The news that filtered through from our network in Mali last week was not good. “The two coordinators of the Timbuktu and Gao Katta Pasta Presidium, Almahdi Alansari and Saoudata Aboubacrine, both Tuaregs, have had to flee to Mauritania and Burkina Faso,” reports Michela Lenta, who coordinates Slow Food’s activities in Mali. “Almahdi now lives in a refugee camp, and is trying to carry on the Thousand Gardens in Africa project, while Saoudata is offering assistance to women to help them guarantee a future once they get out of the camps.” The coordinator of the Thousand Gardens in Africa project in Mali, Camara Ahmed, expressed his concern for the communities in Mopti and Gao who are in the middle of the conflict. Guindo Mamadou, the Dogon Somé Presidium coordinator, said: “All activities have stopped and the population is living in fear.” The account from the coordinator of a cooperative of jam and juice producers in Djenné was equally worrying: “We feel like prisoners in our houses. We are in the middle of the fighting between the two factions, and now the rebels are trying to infiltrate the village. We pray that the situation is resolved as soon as possible.”
Because of the difficult political situation, described by Marwane ben Yahmed in Jeune Afrique as “a war unlike any other so far, involving a great number of factions both among the terrorists and those who are fighting them,” the nationwide state of emergency has been extended for three months. The restrictive measure was decided in Bamako during a special cabinet meeting.
Even with recent victories of the French and Malian troops that lead to the liberation of Kidal, Gao in Timbuktu, the main cities in the north, amid the joy of the crowd there remains the concern that some Islamist cells are hidden among the population. And most importantly, there is a strong need for the Malian authorities to open a genuine national dialogue with the Tuareg that have long-managed trade in the Sahara. For nine months their land has been the domain of armed groups, and they demand respect for their interests and identity.
Even with recent military victory, Mali now faces the possibility of long and violent guerrilla combat, and the joint advance of Malian and French troops also brings fears for the fate of civilians, especially those who belong to the Arab and Tuareg communities considered “close” to the rebel groups.