Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Le Front de Libération de Macina ?

 Mali is abuzz with a new concept:  The Macina Liberation Front,  purportedly a new terrorist organisation, referred to in a recent document published by Human Rights Watch who holds them responsible for a number of terrorist attacks in central Mali: the regions of Mopti and Segou. Malian press as well as RFI (Radio France Inter) has picked up on this, and the spin is in full spin as it were… The Independent (the Malian one, not the UK version) has the lurid headline: ‘Mopti,  the Venise of the North, in  a state of psychosis, last weekend’. (This may be slightly exaggerated, since I just spoke to a Mopti friend of mine who said she had never heard of it).
Nevertheless:  the hotel was nearly fully booked for the annual ‘crepissage’ of the Mosque this coming weekend, but one by one the reservations have been cancelled and now there are only two rooms left.  Most of the people that were supposed to come are diplomats, and they have all been reading various think tank reports  on these terrorist attacks which are supposed to be perpetuated by this new  extremist group ‘Le Front de Libération de Macina’, and embassies are issuing new prohibitions for travel to these regions.
Of course I, as a hotel owner in the region,  have every reason to play down something like this and I am aware that my opinion is unlikely  to be taken seriously . Nevertheless, I will add my little dissenting voice to the overwhelming clamour of the MINUSMA specialists and the Human Rights Watch people, who write their reports mostly from the safety and comfort of Bamako.

The facts are the following: reports of violence in the area of central Mali since January 2015 have increased in the region of Mopti and Segou, and localities such as Nampala, Tenenkou, Boulkessi, Dogofri and  Morha have been repeatedly attacked.

Ban Ki Moon has said in a recent statement: « an  intensification of  extremist activity has been signalled in the previously spared regions of Segou and Mopti.”

But his statement , those of RFI and of  all other commentators make the fundamental mistake of not pointing out - either by ignorance or by expedience- that the regions of Mopti and Segou have the geographical dividing line of the river Niger running through them:  all the large cities and administration centres are situated to the east of the river Niger and they  follow the main road leading to the north  i.e. Segou, San, Bla, Mopti, Djenné, Sevaré, Mopti. The eastern regions also include  the entire Dogon country. These are the regions that have 'been spared' and  they still are.
ALL of these attacks have been perpetuated to the west  of the river Niger.The western  parts of the regions of Segou a.d Mopti – that part which lies  towards the Mauritanian border have continued to be the target of attacks either by bandits or by elements that have fled from the northern extremist groups since the French dislodged them in 2013. This glaring fact has not been pointed out by any one of the commentators.  I would like to draw attention to my blogs of March 29 and 30 and April 1st 2013; ,(‘Murky Waters’, Attack on Mourha’)   amongst others which highlights this very problem. It is therefore not a new phenomenon, and it is misleading to describe it as such. Some of the commentators   are here on six  month contracts.   I boast the advantage of having observed, over the last years, from a position of central Mali, the events that unfold in close proximity to me.

Certain commentators have indicated that the local administration in these localities have fled and one source even mentioned that some prefects have withdrawn to  Djenné.  The truth is  that the Sou- Prefect of Morha (west of the Niger) did ‘withdraw’  to Djenné in order to report on the situation and on the recent violence in Morha to the Prefect here. He then returned to his post. The regions to the west of the Niger have had less of an administration  presence since colonial times. Certain of these localities such as Morha rely on the gendarmerie and the higher ranks of administration of larger localities on the eastern side of the river Niger to resolve many incidents (see blog 'Attack on Morha' 1st April 2013).

All this does not mean that there has not been an increase in violence: this part is unfortunately true. But please do label things properly! Please make the fundamental  distinction between  the east and west side of the river Niger: the river itself exercises a geographical barrier that is extremely important: the extremist groups are not waterborn- or have not been so far. No incidents have happened in the areas east of the river- this is because the terrorist elements are in the main not  local: they come from their hiding places towards the border of Mauritania, they do their destructive raids and then they disappear again into the wilderness- on the east side they would have nowhere to go.

And what about this mysterious ‘Front of the Liberation of Macina?’ Sekou Amadou Barry was the religious reformer whose  Fulani Empire of Macina  was established the region in the middle of the 19th century   with a religious fervor which can be described as the fore runner of today’s  extremist Islam . An iconoclast, he is responsible for the destruction of the Great Mosque of Djenné which  had stood here since the 14th century, but which was too ornate for his liking so he built another simpler one on a nearby site.  The present mosque was built on the ruins of the old and completed in 1907.

Think tank reports are seeing a connection between  a charismatic preacher, Hamadou Koufa, whose DAWA sect of Wahabi persuasion has links with Iyad Ag Ghali’s (above) Ançar Dine. They are suspected  to be the masterminds behind this ‘Front de Liberation de Macina’ which is  supposed to be made up of Fulani who hank for the return of the glory days of the 19th century when the Empire of Macina ruled their world. Is this true? ‘It is a compelling narrative,’ as a clever young diplomat friend in Bamako so trendily expressed it to me  the other day. Indeed, and it is possibly a scheme masterminded by the likes of Iyad ag Ghali as a means of whipping up support amongst a poor and disgruntled population.   And  there is apparently a small group of Fulani who have been recruited. But the present threat of this organisation is hugely exaggerated, and  whatever is going on right now it  is a stepping up of violence on the WESTERN shores of the Niger.
UPDATE 23 September 2015:
Since it seems that this blog post is still getting some readership, I feel it has to be edited. Although I still believe I was correct in my theory of the relative safety of the Eastern shores of the Niger at the time of the writing, this is of course  now sadly no longer true, and groups of bandits, sometimes claiming to be members of the Macina group,  are attacking civilians and military personnel in random locations in central Mali. 
There was also the destruction of Sekou Amadou Barry's mausoleum  at Hamdallay, a destructive act which was claimed by the Macina group: this at the time seemed contradictory: why should adherents to the group that reveres his memory destroy the  grave of their hero? But of course Sekou Amadou himself would have been against the buildings of mausoleums to revere the dead, but  he had no control over what happened to his own body once he died.

 As far as Djenné is concerned, it is still untouched by any violence, and this has been so since the beginning of the crisis. This does not prevent all the foreign office warning sites to place it well out of bounds for travel. UN personnel and the French Barkhane forces as well as all diplomats are forbidden to travel to Djenné although they are in Sevaré (site of the recent hotel siege) and in Mopti in great numbers. This remains a great mystery to everyone in Djenné and a great sadness to those in the tourism industry which is now non-existent for many years in Djenné, while many in the hotel and restaurant industry in places like Bamako, Sevaré and even Timbuktu are not only surviving but making an excellent living particularly from the affluent UN contingent.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Volte - Face

Well, it seems that we shouted 'Hurrah' to speedily.
Although The CMA (Co-ordinated Movements of Azawad, which includes most importantly the MNLA) had assured the Algiers negotiators that they were willing to sign the Peace Treaty on the 15th of April and Algiers  in turn had relayed this news  to the Malian government ( who still this evening is continuing to relay this joyful message in several languages on  national TV) it now appears they have changed their minds. A press statement from Moussa Ag Attaher, the CMA spokesman  in Nouakchott insists that there are several points they cannot accept and they will therefore not be able to sign after all.
There have been several points the Malian government could not accept either, but they were made to accept them by international pressure for this peace deal which will give much more autonomy to the north  via a policy of de-centralisation.
Keita and I were wondering all day yesterday why there were no international news coverage of this important breakthrough: nothing on French news.  It is all as clear as mud what is actually going on. There are  things moving behind the scenes here, things we cannot know but only guess at...

Iyad Ag Ghali, the northern warlord whose Ançar Dine held Kidal during the Jihadist occupation, is still in hiding due to a mandate for his arrest, but he is  a big player in this drama. Another is the new Amenokal - the traditonal leader of the Tuaregs of the Kidal Area- who is also incidentally a deputy for Kidal in the National Assembly. He was in Bamako yesterday, speaking  with a severely forked tongue: he  mouths allegiance to a secular state of Mali; united and undivided while at the same time his recommendations for the solving of the crisis involves three eccentric and to  the Malian government indigestible concepts: he wants Kidal to adopt Sharia Law, he wants the unconditional dropping of all charges against Iyad Ag Ghali and finally he insists that  the Malian Army should only be allowed  to return to  the Kidal area if the Gatia force, a  highly efficient semi-militia, loyal to the government and led by the Touareg General Gamou, that  torn in the flesh for the MNLA is excluded.
So; in other words; it is all still a mess...

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Good News!

No time to write anything of note (we are snowed under by Malimali work) but I feel compelled to  say at least something about  the two major bits of good news that  today has brought:
This morning Alpha (right) my saintly but ham-fisted tailor brought his brother (left) along to see me.  Now, this was something of an apparition since  the last thing I had  heard of him was on the day we bundled him  into a  bush taxi  to the hospital in Mopti  on what I presumed was to be his final journey– he was on the verge of death from a badly infected tooth and noone expected him to even make it to the Mopti hospital. But here he was! Safe and sound but with a great scar across his neck.
Alpha, by the way, would be mortally embarrassed if he understood what his T-shirt said. He, like everyone else here buy our cast- off  second hand clothes in the market for a small fee. It is much cheaper to  dress in second hand Western clothes than to have something traditional made. This has of course  all but ruined the indigenous clothing manufacture. But that is another story… Here in Djenné though  many people still dress in their traditional beautiful Grand Boubous, and Alpha only wears T-shirts for work.
And the other Good News today  is that the northern armed rebels which include the MNLA have finally decided to sign the Peace Treaty which has been negotiated in Algiers over the last few months . The signing will go ahead on the 15th of April and Inshallah, it  will mark the end of these three years of profound Malian crisis and usher in the beginning of peace and prosperity once more for this bruised nation.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

For The Swedes only:

‘Hemslojden’ is a Swedish Craft magazine that just came out with an article about bogolan in which they use a lot of the information I gave them over the telephone. It is a good article but it does not, annoyingly, let people know that they can by MaliMali’s bogolan in Sweden at the shop Just Africa in Stockholm! Instead it promotes the rival African shop: Afro Art, which is older and whose owner the journalist also has interviewed for the article.
My blog address was given however,  so here is a little plug for Just Africa,  just in case someone who reads the article looks into the blog: do check out this shop, a treasure trove of goodies  from Africa  in Sodermalmstorg by Slussen!