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.”