“Shopkeepers and imams refused to obey the Islamists”
When Ramadan started, the Islamists tried to establish strict rules. They tried, for example, to forbid restaurant owners from preparing meals during the day so that those who were fasting would not have to see food. But after a few days, the merchants, who already have a hard time making ends meet, refused. Some were saying, “Give us something to live on and we’ll stop doing business”. A butcher in my neighbourhood even came to blows with an Islamist. One afternoon, while he was grilling meat, an Islamist armed with a Kalashnikov arrived and started throwing his products on the floor. The butcher objected and they started fighting. They ended up at the Islamic police office where the butcher was eventually acquitted!A kilo of meat in Gao costs 2,000 CFA francs (around 3 Euros).In a similar case, at prayer time, the Islamists wanted everyone to recite long suras [chapters] from the holy Koran at the mosque. But the imams got together and decided to do it the normal way [they usually choose to recite short verses so that everyone, including the sick and elderly, can come and pray]. Seeing that they refused to give in, the Islamists let them do it their way.
Ever since Timbuktu’s mausoleums were destroyed - which really shocked everyone here - the people have decided to resist against the Islamists’ excesses. So the Islamists, on their side, have made some concessions.
“They let us pray and fast like we do every year”
Of course there is a lack of certain products at the market, like some fruit and vegetables which come predominantly from the south [Editor’s note: Traders from the south of Mali fear the instability of the Sahel desert and are reluctant to cross the desert to get to the north]. But it’s possible to find products from Algeria, like meat, sugar, or milk, whose prices have not increased. The Islamists have also asked the bakers in Gao to lower the price of bread from 125 to 100 CFA francs [from about 18 to 15 euro cents], arguing that flour is less expensive than before [the Islamists, who now control the circulation of merchandise in the region, fix their own trade taxes and were therefore able to lower the price of flour].In Gao, a kilo of sugar has gone from 700 to 550 CFA francs.It is obviously forbidden to eat in the street, but even so, my friends who are not observing Ramadan have not reported any harassment from the Islamists. They have let those of us who observe Ramadan pray and fast in the same manner we do every year. In fact, ever since the Islamists arrived here, they have been trying to gain our trust.Vegetables are scarce and expensive.