The 2013 edition of the Festival in the Desert has been converted into a Caravan of Artists for Peace and National Unity, to support peace and unity, and show solidarity with the people of Mali in this period of distress and pain, the organisers said.
The move has been forced by the current events in Mali, where three Islamist rebel groups, Ansar-Eddine, MNLA and Al-Qaeda-allied Mujao have seized the country’s northern territory, fighting each other over its control, and in the process causing great suffering to the people.
Therefore, it has been announced that the festival will no longer take place at its northern base of Timbuktu, where the Islamists – hostile to the event and branding it ‘un-Islamic’ – have sacked the festival’s site and headquarters, looting everything from electrical equipment to generators and crushing everything from entrance gates, water systems to ancient mausoleums, monuments and mosques.
Travel and tourism analysts say the north’s violent invasion and destruction of touristic monuments by Islamists has delivered a huge blow to the country’s tourism industry.
Consequently, the festival’s itinerary has changed, meaning the first caravan will depart from Mali’s capital city Bamako on 7 February 2013 heading to the town of Kobeni in Mauritania, 15km from the Malian border on the international road connecting Mauritania’s capital city Nouakchott to Bamako through Nioro du Sahel.
“There the artists will meet for the first concerts of peace from 8 to 9 February in partnership with the Al Hawa Cultural Association of Mauritania,” Festival in the Desert executive director Manny Ansar said.
The festival’s friends, the Festival on the Niger in Segou and the Festival of Mali in Bamako will each devote a special night to the Caravan of the Festival in the Desert in their next editions on 14 February in Segou, and on 16 February in Bamako, respectively, Ansar added.
At the same time, a second Caravan for Artists for Peace and Unity will leave from Tamanrasset in Algeria and head to Niamey, Niger’s capital city, before continuing on to Burkina Faso.
The two caravans will then meet in Oursi, in Burkina Faso, some 350 km northeast of Ouagadougou, capital of the Burkina.
The festival will be held on 20-22 February. Ansar said the Oursi site was chosen for its physical (a set of sand and dunes) and cultural (Songhai, Tuareg and Fulani communities) with similarities with Timbuktu.
He said the festival will not throw in the towel. “We don’t want to allow ourselves to become resigned because safeguarding the values of the festival (peace and tolerance) now more than as ever has become an absolute emergency.
“This is the message we want to pass among ourselves and then to the rest of the world who share the same values with us.”
• After the passage in Burkina Faso, the Caravan will return to Mali to finish its journey at the Festival International of Selingue set to be held on 1-3 March, the organisers said.