Communications are not always easy in Timbuktu but they do exist.
There used several "telecentres" in Timbuktu, which consisted of a small booth along the street, in someone’s shop or house containing a telephone connected to a unit counter. Cost at telecentres varies but it is typically 150 to 200 f cfa per unit. The units vary according to where you are calling, being longer for calls inside Mali and progressively shorter for the more expensive long distance calls. These “pay phones” have largely gone out of use due to the ubiquitousness of the cell phone. The installations which look like western phone booths of SOTELMA do not actually work.
Cell phone service is now widely available in Mali and other West African countries. It is actually quite cheap now to buy the SIM card for a portable phone. If you have a phone that takes this kind of card you could bring it along and buy an abonnement for Malitel or Orange (formerly Ikatel), the two companies that operate in Mali. Alternatively you could purchase a cell phone here; simple models are relatively inexpensive from 15,000 to 25,000 f CFA, opportunities to buy used abound and you could probably resell it on your departure. This, of course, is most useful for people planing to stay in Mali for a while or doing onward travel in west Africa where you could easily get the SIM card for the next country. There are also possibilities of international SIM cards or international roaming plans. You can get these from the phone company in your country of origin. It is more expensive, but may be worth it for those who really need to keep in touch.
A Note on Phone Numbers: In November 2008 Mali changed from a seven digit to an eight digit phone system. The change is both simple and complicated.
SOTELMA land-lines (which all start with 2) now have a 0 after the initial 2 in Bamako and a 1 after that 2 for the rest of Mali. Here is the break down.
in Bamako prefixes used to start with 220,221,222,223,224,228 and 229 they are now 2020,2021,2022,2023,2024,2028, and 2029
Kolikore 225, 226, 227 have changed to 2125, 2126, 2127
Ségou 23 changes to 213
Mopti 24 changes to 214
Kayes 25 changes to 215
Sikasso 26 changes to 216
Gao 28 changes to 218
Timbuktu 29 changes to 219
ORANGE land lines (rare and all start with 4) have an additional 4 at the beginning of their numbers
MALITEL moblies now have a 6 in front of the former number. The help and service lines also now have a 6 in front, such as 6 700 and 6 777. Malitel prefixes are: 6+
ORANGE mobiles have a 7 in front of the orignial number. The help and service numbers also have a 7 in front such as 7 402 to check messages. Orange prefixes are: 7+
There are only two places in town that offer internet services for public users. The service has to pass through the centre in Bamako and if that is not working neither is internet in Timbuktu. However, it does usually work, although it tends to be slow at the best of times and painfully slow when things get bogged down due to a lack of lines. It seems to work better in the morning or in the early afternoon. My theory is that this is because less people are using the lines at that time, either internet or telephone in general.
The first place is the city Telecenter Polyvalent (TCP) on the pavement just a bit south of the post office on the opposite side of the street. The sign has a lot of extraneous writing advertising the fact that it has a wheelchair accessible ramp and who funded it, which makes it hard to recognize but it is in the same walled compound with a teal green building. You can also do faxes, photocopies and phone calls. Hours are 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily, and are reasonably well respected. You can connect your own laptop or use one of their six machines. If you come later in the morning or afternoon expect to wait for a turn. Here they give you a slip of paper with the start time on it and bill you according to the time you finish; you have a bit of leeway with an extra minute to send off that message.
The second place is in the Library Essoyouti facing the main entrance of the Grande Mosque. They have eight computers as well as a place for you to connect your own lap top. The hours are 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday and Saturday. They tend to close for a long break in the afternoon on Fridays and only open in the evenings on Sundays. Here they use an manager program where you input a code and the time is counted down. You are kicked out when the timer hits zero. You can add more time before the end and keep your session open and if you don't use all your time you can keep your code and come back later. This place is air conditioned. This location has closed for repairs to the building to my knowledge it is not yet reopened for buisness
At both places connection is 1000 f CFA an hour, 500 a half-hour. At the Telecentre you can also do only a 1/4 hour for 250.
The High School just north of the Columbe annex also has internet connection and machines. This is supposed to be just for the students and teachers but some visitors have been able to connect there. The fee for students is lower than the public internet but that may not apply to visitors.
The post office is on the pavement. Heading south from the Place d’Independence round point you will pass the city hall, and the SOTELMA on your left. The next major place is the Post Office. The building is shared with the BHM bank. Postal Services are to your right.
The post office is open week days from 8 a.m to 4 p.m. They have a drop box just inside the main doors of the building, which is thus only accessible when the post office is open. There is also a drop box in front of the Hotel Colombe and in front of the Patiserie Asco and some hotels will post clients' mail for them, it doesn't hurt to ask.
Postage varies depending on destination and weight. Postcards are:
- 405 cfa to The Americas and Australia, New Zealand, China etc.
- 395 cfa to Europe except France.
- 385 cfa to France, Angola and South Africa
- 375 cfa to Algeria
- 255 cfa to most West African countries (Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, etc.)
There are nine different FM Radio stations broadcasting in Timbuktu.
91.4 Jamena Jamena means “the people” in Bambara it is an association founded by former president Alfa Konare and includes the Bamako based paper the Essor, and other publications, it specializes in local language translations and publishes several beginner literacy texts in local languages. The Timbuktu branch of its radio station is also a partner with Voice of America which it broadcasts at certain times of the day. It is located just east of the Hotel Bouctou.
92.0 Radio Santé A fairly new station this presumably includes programs about health however it mostly plays music. It is located off the main road a few blocks south and west of the Caravanserail Hotel
93.5 Al Fayda Also a fairly new station it, as will all stations, plays a mix of traditional and modern music from Mali and other African countries as well as French, American and Arabic pop, rock and rap.
94.8 Radio Lafia. Lafia means “Peace” and this station also dubs itself as “La voix de la femme” the voice of women. They claim to promote women’s rights and issues and a female DJ is supposed to be paired up with any male DJ at all times. Besides music they have some riddles and contests mostly directed at high school students. There is also a program wherein concerns or complaints sent in by women are aired and discussed in an anonymous manner and callers can give their opinion on how to resolve the issues. They have their offices inside the walls of the Govenorat buildings
96.6 ORTM National Organization Radio Television du Mali is the state Radio and Television chain. It broadcasts in French and local languages; programs include national and international news, Malian weather, birth and death announcements, football matches and music. Way south of town on the west side of the STELMA wireless tour station near the Government offices.
98.0 Al Farouk / RFI Al Farouk is the name of the patron saint of Timbuktu. This is the radio station housed in the Maison des Artisans. It is partnered with RFI, Radio France International, which it broadcasts much of the time especially during the news hours. Outside of that DJs play music, have riddle contests with prizes from local businesses, and read sappy romantic poems written by high school students. Broadcasts from withith the Maison des Artisans.
98.6 Radio Bouctou One of the oldest radio stations this one broadcasts out of the compound of the City Hall. Again it plays a lot of music and has the same sorts of contests as the other stations. It will also announce the list off the students who passed their DEF (grade nine exams required to enter high school) and other public announcements.
99.9 ORTM Tombouctou In 2008 ORTM created regional branches to serve each of the 9 regions of Mali. This is the regional branch of the state media. It often simultaneously broadcasts the same programs as the national station but at other times has programs tailored to the north of Mali and specifically to the region of Timbuktu.
101.4 Tin Tahanit Meaning “blessedness” in Tamacheq, tin tahanit is a Christian station run by Pastor Noch, the only native pastor in Timbuktu (arguably the only native Christian in Timbuktu), and his family and congregation. They broadcast music as well as religious content. Located not far from the Mama Haidara manuscript library
If you have a short wave radio with you, you can of course catch different stations in English, French, Spanish, German, Arabic, Chinese and many other languages. Note however that reception works best in the morning and evening when the radio waves are not so distorted. Many of the prominent stations such as BBC, VOA or RFI broadcast on multiple frequencies; if the reception on one frequency becomes poor try tuning in on another.
There is one Regional Newspaper for Timbuktu called Anoura.