As Mali’s feuding parties dither, the extremists may get stronger again
IN THE lobby of Bamako’s El-Farouq hotel, Ould Mohamed Ousmane Omar, a middle-aged Malian Arab whose life has been one of exile, rebellion and plot, is gossiping about friends and enemies. Take the Tuareg rebels, whose 2012 rebellion precipitated the fall of northern Mali to al-Qaeda-linked extremists. “They’re only in it for their own gain,” he says, adjusting the white veil of his turban to reveal a wisp of goatee. Or Mali’s new government, which, he grimaces, “knows nothing—not the north, not the Tuareg, not the problems. It’s so easy to fool.” As for his own faction, the Arab Movement of Azawad (as some northern Malians call their homeland), Mr Omar can only lament that an international conspiracy to thwart its potency has cracked it down the middle. But then again, he says, few of his erstwhile colleagues were ever more than “second-class” and “drug dealers”. Read the rest of this entry »
Morocco is vying with Algeria for more influence in the region
KING Muhammad VI of Morocco’s trip to Mali could not have gone better. Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, Mali’s president, and his entire cabinet were waiting on the tarmac to welcome the monarch off his jet on February 18th. When the king bestowed Morocco’s highest honour on Mr Keita, he promptly renamed a boulevard in Bamako after him (Muhammad’s name is emblazoned on a red and green billboard). Over five days of pomp, pageantry and public displays of affection, Muhammad signed 18 agreements, covering microfinance to defence and energy. He is hoping to do the same in Ivory Coast, Guinea and Gabon, the remaining stops on his tour. Read the rest of this entry »
A former coup leader is dragged to court
IT SEEMS unlikely that Amadou Sanogo will be remembered for much other than his incompetence. The Malian army captain bungled his way to power last year as leader of a coup, clearing the way for ethnic rebels and religious extremists to take over half the country. His clumsy posturing isolated Mali diplomatically and brought it close to ruin. Only popular discontent and bloodthirsty supporters lent the captain—a man of much ego and little talent—a measure of power. Until now. Read the rest of this entry »
Two French reporters are killed in an attack that bears the hallmarks of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb
IT WAS brutal and perhaps unexpected. Two French journalists in the northern Malian town of Kidal, an unlovely settlement on the southern flank of the Sahara, were seized by gunmen as they left a meeting with an ethnic Tuareg separatist on November 2nd, driven into the desert and executed. French troops found their corpses hours later. Although jihadists hiding out in the desert have launched a spate of attacks in recent weeks, these have tended to be opportunistic—a mortar attack here, a suicide bombing there. The abduction of the reporters in broad daylight in the centre of town required proper intelligence and planning. Several hundred UN peacekeepers based moments away knew nothing about it until it was far too late. Read the rest of this entry »
There were a number of great lines in Vanessa Gezari’s recent opinion piece in the New York Times but this excerpt rings particularly true, to me at any rate:
I spent my formative years as a journalist in Afghanistan, and reporting there taught me something that would pass for heresy in many American newsrooms: finding the truth is not just about gathering facts. It is also an interpretive and imaginative effort.
The charismatic military leader of Salafist rebels in Mali may just be helping to found an Islamic caliphate but he is also taking apart an ancient city’s heritage.
Oumar Ould Hamaha is a one-man whirlwind of piety and fury. For more than a decade he has — by his own account and others — raided government outposts in Mauritania, Algeria and Niger; held Western hostages for extravagant ransoms; and proselytized a ferocious asceticism over the barrel of a gun. Riding with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, he has crisscrossed the shadowless Sahara in the service of a god he envisions as unforgiving as the desert itself. He has invoked Koranic verses to protect himself from the “evil work of devils” and “the biting of snakes and scorpions,” learned to navigate by the sun, moon and stars, and believes that meteor showers are battles between djinns and angels. It has been a ferocious transformation for a former student of accounting. Read the rest of this entry »