31 January 2013
Last updated at 02:29
Malians have held an ambivalent attitude towards the French since independence from France in 1960. But since the beginning of France’s intervention to support the army in capturing the north of Mali from Islamist militants, French and Malian flags have blossomed in almost every street corner, like these on shop front in Segou.
The central towns of Segou, Djenne and Mopti came close to being taken over when the rebels launched their southern offensive. The BBC’s Laeila Adjovi says although they escaped fighting and despite the swift progress of the French and Malian armies, many residents fear the militants may organise a counter attack.
There have been questions about human right violations by the Malian army, but the French-backed operations seem to have found unanimous support amongst the population, including from those on the ferry travelling up the River Niger from Segou to Djenne.
In the ancient town of Djenne, the great mosque, built between 1906 and 1907, was erected on the site of a much older mosque. It is the biggest building made of dried mud brick in the world, and is typical of traditional Sahelian architecture.
The whole of Djenne has been a Unesco world heritage site for more than 20 years. When the Islamists pushed south and reached Konna and Diabaly earlier this month, both within a 200km (125-mile) radius, panic spread, one resident said.
Just like its sister city, Timbuktu, Djenne has long been a centre of knowledge. Several libraries like this one house antique manuscripts.
Some manuscripts date as far back as the 13th Century. When the Islamists militants came down to Konna, many feared that they would destroy some of this great heritage.
According to the imam of the great mosque, El Hadj Almamy Korobara, Djenne is as prestigious a centre of Islam and knowledge as Timbuktu. “If the Islamists had come here, they would have destroyed everything,” he said.
About 2,000 of such manuscripts - about science, religion, astronomy and many other fields of knowledge - were destroyed in Timbuktu this week, as the Islamists fled the city as French and Malian forces approached.
Traore Khadija Djennepo runs a local development non-governmental organisation that helps the thousands of people who fled to Djenne. She says they lack most things, especially food, and that although they have been accommodated by local families, their situation is very worrying.
Many French flags have also been put up in the main market of the city of Mopti. Abdoulaye Cisse, a market tailor pictured on the right, expressed relief about the military operation: “Now that Timbuktu has been retaken, it is all going to be all right. We can finally sleep on both ears.”
Mopti sits on the confluence of the River Bani and River Niger, which then flows north to Timbuktu. River transportation between Mopti and Timbuktu provides a livelihood for many people. A few weeks ago, Mopti’s governor briefly forbad it, fearing the Islamists would use the Niger River to infiltrate the city. River transport was only allowed again recently.
Oumar Cisse, who fled Timbuktu nine months ago as Islamists took it over, has lived in Mopti in very poor conditions ever since. But now with the news of Timbuktu being rid of Islamists militants, he hopes he can go home and get his life back.
“Business is bad, especially since 11 January,” says Walli Ba, street vendor in Mopti. His baby son will be a year old on 13 February; by then he hopes the country will have found peace and unity.
For a short moment, during this week’s match between Mali and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the focus was not on war, but on football. The teams drew – but the point earned by Mali allowed them to qualify to the quarter finals of the Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa. (By the BBC's Laeila Adjovi)