Festival au Desert Executive Director Manny Ansar greets Amadou Toumani Toure, the President of the Republic of Mali at the Festival site in Timbuktu. His Excellency, President Toure was there as a sponsor of the major camel races in honor of the 50th Anniversary of Malian Independence that took place shortly after this photo was taken .
Before the races His excellency was welcomed by the Mayor of Timbuktu and the Governor of the Region of Timbuktu. The program continued with His Excellency making a short speach about the important of the Festival au Desert to the region. He thanked the many westerners who came to the event. He also reinforced his pledge to spur development in the region and to increase security measures. He had announced on New Year's Eve that his government was proposing the subdivision of Mali's existing 8 regions (states) into 19 regions. This in an effort to provide more democratic representation and a stronger voice for the north.
After the speeches His Excellency and the gathered throng gathered got down to the real business of the afternoon. Everyone intently watched the very exciting races that had huges purses to the winners! Hundreds of thousands of FCFA to the winners.
The spectators all sat on a dune which served as their bleacher seats. As the sun set the camels at full gallop sped down the racecourse which was a straightaway of a measured distance marked by poles. The straightaway ended just in front of the Presidents reviewing stand. A very exciting event attended by thousands, many of whom were nomads arrived from deep in the desert with their friends and family to cheer on the riders .