Category Archives: Conflict

Master Soumi – Explique Ton Islam : Mali Song of the Month

We’ve gone for a load-saving re-brand. As of the end of this month, and in the final week of each one which will follow, the Song of The Week will become a once-monthly feature; replaced by the Song of the Month. Having run every week for just over three years it has explored all manner of topics in over 140 unique entries. This month, in a sad symbol of reality, focuses on an issue that would be topical in any week for several months. Three days after the 7-month State of Emergency was finally declared over Islamist militants killed 17 Malian soldiers in an attack by Ansar Dine on an army base in Nampala – bang in the middle of the country.

Whilst viewing the trailer for the film Mali Blues – a German film about “about the unifying Power of Music” – I discovered another new artist that has began his journey in composing the thoughts and voices of ordinary Malians. Sitting alongside household names like Fatoumata Diawara and Bassekou Kouyate on the film’s blurb is a young hip-hop rapper by the name Master Soumi (or often “Soumy”). This week’s song of the week shows the best of his style, the forthrightness, stripped-down and critical perspectives, and that resolute vision so effectively captured in hip-hop. Poignantly, the song’s title and chorus focus on a recurring message in Malian art and literature. In this article, the militants that killed 17 soldiers, and injured 35 more, are prefixed with ‘Islamist’. A debate rages across the world as to whether it is appropriate to refer to ISIL/Daesh as an Islamic organisationor not – with controversy plaguing public figures on both sides of the discussion. Master Soumi takes a different approach. Acknowledging that many of these militant organisations refer to themselves as Islamic, he pins the argument back on them:

Kalashnikovs and bombs;
Explain your Islam!
100 lashes, immediate punishment;
Explain your Islam!

The use of the word “your” is crucial. It detracts from the religion as a motivation for their acts and restores a sense of individual choice, agency and responsibility. What becomes abhorrent is not the teachings, but the interpretations. The imagery of modern weaponry and outdated notions of justice emphasises the ridiculousness and absurdity of their practice and further distances them from the mainstream.

“Explique Ton Islam!” is also a feverously catchy statement. Hats of to ‘Master’ Soumi.

Master Soumi – Explique Ton Islam

Photo Credit: DroitLibre.tv

Sam Garbett is Public Affairs Coordinator for the Mali Development Group – www.malidg.org.uk.

To get in touch with Sam for further information he’d be happy to hear from you at sam.garbett@malidg.org.uk. Any comments and ideas for improving the Hub are especially welcome. We all look forward to hearing from you. Thanks for tuning in.

The Mali Interest Hub is an initiative run by the Mali Development Group, supported by the Alliance for Mali.

Central Mali: An Uprising in the Making? – new report from International Crisis Group

A new report has been published by the International Crisis Group on the “protracted instability” in central Mali. As well as providing a comprehensive overview of the problems the country has faced over the last few years and providing extensive policy recommendations for the Malian government and the international community (namely the EU and UN) , the report provides a renewed focused on an often sidelined region of Mali – its very centre. Noting that issues are often presented in a north/south narrative, the report has immediately utility.

The full report is available in French from the International Crisis Group website.

A thorough Executive Summary including Recommendations is available in English.

Photo Credit: AFP/Daniel Riffet

Vieux Farka Touré – Kele Magni : Mali Song of the Week

At the beginning of the year we pointed out that some hold the view that China is on a “collision course” with radical Islamic militants in both the Middle-East and across North Africa. This analysis emerged in the aftermath of the attack on the Radisson Blu Hotel in November last year where around 170 hostages were taken by the militants and 19 were killed in a mass shooting – among them prominent Chinese officials. Jihadist group Al-Mourabitoun has since claimed responsibility for the assault which it carried out in co-operation with al-Qaeda. Unsure how China would deal with what could be interpreted as a targeted attack on their ambitious plans in Africa, the world speculated on how they would respond. It appears that a slow, shaky collision has begun. China has steadily built up its UN peacekeeping contingent in Mali since the attack and in December passed its first piece of ‘counter-terrorism’ legislation allowing that allows its military to venture overseas on counter-terrorism operations. With violence in Mali spreading, the conflict in the north of the country has now taken the life of its first Chinese peacekeeper and injured five others, two of them seriously. Ansar Dine has claimed responsibility for this particular attack.

So why is China getting involved in the first place? Former Malian Prime Minister Moussa Mara has spoken publicly about his view that China is both a positive force for peace and development in his home country. It is generally assumed you cannot have one without the other and therefore the argument usually follows that, even when looked at cynically, China has simply positioned its troops in Mali to better secure its investments there. Now, Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) is a very good way to kick-start economic recovery and development so there is every chance that this arrangement can be just as beneficial for Mali as it is for resource-thirsty China. However there are no guarantees that the benefits of any infrastructural, commercial or industrial investments will trickle down to the local population. When social, political and environmental consequences are factored in this kind of arrangement can easily become highly detrimental to the host population.

Surely all foreign investors – not just the Chinese – have any interest in bringing peace to Mali? Well its appears that the powers that be have found a way to make the risk profitable. Not wanting to get into lengthy detail about the ins and outs of investing in Mali, one could assume that the presence of the war in the country would be enough to most people off. Despite this and the proliferation of the conflict throughout Mali over the past year or so a $67 million investment in a gold mine was made this week giving the project in Yanfolia near the Guinea border the green light. Arguably, the conflict is still overwhelmingly centred in the north of the country with the north/south divide more prevalent than ever. It is therefore difficult to ascertain whether the conflict has actually diminished, with the associated investment risks going with it, or that stability and reconstruction are now unnecessary and costly precursors to resource extraction. If the financial benefit for the international community is no longer inhibited by war what interest do they have in pursuing peace?

Of course, the war must stop and Vieux Farka Touré made this statement the focus of his song “Kele Magni” which translates roughly as “the war must stop” or “the war is no good”. Back in The Financial Times documented Vieux’s Queen Elizabeth Hall performance back in September 2013. Then the mood was triumphant; Vieux like many Malians was celebrating the success and assuming the finality of the French military intervention. As David Honigmann reported at the time:

“”War’s not good,” [Vieux Farka Toure] noted, introducing “Kele Magni”; “now they’ve stopped the war.” And appropriately the song, on record contemplative, here bounced with bass and drums in a joyous celebration.”

It has become apparent that the French did indeed stop the nation from collapsing. However despite a UN deployment and free-and-fair elections, three years on from Vieux’s declaration that the war was over violence is recurring and resurgent. Listening to it now the song becomes more a depressive plea; its been long, much too long. The war must end. In an interview in October 2013 Vieux descibes his hometown of Niafunke during the war and how he wrote songs like “Kele Magni” to fulfil his responsibility to “let people know” about what wass happening to their country. The radio interviewer describes the French defeat of the militant forces as a ‘rout‘. Unknowingly at the time this has become an apt portrayal. We now know that al-Qaeda and its patchworker of associate organisations was not a defeated after all, only withdrawn in disorder after sustaining heavy losses. It has been an opportunity for a change of tactics to a more wide-spread guerilla campaign – the one we see today.

So if the war must stop, who will stop it? We must have faith that there are people in Mali that are willing to fight for it. Its musicians always will. But who within all these foreign interventions?  Amongst the Chinese MINUSMA peacekeepers was a soldier named Si Chongchang wounded whilst carring out his mission to bring stabilisation to the people and politics of Mali. Speaking from his hospital bed in Dakhar, it is perhaps right that he should have the last say: “When I recover, I hope to go back to join my comrades and finish what we started.” We must hope that in that mission, he is successful.

 

Vieux Farka Touré – Kele Magni

 

Sam Garbett is Public Affairs Coordinator for the Mali Development Group – www.malidg.org.uk.

To get in touch with Sam for further information he’d be happy to hear from you at sam.garbett@malidg.org.uk. Any comments and ideas for improving the Hub are especially welcome. We all look forward to hearing from you. Thanks for tuning in.

The Mali Interest Hub is an initiative run by the Mali Development Group, supported by the Alliance for Mali.

Ali Farka Toure – Tulumba : Mali Song of the Week

Ali Farka Toure songs are never short of emotion. ‘Tulumba’ announces itself triumphantly which somewhat betrays the rest of the song. It continues in at the pace of a melancholic shanty, not despairing but grieving.

And there is much to grieve over in the last week of Malian life. On April 14th the great and widely celebrated Malian photographer Malick Sidibé passed away in Bamako aged 80. In a delightful tribute, Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, International Correspondent with NPR, described the effect Sidibé’s death has had on the country through the words of Mali’s culture minister, N’Diaye Ramatoulaye Diallo. He was undoubtedly a “national treasure” whose loss the entire country is mourning.

The war in the north of Mali has seen a bloody week. Civilians, soldiers and humanitarians all falling victim to the enduring instability, growing distrust and angst at a wretched situation of which no one appears to have the strength to control. In that void violence thrives. The International Committee of the Red Cross announced on Monday that for a month three of its aid workers on assignment in deep in the north in Abeibara had been missing. Only a week before this announcement, three French soldiers had been killed in a landmine blast during a routine drive from Gao with President Hollande expressing “deep sadness” upon hearing the news. And perhaps most troubling of all is the situation in Kidal. Reports from Mali on April 19th describe how a street protest formed to demonstrate against arrests made by French and UN forces which they allege were arbitrary and undermined peace efforts. The situation turned violent resulting in 4 deaths, 7 injuries – 2 seriously – a trashed airport, and shots fired, reportedly by UN soldiers as much as anyone else.

In these desperate times we must consider the wisdom of Toure and Sidibé – these two late, great Malians – and not slip so easily into sorrow and defeat. Artists leave us with gifts, new tools to understand and interpret the world. In 2008, Sidibé told The Daily Telegraph “For me, photography is all about youth…It’s about a happy world full of joy, not some kid crying on a street corner or a sick person.” Writing about the motivation to create the album Niafunké (named after his beloved home town) from which ‘Tulumba’ hails, Ali Farka Toure explained that:

“My music is about where I come from and our way of life and it is full of important messages for Africans. In the West perhaps this music is just entertainment and I don’t expect people to understand. But I hope some might take the time to listen and learn.”

So whilst we can rejoice in the magic that these artists produce, we must also consider their approach and look deeper. We must allow ourselves to be challenged by what is being presented to us. This may appear difficult without access to context or language and perhaps as a Westerner it can never be fully understood. But this spectacular photography and music is unquestionably stirring. It makes an impression on us. Let’s gather that feeling up and at the very least we can try and understand it, unpick it, respond to it and see what we learn from there. Perhaps there is a way through.

 

 

Ali Farka Toure – Tulumba

 

Sam Garbett is Public Affairs Coordinator for the Mali Development Group – www.malidg.org.uk.

To get in touch with Sam for further information he’d be happy to hear from you at sam.garbett@malidg.org.uk. Any comments and ideas for improving the Hub are especially welcome. We all look forward to hearing from you. Thanks for tuning in.

The Mali Interest Hub is an initiative run by the Mali Development Group, supported by the Alliance for Mali.

Rokia Traoré – Tu Voles : Mali Song of the Week

“Tu Voles”/”You fly” sings Rokia in this glorious opener to her 2016 album Né So. Where the album title itself means ‘home‘ this week’s Song means the opposite. “Home” is intended as “an invitation to think about the idea of ‘home'” and the privilege that comes with having one, whereas “Tu Voles” is about striving and escapism.

You fly, from every hurt, you release yourself, and you swim through the air, you fly…

Delving deeper; are the songs in fact on a similar theme? In both Traore encourages us to consider the plight of those that have no home and sings to us and imposes a character on us of a person so ill at ease, frightened, intimidated, troubled they resort to metaphor; they achieve that universal, impossible dream of humankind through force of will alone. This in a way is Traore’s trademark – using the beauty and vulnerability of “her raspy, quavering voice” to encourage empathy. Mark Hudson of The Telegraph notes that this must be a reflection of “the gravity” of her recent experience – and that of her homeland – noting that the album “is subdued, moody, even dark at times.” He continues;

“Since her last album, 2013’s buoyant and optimistic Beautiful Africa, she’s seen her homeland torn apart by a brutal civil war, including the recent Islamist atrocity in the capital Bamako, and has been beset by a more general sense of “things falling apart”.”

In her own way, Traoré has taken flight herself, with her artistry safely stowed in the overhead compartment. She like so many of Mali’s musicians has become a self-appointed ambassador for her country constantly flying worldwide to tell the rest of us what Mali is all about. To encourage the celebration of its beauty and understanding of its struggles. After taking up a very prestigious place on the Cannes Film Festival Main Jury last year, Traoré will be taking to the greatest stage of all this summer after being confirmed in the Glastonbury line-up – the festival continuing its marvellous support of Mali’s musicians. Malian’s have also been confirmed at a range of other festivals for example, Songhoy Blues have just completed a Tour in Australia and New Zealand, taking in those respective countries’s WOMAD festival. Back in the UK, WOMAD has yet to grace the shores of this soggy island in 2016, the festival scheduled for 28th-31st July. There French fiddle will meet Malian kora, percussion and vocals in the form of the exciting collaborative new-comers N’Diale.

So with the importance of her message evident here’s to hoping that Rokia is rewarded with one of the weekend’s precious “sunset slots” where the magic of the festival is unveiled in its entirety; liquid gold streaming around the summit of Glastonbury Tor, streaming down its sides, an image that defines the majesty of the place. Tens of thousands in a sun-soak crowd, basking in the immediacy of that fading moment before the giver of all life creeps away to brighten up a new day elsewhere on Earth.

Well, it’s that or it’ll be lashing it down with rain.

 

 

Rokia Traoré – Tu Voles

 

Sam Garbett is Public Affairs Coordinator for the Mali Development Group – www.malidg.org.uk.

To get in touch with Sam for further information he’d be happy to hear from you at sam.garbett@malidg.org.uk. Any comments and ideas for improving the Hub are especially welcome. We all look forward to hearing from you. Thanks for tuning in.

The Mali Interest Hub is an initiative run by the Mali Development Group, supported by the Alliance for Mali.

Habib Kioté – N’Ba : Mali Song of the Week

Its been two months since the Radisson Blu Hotel attack in Bamako where at least 20 people were killed. Among the dead were three executives from the international arm of the China Railway Construction Corporation. Why were these Chinese citizens there and what does this tell us about China’s interests in Africa? Firstly, a bit of back-story: China and Mali have just completed a deal to completely revolutionise international rail travel in the Sahel by building a 1286km railway to Dakar the port capital city of Senegal. There is also a project tabled to build another line to another port city – Conakry in Guinea. These two projects come with a cost of a whopping $10 billion (reflecting for a moment that Mali’s entire GDP for 2014 was $12.04 billion). It represents a significant investment to say the least. China is thirsty for resources,  Mali is desperate to sell them. What is needed is an efficient way to get them from one country to the other – China needs this railway as much as Mali does.

Should this be celebrated overtly or cautiously? Its no doubt that a splash of modern infrastructure is a good thing. However, many have warned of a growing Chinese imperialism – China using its dominance economically in an exploitative manner. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has assured that cooperation across Africa would not “take the old road by traditional powers” nor “sacrifice Africa’s environment and long-term interests”. We’ve heard that one before, and raises another question about the complicity of Mali’s own elite; is it the everyday Malian that will benefit from or bear the cost of this arrangement? How much choice does a struggling country like Mali have? Often the case is made that it is necessary, or even preferable, to short-cut some democratic processes to allow the sweeping changes need to ‘eradicate’ poverty. This article argues that is a false choice. Jan Abbink from The Broker Online explains:

“Apart from the morally questionable aspects in this line of thinking, there is considerable doubt about the approach’s long-term effects. Also scientifically, it is dubious. There is no significant evidence that hardline authoritarian rule in development will be durable or that it will provide social cohesion.”

He continues, clarifying that:

“Of course neither is there significant evidence that democratic models guarantee growth and stability, especially not in multi-ethnic countries. Skewed economic policies, exclusivism and unfairness in the distribution of ‘resources’, non-transparent, non-representational politics, and phantom justice systems will, at some point, inevitably create emergent protests, social movements, resistance or silent sabotage among the population not getting a good deal.”

In the case of Mali, we already have resistance and a not-so-silent sabotage from a population perceivably not getting a good deal. We also have the spectre of international militant groups and their splintered associates to contend with. The issue in Mali is not exclusively developmentalist, but also a global security matter which China’s bulging economic demands are rubbing up against increasingly. Harry Verhoeven of the University of Oxford observes that ” the PRC is slowly but surely giving up its controversial policy of non-interference. This is not so much the product of a carefully considered foreign policy shift as it is a logical response to both acute security crises on the [African] continent in recent years and China’s re-emergence as a global power with ever greater interests, ever further afield.” This shift, which has staggering implications for the rest of the planet, has lead to one commentator to declare that China is on “a collision course” with ISIS, providing particular detail on the scale of China’s dependence on its investments in the developing world coming good and ISIS’s own efforts to target China.

With so much at stake, has China visably changed its behaviour in response to a  deteriorating security situation? China had already broken new ground in regards to its approach to peacekeeping opertaions before the Radisson attack. This article even argued ahead of time that China’s cautious attitude “might change overnight if an attack on Chinese companies or civilians takes place in the region”. It is always interesting to see when the economic interests of a superpower are threatened, logisitical issues across Africa become a solvable issue – of course, only when resources and materials are moving out of Africa. Getting things in, trivial things like humanitarian aid and essential relief to those suffering today is another story. Professor Ian Taylor from the University of St Andrews comments on this wider trend in Africa. He writes that “the fundamental problem facing Africa is governance…” adding “it doesn’t matter how many roads or ports” you have. Indeed, Alessandra Dentice, the deputy representative of Unicef, says her agency’s efforts are being frustrated by “the lack of government personnel in certain areas”. Getting the country secure and governed correctly in a more holistic way, more than just closing up porous borders and managing to keep a railway open, is required.

We must fear that instead of the country being rebuilt, it will simply be hollowed out.

 

Habib Kioté – N’Ba

 

Sam Garbett is Public Affairs Coordinator for the Mali Development Group – www.malidg.org.uk.

To get in touch with Sam for further information he’d be happy to hear from you at sam.garbett@malidg.org.uk. Any comments and ideas for improving the Hub are especially welcome. We all look forward to hearing from you. Thanks for tuning in.

The Mali Interest Hub is an initiative run by the Mali Development Group, supported by the Alliance for Mali.

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Song of the Week

Terakaft – Tahra A Issasnanane

Continuing with our Zepplin vibe from last week, we fly north to the home of Terakaft. This song was singled out from a list rich of Tuareg talents for its steel-string guitar, more restful than its electric cousin yet with more drive than its nylon string brother. Nice and reflective, the YouTube community would have me believe that the song title roughly translates as “Sometimes, love has thorns”.

Which kind of love does the song have in mind? Lover’s love? Brotherly love? The love between countrymen? Could be any. As the fragile peace accord signed in June is already unravelling, it is difficult to look beyond the latter. Any love that the pro-government militias and the separatist group showed earlier this summer has been blown asunder by the news that the militia had taken the town of Anefis on August 17th – a direct violation of the peace agreement. The UN responded by sending troops to a separatist stronghold in an attempt to halt the militia’s advances  and save the accord from further damage.

How much control is exercised by the government over the militias is unclear. Peace between the separatist CMA and the militias is presented as a pre-cursor to the army and the UN tackling hard-line, militant, Islamist groups which appear to be the real immediate priority. Therefore, it would lead one to deduce that the violation of the agreement by the so called pro-Bamako militia’s are a proverbial thorn in the government’s security agenda. On the other hand, it would not be the first time in the history of conflict that a period of ceasefire, with all the positive rhetoric and symbolic gesturing, has been initiated and broken for strategic gain. Yet in this scenario it looks bad to be the one to break it…

Elsewhere, around 3000 miles further north, a new frontier emerged where young Malian men also did battle. In a violation of the typical peace and serenity south London is known for, two Malian men stepped out of relative obscurity to go head to head, both backed by highly-trained international mercenaries. Bakary Sako, 27 year old Malian striker for Crystal Palace, netted on his home debut to be Man of the Match and beat Aston Villa despite the promising, albeit late, injection of pace and ability from Villa’s 19 year old substitute Adama Traore. Following the game, Traore – a summer purchase from Barcelona – indicated he will choose to serve Mali, the country of his parents, at international level from now on. Traore is a Spanish national and has played promisingly all the way up to Under-18 level but for reasons not yet known he has decided to switch. Switching national allegiance is remarkably common; recent high-profile players to do so include Diego Costa (Brazil to Spain), Lukas Podolski (Poland to Germany), Thiago Motta (Brazil to Italy) and Kevin-Prince Boateng (Germany to Ghana) who, like Traore, breaks the tradition of moving allegiances away from the developing world to Europe.

Does the love of one’s country or sense of place sometimes have thorns? Certainly can. It is curious however that for something like nationality which is often presented in Britain as an absolute, a truth and an obvious feature of one’s identity, for Mali it often a mixed and contested concept. For a footballer its can be as simple as personal preference, or even – cynically – exchanged as part of a good career move. But that’s nothing new. For the separatist its a matter of life and death. It’s of huge political significance and, when branded as a national of a country they do not recognise, it can be considered a source of oppression.

Does Mali have to have a uniform sense of nationhood for peace to be realised? Now that has to be a question for another time…

 

Terakaft – Tahra A Issasnanane

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Song of the Week

Cheick Tidiane Seck – Fera Na Fere

It has been a long time since Cheick “The Keyboard Warrior” Seck made his way onto the Hub. Inspired by last week’s post about the ‘Festival Sur la Niger’, Ségou-born Cheick Tidiane Seck is making a fitting appearance. Seck is well known for his political beliefs and is especially outspoken on the issue of war and peace. These views are not confined to protesting against wars fought with guns and armoured vehicles however as they also extend to a range of issues including liberal globalisation. For Seck this outspoken attitude has not come with age as it is evident that his personality and political passions have long been a defining part of his character, earning him the nickname ‘Che Guevara’ in his early years.

As with Seck’s previous selection by the Hub, this week’s Song comes from his 2013 album ‘Guerrier’ (that’s “Warrior”, in French). There is a key, confusing, and ultimately troubling, reason for this. Over the last 9 months, since defeat in late May 2014, Malian’s have been dealing with the fallout from the Malian government’s failure to secure Kidal, a key northern-eastern town, from Tuareg rebel group MNLA. Frustration is mounting into violent outbursts again the UN Peacekeeping force MINUSMA, which has been authorised with the mission of stabilizing the country, re-establishing state authority and notably in expanding  “…its presence, including through long-range patrols and within its capacities, in the north of Mali beyond key population centres, notably in areas where civilians were at risk”. It is on this specific point in which government and international agencies appear to be having most difficulty.

As often happens in these moments of high-tension and conflict, some have decided to take matters into their own hands. This is a quite confusing and troubling development. According to a patchwork of reports, this has manifested in a new, also Tuareg, rebel group called GATIA. It appears that GATIA are a loyalist outfit, a “self-defence” militia made up of Malian army veterans and until recently has drawn no comment of condemnation or praise from Malian officials – despite its emergence in August last year. In what appears to be a very grim state of affairs the BBC reported the following:

Correspondents say there are strong suspicions that the government is increasingly relying on militia groups such as Gatia to strengthen its position against the MNLA in the north. A UN source told the AFP news agency that two bombers blew themselves up in the attack near Tabankort town while a third was killed before he could detonate himself.

It is the BBC’s use of the word ‘relying’ which is most troubling perhaps. Is the state of affairs so bleak, the government’s strength so shattered that they are willing to rely on the bloody, twisted, tit-for-tat battles of suicide bombers to win their war? Its a frightening prospect. One which the UN in an ever familiar role seems, at best, only able to spectate over. And with this news another vicious blow is dealt to that other prospect, throwing it long past the horizon again. That is, of course, the prospect of there being an end to the war in Mali.

 

 

Cheick Tidaine Seck – Fera Na Fere

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Song of the Week

Rokia Traore – Lalla

“I’ve never stopped being optimistic and also hopeful concerning Mali. And yes, I know the situation is still definitely fragile.” – Rokia Traore, speaking in August 2013

When does a conflict count as being over? After a very long, sluggish year of recovery the words of singer, songwriter and guitarist Rokia Traoré are as relevant as ever. This week’s song is from Traoré’s album ‘Beautiful Africa’ released under Nonesuch Records in April 2013, meaning the album was written “amid constant news of torture and killings”. The dark days of 2012/13 are over, yes, but the conflict rumbles on, churning out death and injustice. In particular, UN troops, as opposed to local Malian’s, have been targeted. In the past 15 months over 30 UN peacekeepers have been killed, and over 90 wounded – with 9 killed in a single attack earlier this month. With the world distracted by the amassing violence in Syria and Iraq, you’d say is was perfect timing for the incumbent UN mission leader to do a runner. The French forces have been also busy, intercepting an al-Qaeda convoy full of weapons and militants.

The north of the country sees the least amount of progress. The familiarity of military vehicles and the absence of tourists and trade continue to grind away at the residents of Timbuktu.A lack of resources is coupled with a lack of a strong presence from national institutions. For the most part, the basic ‘legal machinery’ needed in the north is still missing. The people of northern Mali are not seeing justice for crimes committed during the height of the conflict. This was a key Presidential promise going awry. Inventively, the government has responded with mobile information clinics which have been set up to gather testimony and deal with the back log. Soliders are being questioned too which is a positive sign. However, there is a major fear that even with the correct information in the right hands the population are still reluctant to give offenders up, especially if they are from the same ethnic group. A commentator warns “if there is no justice, others might seek revenge.

Besides the conflict, the ever global spectre of ebola looms large. It must be of some national pride that the Malian health ministry has been selected by Oxford University and the Centre for Vaccine Development at the University of Maryland to trial an experimental vaccine against the virus. It is urgently needed by their West African compatriots on the ‘front line’ in the battle, where health workers have died in their hundreds. Whilst Bamako remains bruised from the continuing conflict it must count itself lucky that it hasn’t had any reported cases despite a land border with Guinea which has had over 1,200.

The song has been chosen this week to reflect this mood. The conflict rumbles on. But Mali is rumbling on too. It is relatively peaceful, but the situation is very volatile as any number of enduring issues could explode at any time. Patience is the order of the day. That and frustration. The steady but fiery rhythm of Lalla symbolises these competing emotions, and in the heart-felt, floating and roaring lyrics of Traoré there is sorrow and anger. An abrupt finish – a call for Mali to simply get its act together?

Rokia Traore – Lalla

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Song of the Week

Salif Keita – Soyomba

Gold. Wealth, trade and fortune are interwoven into the history of all human societies. In almost every society that has had access to it, gold has become a symbol of and has facilitated prestige, opulence and power like no other material on Earth. For Mali, the bright yellow, dense, soft and malleable metal has been ever-present and remains a vitally important part of Mali’s economy today. From the hay-day of Timbuktu and the Empire that surrounded it to the stock exchanges of the modern world, it is gold that has been largely responsible for the economic successes of Mali – including since the conflict  in 2012/13. It is also – due to Mali’s dependency on its export price – a  source of continued vulnerability, as Mali’s fortunes are thus shackled to the successes and failures of the wider global economy.

Despite (or perhaps due to) mankind’s fascination with gold’s value, utility and aesthetics it can be a dangerous material and sometimes a curse for the populations that happen to live on the ground above where it is found. The mining of gold is not the safest of occupations and during any “rush” to obtain it human lives are often seen as a worthy risk for its extraction. This picture series from the BBC shows the working conditions experienced by those participating in the “boom” of Mali’s gold mines today.

Another problem with gold is that it is very, very rare for ordinary Malian’s to see any of its monetary benefits. The government taxation on the industry is deliberately low to attract foreign investment. Statements from both Oxfam and the International Monetary Fund have emphasised the failure of the government and of multinational companies  to share the exploits of an industry that represents 70% of Malian exports and an enormous 15% of the country’s GDP. To put that chunk of national expenditure into perspective, the UK spends around 8% of its GDP on the NHS and defence spending represents about 2.5%. For Mali, that 15% could go a long, long way if shared out correctly.

The pictures in the BBC article are taken of a mine close to the Mali-Guinea border, in a Malian town called Kouremale. The town lies about 40km north of the Niger river, 150km upstream from Bamako. The choice of this week’s song of the week is down to the fact that afro-pop legend Salif Keita hails from the region, which is soaked in history. Near the gold-mines of Kouremale is the archaeological site at Woyowayanko, which marks the place where the last West African emperor Samory Touré did battle with French colonists – his victory here in face of the superior French artillery solidified his reputation as  legendary military strategist. Not that this talk of 19th century Emperors and their impressive legacies would particularly phase Salif Keita; he is direct descendent of  the founder of the Malian Empire Sundiata Keita who lived some 800 years ago.

Another link, if you needed one, between this week’s track and the Empires of Mali’s past is found in Salif Keita’s popular nickname. As a result of his unique voice, artistic brilliance, and leadership on many societal issues he is proudly known as “The Golden Voice of Africa“.

Salif Keita – Soyomba