Experts say Mali’s struggle against Islamist extremists is putting its World Heritage Sites at risk. For the first time in modern history, officials say the annual restoration of the mud mosque in central Mali’s Jenne city will be canceled due to security concerns. Concerns cast doubt on the government’s claim that it is winning the fight against terrorism.
The Great Mosque of Jena is the largest mud-brick building in the world and was a main attraction in Mali’s formerly thriving tourism industry.
Every year the mosque is held in what is known as “Crepisage”. This year, the event is on the verge of cancellation for the first time, as Mali’s decades-long conflict slowly moves south to the center of the country.
A Jayne resident who wanted to remain anonymous, speaking via a messaging app in Jayne, said in recent weeks he had seen ambulances and military helicopters flying over the city, indicating unrest in neighboring villages. The Malian army said on its Twitter account this month that four soldiers were killed in a roadside bomb attack near the city.
He said that due to insecurity, the residents of the village have decided not to hold crepeses this year, an event they have participated in since childhood.
Jeanne’s deputy mayor, Abdramane Dembele, said the crepesse had not yet been officially canceled, but had been delayed because of insecurity. If rescheduled, it will need to be held before the rainy season begins in June. One of the purposes of crpes is to protect the building from rain.
Abdoulaye Deyoko is an engineer and city planner and founder of the Bamako School of Engineering, Architecture, and Urbanism and a tireless advocate for Mali’s earthen architecture.
Deyoko explained that the mosque is made of “banko”, a mixture of small pieces of clay and rice bran.
When it rains, he said, these little pieces have a tendency to break. Traditionally, villagers have a celebration, a type of ritual that allows them to not only repair the mosque but to celebrate.
Deyoko said that despite this, he thinks the Jeene Mosque can last a year or two without crepes, although he added that the event is important for the city’s social life, not just technical maintenance.
Jeanne Mosque and the surrounding mud-brick town are on the UNESCO World Heritage in Danger list.
Ali Daou, UNESCO’s cultural program director in Mali, said that Jané, like Mali’s four World Heritage Sites, is under threat because of the ongoing hostilities. It is not only the threat of direct conflict, he said, but the difficulty of conducting annual crpes that puts the site at risk.
In recent months, Mali’s military government has launched a highly publicized offensive against Islamists. However, many locals say that these military operations target civilians rather than extremists.
The army claimed to have killed 200 militants in Mora village in March, while residents said most of those killed were innocent civilians.