Huge posters plastered on walls in the capital Bamako tell it all: a map of Mali, tears rolling down the North and the South covered by a big question mark. In the wake of the Tuareg rebellion that began in January, Al Qaida affiliated Islamic extremists have taken control of many but not all towns in the North.
by Koert Lindijer, Bamako
A military coup d’état led by captain Amadou Sanogo against President Toure has made the situation worse. Sanogo was forced by the West African regional organisation Ecowas to step down in favour of an interim civilian government, but behind the scenes he is still calling the shots. “Malians feel very sad”, the famous singer Oumou Sangare told me. She then sang a powerful song: “ We need peace, we need peace to sing and dance”.
Bonus for rebels
Nobody has a clear vision of Mali’s immediate political future and nobody knows how the weak and demoralised national army can take back the North from the well armed and well financed group Aqmi and their allies, the Ansar Dine.
The country is paralysed. And to make matters worse, a new conflict between Sanogo and Ecowas has emerged. Sanogo wants a national convention of all political forces to work out who will govern until new elections can be held, Ecowas threatens new sanctions if the present interim government does not stay.
“Everyday that uncertainty continues in Bamako will be a bonus for the Islamic radicals controlling the north”, says a diplomat in the capital. To a large extent, money is what determines the power relations in the north. Aqmi, which originates in Algeria, has been controlling smuggling routes through the Sahara for many years.
These routes have meant business in that vast area for centuries, but while in the past salt and gold were traded, the commodities are now drugs, weapons and migrants trying to reach Europe. The kidnapping of Western tourists is also believed to have earned Aqmi millions of dollars.
The fall last year of Libya’s leader Muamar Gaddafi heralded a dramatic change in the balance of power as Tuareg mercenaries who had served in the Libyan army returned to Mali with very heavy weapons. Tuaregs have been fighting central authority since the beginning of last century.
First it was the French, then after independence against the new government in Bamako. When the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad (MNLA) declared an independent state in the North last month, the Tuaregs seemed to have achieved victory. They are seen as liberators in the town of Kidal, where the Tuareg are in the majority. But in other towns like Gao and Tombouctu they were overtaken by the religious zealots of Aqmi and the Islamic Touareg movement Ansar Dine.
“MNLA is an empty shell now”, says Chahana Takiou, an independent journalist and expert on the North. “Many Tuareg rebels changed side and joined Aqmi, because Aqmi has the money”. Many displaced Malians from the North now say that the MNLA fighters loot, while the soldiers of Aqmi and Ansar Dine are disciplined and try to establish order.
If the music dies…
Ansar Dine is feared in the capital, where there is no tradition of Islamic extremism.Ousmane Cherif Haidara is the imam of the grand mosque in the area of Banconi. “We fear for our lives when they will come southwards. There is no authority anymore in Mali.
Everybody should be afraid for Ansar Dine, also in neighbouring countries. We are afraid for bomb attacks, like what Boko Haram is doing in Nigeria”. But when asked if he is afraid that even his mosque could be a target, he laughs and says, “No, my mosque is protected by Allah”.
And the singer Oumou Sangare, is she afraid that Mali’s unique musical style is threatened by Ansar Dine? With the same vocal power she uses to sing her songs, she says: “No, our music will never die. If the music dies, the Malians will die”.
–Radio Netherlands Worldwide