The sheriff of Nioro, this spiritual leader who does not lack political influence

Mouhamedou Ould Cheikh Hamahoullah, known as Bouyé, is one of the most listened to men in Mali. He derives his influence from the proclaimed descendants of the prophet who earned him the title of sheriff. He is the head of a branch of West African Sufism founded by his father in the early twentiethe century, Hamallism, and which has several million followers. His fortune is considered colossal and his economic power considerable. To exert his influence, he never leaves his hometown of Nioro-du-Sahel. No need: we come to see it, from everywhere, constantly. Breeders, merchants or presidents, the sheriff of Nioro pays the same attention to all those who parade in front of him, seated with his back bent on his prayer rug. Then he takes the floor, provides advice, provides support, settles disputes. As often, the interview goes on late. This evening, his doctor, the director of the largest hospital in Mali, advised him to spare himself, to go to bed at 10 p.m. But he goes to bed “rarely before one o’clock in the morning” so much is asked for his opinion, says a relative. Sometimes, it is African diplomats who come, but no emissary from a Western country for ten years, he assures. Most often, Bouyé receives populations from his large area of ​​influence, Malian and Mauritanian, as is common in West Africa for a traditional chief.

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A popular man …

This evening, he is seated among his faithful in the courtyard of his zawiya (Sufi religious center), in the shade of an imposing tree at the foot of which are spread the prayer rugs. The night slowly descends, the air is warm but no one moves, attentive to every word of a man with a charism as visible as his religious scope. “I am undoubtedly the most popular man in Mali, it is true, but it is not pleasant to speak about oneself”, he says in the preamble of an interview with foreign journalists, the first for more. ten years. He could boast of having financed several presidential campaigns in Mali and neighboring Mauritania. He could boast of forming Malian governments from his zawiya, as researcher Aboubacar Haidara says.

… who grew up in a religious universe

But the 82-year-old man, shaved head and white beard collar, still dressed in the traditional daraa with a black scarf casually wrapped around his neck, does nothing. He who grew up in the countryside and was educated in the Koranic system even denies playing politics: “As long as I am not asked, I do not intervene. I supported, it is true, many politicians, but they are the ones who came to ask me. But “imams and religious leaders have a role to play in getting the country on the right track.” He is one of those figures to which Mali, unable to find the solution to a thousand evils, likes to refer. But he is the only one, as his aura is important, to move all the decision-makers to more than 500 kilometers from the capital.

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A man solicited by the military and politicians …

The latest are the soldiers who overthrew President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta on August 18. “These are my sons,” he said, his hands caught in his rosary. “There is no reason not to trust them. He pleads for them to remain in power as the civilians, he said, have disappointed him. However, he has long supported the deposed president. The latter was the first politician that the sheriff openly supported during a presidential election in 2013. He financed his campaign (to the tune of 300 million CFA francs, plus 400 million for his party, according to his entourage, that is to say million euros), has activated the immense network of its followers many of whom are in politics and business. Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta was elected with 77% of the votes. In fact, “he was incapable and incompetent,” laments the sheriff.

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… but criticized on economic issues

In Bamako, his detractors accuse the sheriff of having taken over the local economy and of benefiting from customs advantages. Gasoline, food… rumors are rife, especially since the stickers with his image are on all freight trucks in the region. It has a “state’s ability to infiltrate” for pecuniary ends, says anthropologist Hamidou Magassa. The last Minister of Finance, Abdoulaye Daffé, was known to be very close to Nioro. The sheriff refuses to benefit from complacency. He admits having set up an import-export business thanks to an authorization requested from former President Amadou Toumani Touré. This trade “benefits the populations” and does not aim to enrich it, he assures us. A proximity with the population which is claimed and which is illustrated by the words of those around him. “The contribution of the sherif for the stability of the region is inestimable”, indicates this one, which adds that, “recently, the jihadists came to preach in a village not far from Nioro. The first authority that the inhabitants went to see to report the event was the sheriff ”. A more than significant gesture in the Sahelian context. Notable fact which shows that the sherif Haïdara, beyond the proximity with the populations, is not indifferent to the political thing. Since September 28, he has been in Bamako accompanied by a large delegation of people, including members of the family of Si Ahmed Tijani, the founder of the Tijania Sufi brotherhood. As a transitional prime minister has just been appointed, it would be almost naive to think this trip is courtesy or pleasure.

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