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.

French plan for Mali intervention not so “crap” after all.

I find myself in a strange position. At the outset of the Mali crisis I felt that the worst possible scenario was France getting involved on its own. After 7 months of abject inertia on Mali, the international community through the UN and the USA finally truly kicked Mali into touch till September this year when it announced that no international action would happen until then.

Did this stance embolden Iyad Ag Ghaly, the great strategist and leader of one of the groups, Ansar Dine, to decide to make a quick push west from their frontline of Douentza to Konna just 90kms from Mopti? He seemed to have been after Sevare airport. If the islamists had takenthe airport it would have meant the only airstrip to land troops being 600kms away in Bamako. Iyad, and the islamists would have been in a very powerful position with 8 months to go before the world was going to wake up. 

France seized the moment. It seems they saw that Ag Ghaly had made a strategic blunder. Or had he been lulled into a trap? News started coming in that all the jihadists from Timbuktu and Gao had come south towards Konna. They were out of the towns and had a long way back. So France stepped in, quickly mobilised special troops – serious hard nuts who were based in Chad – and aircarft. 

It seems they are attacking the front line and picking off retreating fighters. They have attacked in Gao, Kidal, Lere, Konna. 

And back in the towns – Timbuktu and Gao – there remain only footsoldiers and signs of desertions already. It’s is hard to verify, but I am being told by Tuareg in Burkina that they are hearing that people are smoking in the streets of Timbuktu.

Many seem to buying the AQMI line that France have opened the gates of hell on themselves. At the moment it looks more like the islamists may well have trapped themselves in no man’s land, and it isn’t at all clear that they have a route out now. Algeria, who hitherto have been stalling on any international involvement in Mali (principally because this would take control from them) seem to working in partnership with France. If so, perhaps the Algeria have decided to cut their ties to the islamist groups and wash their hands of them now. I hope so.

The only way to begin to work towards a lasting peace to the Mali crisis is to eliminate these phoney islamists. Only then can a resolution to Mali’s constitutional crisis begin to be a Malian solution for Mali’s problem. With the foreign islamists in the picture any negotiation which many have advocated would have meant negotiating Mali’s future with foreign and unwanted islamist fighters.

I feel that there is too much made about these islamists strength and jihadist intentions. I’ve never felt they were nearly as strong as the UN and US have made them out to be. They’ve been handed their strength on a plate. Until the crisis happened – and it wasnt they who launched it, they were opportunists on the back of the MNLA led Tuareg rebellion – very little anti-western jihadist rehetoric had comme out from these guys. And they have never been battle tested. There may be a few Mujahadine who have come in now, but their rank and file are footsoldiers who have had not much choice but to join up. 

If French troops can cause a serious dent in the leadership and the main jihadists – and they’ve already dented a good 10% – we may be watching a turkey shoot and a cake walk.


Security update for the Caravan of Peace and The Festival In the Desert

The Festival in the Desert organisers in consultation with the Burkina Faso government, have announced that the Festival In the Desert in Exile slot on the Caravan of Peace, 20-22 February 2013, has been moved to a location close to Ouagadougou to better guarantee the security of the festival.


The festival was to be held at Orsi in the north of Burkina Faso. 

While the islamists hold the region in Mali north of the Burkina border, an incursion into Burkina Faso by the islamists for an attack on the festival itself is unlikely (see below). However, Orsi was felt to be too close to the border with Mali and so to safeguard the festival it has been moved to a site close to the capital so the Burkina Faso authorities can better secure the festival.


This is a good move. Of all the sites of the caravan, Orsi was the closest to islamist territory. This makes the route of the caravan from Bamako to Segou and down to Burkina Faso for the Festival itself very secure all over.


Perhaps this is a good time to set out my thoughts on security issues in general for the route of the Caravan of Peace.


Of course I get asked a lot by friends and family why I am bothering to go to Mali and run a trip given that Mali is in political chaos and that a band of Al Qaeda affiliated terrorists control the north of the country and have a history of kidnapping westerners in the region?


The simple answer is that I am doing it because I feel safe. I have only felt unsafe once in Africa and I never want to go there again, and I certainly do not want to take anyone else there. If I didn’t feel the region of the caravan was safe I would not be running the trip.


The risk is undoubtedly there on paper, like the risk of a terror attack at a western airport is there. How significantly we assess that risk is largely down to our own perceptions and acceptance of risk.


Like at the western airport, the actual risk on the caravan of peace as I see it is small enough not to make me change my course. 


What is the threat?

Western tourists are warned not to go to the Sahara/sahel region of west Africa because there is the threat of being kidnapped by islamist groups who currently occupy the north of Mali. Since 2008 more than 20 westerners have been kidnapped. Currently there are 10 or so still being held.


My argument for why the caravan of peace is safe to join rests on my view that there is no longer a motive for the islamist groups to take more hostages. They have 10 that they are not getting money for and there are no negotiations on for ransoms as the game as changed and these groups now control the north of Mali. I will argue that their focus is now holding down what they have got against internal splits and preparing for a possible ECOWAS attack. Why risk potentially weakening themselves and inflaming the international perspective on Mali by taking hostages who will get them no money?


Hitherto nearly all the kidnappings have taken place in remote regions with no security, or where a couple of vehicles can go in and quickly take the hostages and flee back to the desert.  They have never attempted to attack festivals or to break through military lines to perform kidnappings.


Beyond the threat of kidnap there is no other significant threat to western tourists on the caravan of peace. Civil society throughout the route of the caravan is in tact, despite there being no real government in Mali and there has been no significant civil unrest.


Background to the kidnappings



I break the kidnappings that have taken place in the region since November 2008 into two groups. 


1) French nationals.

Roughly half of the hostages have been French. I believe that when French nationals are taken hostage the primary motive is political. There are currently 7 French hostages. There have been 4 or 5 other French nationals who have been kidnapped and either ransomed or they have died in rescue attempts.


The circumstances around French nationals being kidnapped are always a little murky and it seems that when French nationals are taken it is about the complicated relationships that France has in the region.


If I was French I would not be travelling in the region of the Caravan of Peace, even though I think the threat generally has eased off somewhat (see below), for French nationals the politics is too hot and so their security is too uncertain. I can still see a motive for islamists to take French nationals. My advice is stay away.


2) Other nationals. 

When other nationalities get taken hostage the motive seems to be money. It is this ransom money that has enabled these groups to amass weapons to be doing what they are doing now. Some European governments (Spain, Germany, France, Switzerland) have paid large ransoms. European nationals were reasonably high risk before the crisis but below I set out why I think they are less so now.


UK, USA and Australian nationals

These nationals are, in my view, the safest in the region as their governments do not pay ransoms. The UK has had one national taken – Edwin Dyer. He was in one of the first groups taken January 2009. A ransom was demanded, Britain refused and then the demand became release of prisoners in the UK, and still they refused, and Mr Dyer was executed. Edwin Dyer is the only hostage to have verifiably been executed. At this stage AQMI wouldn’t have known perhaps that Britain wouldn’t pay and to save face they had to go the distance – this was the beginning of their campaign and he was in a group with other nationalities whose governemnts did, it seems, pay ransoms. 


Since Dyer, no UK national has been taken. No USA or Australian national has ever been taken. 


I don’t think it is coincidental that it is these governments that do not pay ransoms. Together these nationalities, at a guess, probably make up easily half of the tourists and ex-pats in the region, so if the kidnappings were random or ideologically motivated then more of these nationalities, their governments being in the fore front of the war on terror, would have been taken one would have thought.


The problem for AQMI etc with taking one of these countries’ citizens is that it all becomes a lot more serious. The reality is take a Portuguese guy, no one hears about it, the money gets paid. Take an American and you’ve got a big issue on your hands. Not only can UK/USA/AUS not be seen to be paying ransoms to Al Qaeda affiliated groups, but it takes the game to another level politically and militarily. 


To understand the current threat we have tolook at what the islamists are focussed on?

AQMI’s focus before the Mali crisis was money and regional mafia politics, regional strategic positioning to protect their lucrative smuggling routes. The hostage taking coming in in 2008 was another way of making money, and it helped cut off the region and thus further entrenched their control.


It is unlikely that their focus has ever been expansion of an islamist agenda, rather the islamism is used to give credibility to their criminal interests. Politically really they are fighting Algeria’s war. Algeria’s bottom line at the moment is no international forces in Mali. But neither have an interest in a) expansion of the islamist territory b) provoking the international world beyond France. 


Their focus now is holding what they have got against the likes of the MNLA (Tuareg rebels) from the desert, the Malian army and/or ECOWAS to the south and east, the Mauritanian army from the west, a potential Ansar Dine split from within and internal divisions.


Currently they have 7 French nationals, a Dutchman, a Swede and a South African. 

No money is coming in for them nor is now likely to.


They’ve had them all for a long time. The last group (non French) taken was the Timbuktu three last November 2011, just before the crisis began. No negotiations are going on for their release. It is unlikely anyone is going to pay ransoms now. European governments have wised up that it doesn’t pay in the long run and the game has changed as these groups now control half a country. No one wants to fund or further arm them.


So when your shelves are well stocked but you can no longer shift your stock, why would you add to it?


Surely, with an event that is standing up to their sharia ban on music an attack could bring good publicity for a kidnapping?

But do they want publicity? Only if their motives are ideological, and no one is really suggesting that they are. I think they are doing nicely the more the situation remains on the fringes of the international agenda. Their only chance of being beaten out of the north now is if a UN/US/French force were to come in. There is nothing in any of the international discussions of a regional force that can really worry them at the moment on this. With talk that there is about a serious international force coming in, the forecasts are many months and possibly more than a year away. 


If you are AQMI, why would you do anything to potentially bring this forwards? The longer you stay in place, holding what you have, the more entrenched you get, the more time you have to bring in more support.


If you can’t get money from hostages, the only reason for taking them now would be political or ideological. Not much politics or ideology comes out from these guys – no great demands, no generalised anti-western rhetoric. The only rhetoric that does come from them is that the western world should stay out of this. Why do anything that could work against this? 


Why open your hand when you have all the cards?

If AQMI/MUJAO do want a battle they seem to want what they may well soon get: ECOWAS and/or Malian military. These forces are still completely unprepared, ill trained and unmotivated for a fight with mafia/islamists. If I were a betting man my money would be on the islamists to at least cause carnage before they retreat back to their safety in the desert and to their former lives.  


Why would they do anything that might begin to alter the balance of power away from this win win situation towards the one threat of force that could smash them apart – a UN/US/EU backed force? 


Notions of risk

My father asked me how, with no effective government in Mali, I could say I was safe on the streets of Bamako. I could only explain by comparing to awful massacre of children in Newtown in America. 


10,000 people a year get killed by guns in America. In terms of gun crime statistics, America is a very unsafe country to visit and yet it has a functioning government and a functioning society and none of us would really think twice about going there. Most tourists have no problems, some, occasionally, get caught up. Last year a British man was shot dead in a Texan bar. Would it stop me going to Texas? No.


Now clearly the threat of being kidnapped in west Africa and the threat of coming across gun crime in America are very different sorts of risk, but in terms of our assessment of the risks we take when we travel they are the similar. For both, the risk is of being caught up in the wrong place at the wrong time. Which is the greater risk? Statistically you’d have to say going to America and getting caught up in gun crime if over 10,000 murders happen a year.


Whenever we travel to another country we put our trust, first and foremost, in the community that we are in. The risk of gun crime in America comes out of something in its society and its laws that permit the place to be a wash with deadly weapons. The risk to the tourist is completely random, being in the wrong place at the wrong time, just as it was for those poor children. The risk has nothing to do with the effectiveness or not of the USA government, it has to do with the society, the community – these guns are out there.


The risk of kidnap in west Africa does not come out of the community. I have never seen a gun in Africa that was not in the hands of military or police. I have never seen a vehicle full of armed bandits. I have never heard a gun shot in anger. I have never seen conflict. Of course these things exist but they are not wandering around areas I go to and long before I have ever reached an area that is unsafe I have been warned away.


In the whole Mali crisis only a couple of hundred people have been killed, and they were mostly military in rebel attacks at the beginning. Throughout the crisis, despite rebellion, coup d’etat x 2, islamist invasion, no functioning government, no one clearly in control, a divided and bruised military, civil society has held together and zero crime rates pretty much maintained. All of this is not and never has been primarily down to the government’s control, just as gun crime in America is not to do with its government, it is down to the community, the cultures and their history of co-existence. 


Bamako still has loads of expats there and they don’t wander around with concern or extra security, there is no extra military presence on the streets, and yet the UK FCO will tell you Bamako is unsafe. Yes they may have to say this as there is no effective government, but this is not based on any statistics or realistic threat. If it was really the case these expats would have left.


Real security anywhere is not in the hands of the authorities but in the hands of the community. This is what makes Mali fundamentally safe away from the north, and what best assures the security of the caravan of peace.




Mali’s prime minister is arrested and resigns in a second bloodless coup. Who gains?

“Our country is living through a period of crisis. Men and women who are worried about the future of our nation are hoping for peace,” he said. “It’s for this reason that I, Cheikh Modibo Diarra, am resigning along with my entire government on this day, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012. I apologize before the entire population of Mali.”

Thus Cheikh Modibo Diarra, Mali’s interim Prime Minister, sweating, shocked and in a make shift studio, resigned his post. Last night he had been been arrested from his home in Bamako, bundled into a car and driven off to face Captain Sanago and his junta. 

I guess they were discussing his recent involvement in organising demonstartions in Bamako calling on the international world to come to Mali’s help to recapture the north from the islamists so that Malians from all sides can get on with working out the peace that they all want now. The question is begged, why was this not conducive to Sanago’s program?

This latest round in the shifts of power in the Mali crisis has been, like all the others, characerized less by the bullet and more by the “music”, not a game of cowboys and indians but more of musical chairs.

The massacre of military personnel at Aguelhoc occured because the Malian military had no bullets. The resulting confusion over who had committed this war crime  – MNLA rebels as the government wanted to say or AQMI islamists as the Tuareg themselves claim – and the subsequent anger and shame amongst military families and the poulation in Bamako that the government couldn’t even protect its own army gave Sanago the platform on which to launch the coup d’etat.

The coup d’etat itself was not the usual gun battle we have come to expect around an African president’s  relaease of power. Not a shot was fired, it is uncertain whether President Amadou Toumani Toure was even at home to greet the incoming Sanago or whether he was already in his safe house.

Then the vacuum of power and authority created by this bloodless coup enabled the MNLA rebels and the AQMI/MUJAO islamists and Ansar Dine to sweep across the desert and take Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal in quick succession without a bullet fired.

A letter to Barack Obama on the Mali Crisis

Dear Mr President,

These boys are from Mali.


Barak Obama T Shirt in Africa-2


You see their like throughout Africa –  the continent of your ancestors, indeed of all our original ancestors. 


They wear you proudly, bemused to see one of their own where you are. They celebrate you as a history maker.


This letter calls you to change history for the better in Africa, now. 


You will have heard about the Mali crisis. 


I’ll spare you the history – you will have been informed and its complex, blame is everywhere. It’s a dark story of drugs and mafia, of secret services playing regional power games, of kidnap and ransom, resource control, the war on terror and the Arab Spring, of colonisation and de-colonisation and re-colonisation and desperate rebellion of an ancient people whose land is being used for this battleground.


I know, you’ve glazed over but here’s the good bit:

the solution could be really simple but only you can deliver it.


There is another solution – very complex, a papering over of the cracks only to return again in later years with more force.

The way this world is I’m sure the latter will be adopted, so this is an attempt to get you to take the reigns, deliver something real and lasting and profound for the people of Africa and the world.


For the simple solution all that is required is a simple phone call.


And more than that the people want you to help.


What could be achieved?


Right now, with very little effort, without even a troop being needed on the ground, for these boys’ future you could:


 – defeat extremist islamist banditry, ideology and terrorism in the Sahara and the Sahel of Africa.


– put an end to the main artery of the drugs smuggling from South America to Europe and cut off a major route for human and contraband trafficking from Africa to Europe. 


– give back control of the land to the indigenous people.


– re-unite a nation


– securing for yourself access to new oil fields – yes sorry its that dirty word again, but it is again behind everything – funny that but hey it would be yours to exploit but this time you’d have the thanks and good will of a nation you will have liberated from sharia law, division and possible civil war.


AND all you have to do to achieve all this is make a phone call to Algeria.


Your phone call


First you call in the Algerian Ambassador to the US and tell him that you need to speak to his real boss. He’ll mention the President. You say, no the REAL boss. Wink at him  – he’ll know what you mean. If he stalls, grab his balls and say “The God of Algeria!”


He’ll put you through to the boss of the Algerian Secret Service, the DRS – a General Mediene. As you will know from your CIA briefings, they control everything: AQMI, Ansar Dine, MUJAO – their intelligence, their supply lines, their arms. 


You tell him the game plan is changing. 


You then tell him the phoney war on terror in Africa is over.


He’ll scream back: “But we had a deal – AFRICOM! You can’t do that!”

You say, with your Clint best: “Yes We Can. That was “W” time, this is my time.”

See him quiver!


He’ll be in a bit of shock at this stage. Kick him while he’s down.


You go on. You tell him to call off the troops or you are going in. This is your trump card. If you come into the fray Algeria lose control of the situation.


Tell him instability in the north of Mali is no longer in the US’s interests. 

He’ll bring up Algeria’s oil.

The DRS – through its agents, the so called islamist groups:AQMI, MUJAO and Ansar Dine. They are all really different disguises of the same thing. They control the north of Mali, and so the oil. Algeria let them loose on the back of the MNLA Tuareg rebellion because it could not fathom an independent Azawad with the Tuareg in control of the oil.


The oil in Mali is linked to the oil in Algeria, but Mali’s beds are lower than Algeria’s. So  whoever controls Mali’s oil controls Algerian oil. Mali is ready to exploit. Once they start drilling Algeria will be out of oil in a year they say.


Thus Algeria is interested in chaos in the Mali desert, serving two purposes: control of the oil produced, control and destroy the Tuareg autonomy aspirations. Why? It is their own Tuareg who also live on Algeria’s valuable land.


To encourage him to dismantle his life’s work you could say you still want to buy their oil but if they want to go elsewhere for buyers that is fine, you are sure the Mali government would be delighted to do business on their new oil fields. You’d be drinking Algeria dry anyway goddam it! I reckon he’ll keep you on board.


And that’s it. That should do it. Cut the line of supply, cut off the puppets strings and you’re done.


You will of course then have to help the relevant forces on the ground – a mix of Mali, ECOWAS and MNLA – to get the thugs out of town, but once Algeria are on side this is just a technicality. They’d be out of the towns in days. Once in the desert the MNLA Tuareg rebels will finsih them off.


Why the US?

Firstly because you are not France


Second because you personally are who you are.


Thirdly because if it is EU, this means France.


(Ok what is my problem with France? Oh that would take a book! Suffice to say France is the former colonial power with all the tensions that involves. They set up the nations of the region under the principle of divide and rule, and it is the consequences of this that are playing out now. They have too much interest in the uranium and oil, their relationship with Algeria is very complicated and they have no credibility in the region for any of the parties you need on side, for the reasons above. If France gets involved, an already complicated situation gets 10 times worse.)


So far they have launched two very odd attacks ridiculously to rescue hostages and both have ended in disaster all round and they have killed their own hostages, on purpose I am sure but let’s not go there… They will and can only bodge things up and piss on the region as they’ve always done.


Why not just UN/ECOWAS?

A UN mandate will probably mean ECOWAS troops. The Malian army, the remnants of government and the MNLA rebels, the elements that are needed onside to resolve this crisis, do not trust ECOWAS to resolve the situation, and the people do not want them if it is them alone.The problem for ECOWAS is that it is made up of all the neighbouring nations who all have similar issues in their own countries to those of Mali. They are therefore not looking at the Mali situation alone, and consequently will not be making decisions based on how best to help Mali, but on how best to further their own country’s interests. 


Niger for instance has a very similar Tuareg/northern problem because of the uranium being mined in the Air Mountains. Chaos in the north of Mali keeps their issues off the agenda. They may not have an interest in a Mali of federal regions.


The Tuareg have to be heard and brought onside and be a major part of the solution for any peace to be lasting. They are the big victims in all this.


From the outset of the Mali crisis your government’s words on the evolving situation have made one critical mistake of understanding. You have always linked the Tuareg rebels and the islamists as though they were fighting together or for similar aims. They have have totally opposed aims: the Tuareg seek secular autonomy; the islamists are jihadists, seeking sharia law throughout Mali and oppose any sense of desert autonomy. Why? Because they are really working for Algeria, so why would they really want to go as far as having their own state? They just want chaos.


The Tuareg are a people of the desert first, muslim second. They are a secular people. Their islam is important to them of course and it directs their society, but it does not form the base of their identity. 


The Tuareg have always been the guardians of the desert, protecting travellers and connecting north and south. They just want to live their life, free in their desert where nobody else can or wants to live. They want to go back to how their life was 10, even 5 years ago, where 95% of their external income came from tourism.


Perhaps their distinction between their Islam and their culture is illustrated by the fact that it is their women who go open faced and it is the men that cover their faces out of respect.


Tuareg women have always held a very equal and strong position in Tuareg society. The tent belongs to the woman and stays with her and the children in divorce.


These so called “islamists” – the term is terrible, they are mafia, these people have nothing to do with islam, odd how they never came out with any of this sharia stuff before, and where does Islam condone drugs and cigarettes running, kidnaping of tourists for money (not even jihad)? – have been imposed on the Tuareg people of northern Mali since 2003 when Algeria created AQMI for their own Al Qaeda franchise, with the sanction of the US who wanted lots of bogeymen at the time (just before we all went into Iraq!)


They have destroyed the Tuareg economy that relied heavily on tourism, and for the time being have destroyed their way of life. It is the Tuareg who are refugees, the Tuareg who are exiled and looking down the barrel of cultural annihilation.


Hillary Clinton’s speech to the Secretary General meeting on the Sahel.


It was good to see Hilary Clinton talking forcefully about the Mali crisis, but she revealed some worrying misunderstandings. She said that there needed to be a restoration of the democratic process before things could move forward and called for elections in April.


It was the failure of the democratic process, the corruption of government and President Amadou Toumani Toure’s personal involvement in all the above that sparked the coup d’etat. Malians were looking at a situation where their president was sending in badly equipped troops to give up their lives against opponents with whom he had personal, family and political ties. His hands were covered in muck.


With the situation as it is, elections are the last thing that Mali needs. The mafia “islamists” cannot be contained through democracy, and their eviction has to happen before any elections can take place. On that the country is united.


She also talked of restoring the rule of law. Miraculously, despite having no government, southern Mali is calm and there has been very little civil unrest. This proves that the roots of the crisis and the main influences are foreign not local.


She also said that the “violent extremists” had allowed drugs trafficers space to operate. No – the drugs traficers have been there a long time, with a lot of official knowledge and support. It is they who became AQMI, MUJAO, ANSAR DINE. They are all one and the same.


She goes on: ” We have to train the security forces in Mali, help them dislodge the extremists, protect human rights, and defend borders.”

This is disingenuous. Your AFRICOM force has had a presence in Mali since 2003, when all this charade began, supposedly to do exactly this and monitor the AL Qaeda situation and train the Malian army to deal with the situation. The Mali garrison at Aguelhoc, closest to AQMI camp, was attacked at the beginning of the Mali crisis. The military were massacred as they didnt even have bullets. Your guys were not doing a good job of training the military to protect their country!  Back in 2009, when the issue of whether there were all these terrorists in the region as the US were claiming first arose, I asked an eminent Tuareg elder if there really were “terrorists”. He replied: “Yes there are terrorists. I call them the American terrorists. They came when the Americans came and they serve American interests – our oil.”


She ends: “Ultimately, our perspective is that strengthening democratic institutions must be at the heart of our counterterrorism strategy. It is democracies that offer their citizens constructive outlets for political grievances, create opportunities for upward mobility and prosperity, and are clear alternatives to violent extremism.”


And she says: “We are expanding our work with civil society organizations in specific terrorist hotspots – particular villages, prisons, and schools – trying to disrupt the process of radicalization by creating jobs, promoting religious tolerance, amplifying the voices of the victims of terrorism.”. If she is referring to Mali on this I’m afraid this is a load of hogwash.


Barak Obama T Shirt in Africa