[Mansa-l] Still herding cats

David Conrad basitigi at sbcglobal.net
Wed Oct 15 13:40:41 CDT 2008


There are a couple of sentences in the Brahima Camara vice- 
presidential candidacy statement written by Jan Jansen that convey  
references to an international conference venue that I need to  
address before further misunderstanding is established in our  
organization, especially with Malian colleagues.

1. I am not aware of any discussion among members about a specific  
date for the next International Conference on Mande Studies. 2011  
seems reasonable/possible, but when did that come up?

2. Having had our last conference in Europe, the next one will be  
held in West Africa if we continue to follow the policy I've pursued  
so far. HOWEVER, this is the first mention I've heard of Mali as a  
venue for our next conference in West Africa.

The passage I refer to is as follows:
I will definitely benefit from [Brahima's] expertise in the  
preparations of the 2011 MANSA international conference, which I  
propose to organize in the West African country with which I am most  
familiar: Mali. (Ségou was suggested to me by several members as an  
excellent location – let’s explore this option!)

I'm very sorry to say that once again the cats have escaped from the  
barn. I should not have issued this statement before asking Jan to  
change it.
I want first to apologize to all Malians who have seen this  
statement, because according to my information from the general MANSA  
membership, it seems highly unlikely that we will be holding our next  
international conference in Mali for the following reasons.
	(a) So far, I've advocated, and the members have agreed, that  as a  
general principle, we should include other parts of the post-colonial  
Mande world as much as possible in our West African meetings.
	(b) Our 1993 conference was held in Bamako. Since then, we've been  
in Serekunda (Gambia) and Conakry/Kankan, and the general plan has  
always been to find a venue in a different country of the post- 
colonial Mande region.
	(c) Way back, about the time I began organizing the Guinea  
conference, I was contacted by sponsored members in Burkina Faso,  
asking for a conference to be held there. Since then with my  
encouragement, the thinking and discussion on that has centered on  
Bobo Dioulasso as a desirable prospect.
	(d) During the Lisbon conference, with our very felicitous  
orientation toward Portuguese influences in Mande history, another  
very attractive suggestion was made by Cornelia Geising and Lucy  
Doran,  and supported by our Portuguese colleagues, that Bissau would  
also be an excellent choice for our next international conference.
These kinds of decisions are not made unilaterally by anybody and  
then announced to the general membership. The question is discussed  
at successive MANSA meetings where the desires of far-flung West  
African colleagues are taken into account, attending members express  
their opinions and desires, and the final decision is arrived at  
through votes by members present at the meeting.

Now folks, this little cat-herding session provides an excellent  
example of a couple of the most important responsibilities of the  
MANSA presidency:
	Major decisions are not made unilaterally. Earlier suggestions,  
including requests by sponsored colleagues, and further discussion by  
the general membership must be taken into account.

I don't want to cause embarrassment or hurt anybody's feelings, but I  
have to think in terms of what is best for this organization. I do  
not want my departure from the presidency to be the occasion of  
disunity (or more disunity than has already developed). Above all, it  
must not be the source of damaged relations with our Malian colleagues.

MANSA cannot continue to be the organization that you all seem so  
fond of, if divisive activities like exclusive election campaigns and  
impetuous ill-considered list-serv statements lead to  
misunderstanding and disunity. This appears to be part of a pattern  
that Kassim and I have been faced with before, e.g., during our most  
hectic months leading up to the Lisbon conference, in a typically  
generous but misguided gesture without prior consultation, Jan  
"promised" two Malian friends that they would be able to attend the  
Lisbon conference. He did so without taking into account the  
guidelines set up for competition among applicants for funding, then  
contacted Kassim to ask if MANSA would pay part of their expenses,  
which we of course could not do.

Again, I apologize for not having spotted the little stink-bomb about  
a Malian conference venue in the above statement before releasing it.  
I feel especially bad about that because at one point I promised Jan  
that I would edit the statement for him. But before I got around to  
it, he sent a new version saying somebody else had made changes, and  
in the end I failed to notice the problem. I take responsibility for  
that, apologize to Jan, and want to tender my deep apologies to our  
beloved Malian colleagues.

I have no doubt that Mali will again host one of our international  
conferences, and I very much hope it will be in my lifetime. But I'm  
sure all Malians are sensitive to the fact that our true dunya  
manden, the one of Sunjata and Mansa Musa, has nothing to do with  
colonial boundaries and that all our badenw deserve to "rest in the  
shade of their children's hair." So the the highest likelihood is  
that the next international conference will be in either Bobo  
Dioulasso or Bissau. The ultimate decision on that will depend on  
available infrastructure in those places and the decision of the  
general membership.* (At the bottom of this memo is a paragraph  
providing background to earlier international conference organization.)

I want to conclude this by saying that I am absolutely certain that  
Jan Jansen has never had the slightest intention of causing disunity  
or stirring up the placid waters of MANSA. Far from it, he is one of  
our most ambitious, active and caring members, and I'm sure that his  
activities and statements have derived solely from a passionate  
desire to take a leading role in our organization. From early on when  
Jan first joined us, I have regularly expressed  my great  
appreciation to him both publicly and in private for the many  
contributions he has made to the organization, and I very much hope  
we will continue to benefit by his undiminished energy and  
enthusiasm. We need Jan to keep it up, because his activities have  
generated some outstanding results for us, from publications to the  
two international conferences we've held in Leiden. Jan brings a  
special sort of dynamic to the organization that we never want to  
lose. I am sure we are all grateful to him, and I personally believe  
that the time will come when he will be able to usefully serve at the  
level of leadership he covets so much.

Meanwhile, I feel that circumstances have removed any practical  
reason for me to pretend to take a neutral stance (not that I really  
have, in some internal e-mail correspondence). Many times over the  
past two years, I've been asked how I would like the transition to be  
handled, and I've never given a very clear reply (I plead mental  
turpitude), but now I think I need to be clear once and for all:

At this time I feel the best prospect for a transition that will keep  
MANSA on track and help us move on without further problems will be  
for our Vice-President, who has seven years' experience in that  
position, to simply stand up, move over one place, and sit down in  
the president's seat.

As Kassim mentioned in his statement, our personal relationship dates  
to 1975 when he was a teenager in his home village of Kolokani, and  
we have a special bond. However, my faith in him is based not on our  
early acquaintance, but on the evidence of his long service as our  

In the past few years I have steadily increased my dependence on  
Kassim's broad shoulders, charismatic presence, and deep knowledge of  
his own culture, and he has responded brilliantly (including serving  
as my bodyguard in Conakry when we visited my back-street money- 
changer for bags of Guinean francs).

Moreover, Kassim and I both have gradually come to increasingly rely  
on the good counsel and hard work of Barbara Hoffman (among many  
other officers and present & past board members who have lately been  
especially active). By now you have seen Barbara's impressive  
statement and will have a much better knowledge of one who has  
contributed a great deal from her preferred quiet place in the  
background.  I would feel very comfortable (and would get more sleep  
at night) with the team of Kassim and Barbara carrying on my work.  
That they would continue to have whatever support I might be able to  
contribute goes without saying (as will anyone elected into our  
leadership as long as I'm around).

n'ko: I've said this before, but please keep in mind that we're  
moving on to an administrative structure requiring  two-year terms,  
and we can look forward to a succession of leaders from the very  
impressively gifted reservoir of MANSAdenw. I'm have no doubt that  
quite a number of people reading this will eventually serve in the  
position I'm vacating.

With warm regards to all, David

* Background to organization of international conferences on Mande  

When it comes to important decisions like choosing a venue for an  
international conference, it is done over an extended period of time  
with the participation of the general membership.
The first time we undertook this, Kathy Green made a special trip to  
Bamako and laid the groundwork.

In the second instance, in 1995 I made a special trip to Gambia on my  
way home from Guinea to lay the groundwork for the 1997 conference.

In 1992 I was first approached by Guinean officials desiring a  
conference in Conakry, but we were already organizing for Bamako. In  
2000 when Mohamed N'daou and I were guests of the Guinean govt. at  
the Almami Samori centennial, we realized Guinea was ready, but it  
took five more years including annual visits by me to get that done.

In January 2004 on the way to Benin, Barbmuso and I made a side trip  
to Grand Bassam in Côte d'Ivoire and toured beach-front hotels  
because I've always thought that would be a wonderful venue (if you  
liked the Hotel Senegambia in Serrekunda), you'd love this). I think  
I mentioned Grand Bassam at the next MANSA meeting but have not  
revisited the subject, because we have had interest expressed from  

Now we have Bobo Dioulasso and Bissau to consider, and we need to  
direct our attention to those places.

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