribery scheme: BSGR had signed contracts promising one of the wives of Guinea’s ailing dictator, Lansana Conte, millions for her influence to get the mine. The following year, the newly elected democratic government stripped BSGR of its rights after an inquiry. Authorities in Israel, Switzerland and the US have launched criminal investigations.

Meanwhile, Rio had its own problems. The Anglo-Australian company was still dragging its feet in developing its remaining half of Simandou and by mid-2011 the Guinean government was threatening to take that too. It took months of talks, promises to build a port and a railway, $700 million and – according to the leaked emails – the services of François Polge de Combret for Rio to keep a grip on its Guinean assets.

Guinean authorities have raised concerns that Rio may have been paying de Combret to secretly fight its corner while he was advising the government. “It raises both legal and ethical concerns if, as media reports suggest, Mr de Combret was passing on privileged information in return for large amounts of money,” said Guinea’s mining minister. “Mr de Combret was at the time acting in a capacity that would have given him access to highly confidential information.”

De Combret didn’t come cheap: Rio negotiated his fee down to $10.5 million. With billions at stake, it seemed a bargain.

“I accept that this is a lot of money, but I also put forward that the result we achieved was significantly improved by Francois’ contribution and his very unique and unreplaceable services and closeness to the President,” wrote Rio’s head of energy and minerals Alan Davies in a May 2011 email to other executives. When that email and others were leaked online, Davies and Rio legal chief Deborah Valentine got fired.

Joy in the Steinmetz camp. “We have been fighting very powerful forces,” the billionaire told Bloomberg in a rare interview. “We all knew justice would prevail. I feel vindicated.”

Not so fast.

If Rio was in dodgy territory with de Combret, BSGR wasn’t far behind. An 11 April 2012 email seen by Global Witness suggests Steinmetz’s company had an almost identical arrangement with the French middleman. By this time BSGR was fighting off the Guinean government’s corruption inquiry. BSGR knew that a finding against it could lead to the confiscation of its blocks.

“Dear Francois,” wrote a mutual friend of de Combret and BSGR agent Frederic Cilins, who later served time in a US prison for his role in the Simandou bribery. “A matter has just been brought to my attention regarding iron ore in the area of Simandou. I don’t know the details but apparently this zone has been the subject of negotiations and of a contract with the Israeli group BSGR.”
“It seems that you know this dossier well,” the friend wrote. “Would you accept to speak with the person who brought BSGR into Guinea? The man in question is Frederic Cilins.”
“I’ll have to ask the authorisation of the President,” replied de Combret in a message forwarded to Cilins.

On November 18 2012, de Combret sent Cilins from his iPad the outlines of a hypothetical agreement to end Steinmetz’s dispute with Guinea: BSGR would hand back its 49% stake in its two  Simandou blocks, while the proceeds from selling the remaining 51% to Vale would be split between BSGR and the government. De Combret then helped arrange a meeting between Guinea, BSGR and Vale “to discuss an amicable settlement”, arbitration documents show.

Through de Combret, BSGR was “trying to explore whether a settlement with President Conde would be possible”, Steinmetz told the arbitration hearing in an affidavit. Had “efforts through M. de Combret led to the project getting back on track I would have advised BSGR to pay a fee. It would have been a very valuable contribution.”

The settlement drawn up by de Combret never materialised. In December 2016, Steinmetz was arrested in Israel over Simandou bribery payments (he was released on bail with a travel ban, though arrangements were made to fly him to Geneva for questioning by Swiss prosecutors).

Rio, for its part, took the drastic step of reporting itself to authorities in three countries, with a warning to investors that the de Combret affair “could ultimately expose the group to material financial cost”. Davies has said “there are no grounds for the termination of my employment”.

So far there have been no winners in the battle over Simandou. But in the case of BSGR, anti-corruption agencies have shown they can collaborate globally to tackle the bribery that drains billions from the world’s poorest countries.

Similar scrutiny of Rio’s payments would send a clear message to the biggest beasts of the mining world that it is time for the old ways to change.

Danie Balint-Kurt
Global Witness

Ambition, querelles et histoire politiques

Yacine Diallo (1897-1954)
Yacine Diallo (1897-1954)

Le site Libreopinionguinee publie une interview de Bah Oury maladroitement intitulée “Cellou Dalein c’était opposé à ce que je soit le candidat de l’UFDG pour briguer la Primature (sic!)”

Les tiraillements entre Messieurs Bah et Diallo concrétisent l’implosion de la politique en Guinée. En témoignent la personnalisation outrancière de la fonction dirigeante, l’égocentrisme pathologique et le culte de la personnalité du chef du parti ou de l’Etat.
Après lecture de l’article, je tiens à rappeler les points suivants.

  1.  Cellou Dalein Diallo et Bah Oury sont des sanaku, ou cousins à plaisanterie dans la tradition du Fuuta-Jalon. Mieux, leurs noms relèvent du stock  authentique des Fulbe et précèdent de milliers d’années l’influences arabo-islamique sur l’onomastique (système des noms propres) de la société. Cellou (Sellu) vient de sellude (être en bonne santé),  Oury (Wuuri) dérive de wuurude (être vivant). L’usage élévé de ces noms est un acte votif. Le jour du baptême les parents formulent un voeu et un souhait et fondent l’espoir pour le nouveau-né à travers le nom positif choisi et imposé, tels que les deux exemples ci-dessus.
    Cela dit, Messieurs Bah et Diallo sont tous deux responsables du déchirement public au sommet de l’UFDG.  Ils détiennent le rôle principal dans cet inélégant et déplorable roman-photo. Il est vrai que les divergences (personnelles et idéologiques) sont inévitables dans toute association politique. Mais Messieurs Diallo et Bah auraient dû débattre à huis clos et trouver un consensus à leurs différends et conflits. Hélas, au lieu d’une approche intelligente et constructive dans la gestion de leur parti, ils ont préféré s’offrir en spectacle et barouder en duels verbaux. Conséquence, des tiraillements physiques eurent lieu au siège du parti en  février 2016. Et le journaliste Mohamed Diallo fut abattu à bout portant. L’appareil judiciaire guinéen étant pourri, il est probable que le meurtrier ne sera jamais identifié et jugé.
  2. Les propos de Bah Oury suggèrent qu’il ne tient pas compte du fait que le passé et  les défis actuels du pays dépassent nettement la querelle de personnes et le conflit d’ambitions qui l’opposent aujourd’hui à  Cellou Dalein.
  3. Il semble ignorer aussi que la Guinée souffre  toujours de la malédiction que la politique de Sékou Touré a appelée sur le pays. En conséquence, Bah Oury rêve et se berce d’illusions hypothétiques. Car en tant que Pullo, il n’avait absolument aucune chance d’accéder à la Primature en 2010. Pour preuve, il n’a qu’à se rappeler la brève et catastrophique expérience de Cellou à la tête du gouvernement en 2004-2006 sous la dictature de Lansana Conté.
  4. Ethnocentrisme oblige, le Président de la Transition, Général Sékouba Konaté, avait jetté son dévolu sur le candidat du RPG, Alpha Condé. Il était résolu à le faire élire, coûte que coûte, vaille que vaille. Dès lors la désignation d’un vice-président de l’UFDG à la Primature aurait contrecarré les plans de Konaté. Là également, que Bah Oury se souvienne que même la syndicaliste Rabiatou Sira Diallo fut rejettée pour diriger le gouvernement. Pour Konaté, le seul nom de famille et l’appartenance ethnique de la dame étaient inacceptables.
  5. D’où la désignation de Jean-Marie Doré: un ancien agent secret de Sékou Touré, prêt à manger à tous les râteliers. Rusé et cynique, il joua le jeu en faveur d’Alpha Condé. Et son gouvernement accompagna toutes les violations du code électoral et tous les coups bas du second tour de l’élection présidentielle.
  6. Bah Oury n’aurait peut-être pas toléré qu’on accuse son ethnie, les Fulɓe, d’empoisonner des boissons en vente publique.
  7. Cela ne l’a pas empêché d’accepter, au nom de l’UFDG, le portefeuille bidon de ministre de la “réconciliation nationale” (sans justice !) au sein du gouvernement d’Ahmed Tidiane Souaré. Acculé, ce dernier capitula rapidement face au criminel capitaine Moussa Dadis Camara. Cela ne lui évita pas les harcèlements, l’emprisonnement, et un simulacre d’exécution sommaire nocturne  au sinistre PM3 de la gendarmerie à Conakry.
  8. Que Bah Oury prenne donc ses démêlés avec humilité et un brin de sagesse. Qu’il n’oublie pas comment, à la fin des années 1990, au sein de l’Union des Forces Démocratiques (UFD), il torpilla feu Alfâ Ibrahîm Sow, notre maître à tous et l’intellectuel du Pular/Fufulde. Lire :

Unité politique : tirer les leçons de l’histoire

Après la mort —subite et suspecte— de Yacine Diallo en 1954, le Fuuta-Jalon se mit en quête d’un successeur pour porter le flambeau du pionnier et doyen de la politique partisane en Guinée. Dans les Cailloux de la mémoire Nadine Bari publie le témoignage valide des tractations, rapporté par feu Thierno Mouctar Bah. Le choix des Almami et des chefs de canton se porta sur Diawadou Barry, au détriment de Ibrahima Barry dit Barry III. Il s’en suivit une rivalité ardue entre les deux hommes, qui étaient pourtant des cousins lignagers. Dans le système de parenté quadrangulaire des Fulɓe le patronyme Bari est réservé aux Dayeeɓe. Les trois autres noms sont Ba (Ururuɓe), Soo (Feroɓɓe) et Jallo (Jalluɓe). Diawadou est du sous-clan des Seediyaaɓe, Barry III appartient à celui des Seeriyaaɓe. Mais la quête du pouvoir n’a souvent cure des liens familiaux, personnels, etc.
A la tête de leurs partis respectifs : le Bloc Africain de Guinée (Diawadou) et le Mouvement Socialiste Africain (Barry III), les deux hommes se combattirent vigoureusement donc. Cela jusqu’en 1957. Date à laquelle ils se réconcilièrent et s’unirent au sein du Parti du Regroupement Africain (PRA). Leur commun rival était le PDG-RDA, dirigé par Sékou Touré et Saifoulaye Diallo
Cellou Dalein et Bah Oury devraient étudier, réfléchir et tirer les leçons de cet épisode crucial de l’histoire politique au Fuuta-Jalon et en Guinée. Pour les appuyer des sources authentiques et des documents idoines sont accessibles sur mes sites webFuuta et webGuinée.

Tierno S. Bah

Gambia, Och-Ziff, Guinea, Niger, Chad, RDC

Former president Yahya Jammeh departs Banjul, Jan. 21
Former president Yahya Jammeh departs Banjul, Jan. 21

President Alpha Condé stepped  in the Gambian post-electoral crisis at the last minute. He and Mauritanian president “convinced” former president Yahya Jammeh to yield to President Adama Barrow  and head into exile.
In Conakry, people quickly credited President Condé, deeming it a foreign policy victory. Unfortunately, they have little to say in support of their allegation.  Actually, Yahya was caught between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, he had long lost credibility and now the vote of the majority of citizens. On the other, and if it came to that, ECOWAS military forces were determined to remove Mr. Jammeh from the presidential palace.

It appears now that all Jammeh wanted was to keep his stolen money and ill-gotten luxury goods. He has amassed immense personal wealth at the expense of the Gambian people.

Tactically though, ECOWAS agreed to last minute negotiations that involved General Idriss Déby Itno, president of Chad since 1990, who offered a freight plane to transport Yahya cherished possessions to Malabo.
Once that deal was sealed, Jammeh, escorted by Alpha Condé, flew out of Banjul into exile in Equatorial Guinea.

Mindful of Jammeh’s post-electoral illegitimacy and greedy bargaining, African presidents simply acknowledged his departure. They did not celebrate the event, nor did they use it as a domestic politics scoring game. Only Alpha Condé and his cronies  resorted to such gimmicks and nonsense.

A case in point, President has appointed Tibou Kamara —Yahya Jammeh brother-in-law— as one of his many counselors, an empty title due to the lack of functions. Yesterday, political enemies, the two men are now allies. The pair has come to realize that the same personal and sterile ambition drives them. Birds of the same feathers flock together.

Anyhow, there are lessons to be learned from African dictators’ fall from grace. In 2014, it was the popular insurrection against Blaise Compaoré in Burkina Faso. And now, after a stunning electoral defeat, Yahya Jammeh reneged and tried to hang on to power. ECOWAS, the AU and the UN would have none of it.

Mr. Condé has been dogged lately by revelations about his own suspicious wheeling and dealing in the Simandou  corruption scandal.

A federal court in Brooklyn has charged Michael Cohen and Vanja Baros, executives of Hedge Fund giant Och-Ziff, for violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. In 2010 Och-Ziff wired millions of dollars to the Swiss bank account of a French lobbyist, and former adviser to President Condé.
That payment has been linked to other Och-Ziff corruption allegations in Niger, Chad  and the DRC. Will Alpha Condé face a political fallout and judicial implications for his financial schemes?

Time will tell.

Meanwhile, just like Blaise and Yahya before hime, Alpha should remember this: “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” (Abraham Lincoln)

Tierno S. Bah


Hedge Fund Execs Charged in Multi-Million Dollar Bribery Scheme

U.S. securities regulators on Thursday accused two former executives at hedge fund Och-Ziff Capital Management of masterminding a far-reaching scheme to pay tens of millions of dollars in bribes to African officials.

In a lawsuit filed in federal court in Brooklyn, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission accused Michael Cohen, who headed Och-Ziff’s European office, and Vanja Baros, a former analyst, of violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

The lawsuit came after Och-Ziff agreed in September to pay $412 million to resolve U.S. investigations relating to the hedge fund’s role in bribing officials in several African countries.

That settlement led to a subsidiary of Och-Ziff pleading guilty to participating in a scheme to bribe officials in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in what prosecutors said marked the first U.S. foreign bribery case against a hedge fund.

In its lawsuit, the SEC said Cohen, 45, and Baros, 44, from 2007 to 2012 caused bribes to be paid to officials in Libya, Chad, Niger, Guinea, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo through agents, intermediaries, and business partners.

Those bribes were paid to secure a $300 million investment from the Libyan Investment Authority sovereign wealth fund; an investment in a Libyan real estate development project; and to secure mining deals, the SEC said.

Ronald White, a lawyer Cohen, said in a statement he “has done nothing wrong and is confident that when all the evidence is presented, it will be shown that the SEC’s civil charges are baseless.”

A lawyer for Baros did not immediately respond to requests for comment. An Och-Ziff spokesman declined to comment.

In settling in September, Och-Ziff entered a deferred prosecution agreement, in which charges related to conduct in several countries would be dropped after three years if it followed the deal’s terms.

Och-Ziff CEO Daniel Och meanwhile agreed with the SEC to pay $2.17 million, and the commission also settled with the company’s chief financial officer.

To date, only one individual has been criminally charged in connection with the probe, Samuel Mebiame, a son of the late former Gabon Prime Minister Leon Mebiame who prosecutors say acted as a “fixer” for a joint-venture involving Och-Ziff.

In December, Mebiame pleaded guilty to conspiring to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, admitting he schemed to provide “improper benefits” to officials in African countries such as Guinea in exchange for obtaining business opportunities.

Reuters

Are Fulɓe Disappearing? And Is Adlam Their Savior?

The answer to the questions in this blog’s title is flatly and emphatically No! First, Fulɓe are not about to disappear, because they are one Africa’s most distributed and populous nations. Second and consequently, the “new” Adlam alphabet cannot be their rescuer. Yet, entitled “The Alphabet That Will Save a People From Disappearing,” a paper published in The Atlantic Magazine presents Adlam as the would-be-savior of the Fulbe/Halpular Civilization. I could not disagree more and object stronger.

Kaveh Waddell, The Atlantic Magazine
Kaveh Waddell, The Atlantic Magazine

But I congratulate the Barry brothers for getting a write-up on Adlam in The Atlantic, a major US publication. Unfortunately, the author of the article, Kaveh Waddell, focuses on the digital technology aspects of Adlam (Unicode, Social media, computers, operating systems, mobile devices, etc.) And he does so at the expense of the history and culture of the Fulɓe (See also Fulɓe and Africa). Such a glaring omission defeats the very —and curious—idea of Adlam coming to save Fulɓe/Halpular populations from disappearing!

Before outlining some of the many points of contention, and for the sake of clarity, I should sum up my experience, which spans +40 years of teaching, research, and publishing on the Fulɓe and their  language. I majored in linguistics and African languages, and graduated from the Polytechnic Institute G. A. Nasser of Conakry, Social Sciences Department, Class of 1972 (Kwame Nkrumah). I then taught linguistics and Pular there for 10 years (1972-1982). And I concurrently chaired (from 1973 to 1978) the Pular Commission at Guinea’s Académie des Langues nationales. With my deputy —and esteemed elder—, the late Elhadj Mamadou Gangue, I did field research in the Fuuta-Jalon, inventorying dialects, meeting literati and artists, collecting data.… In 1978, President Sékou Touré sent an original visitor, Adam Bâ, to the Academy. A Pullo from Benin, Mr. Bâ wanted to offer his new Pular alphabet. In addition to the letters, he also had invented a new vocabulary for greetings, leave-takings, titles, ranking, trade, etc. In a nutshell, he was—seriously—asking us to learn a new version of our mother tongue! After listening to his pitch and debating the worthiness of his proposal, we filed back an inadmissibility (fin de non-recevoir) report to the authority.
In 1982 I won a competitive Fulbright-Hayes fellowship and came to the University of Texas at Austin as a Visiting Scholar. My selection rested mainly on my sociolinguistics essay in which I laid out a blueprint for the study of esthetic discourse and verbal art performance in Fuuta-Jalon. I focused on three communities of speech-makers: the Nyamakala (popular troubadours), the caste of Awluɓe (or griots, i.e. court historians and royal counselors) and the Cernooɓe (Muslim scholars, masters of the ajami literature).

That said, here are some of my disagreements and objections from the article.

Students learn to read and write Adlam in a classroom in Sierra Leone (Courtesy of Ibrahima and Abdoulaye Barry)
Students learn to read and write Adlam in a classroom in Sierra Leone (Courtesy of Ibrahima and Abdoulaye Barry)
  1. The title of the paper vastly misrepresents the situation of the Fulbe/Halpular peoples. Indeed, those populations —who number in tens of millions— are in no danger of vanishing at all. Therefore, there is no ground for the journalist to claim that Adlam alphabet will rescue the Fulɓe from a hypothetical oblivion. After all, they are one of Africa’s most ancient and dynamic people. Again, to the best of my knowledge the Fulɓe/Halpular do not face an existential threat or the probability of extinction!
  2. The article refers to the Arabic alphabet 11 times. But it doesn’t say anything about the Pular/Fulfulde Ajamiyya traditional alphabet. Yet, the founders of that writing system achieved significant successes in spreading literacy and educating the faithful, from Mauritania and Fuuta-Tooro, on the Atlantic Coast, to Cameroon, in Central Africa, with Fuuta-Bundu, Fuuta-Jalon, Maasina, Sokoto, etc. in between. They developed an important literary corpus and left an impressive intellectual legacy. Some of the brilliant ajamiyya authors include Tierno Muhammadu Samba Mombeya (Fuuta-Jalon), Usmaan ɓii Fooduye (aka Uthman dan Fodio) founder of the Sokoto Empire, Sheyku Ahmadu Bari, founder of the Diina of Maasina, Amadou Hampâté Bâ, etc.

For a partial anthology see  La Femme. La Vache. La Foi. Ecrivains et Poètes du Fuuta-Jalon

3. Ajamyiyya had the backing of the ruling aristocracy in theocentric Fuuta-Jalon (1725-1897). Moreover, it conveys the dogmas, teachings and writings of Classical Arabic in a deeply religious society. That’s why individuals were motivated to write in their language. They acknowledged what Tierno Samba Mombeya famously summarized in the Hunorde (Introduction) of his landmark poem “Oogirde Malal” (circa 1785):

Sabu neddo ko haala mu'un newotoo Nde o fahminiree ko wi'aa to yial.

Miɗo jantora himmude haala pular I compose in the Pular language
Ka no newnane fahmu nanir jaɓugol. To let you understand and accept the Truth.
Sabu neɗɗo ko haala mu’un newotoo Because  the mother tongue helps one best
Nde o fahminiree ko wi’aa to ƴial. As they try to understand what is said in the Essence.

How has History rewarded Tierno Samba and the pantheon of ajamiyya scholars? Alfâ Ibrâhîm Sow has best captured their invaluable contribution. He wrote:

« If, one hundred-fifty years following its composition, the Lode of Eternal Bliss (Oogirde Malal) continues to move readers of our country, it’s chiefly because of the literacy vocation it bestows on Pular-Fulfulde, because of its balanced, sure and elegant versification, its healthy, erudite and subtle language, and the national will of cultural assertion that it embodies as well as the desire for linguistic autonomy and dignity that it expresses. »

4. “Why do Fulani people not have their own writing system?” M. Barry wondered. Actually, they do have it with Ajamiyya. By applying their curiosity and creativity they first reverse-engineered the Arabic alphabet by filling the gaps found the original Arabic graphic system. Then they took care of giving the letters descriptive and easy-to-remember Pular names. That didactic and mnemonic strategy facilitated the schooling of children.

5. Again, it is amazing that age 14 and 10 respectively, in 1990, Ibrahima and Abdoulaye Barry began to devise an alphabet. But it was a bit late for many reasons. I’ll mention only two:
Primo. Back in 1966  UNESCO organized a conference of Experts (linguists, teachers, researchers) for Africa’s major languages in Bamako (Mali). Pular/Fulfulde ranks in the top ten group of African idioms. The proceedings from the deliberations yielded, among similar results for other languages, the Standard Alphabet of Pular/Fulfulde. Ever since, that system has gained currency and is used the world around. It covers all aspects of the language’s phonology, including the following consonants, —which are typical and frequent, but not exclusive to Pular/Fulfulde:

  • ɓ,  example ɓiɓɓe (children), ɓiɗɗo (child)
  • ɗ, example ɗiɗo (two, for people), ɗiɗi (two for animals or objects)
  • ƴ, example ƴiiƴan (blood)
  • ŋ, example ŋeeŋeeru (violin)

The respective decimal Unicode equivalents for the above letters are:

  • ɓ
  • ɗ
  • ƴ
  • ŋ

All modern text editors and browsers are programmed to automatically convert those four codes into the aforementioned Pular/Fulfulde letters.

As a Drupal site builder and content architect, it happened that I filed last night an issue ticket on the Platform’s main website. In it I requested  that —just like in Drupal v. 7— Fulah (Pular/Fulfulde) be reinstated among the  options on the Language Regionalization menu. So far the latest version of Drupal (v. 8) does not include it.

Secundo. Launched as an experiment in 1969, the Internet was 21 years old when Adlam got started in 1990. Ever since, the Digital Revolution has moved to integrate Unicode, which today provides covers all the world’s languages.

6. In 1977, as linguistics faculty at the Social sciences department of the Polytechnic Institute of Conakry, I attended the event. The speaker was none but the late Souleymane Kanté, the inventor of N’Ko. But today —forty-years later— and despite all efforts, the Nko  is still struggling. It is far from delivering its initial promises of  renaissance of the Mande culture area.
President Alpha Condé’s electoral campaign promises to support the N’Ko have been apparently forgotten. And President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita of Mali doesn’t seem to even pay attention to the N’Ko. Is it because he prides himself of being a French literature expert?

Conclusion?

No! There is no end to any debate on language, literature, culture. An alphabet is not a gauge of cultural and linguistic development. Let’s not forget that both literacy (letters) and numeracy (numbers) are required for scientific research, administration, shopping, etc. Consequently,  the emphasis on creating new alphabets is, in my view, outmoded. It is sometimes more economical to just borrow from either near or far. Western Europe did just that with the Arabic numbering system. And in this 21st century, Unicode meets all —or most— written communication needs. Luckily, Pular/Fulfulde has been endowed with a Standard Alphabet since 1966. Let’s use it and let’s not try to reinvent the wheel.

Tierno S. Bah