School-age children rapping his name to the beat of a djembe drum (djembe meaning ‘everyone gather together in peace’: life imitating spin – but better), arriving in Timbuktu to a rapturous reception President Hollande may even have considered crowd-surfing – launching himself off the gunmetal plane and into the shifting dunes of desert peoples below. It surely was his School of Rock moment: Hollande had come to congratulate French troops and soldiers from neighbouring African countries for liberating northern Mali; he clearly relished this ‘very emotional’ day. Stiffening slightly in the presence of the military, loosening his gait in the midst of the African crowd (they’re so loose-limbed, y’know), Hollande is congratulating himself…..for taking on the colours of his surroundings. He feels like the Lizard King; he’s more like a chameleon. In response to keywords – terrorist, Islamist, linked-to-Al-Qaeda; keen to be seen to be decisive, the president of France launched an invasion force without thinking about how to get it out again. In search of a shared national experience, Hollande has plunged the tricolour back into the long-running conflict between the Malian mainstream and increasingly Islamicised Tuareg rebels (not many Tuaregs among the Timbuktu welcome party: liberating the town led to looting their shops) – a conflict inherent in the way the colonial power manipulated its exit from North Africa in the 1960s. Half a century later, Hollande comes back with nothing that would serve to fix the region and/or bring its peoples together. He is only saying: we want you to be able to dress in colourful clothes and play that twangy guitar music which we love so much. French foreign policy as if all the world’s a world music festival. Climbing back onto the plane to fly south to Bamako, the president brushes desert dust off his sleeve. But the consequences of Western intervention are not so readily dismissed. As Neil Kinnock came to regret hectoring a Labour crowd ‘Are y’all right? Are y’all right?’ at the climax of his 1992 general election campaign, Hollande will have to face the discord from his big gig in Mali.