Tag Archives: Britain

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Song of the Week

Toumani Diabate – Ismael Drame

As Europe finally appears to be acknowledging the sheer scale for the refugee crisis, we are reminded of a piece covered previously by the Hub written by Alex Duval Smith. Catching up with her writing recently, it is delightful to see some unadulterated good news being reported. Wanting to post this weeks ago, it gives me great pleasure to introduce to you Mali’s “most dedicated postman“.

Aboubacar Doumbia, the a man who “lives and breathes” public service, arrives at Duval Smith’s door as a refreshing and wholly unexpected change to the corrupt and dysfunctional public administration that characterises Mali.  Having cobbled together his impeccable uniform, including his home-made cap, he zooms around Bamako on a bright yellow scooter. Endearingly, he appears to refer to himself in the third person regularly – as a sign of respect and admiration of the virtues and ideals of his profession: “If the postman ever returns a letter to sender – which is rare – he feels terrible. That day he has failed in his duties as a public servant.”

Like Postman Aboubacar, faced with government inaction and endemic failure, German citizens have also taken matters into their own hands, and have inspired many other European citizens to do the same. A website called Refugees Welcome has been created to matchmake citizens willing to share their homes with refugees. Two of the site’s founders, Jonas Kakoschke, 31, and Mareike Geiling, 28, live with 39-year-old Bakari Conan, a refugee from Mali, whom they are helping with German classes while he waits for a work permit. The welcoming phrase ‘Refugees Welcome’ has caught on in all different walks of German life including football, which is a good barometer in any European country of how popular a policy is.

The refugee crisis is revealing a lot about the sense of global public service seen within the different populations of Europe. Britain is scoring spectacularly low at present, though it is one of the biggest contributors to aid programmes in countries neighbouring Syria like Lebanon. European aid programmes usually run along colonial ties. Mali’s main source of aid is France for example and, so the theory goes, Britain concentrates on Ghana, Nigeria and others instead. Migration usually follows a similar pattern. However, in the case of Bakari these ties have been broken by the scale of German hospitality. And though Britain’s efforts on humanitarian funding look sound, more long-term European development aid programmes have been greatly discredited by Duval Smith in her original article as well as others. She observes them as being a big part of the cause of the crisis as the do little to resolve the problems of everyday people and instead prop-up the perpetrating regimes and broken economic systems.

Without a serious shift in emphasis away from aid to increasing asylum quotas, Britain will not be moving up the score board any time soon it seems.

 

 

Toumani Diabate – Ismael Drame

Mali News #6 – The end has not begun

It’s tempting to celebrate as French forces enter Timbuktu, much like the Malian people did as the French forces entered Gao as Channel 4 news reported. The level of excitement is heartening and exhilarating for many.

But the story isn’t as clear cut as that. French forces may have retaken Timbuktu today, only for the rebels to burn priceless manuscripts as they fled. Kidal is still held by either the MNLA or other forces, and the terrorist forces still include many child soldiers. The death toll is still not clear due to a lack of proper monitoring of what has happened, and the French and Malian military are still limiting access to the areas so people who need medical treatment are still not receiving help.

The human cost has been irredeemable, the cultural losses are a damaging blow to Mali’s vibrant culture and the world’s understanding of medieval Islam. So what now as the French and Malian government claim the war will be over in a few days?

The first question is of course, will it really be over? The relative ease that French forces found on entering Gao and Timbuktu make a strong contrast to the heavy fighting and resistance they found around Konna a little over a week ago. Only now are people beginning to consider that this access to Urban areas leads to a, “shadow war” where terrorists blend back into the cities, or retreat into the deserts, where they know the territory well and have much more freedom of movement.

Bruce Whitehouse neatly lays out the political, social and economic problems laid out ahead in Mali, entitled, “Next, the hard bit”. He deftly highlights the effect of the terrorist’s forces dispersal but leaves one clear message that has been continually missed in the western media.

“Mali’s conflict must be resolved not only in the wastes of northern Mali but in the corridors of power in Bamako. The country’s political leaders must now get down to the difficult business of working out how Malians will coexist in a single republic, under a democracy worthy of the name. Recent history may be discouraging, but one hopes Malians will rise to the occasion.”

It will not be an easy process, many people in the south still blame the Touregs for this crisis and the various economic and political struggles leave the capital and country divided. Retaliation attacks are already happening, harming reconciliation. Leaders at all levels of Mali must now come together to reforge the country as a strong nation. One that takes democracy beyond a process, but into every community and home, whether in the North and South, which empowers Mande and Toureg alike.

Economically Mali has been given a $18.4m loan from the IMF to help stabilise the economy. But while this may stabilise the economy in the financial markets, 400,000 Malians are still refugees and may take months to return. Mali itself is still considered a war torn country, damaging it’s international image.

This is where Britain and British people can help. The Sahara Soul events in London and Glasgow alike are highlighting the solidarity of British people with Mali as a whole. David Cameron has stated his ongoing support for France and Mali, and has since committed to non-combat military support. There are a series of events on Mali this week by Chatham House and the Royal African Society. In the next post I’ll be outlining what the British public are doing in Mali to raise awareness, support and funds for Mali.

For now I’ll leave you with a quote from Desmond Tutu. People in Britain are doing their little bit, so are people in Mali, now we just have to keep it up, and encourage others to do the same.

“Do your little bit of good where you are; its those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”

Mali News #4 – The fightback begins?

The current situation in Mali; picture originally of Mali Un Et Indivisible.

When the end of ceasefire was announced last week, it was a worrying sign. Little did we expect the series of events following this when, on Thursday Islamists forces announced they had re-entered the key town of Kona. Government forces exchanged fire fairly quickly in response to this new incursion. This is an important strategic moment for two reasons. Firstly it showed that the Islamists felt able to expand the area under their control, and that the for the Malian Government, further Islamic advancement to the south was a line in the sand that they couldn’t allow the northern forces to cross.

This resulted in a raising of tension across both sides of the border on Thursday night as civilians in Mopti and Djenne started to evacuate, fearing more violence.

The fears of civilians near demarcation zone were confirmed as on Friday the Malian President announced a state of emergency in the country(fr) for an initial ten days saying, “the situation on the front is generally under control ” and called for , “general mobilization “around the Malian army. The Malian army moved north to secure the demarcation zone and beyond to re-take Konna with the support of French troops that were pledged by President Hollande. As this occurred international support across Africa and the EU swung behind Mali, but coupled with calls from the French and British Governments for all of their nationals to leave immediately. While reports of Nigerian and Senegalese troops supporting Malian troops out of Sévaré were made, the Senegalese government at least denied their troops were present. The United States  also pledged support with logistical support and drones (fr).

On Saturday French forces continued air strikes on targets in northern Mali and even as far south as Mopti. Saturday also brought the confirmation that 500 troops from Nigeria and Bukina Faso would support the Malian army. Friday also indicated that the French forces had lost a pilot in the fighting due to small arms fire. France has now stepped it’s national security in the wake of this intervention and their recent actions in Somalia. Despite that risk, this piece, gives an opening analysis of why France decided to act now.

In the fighting around Kona and the Demarcation zone, eleven Malian soldiers were reported dead and at least eleven civilians including 3 children who drowned trying to cross the river to safety.

Britain also pledged support, with the Prime Minister saying, “These developments show the need to make urgent progress in implementing UN Security Council resolutions on Mali, and ensure that military intervention is reinforced by an inclusive political process leading to elections and a return to full civilian rule”. This initial encouraging statement that thinks beyond the crisis is important, however many Malians may see the use of British transport aircraft in the conflict as more important right now.

On Sunday French Pilots continued to bombard targets in Northern Mali, including Gao. While external commentators see this as, “an emergency patch in a very dangerous situation” many Malians see this as the start of the fight back, “We are very proud and relieved that the army was able to drive the jihadists out of Konna. We hope it will not end there, that is why I’m helping in my own way” (ibid).

What is unclear right now is which one of these two options this is. If it is just a patch, that leaves the options of a prolonged and bloody series of battles as the status quo is maintained. If it is the fightback, the question of whether this was planned, and whether the respective armies and countries are capable of pushing out the forces of Northern Mali. What already raises concerns is the limited reporting of the civilian cost to this conflict, and whether this fast tracking means that long term thinking about the civilian cost in and after the battles have been fought will result in a long term disaster for the people of Northern Mali.