Mali: Crime and guns in the north threaten health work

Médecins du Monde Belgium reports that three of their health workers were carjacked in the desert north of Youwarou Cercle, Kidal Region on 2 March. Men armed with AK-47s stole a landrover and abandoned the workers in the desert. The MMB workers were part of a anti-Dracunculiasis (Guinea Worm) clinic in Youwarou. Sadly, such car robberies are not unknown, especially after the wave of weapons that flooded the region during the 2007-2008 insurgency. Similar robberies from aid agencies were reported after the 1990s and the 2006 violence, with cars taken across the border to Mauritania or as far away as Morocco to be sold. While I'm sure someone will blame "terrorists" it seems clear if you give young men guns and no jobs, especially in a region with a centuries old tradition of trade / smuggling, you'll get car robberies. I would hope government might deal with these issues before calling in AFRICOM with their missiles and bombs.

Niger: Farmers migrate north looking for work, and find little

The UN's IRIN news has a piece well worth reading in full: "NIGER: Food pressures spread north" along with the a portrait of a southern Niger farmer ("Mariama Adao, 'We help each other… but it is hard'") whose crop failures have driven her to seek work in the equally troubled north. The two paint a more subtle picture of the problems facing a third of Niger's population, all most all of whom depend on small scale farms or pastoralism just to get by. A recent FEWS report from neighboring Mali stresses how the stop and start rains of last June have done in the northern seasonal pastures upon which local pastoralists rely, causing a cascade of pressure as they move south into well producing farms. In pockets of Niger's south we had the same effect: crops withered after spotty rains. Mariama Adao from Matameye migrated early looking for farm work in Agadez to find that floods there had halved the work available. This is how in a poor society any mixed harvest could become a disaster.

African Cup Final ’56

One doesn’t see much film, let alone color film, of colonial era African football. So you can imagine my delight when I stumbled across clips of a French colonial propaganda newsreel featuring the my favorite African club side wining a colonial cup final from 1956.

Fifteen dead in Timbuktu mosque stampede – police (Reuters)

Thursday evening was Maoulid (Mawlid) the celebration of the Prophet's birth that is a carnival like holiday across West Africa. Sadly, construction barriers near Timbuktu's famous Djingareyber mosque caused crowds that resulted in a panic and stampede. Police say 15 people, including two children, were killed and that another 41 people were injured. "Every year for Maouloud people come to the grand mosque, but this year construction blocked some of the roads," said Imam Abdramane ben Effayouti. "People took to narrow alleys, there was jostling, and the tragedy occurred." Very sad.

AQIM: Former hostage Peter Camatte speaks

In a press appearance in Bamako Peter Camatte, the French-Malian NGO head who was held by the AQIM described his captors as "fanatics". His description of the Algerian Abdelhamid Abou Zeïd's group was "Fanatics, who thought no one but them were real Muslims". He said the group was %70-%80 youths, with whom he could communicate with only a few broken English, because most didn't speak any French. He said they sat in the desert, baking, in "unhygienic" conditions, with the only water "absolutely disgusting". These men didn't kidnap him, but he was "sold" to them by a Malian criminal gang. I'm going to go out on a limb (again): it's Algeria's problem with terrorists (who seem to have a lot of cash, via Western government's ransoms) meeting impoverished, armed Malian smugglers. So just which one is dumping the problem of their failed politics on the other?

Sahel:”Interférences” (Le Quotidien d’Oran)

This Algerian paper has an interesting piece on the current "AQIM problem" in the Sahel, if only as an elucidation of a Algerian nationalist perspective. The US and other are continually hammering on about the Sahel becoming the next Afghanistan or Somalia, but more as an attempt to justify the intrusion of AFRICOM and the "War on Terror" into Africa (so far, true in my view). The states in the region have "refused to blindly embark on the American global war", but many have internal weaknesses (smuggling, regionalism). True, but now it gets fishy. Mali, he says, had the 'excuse' of the Tuareg insurgency not to govern the north. Now Algeria has solved that problem for them, and yet they still "do nothing". Mali has "betrayed" Algeria, releasing the AQIM under the "interferences" of the west, hints that the Mali govt. has a finger in the hostage business. But Mali is "fated to return, sooner or later, the path of cooperation." No mention that the AQIM come from Algeria, of course.

Mali: AQIM release French hostage

Pierre Camatte, seized by a gang near his home in Menaka and shopped to the AQIM in the desert, has returned to Bamako. Will he ever be able to go back to his longtime home? The Malians released four AQIM prisoners in exchange, we can assume under French pressure. What else each side got from France or other western nations we will likely never know. Algeria and Mauritania have withdrawn their ambassadors to Mali in protest. Mali has its problems, but in this case, it just seems everyone else's festering problems, which would cost them too much to fix at home, come to northern Mali out of convenience. The very least Algeria, Mauritania, and the west can do for Mali is is to make it harder for their proxy warriors to end up in Gao. But that's wishful thinking, I'm sure. No word on the other hostages.