Life as a refugee

Daily life as a refugee is not as bad as you might assume. At least
not here at MENTAO Central, Djibo Burkina Faso where I have come to
stay with my Tuareg friends.

Mali’s crisis does not follow the patterns of most of the continent’s
wars. The active combatants on the ground are predominantly foreigners
for a start when most wars in Africa are civil; most  refugees flee
warring forces seeking to control the government, these ones flee
their own national army, the defenders of the peace left behind by the
liberating French forces.

Here at MENTAO refugee camp near Djibo there are none of our expected images of refugee
poverty. There are no starving children, no one has fled battling
forces, not many have trekked miles to get here. They are more likely
to arrive in Toyota pick ups.

Indeed if you were just passing by and ignored the UNHCR signs on some
of the tents, or the OXFAM water tower, you may just think it was
another African village, albeit a rather large one, stretching off
into the bush.

Maybe this is why the media stay away, preferring to chase the shadow
of the crisis in Mali rather than the substance that is here, seeking
the image of the battling twin forces of foreign invitees, AQMI and
France, rather than the domestic crisis that sparked off all this

Of course the journalists seek the stories that interest the world at
large, the international war that this year is Mali’s turn to host.

It is outside Mali, in the camps of refugees in Mauritania, Algeria,
Niger and Burkina Faso, that the story of Mali’s domestic crisis, the
root cause and catalyst of the problems of the last year, is taking

Over the next few weeks I will be telling personal stories from the camps.

Who is in the camps?
The camps here, as those in the other countries, are predominantly
filled with the Tamasheq (the correct term for Tuareg which includes
the black “Bella” Tamasheq speakers).

In MENTAO, Djibo they are 85% Tamashek, 15 % Arab. Here in Burkina
Faso they receive refugees from Timbuktu, the region east of Timbuktu
to Gao and south of the river Niger to the Burkina border. Also any
Tuareg who were in Bamako at the beginning of the crisis – students,
state functionaries, policemen, gendarmes, teachers etc – came here.

The reason for the lack of squalor here is not that UNHCR are
providing a lux camp. This is the refuge of the well to do, of those
who had the means to escape. Great families from Timbuktu who can
trace their lineage back to the Prophet, wealthy business people,
travel operators, teachers, lawyers, merchants, nomads, students,
school girls and boys. All have left all they have behind – jobs,
projects, homes, businesses, careers, studies, animals. No one who had
the means in their family to leave Malian soil has stayed.

Journalists returning from Timbuktu and Gao report that there are no
fair skins around. Many left right at the beginning of the crisis. The
first big wave was in late January and February 2012. The MNLA
rebellion had started, and the Tamasheq, remembering the consequences
of previous rebellions, began to leave, quickly, fleeing the
inevitable retribution against the northern population by the Malian
military that always follows rebellions.

The second smaller wave was around the time of the coup d’etat and the
islamist usurping of the MNLA advance to take Azawad in April 2012.
They weren’t fleeing the occupying islamist forces or the potential of
battles between the MNLA and AQMI, but the possibility of
international intervention now that AQMI were in control.

The recent big wave came with the French intervention, but this time
it was more the liberation than the intervention that caused the
exodus. It is the Malian military they flee who inexplicably have no
supervising UN, French or ECOWAS force with them. A military who are
very much one of the causes of the crisis, with no effective authority
controlling them and a history of atrocities against the northern
population, are left behind by the French army to manage the peace in
the very territory the same military abandoned without a fight,
leaving the population to their fate back in March 2012.

Here in Burkina at least they are safe, and here the Tamasheq,
normally spread out over vast distances, are all together again. I say
again, because this has become a regular thing. Every generation it
seems spends time as a refugee. There are students here who spent
their first 6 years in refugee camps during the rebellion of the

Although there are many people here and the camps are about 5km x 2km,
there is space, there is air, it is really just like being in one
large village. People have built homes much like they may have at
home. Grass matting, blankets and UNHCR plastic cover a frame of
sticks. Most families have a UNHCR tent complemented by their home
made shelters, some extending to large family compounds.

The women organise the children and the kitchen, the kids learn to
keep house and run errands, the young watch videos on their computers
or listen to music on their phones and the men – well there’s not much
of a living to be earned so they busy themselves with gathering news
from home, meeting and greeting and pondering their calamitous

Behind the daily procedures and the normal communal harmony, there is
a far off look in adult’s eyes. The future is very unclear, this
crisis feels more serious than others, and people who once were very
pro Malian and wanted nothing of these rebellions, now wonder how they
can ever call themselves Malian at all. “The very word, Mali, fills me
with fear now” says Randiwt Ansar, a student from Bamako who has had
to inscribe in a university in Burkina.

For me it is a pleasure to be here. I relax in the camp, visit
friends, take in their stories and discuss the situation. Wherever I
go I am warmly greeted, welcomed into tents or onto mattresses in the
shade to discuss, we have many teas, I am fed and accommodated and
watered – it is just like being in the desert.

Just as in their homeland, so here we are in an homogenous world:
there are only Tamashek around. This gives the camps a strong sense of

We all miss their desert with its vast openness, its fresh winds, the
cool of the night and the early morning, the oases, the pools of azure
blue water in granite hills, their wells, their animals, their music,
their parties, the freedom of roaming in the great Sahara – all this
is another life away.

Here in the Sahel they are in sparse bush, the temperatures are
greater, the air less fresh, the nights getting stickier as the dry
season heats up towards the rains in June. Occasionally there are
mosquitos, and when the rains come they will be plenty and this they
are not used to.

If they were their animals the change in climate would have killed
them off by now – even the camel cannot cope with too much variation
of climate and forage.

People complain mainly of the interruption to their lives, of being
tired, wanting their lives back. On the plus side, whole families and
communities are catching up with each other, students have all their
old school friends about, large extended families are re-uniting and
everywhere we go we spot old friends.

The future is very uncertain and it is not an exaggeration to say they
are a people fearing worse to come, wondering when, and for some if,
they might go home. One thing is for certain, they can be asked to
return by their government, by France, by the UN and ECOWAS, but until
they feel safe from their national military, they will staying put.

For now we are safe and doing fine in Burkina, if only it wasn’t so hot!

Mali’s Domestic Crisis Begins Now

With the deaths of the Al Qaeda In The Islamic Magreb leaders, Abou Zeid and Mocktar Belmocktar, one might be forgiven for thinking the Mali crisis was coming to an end.

But this is just the end of the beginning for Mali domestically. Now the foreigners are battling out the international story in the far reaches of the northern desert, Malians themselves are being left behind to work out their own national story, the story that began the crisis and that has been with this country since its inception.

What we have had up to now, really since the creation of AQMI back in 2002/3, has been an international issue that the Mali government has permitted to be played out in the northern half of the country so that Bamako could control the tinderbox that is Mali’s relationship with the Tuareg north.

As the French and Chadian armies sweep the AQMI mafia groups back to their adopted home in the Tuareg heartland of the Adar Des Iforas, the Malian army are inexplicably being left behind by the French campaign to reassert its own control, pretty much unmonitored over the liberated regions.

This is the military that crumbled before the MNLA rebellion that kick started the crisis, the military that enacted the coup d’etat that allowed the MNLA take over of the north and the islamist invasion, the military who recently had a pop at each other in bamako, and the military who have over the course of Mali’s history comitted atrocities against the northern population.

Now the international games of charades and musical chairs, of Al Qaeda, coup d’etats and islamist ideology, of acronym wars, of AQMI, MUJAO and Ansar Dine are coming to an end. Now we are back to square one. Mali and the Tuareg, north and south, black and white.

And the south is angry. You hear it in Bamako. And their military are back on the ground, in Timbuktu and Gao and the region south of the Niger and they are asserting their control.

People are disappearing. Military vehicles turn up at houses and in villages and are seeking people out. People bound and chucked into the backs of pick ups like “bags of rubbish” driven off into the night to disappear or be found with throats slit shallowly buried in the sand.

Not just anyone, just the light skins. Tuaregs and Arabs are being cleansed from the north of Mali. And it is working. The refugee camps in Burkina Faso are filling at a greater rate now than ever before in the crisis, by the people whose land has supposedly just been “liberated” by the French.

Here are some of the stories.

They do not need verifying, I know they are true. I know relatives and friends in the camps who are receiving the news on their phones. Everyone talks about the same names, the same stories, the people they knew, their brethren and kin.

Mohammed Lamine Ould Hammoudi   owned a cyber cafe, and director of a Qu’ranic school, Al Madrasser Nour El Moubine, stayed on in Timbuktu since islamists arrived he refused to join them, but with no one else in town using his cyber cafe.

When Timbuktu was liberated the Malian military turned up with French soldierstold him “you can stay chez toi, nobody will do you bad.” That night with his father and his 3 kids, Malian military personnel came to his house and took him away. In front of childrens, bound him and took him out of Timbuktu and killed him. Throat slit, shallow grave.

Ali Koubadi, very well known man from Timbuktu, very rich arab. Malian military arrive, he gave them 2 cows. That evening they came and threw him in a car “like throwing out the rubbish”. Killed.

This list is copied direct from someone collecting information on reports coming back to relatives in the camps.
A Tombouctou:

1 Mohamed Ag Mohamed Ousmane Ag Hama Ag Ihalissane dit Wague,

2 Mohamed Lamin Ould Hamoudi, Directeur de la Medersa Nour El Moubine

3 Mohamed Ould Tijani et d’autres corps non encore identifiés

4   Eljimite Ag Khaked (56 ans) et son fils

5   Biga Ag Eljimite (19 ans).

mercrdi 06 Février 2013 à Tombouctou, Mohamed Ag Mohamed Ousmane Ag Hama Ag Ihalissane dit Wagui, homme âgé de 65 ans et père de 11 enfants (06 garçons et 05 filles), a été arrêté par des éléments de l’armée malienne sous le Commandement du Colonel Sangaré et du Capitaine Konate, et exécuter sommairement

Mohamed Lamin Ould Hamoudi, Directeur de la Medersa Nour El Moubine

Mohamed Ould Tijani et d’autres corps non encore identifiés, tué par l’armée malienne et sa milice Gandakoy.

Dans la même ville de Tombouctou, fût découvert une fosse commune non loin de l’hôtel Azalai avec des corps dont certains identifiés et certains non –identifié.

L’une des dernières exactions commises contre les civils Touareg et Arabe date du 14/02/2013 à Tombouctou. Dans des circonstances qui restent encore à déterminer (aucun observateur indépendant n’est sur place), l’armée malienne a arrêté Eljimite Ag Khaked (56 ans) et son fils Biga Ag Eljimite (19 ans). Peu après, les corps des deux victimes ont été retrouvés en dehors de la ville.

Samedi les 16 février 2013 a Tombouctou

  1. 1Hama Ould Dahama, un grossiste arabe
  2. 2Ali Ould Mohamed Kobad, un commerçant et éleveur arabe
  3. 3Maouloune Fassoukoy, un ami songhaï,
  4. 4 Akassam Ag Himna


22 février 2013 tombouctou

Khaira Bint BABA, de la famille Boukhassy(prononciation approximative), 

La seconde se nomme

2 Koutah Bint MAHMOUD , de la famille Bougbeye.Toutes les deux victimes sont de la grande famille Berabich. 

  1. 5 A Douenza: Ould Douchy

5A Ber: Mohamed Ibrahim Ag Hama connues sous le nom de Daha

A Gossi, le 10 Février 2013, l’imam Mohamed Issouf Ag Attayoub et une autre personne dont on n’arrive pas à avoir le nom.

A Léré: le 15 février 2013 par l’armée malienne :

1-Moctar AG BARHA

2-Oumar AG AYAYE

3-Ibrahim AG MOSSA

4-Ibrahim AG HALAY

5-Mohamed Balla AG INTAMALOU

6-Houmaydi AG INTAHANA


8-Mohamed AG SOUKA




Personnes portés disparu :


A Gossi:

1.Alkhalifa Haidara,

2.Bada lamina Ould Taher,

3.Checkou Kounta,

4.Ahmed Ould Bakaye,

5.Med Aly;

6.Aboubacrine Ag Ayouba (14 ans),

7.Bachir Ould Hammar,

8. Fassil kountam,

9.Aghaly Ag Sidi,

10.Abdourazack Ould Yahia,

11.Mohamed Ag Issouf,


A Toya: Med Ag Atiyoub, et son frère Abdallah Ag Attiyoub

A Boni: Oumar Ag Koukou

A Wami sidahmad ag mohamed alamine

A Nara: Sergent de la Garde Nationale chef Arby ould Chaibani

A Kati: Sergent Wani Ould Oumar


Vendredi 03 mars 2013

Enlèvement de personne a bambara maoude dit ( hodarit)

et t out les boutique touaregs sont casse

1   Oumar ag sidi aly

2  ismail ag sidi aly

3 ?

4 ?

5 ?

In Bamako The Answer Is Clear

On the surface nothing seems to have changed in Bamako. The “souterama” buses jostle with taxis and motos, boys call on girls, and people greet, trade, and laugh as ever.

There are no signs in the capital telling you this is a country at war, with foreign fighters battling out the latest international war in the Adrar Des Iforas, a remote corner of their northern desert. And no wonder – it is far away, and to most people in Bamako it may as well be a foreign country.

Yet a persistent itch is back, irritating the skin of this divided country. Poke your nose into their current affairs and it soon becomes clear that the Bamakois of just a year ago – tolerant, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-lingual, multi-coloured – are unifying behind a worrying cry that Africa and the world have heard many times before.

The lyrics are old and have long been written in the country’s national slogan: “Un Peuple, Un But, Un Foi” – One People, One Goal, One Faith. Before, this slogan was repeated with a plea for unity in this historically divided country. Today there is something sinister in the cry, a tone that suggests “One Scape Goat” should be added to the slogan.

Although Malians in the south saw their army and political class wither away without a fight against the MNLA rebellion; although they openly acknowledge that their popular President ATT handed over his seat of power out of expediency and thus enabled the coup d’etat and the subsequent division of the country; and although they then all looked on exasperated as the unknown coup leader Captain Sanago, the weak remnants of government and a divided and demoralised military did nothing, and so permitted, the mafia terrorist (AQMI) allies of their former President, with his homemade militia (MUJAO), to take over the north from the secular separatists (MNLA) and threaten sharia law and the making of an Afghanistan of Mali, for the Bamakois there is only one culprit for their nation’s year of charades.

As their country is now gradually being liberated of its foreign jihadists by its colonial master, the people look within for whom to blame.

The answer is clear – it is a people with a separate history, a different tongue, and another colour. It is they who kick started the crisis, the usual suspects without whom none of this would have happened. “They” are the Tamashek, the so called Tuareg, the MNLA, as though these are one and the same. You can tell them by their skin: it is “les teints claires”. The answer is clear.

One thing that has returned to Bamako are international journalists, now interested in Mali with the excitement of war. But on their returns from reporting on liberated Timbuktu and Gao, they say they did not see these clear skinned faces.

That is because they have all left.

For oddly, despite the liberation of the north, the Tuareg are leaving Mali in greater numbers than ever before. Now even the poor who stayed behind to tend the animals when the islamists took over are filling the the refugee camps in Burkina and Mauritania. At the camp in Djibo in Burkina Faso 500 refugees per day are now arriving, more than ever before.

As for the first wave that came back in January when the rebellion began, so for the second wave in April who left when the coup d’etat happened, and so now for the recent surge as the French and Chadian forces disappear into the far reaches of the desert, it is the Malian military that people are fleeing.

“We welcomed the French war” explains Mohammed, a jewelry maker form Timbuktu in exile in Bamako “but we were better off before under the islamists. I am only now moving my father from Timbuktu. The islamists may have destroyed our dreams of independence, they may have imposed their sharia and banned our music and destroyed our way of life, but they didn’t kill us. And now in Bamako I cannot wear my turban. Guy, have you ever seen me without a turban? But now I am truly scared.”

If there are Tuaregs left in Bamako they dress down, they conceal their whereabouts, hide away their turbans and voiles. They hide their lives, conceal their identity, deny their culture and hush their tongues in their own capital city.

Meanwhile the Bamakois rehash the meaningless and incorrect slogan that became their county’s moto – One people, One Goal, One Faith.

As I leave Bamako for Burkina Faso I worry of Nazis and Jews, Serbs and Bosnians, Hutus and Tutsis.

I hope I’m being melodramatic.