The Real Work Begins

News reports yesterday were of the first ‘suicide bomber’ in Gao. However, when I talked to sources in Gao the response was that it was an inept rebel handling explosives that was trying to blow up the military base.  Accidental suicide bomber, perhaps?

In other news, before the rebels fled Gao, they mined homes, alongside roads, even the bridge, and the military is hard at work de-mining the region.  Three Malian military were killed when their vehicle hit a mine off the main road near Humbori.  Citizens have been encouraged to stay indoors until the military can say they have cleared the mines in town, however, the rebels have placed them haphazardly so this effort could take more time than not.  Furthermore, as yesterdays bombing shows, the rebels are still in the Gao region and are resorting to guerilla tactics.  The French are scheduled to leave the end of March, and it has yet to be seen if they will effectively hunt out the rebels at-large. More troops from neighboring African states are scheduled to arrive to keep the region secure, but it is questionable whether the security will remain as dynamic when the French leave the picture.

Furthermore, looking towards how to make a peaceful transition for the north, the history of the  1992 Tamanrasset Accords should be considered.  These accords were signed also in a time of military/political turmoil for Mali – right after ATT staged the 92′ coup.  The ‘good intentions’ for bridging the north-south Malian divide were quickly forgotten over concerns surrounding the military and political powers in the capital.  Had the accord been followed, it would have alleviated feelings of disenfranchisement in the north (military inclusion, civil society engagement, northern economic development, even increased media and a TV station).  However, the north soon realized that the government wasnt sincere in its efforts, and grievances mounted again. Although it was signed two decades ago, this accord provides a pertinent example of what the government should avoid as it transitions into post-conflict peacebuilding.   The accord can be viewed here:

Additionally, Malians have a long road ahead to transform the fear and insecurities of both Southern populations fearing the unstable North, and Northern populations fearing for their security and the prejudices of Southern Malian populations.


Calm, but not quite in the clear

Citizens report that calm has again returned to Gao.  There are about 1000 troops in the town now – French, Malian and Nigerian soldiers – with more scheduled to arrive to keep the town secure.  In the initial bombings, some rebels were killed, but most escaped before the French arrived.  The rebels who fled Gao, instead of fleeing into the open Sahara where planes could easily spot them (in order to regroup in the Tidmane and Tigharghar mountains in the Kidal region where some rebel forces are hiding), the rebels are hiding out in villages in the region of Gao – such as in Djebok, 45km from Gao.  The villagers do not support the rebels, but are scared and at the whim of the heavily armed retreating rebel forces.  The military is aware of the situation, but a plan for riding the rebels from the villages has not been implimented yet.  If the French leave without taking care of this situation, however, the rebels could easily return to confront the less capable Malian army.

Gao is a celebration on the streets !

On French TV:

On British:

Gao is completely closed up, everyone is afraid and inside their homes when the onvoy first arrives, little by little people realize that the rebels are gone, and a full scale celebration happens on the streets.  Women take off their veils, men smoke, everyone is excited to finally be free after almost 10 months of occupation.

Free at Last ! Gao citizens celebrate !

Gao citizens are euphoric after a tense week of drone strikes and waiting to see what would happen – cut off from the rest of the world by phone, TV, radio etc. Citizens remarked that they had stayed inside all week, not eating anything, fearful and waiting.  One friend who is usually clean-shaven said that his hair is so long now – never in his life has his hair been like that, but never in his life has he had to be put through such a tense situation.  As a collector and seller of antiquities, if he left, he said, everything would have been destroyed. Also, as the head of a large family he took the risk to stay in Gao and pray everything would pass.

Citizens report that the drone strikes were incredibally accurate.  Only rebel lodging, ammunitions stores, and vehicles were targeted.  There were many casualties but no civilians.  Citizens said that when the drones hit the whole town trembled.  Beyond fear ,the only thing locals could do was pray that they would not be targeted.

Now tonight for the first time in almost 10 months, citizens are out on the streets rejoicing.  Women have taken off their veils, men enjoy a celebratory smoke, and eyes and ears are glued to TVs and radios to find out what’s next.  The soldiers moved on further north last night and the fighting continues there.  As they moved up into the desert, citizens remarked that they could see fighting all through the night , the light flashes a contrast to the black desert sky.

The question looms now, with the city restored back to its citizens, what can be done to help heal the psychological wounds and build up the significantly destroyed city? What is Bamako’s response to the northern citizens who have been cut off economically even before the rebel takeover (since I would say the French kidnappings in Niamey in Jan 2011), who are desperately in need of assistance ?

All you need to know: How Washington helped foster the Islamist uprising in Mali

All you need to know (article link here)

Kudos to Jeremey Keenan for bringing to light the most significant ascpects of the backstory leading into the Mali crisis.  I have not seen any other reporter even scrath the surface of these covert relations between the US, Mali, and Algeria.  The US’s role is even more significant (as i hinted at 11/18/12 in the post ‘Ignoring the history of all prior US military training’) and hopefully this will be brought to awareness now that Mr. Keenan’s piece is circulating.

Word of mouth passes where TV and radio don’t reach~

Gonda Koy have been called to join the ranks of the Malian army in Sevare.  Two days ago the word started to spread through phone messages, and Northern able-bodied youth are heading towards Sevare.  Word is that a selection process will take place, and Gonda Koy and Malian military will be integrated for trainings, to get them prepared to take back the North.

Also, MNLA have been actively seeking support in France, but Northerners dont want them to be given any sway in negotiations.  MNLA have no ground-power in the North anymore, so any power they would be given at the negotiations table would ill-represent their actual influence on the ground.  Negotiations should be actively pursued, but this needs to go on between the Malian government and the non-Malian MUJAO commanders.

And what about addressing the rebel’s funding from Qatar? Maybe Qatar’s Allie France could work on cutting off  the rebel funding at the source?

gardening in Gao in more carefree days ~

gardening in Gao in more carefree days ~

community garden in the 8ieme quartier Gao
if gardens are close enough to the Niger bed and the well is deep enough, even in the dry season plants could grow.
As the northern livelihoods are now being erroded by the Islamist occupation, boys this age are being recruited to fight with the rebels –

northern civilians carry the burden of the rebellion –

Why is it that the people of the North can be left to suffer while the leaders head to France? How can leaders in the midst of a crisis abandon the people who depend on them? Malian Prime Minister Diarra is in France and head of the ousted MNLA is in France.  It seems an injustice for leaders to be flaunting around gaining press internationally while the dire situation persists.

I spoke to friends in Gao yesterday and heard that MUJAO is cracking down even more on the local population (maybe angry because of their losses in the fighting with MNLA last week, and now taking it out on the population).  Girls as young as 5 in Gao are now being veiled with only their eyes exposed, for fear they will be punished.  This is not the form of Islam that Gao citizens are accustomed to.  Locals that have stuck it out for the struggle of the last 8 months are now leaving in fear, and the town is turning more and more into the shell of its former self.  For Tuaregs, who are oftentimes lighter in complexion, it is desirable to flee with the Arab traders north to Algeria where they can blend in, and prospects might be better.  Songhai, who are often darker, would stand out too much on this voyage.  Although there are many more who would like to leave, the rumours that Malian military are arresting northerners once they come south are strong; also even if northerners make it south, the economy in Bamako is deeply depressed and the prospects of making enough for rent and family are slim if one does not have family arrangements.

Songhai Headdresses

Songhai Headdresses

each one a silent language, as each one has a differnt symbolic meaning. This tradition has been around for centuries – possibly derived from the caravans of people crossing the Sahara from ancient Egypt. Now however, Islamic law forces women to cover their heads and they have been forced to abandon these traditions.
(From left to rt: Bella wife, Songhai festival, young girls becoming women, young girls again, Gao style….unfortunately not pictured here, but there is one headdress that even means a woman is mad at her husband! also another for when a woman wants a child; another for when she gets pregnant (to let the community know); etc.)