TV host from a distant news channel: How is it in Mali now that the War is over, Marc-Andre…. Buoy-z-vert?
The last weeks have been a marathon for me where I have multiplied media intervention with hosts from all over the world, some not understanding a word of what I was trying to say.
This brought me to short answers to complex questions in the like of:
“The War in Mali occurs in one of the harshest, poorest and most isolated place in the world. Beyond the complexity of the terrain, there are also numerous actors with centuries of history behind. “
We, journalists, cannot tell you more than that. We need to get stories before our editorial staff will call us back to tell us that we cost too much or that we need to move to the next emergency. And the War in Mali has not been easy for us journalists. There have been a lot of complains about the media handling and military boycott at the beginning of the crisis (see: http://www.cpj.org/security/2013/01/in-mali-a-war-without-images-and-without-facts.php).
The most experienced war journalists lining up in Sevare or Diabaly to pass through checkpoints had to wait for days before they could do anything (but also junior ones… and non-war correspondents like me). To our defense, we knew that we did not have much time to get those stories before the world gets bored of Mali. And the combined French/Malian forces knew that it is a difficult terrain that does not need the complex and often troubling boost of extra actors such as journalists (thus forgetting that some of us frequented these areas and often had much more useful knowledge than the so-called military experts).Despite these problems a lot of great reporting has been done.
Mali was clearly the under-reported crisis in 2012. We were four foreign journalists based in Bamako before the coup in March 2012. Now there are a couple of hundreds correspondents all over the country. Malians appreciate it. Feelings of happiness and relief are genuine all over the country as Islamists were not welcomed. Malians have suffered and probably felt forgotten by the rest of the world. I was shocked when three displaced that I first met early in the crisis told me last week that they actually were relieved to see journalists coming to them. One told me “it is therapy to repeat my story and knowing that I am not alone with it. The whole world seems to listen to us”.
I actually hope that the humanitarian answer will be as great as the journalistic one. So far, all humanitarian agencies are still begging for money, but operations move fast and all humanitarians that I have met were very optimistic.
So, with the War in Mali, everybody is happy except journalists. Yes. It is unclear when the capitalized “War in Mali” started; probably when the Tuaregs launched their offensive in January 2012. It was probably on when the coup happened on March 22nd and it became obvious that it was a War when Salafists took control of two-third of the country one week later. Then nothing happened until the French army “supported” the Malian Army in the liberation of the North. The big capitalized War will end soon. François Hollande’s visit might not sport the sign “Mission Accomplished”, but in spite of a very elegant and humble speech it seems almost like the final dot of the War in Mali. Journalists will have to move on, even if most of them have the feeling in their guts that they will have to come back and that this is not end. Like they did in Libya.
There is no clear beginning to this un-capitalized war (and in many ways it has been going on at least since the country’s independence) and just as uncertain is the ending of it. I wrote in my latest post on this blog that “the international community seems to believe that once the Islamists will be out of the territory, everything will go back like in 2011.” And now we are back to the status quo of 2011. Here are some of the symptoms and consequences I foresee:
First, civilians will suffer. Over the last year, Malians have heard horror stories about how their military ran away rather than protected civilians. On facebook and on youtube they saw the pictures of whippings, amputations and harsh treatments of their brothers and sisters. They simultaneously faced harsh economic conditions that severely constrained everybody’s budgets and nobody knows how many years it will take to recover.
There is a deep trauma within Malian society and it will take more than some French flags to soak it away. This war on the people of Mali is difficult to date. Every time I asked the question to a new specialist, he/she dates her answer further back than the specialist before.
Second, the enemy has neither won nor lost. Al-Qaeda affiliated groups simply moved back without picking a real fight, now hiding in the bush. We know they know the area only too well. They have fuel, water and food reserves. They will continue to make great profits through various forms of illegal trafficking across the Sahara. Just the profits of the drugs trade is enough to keep them fighting. They have mingled with the locals during the past decade, sometimes through marriage. We know that as soon as the attention will decrease, they will come back: they are patient and will wait the time it takes. And they will take advantage again of the local conflicts to strengthen their powers. Doubtless these conflicts are far from resolved.
Third, we still have not found an answer to “The Tuareg Question” and now there is also the feeling of revenge. We learnt during the last year that the Tuaregs have grown impatient and have thus been quite easy to manipulate. Now that their claim for independence is more impossible than ever, they still attempt to negotiate their way out. Tweeters make fun of them with the #mnlafacts. The MNLA has lost a lot in 2012. Malian politicians will try to avoid it, but the MNLA will have to negotiate for something. Malians have been resilient to the numerous previous Tuareg rebellions, but this one might be the one that is too much. Several of my acquaintances, who were quite moderate a few months ago, are now asking for blood to be shed as they do not trust those traitors. And in the other camp Tuaregs who have seen themselves as Malians first are now afraid of retaliation. Several of them are stuck in refugee camps and it is obvious that the MNLA has infiltrated many such sites.
Vengeance will also go towards non-Tuaregs who joined one group or the other. Several young men – often boys too young and too naïve to take the right decision lured by money to join the jihadists –will now learn their fault quite harshly when the community where they grew up in will reject them. Malians are soft-spoken, respectful and most non-confrontational West Africans, but there is now a real seed of violence planted in society. They won’t accept negotiations either. They want justice for the blood and the pain. And they are closer than ever to get it. The issue is how many summary executions will there be before a state of law and order allows real justice?
Fourth, the Malian army and other related institutions are still unreformed. The Malian military look smart in their new boots, lining up behind the French army, but they are much weaker after a year of fighting. It needs serious reforms. And yet, in spite of a constant reiteration of this fact in multiple forums of the world over the last year there are no real plans besides an improvised African deployment to fill the vacuum. There is a need for professional peacekeeping now that the peace-enforcers have done their job. But the next move should not be petty revenge makers that only want to clean up their military honor. Fortunately, a few Malian militaries appear to have understood what their country needs.
Finally, Bamako’s political crisis is also far from being resolved. Elections date has been set for no later than next July, but it is difficult to see how this will work out. Bamako’s political institutions also need a real in-depth reform to get rid of what allowed the whole thing to develop into the capitalized War. Really the war in Mali (the one with small letters) is the one I wish to tell you about. But right now there is little space, however when French forces and senior correspondents are gone there will be time for this as the war in Mali will last a couple of years more, I feel.
Marc-André Boisvert is a freelance journalist based in West Africa who has been covering Mali for several years.