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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *