The War Diaries

"We're history's actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."

Archive for the ‘Sevaré’ tag

Unending Troubles in the Sahel-Sahara

without comments

Children who fled the town of Gossi, Mali haul well drinking water back to their parents' tent at a camp for internally displaced people in Sévaré on June 4, 2012. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

Children who fled the town of Gossi, Mali haul well drinking water back to their parents’ tent at a camp for internally displaced people in Sévaré on June 4, 2012. The elder men didn’t want me intrusively photographing in or around their tents and asked to me to keep a good distance while shooting a handful of photographs. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

New York- I have an article out today on the French-led external military intervention in central and northern Mali which began in mid-January. I woke up this morning excited to have a new piece out only to see that there had been a double suicide bombing in neighboring Niger. MUJAO spokesman Abu Walid Sahraoui claims to have carried out simultaneous attacks in the distant towns of Arlit and Agadez.

UPDATE-Today Mokhtar Belmokhtar  released a statement that the attack was a joint operation by MUJAO and his Signatories in Blood katiba (unit) “in the name of [the late] Abdel Hamid Abou Zeid.” He then said that his salafi-jihadis had decided upon a “military withdrawal” in response to the French intervention.

Screen shot 2013-05-23 at 1.20.45 PMThe attack on Nigerien troops and the French uranium mining consortium AREVA does not come remotely as a surprise for several reasons. As I noted in a post on this blog last spring, Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou was coming out as particularly vocal among regional heads of state in West Africa–obviously concerned that the instability in northern Mali would likely affect a vulnerable Niger that has already been saddled with its own internal challenges for many years.

Like Mali, Niger has faced its own bouts of Tuareg rebellion-most recently with le Mouvement des Nigériens pour la justice-MNJ led by former Qaddafi ally Aghaly ag Alambo. Ag Alambo was arrested in Niamey in March 2012 over a June 2011 Libyan arms explosives episode he was accused of being involved in as Qaddaffi’s regime crumbled in Tripoli and war materiel began flowing in much larger quantities throughout the wider Sahara.

Though certain conspiratorial-minded critics have speculated that France’s intervention in Mali was motivated by crass economic interests in that country (often with scant data on the true value of untapped resources in Mali’s north), in terms of French industry at home, Niger is far more important.

China likely has a larger economic stake in Mali than does France if not in aid than purely large scale in infrastructure projects.Beijing may even put PLA boots on the ground in the name of UN peacekeeping as it presently  has in Sudan’s Darfur region.

France does have genuine interest in Niger’s uranium resources and which local communities of Tuareg, Toubou, Arabs and Fulani feel they should be genuinely benefitting from economically. There is deep resentment among Niger’s ethnic minorities in the country’s north over economic grievances and environmental degradation  related to French doings in their bomeland as well as a startling lack of development in the Agadez Region and its Arlit Department.

And like Mali, Niger has been suffering from a persistent food crisis in recent years but to a much more severe degree than Mali to the west whose whole “Azawad” region has been deemed a humanitarian emergency by a host of NGOs. Not to mention that Nigerien citizens crossed the border into Mali to take part in MUJAO’s foothold in Gao Region. One of the lower tier MUJAO commanders in Gao Ville was reportedly a Nigerien national.

Secondly there were the reported developments of the U.S. setting up a drone facility in Niger that was very much welcome by Issoufou and word that French Special Forces were coming into their spartan former colony to protect the uranium extraction operations that would both make poorly defended targets while stoking jihadi ire. The Arlit AREVA mine is estimated to provide 40% of metropolitan France’s nuclear energy which is 80% of the power consumed in France.

On top of all that Nigerien troops are stationed in Mali as part of the AFISMA intervention force in towns like Ansongo and Menaka. Then there is the fact that French and Chadian troops have pushed the jihadis out of their camps in Kidal Region in the Ametetai and Terz valleys and in the overall Adrar des Ifoghas area (although the Elysée does not want independent observers up there on the ground apparently-and hasn’t allowed an journalist embeds with non-French passport holders as far as I know). So the surviving men of MUJAO and AQIM who were not killed in French airs strikes will have to have gone somewhere, non?

Lastly on this though, AQIM has breached the Nigerien capital of Niamey in the past with a bold kidnapping of two Frenchmen in January 2011 which ended with the hostages being killed rather than ransomed. In the wake of a disastrous rescue attempt by French Special Forces, it seemed as if the kind of trouble we see in that country on this day was well on the horizon.

French troops may have merely been the catalyst for such salafi-jihadi expansion rather than the sole driver of today’s tragedy that killed 26.

A Sotrama (shared minibus) makes its way toward Mopti in central Mali. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

A ubiquitous Sotrama (shared minibus) makes its way toward Mopti in central Mali after Mali’s north had been captured by Tuareg separatists and Salafi Islamist fighters. The Mopti area was at the time the front line of government controlled Mali. Civilians were allowed to travel back and forth between the massive partition but as a journalist I could go no further north at the time. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

Written by derekhenryflood

May 23rd, 2013 at 12:25 pm

“From the Third World Countries to the Second and the First”

without comments

Stencil graffiti on white marble ground here in Barcelona. I can’t quite tell what it’s supposed to read but my guess is something or other political. Another example of how a Soviet weapon devised in the wake of World War II has continued to transcend its intended purpose–to fight wars to defend/expand Soviet power in the 20th century–to be a sign of social transformation, avant garde art, or national liberation. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

Barcelona- The above title is a line from the remix of M.I.A.’s Paper Planes single with Bun B and Rich Boy. It kind of capture’s my day today in a way. Sitting in the First World which seems at points in danger of slipping in the Second and writing and wondering about the volatile politics of the Third in Mali that verges on Barcelona’s own Manuel Castells‘ Fourth World in the north. I know Alfred Sauvy’s Third World is supposed to be long out of fashion in the post-poltical correctness era of the Global North and South or Majority World not to mentions the BRICS but maybe that’s why I continue to use it. Sometimes I simply like a passé expression out of sheer sentimentality. Other times it’s just a more evocative term than something bland-sounding coined by a present-day economist, demographer or sociologist.

I have a new article out from my trip to Sévaré the other week in today’s Christian Science Monitor. Despite a nuisance of a government minder, a confrontation with a fearsome man from the security forces and close to 100º F temperatures, I’m somehow managing to get some work out into the internet-o-sphere this week. The eurozone is in what seems like constant crisis and Spain here is chief among the economic enfants terribles. Well after Greece that is…

Nonetheless summer is here and things are plodding along. Unemployment is at record levels but at least there’s a beach. And at least the perennial post-Franco nationalism and separatism here in Catalunya is confined to flags, football, and mostly civil politics unlike dear Mali from where I’ve come in recent weeks.

The cliché goes that Mali was West Africa’s [lone?] success story under ATT in terms of democracy, good [or decent?] governance, corruption, and rule of law. Some Malians I spoke with over the weeks there strongly disagreed with all or parts of that characterization when describing day-to-day life under the “Soldier of Democracy” ATT’s rule but dissatisfaction was setting in even amongst some in the pro-coup camp as the weeks turned to months and the politics went from roller coaster to quagmire.

There was a report today in a Bamako paper (Français) that Malian forces began an assault on Monday on a very northerly garrison called Taoudéni not far from the Algerian and Mauritanian borders. The logistics for such an operation would seem impossible without the direct military assistance of either Algiers or Nouakchott.  But one report in one local paper doesn’t necessary cut it. If there was renewed war in Mali, I’d think others would be breaking the story. Could just be a bit of regurgitated propaganda from Kati. We’ll see if anything else filters through in the coming days.

I like happening upon Castilian inscriptions like this from the pre-Catalanization period. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

Farewell- Yesterday I awoke to tragic news in my inbox. My editor at Asia Times Online, Anthony ‘Tony’ Allison, died of complications from a heart ailment in Hua Hin on the Gulf of Thailand. He was 59. I immediately wrote an email expressing my condolences and proceeded to mostly put it out of my head for the rest of the day. I was busy finishing up some edits on the CSM article featured in the box above and alternately worked on a piece for Jane’s Islamic Affairs Analyst stemming from my trip to Mali. I then busied myself with petty tasks like doing laundry and went skateboarding at my favorite neighborhood spot at the entrance to the Barcelona zoo at the end of an incredibly hot day.

But today, in reading his obituary and tributes from us hacks, the news is really sinking in. Life is entirely unpredictable. When I saw Tim Hetherington standing outside the entrance of the hospital in Ajdabiya, Libya last year, I could never have guessed that just a few weeks later a guy of his stature in our industry would be killed. It’s partly a product of getting older I suppose. The longer you live, the more likely it is people you know (or have been in the presence of) will die. I have this idea about when I was in my 20’s, nothing in life seemed to change that dramatically. You could not talk to a friend on the opposite side of the country or the world for six months or even a year and the odds were their life had changed little in that interim. In the 30’s, all that went to pot. Unromantic, dull-sounding terms came into play like “marriage track relationships.”

Friends who were in these forced-sounding social constructs suddenly seem to drop off the face of the earth. People began to say predictable things with increasing consistency about buying houses and cars, sonograms and painting nurseries. New friendships then grew out of the commonality of those who eschewed such societal norms (ie those who were still out at the bars on Tuesday nights at 2am). No amount of pseudo-security or inherited wealth of one form or another can prevent the inevitable. We all eventually end up in the same place. It’s what we do until then that matters. No one I’ve known or met who died in the decade of the 9/11 wars ever thought as they were packing their bags, “OK, this is my final trip.” The first guys I knew who died in my field died in 2002. That was a decade ago. And somehow I am fortunate enough to look out at the brilliant blue skies over northeastern Spain 10 years on with what seem like endless possibilities still laying ahead.

Limitless. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

Written by derekhenryflood

June 21st, 2012 at 3:37 pm

From Sévaré With No Love

without comments

The Grand Mosque in Djenné, the world's largest mud brick structure and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Visited at the worst time of day for photography but made the best of it. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

Bamako- Back in the steaming hot Malian capital after a semi-disastrous northern excursion which resulted in me being made persona non grata in Servaré and Mopti when my fixer and I ran afoul of a rage-aholic gendarme commander. Officialdom up that way was either friendly but entirely ineffective, obstructionist, or deceitful. Nonetheless, I got to see a whole lot of red Malian countryside and gnarled baobab trees and some brilliant full moon nights in the Malian Sahel. At least I was able to interview people from Timbuktu and hear their stories before getting the subsequent boot.

Don’t have time to write up the whole debacle here but it was all an adventure and provided me with a way to see famed Djenné on the way back to Bamako. For now I’ll just post a few photos.

Just imagine if Republican strategists could have seen this during the 2008 campaign cycle! Rocking Obama shirt at rote outdoor koranic class for Djenné's youth. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

Mud flap mural of the leader of the original Ançar Dine, Chérif Ousmane Madani Haïdara-not to be confused with Iyad ag Ghaly's jihadi movement! ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

Djenné's walls need to be constantly refinished with a specified mud mixture as they erode over time in the baking heat. This is in the courtyard of a home where I was greeted with both warmth and surprise. The men there said I was the first "tourist" they'd seen since Mali's latest troubles began. I said I might be the last for quite some time. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

Stunning moonrise over the Malian Sahel. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

Whizzing by a group of Bozo men donning traditional Fulani hats after high tailing out of Sevaré. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

Written by derekhenryflood

June 7th, 2012 at 9:32 am

Posted in Africa,Mali

Tagged with , , ,