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Journey to Tombouctou

Hope, destitution, order semi-restored, a lack of medical aid, a recovering region. These are just some of the feelings that besieged Yeah as he entered the gates of Tombouctou, Mali. The past year has seen a region that was once Mali’s poster child for tourism and history crumble under the harsh Sharia law and Islamic radicalism.

When the coup happened in March 2012, no one could have predicted that Mali’s northern region would be taken over and then raped of all her history and cultural richness. It did not stop there. Many Malians living in the region fled to escape Sharia law and the fighting. In January 2013, the first hope of freedom came when French forces entered the North in an attempt to fight back a growing Islamist threat. The fabled town of Tombouctou was once again free.

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This past week Yeah did the unthinkable. He and some foreign partners decided to visit Tombouctou so they could assess needs and see how to best bring in the aid needed. Very few people, other than military personnel, have gone to the region.

The idea behind the trip was not politically motivated. The hope was to extend to our brothers and sisters in Tombouctou solidarity and also truly find out what could be done to help restore hope for the people and the region to its previous glory.

With no options into Tombouctou, Yeah and his group resolved themselves to a 15 hour drive on bumpy roads interrupted only by moments when the driver had to carve their own way through the desert sand. There was a collective sigh of relief as they finally made it to Tombouctou.

Once there, the actual work began. The Mayor of Tombouctou, Hallè Ousmane, is based now in Bamako, so Yeah met with the Deputy Mayor Drawi Maiga. They discussed the issues of security, the reconstruction plan and the general living conditions of the people in the area. Maiga stated that the number one priority was the restoration of basic service provision in the town, including healthcare, water and most importantly the economic recovery of the city. The deputy mayor was very grateful to see the first visitors since the French military intervention, claiming it brought some hope that tourism would return to the region. Yeah advised him that he had come to express his support for the freedom of religion and tell the rest of the world that all of Mali embraces democratic values.

Under the guidance of a doctor from the local hospital, Yeah and his team visited the hospital and community clinics to assess the need and conditions. When the Islamists had taken over the region, many basic supplies and needs fell to the wayside.

localclinic

Yeah also visited the Ahmed Baba Institute, a library and research center, which held almost 60,000+ ancient manuscripts many of which were destroyed by the rebels. He was filled with a deep anger and sorrow that the physical proof of Mali’s history and its heritage had been destroyed by the selfish actions of a few. While few manuscripts have been destroyed, many remain intact due to the brave actions of the people living in the area.

AhmedBaba2

AhmedBaba

One of the key meetings Yeah had an opportunity to participate in was with Colonel Keba Sangare, the head of the Malian army command center in Tombouctou and the Commander of Operation Serval, General Grégoire de Saint-Quentin. The French general was meeting with the Malian military authorities in Tombouctou and local leaders to assure the support of the French troops and in turn called on the locals to help support their efforts. Unlike Gao, Tombouctou has not been hit by suicide bombers. This is due in part to the cooperation of the people in the region with the military forces. Yeah met with the leaders over the Malian forces thanking them for their service to our country.

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Meeting

In the last leg of the trip, Yeah and his team traveled to the remote towns of Diré and Bourem Sidi-Amar. While it is evident that these areas have returned to a normalcy, they continue to fight to make ends meet. It was interesting to see walls still plastered with Samaké posters and the overjoyed, welcoming faces of the men, women and children, and the village elders that wore their Samaké campaign buttons with pride. Standing in the town’s public square, Yeah restated his commitment to help the refugees, who have fled these areas, return home. The people were touched to see a fellow Malian coming to visit. Many Malians have stayed away from the area because of it being a high risk zone. Here was a man that was coming not only to extend his greetings but more important to ask how he could help. “To lead is to serve, nothing more, nothing less”.

Bourem

Meetingppl

This was a very successful trip for Yeah. It allowed him to connect with his brothers and sisters in Tombouctou who have been isolated from the rest of Mali. It allowed Team Samaké to assess the immediate needs and to bring the story back of what life is like in Tombouctou. Things are getting better. But they haven’t reached their peak. With proper leadership, economic development and growth can be brought to the region. With the right resources, the children and people of the North can enjoy the same benefits as their brothers and sisters in the South. Democracy must be restored. That was one message the people wanted to make sure the outside world knew. They want democracy!

Help us help the people of Mali. Help us make sure the things happen that will make democracy a reality for the people of Mali. Read more about our campaign at http://www.samake2013.com

 
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Posted by on March 7, 2013 in Past Posts

 

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Helping affect Mali’s future

Since his appointment as Special Envoy to the Prime Minister of Mali, Cheick Modibo Diarra, Yeah has indeed been one busy man. Yeah’s main goal as he has met with representatives from Bahrain, the US and Mali has been one and that is to create a common understanding of Mali’s current situation and how the present government is planning on creating political stability.

Yeah met with the Ambassador of Mali to the United States in DC, Al Maamoun Baba Lamine Keita, sharing his insight into the Malian situation and the reasoning for the removal of the previous President ATT. They also discussed the need for increased collaboration and understanding between the U.S. and the new government in Mali in the hope of removing sanctions against Mali, so that aid could once again start flowing to the people that desperately need it.

Yeah also met with two members of the U.S. Senate. First, he met with Senator Michael Lee, a member of the subcommittee on African Affairs. Then, by recommendation of the U.S. Ambassador to Mali, Yeah also met with Gregory Simpkins, a staff member for the U.S. Congress and a prominent journalist in African Affairs.

In August, Yeah visited Bahrain which is home to the US 5th Naval base, where he was received by members of the royal family. His visit allowed him to inform Bahrain of Mali’s situation and the need of investment leading to the creation of a bilateral agreement between Mali and Bahrain. Upon return to Mali, Yeah extended an invitation to former U.S. Ambassador John Price, who has been very engaged in African politics.  Ambassador Price visited Mali from September 6th-12th.

Ambassador Price with Yeah

Ambassador Price’s visit was indeed an important one as it is important for people in the West to actually experience the situation in Mali rather than just read about it. Ambassador Price and Yeah got to meet with many key government officials in the defense, foreign and judicial sectors. Yeah was also able to secure a meeting with the man responsible for the mutiny back in March 2012, Captain Sanogo. You can read more about Ambassador Price’s opinion on this and other meetings on his blog: http://www.ambassadorjohnprice.com/captain-amadou-sanogo-a-hero-or-mutineer/2362/

Yeah and Ambassador Price also had the opportunity to visit the Malian refugee camp in Mentao, Burkina Faso. The visit will allow for a better foreign understanding of Mali’s actual situation and not as perceived by the media.

In Mentao, Burkina where we hope to distribute some aid soon

This past week has seen Mali put in a formal request for foreign troops from ECOWAS to come assist in the North. There seems to be a split opinion among Malians about whether ECOWAS troops are welcome on Malian soil. There has been a report stating that Sanogo and people close to him are against the decision by the President to invite foreign troops. The truth however is far from it, as Sanogo himself, appeared on national TV in an attempt to dispel these rumors. I guess time will show how the situation plays out. For now, there is no way for the Malian refugees to come back unless the North has been ridden of rebels. Each day there are fresh reports coming out that show atrocities in the North. Everyone is too afraid to go to that region and would rather desert everything for safety.

These past two and a half months have been busy as Yeah continues to reinforce the diplomacy and presence of Mali throughout the U.S. and other countries. The work is not over. It has barely begun and will continue until Mali once again is a democratic country.

We need your help. We cannot continue doing the things essential to restoring democracy without expending financial resources. If you can help support our work, then please help at http://www.samake2012.com. Mali deserves its chance at democracy and freedom.  

( Thank you to Liz Jessop for helping me write this post :))

 
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Posted by on September 16, 2012 in Past Posts

 

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Coming Home

In December 2002, I left my home in Bahrain to go pursue my college education in Utah, America. At that time, I did not think I would be gone for more than a few years. However, that was not to be. As life, love and two kids happened, trips to Bahrain were postponed. Each year, I said to myself, next year. I will make it next year. Each year, something happened that postponed the hope. This post is filled with words like “amazing” “great” and “awesome”, and to be honest there are few words that could describe this trip.

Last month, I finally returned home. I was so happy to see the country I had been born in and spent my growing 20 years in. More than that however, I saw my dad again after 10 years. The trip was very reminiscing for me as I saw places and people that I had not seen for a very long time. It was amazing too to finally introduce Yeah to my life so that he could see the past that had made me what I am today. The kids too had never been to Bahrain and had met my mom when they were much younger and never met my dad. My parents were so excited to see their only grandchildren and needless to say spoiled them rotten. The kids had a wonderful time.

Grandma Margaret

Grandpa Moses

Bahrain has changed immensely since I left. The country, which is home to the US Fifth Naval base, is also oil rich. Bahrain is known as the Pearl of the Gulf for its beautiful cultured pearls. It houses a rich mixture of people from many countries and the expatriate community remains the majority compared to the Bahrainis. Growing up, I had the wonderful opportunity to mingle with people from different cultures and countries. The scene has not changed much in terms of Bahrain’s diversity. If anything it has intensified. Bahrain’s own culture has been very much affected by the explosion of people from different countries that call Bahrain home.

Despite the temperatures climbing easily to 43°C(110F) and 27% humidity, we kept ourselves occupied with visiting my parents and friends. We also got to go to a dolphin park, the Al Areen wildlife reserve and some ancient ruins in Bahrain. Visiting Bahrain’s only public beach Zallaq (Al Jazaer Beach) brought back a lot of fun memories and it was a beautiful thing to share that experience with the kids.

At the Dolphin park in Bahrain

Keanen had the unique opportunity to feed and touch a dolphin. An experience of a lifetime 🙂

Enjoying cotton candy

Posing with the pelican at Al-Areen Wildlife Park. These birds are allowed to roam free. Its amazing!

Splashing at the beach

Exploring the ruins of Saar village and the “Saar Temple”

Dilmun Burial mounds, some as old as 4000 years old

Oil field at Bapco. Can you believe it costs half a dollar per gallon of gas? A Toyota corolla can be filled up for $6!!

The skyline of capital Manama, Bahrain. This view at night is breathtaking!

I also got to celebrate my 29th birthday and Carmen’s 4th birthday. Needless to say we were spoiled rotten, especially Carmen who got a princess cake.

Yeah was recently appointed as a Special Envoy to represent the Prime Minister of Mali. A warm welcome and meetings were kindly arranged for him by the Bahrain American Council President, Dr. Al Khalafalla. Dr. Al Khalafalla has been an amazing support to Yeah. Yeah was received at the airport by a member of the royal family, Sheikh Abdulla, whose kindness throughout his trip displayed the warmth of the Bahraini people to visitors.

Welcome by Sheikh Abdulla, member of Bahrain’s royal family, at the airport

On the 29th of July, Yeah was presented with an award for his work in human rights by the Manama Center for Human Rights. While in Bahrain, Yeah met with key Bahraini officials like Bahrain Foreign Ministry’s Bilateral Relations Director Dr. Dhafer Al Umran and Khaled Abdulla Al Merbati at the Bahrain Chamber of Commerce & Industry(BCCI) in an attempt to strengthen Mali’s ties with Bahrain and also encourage increased Bahraini investments in Mali. In addition he gave a number of interviews like this one: http://www.dt.bh/newsdetails.php?newsid=300712191005&key=301110213450

Interview with Bahraini journalists

Now we are back in Mali. We were very sad to leave. The kids are ready and excited to start school. This will be the first year for Carmen as she attends preschool. We are ready to continue our fight to push Mali back on track to democracy and help our people return home.

This was an amazing trip and words cannot adequately express my joy that I could finally return home and link my past to my present. All I can say is it will not take me 10 more years before I return home.

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Posted by on August 12, 2012 in Past Posts

 

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Interim President of Mali returns to Mali with new plan

As the world was finally starting to sit up and pay attention to Mali’s strife in the North, its interim President, Dioncounda Traore, who had been wounded by pro-coup attackers on May 21st returned to the South after a two month stay in Paris during which he received treatment for head injuries. During his absence the Prime Minister, Cheick Modibo Diarra, has attempted to resolve the crisis in the North.

The Northern situation has become worse with Islamic rebels asserting outright Sharia law and almost imprisoning Malians in the North into their way of life. Their crackdown has caused even more Malians to flee the North increasing the refugee count. Just earlier this weekend, a man and woman accused of committing adultery were stoned to death in the northern town of Aguelhok. I wonder, what is the price to pay for murder?

Yeah has been working tirelessly to raise the world’s attention on Mali’s strife and the humanitarian crisis. He has been meeting with leaders at the UN and also those in US that are over Africa’s foreign policy. To shed fresh media coverage on Mali, Yeah assisted CNN’s Erin Burnett and her team with visas, contacts, and travel plans so that they could bring a larger attention on the refugee situation and the human tragedy happening in Mali. You can view Erin’s coverage at: http://outfront.blogs.cnn.com/2012/07/24/why-mali-matters-al-qaeda-on-the-rise/. Yeah has remained a supporter of PM Diarra’s government and is adamant that now is not the time to put in a new government and delay any solution for Mali’s unity. As President of PACP, he has cautioned fellow politicians that no further delays should happen to hamper Mali’s return to democracy. It is time for the politicians in Mali to get over self interests and support the government.

The world is finally starting to sit up and notice the struggles in Mali. Most recently the US had staunchly opposed interfering. However on July 26th, Michael Sheehan, the Defense Department’s assistant secretary for special operations, said that they cannot allow Al-Qaeda to exist unchecked.  Even France that had maintained its distance has showed concern over the unchecked Al-Qaeda movements in Northern Mali. It’s amazing it had to come to this for the world to notice Mali. And even then, it’s not even about the lives being destroyed. I understand that each government concerns itself with what will be beneficial to its national interests. However, we might not even be in this position however if the first foreign interference mistakes were not made with Libya.  There is talk about a 3000-strong army made up of mainly Malians and military forces from Niger, with logistical support from the US and France. But if we continue talk, the North as we knew it may not exist. Already monuments have been destroyed, people have fled. What next before something actually gets done?

The attack on Dioncounda worked more in his favor than anything. He was not looked upon favorably as he was believed to be part of the old guard that had allowed ATT to rule unchecked. However the attack on him became to Malians an attack on Malian culture and traditions.  Attacking a 70-year old man, no matter what he has done, is simply not acceptable culturally. In an address to the nation, Dioncounda spoke vehemently of his forgiveness to his attackers. He focused his speech on how Mali must move forward to regain its territory and people.  He urged the Malian people to focus on how Mali can regain its territorial integrity. Dioncounda, spoke with urgency, that partners like the US and France cannot become enemies. This is interesting as many Malians regard former colonizer France with a degree of suspicion and even believe that they may have been responsible for supporting the rebel Tuaregs in the first place. Dioncounda called on all Malians to pay back their debt to Mali and become part of the solution.  And that Mali must move on stronger and unified. He then moved on to propose a transition plan.

The proposed plan outlines the following amendments to the agreement made between the coup leaders and ECOWAS.  In his speech Dioncounda outlined them as follows:

“In order to complete the institutional architecture to better suit the socio-political realities, the tasks of the transition, in the spirit of Article 6 of the Accord-cadre agreement, I propose:

1. High State Council (HCE) composed of the President of the Republic and two Vice-Presidents assist the President in carrying out the tasks of the transition.

— One of the Vice-Presidents represent the forces of defense and security and as such he will chair the Military Committee followed the Reform of the Defense Forces and the Security and take care of all military matters relating to Northern Mali;
–The other Vice-President shall represent the other components of the kinetic energies of the nation.

2. Government of National Unity: where are represented all parts of the Forces Vives.

Consultations leading to its formation will be led by the President of the Republic.

3. National Transition Council (CNT) with an advisory and comprising representatives of political parties present or not in the National Assembly and representatives of civil society.

It will be led by Vice-President representing the military services.

4. National Commission for Negotiations (CNN): meets the wishes of Heads of State of ECOWAS formulated in paragraph 18 of the final communication of the second meeting of the contact group on Mali.

This commission will engage with the armed movements in northern Mali peace talks in connection with the ECOWAS mediator to search through dialogue, negotiated political solutions to the crisis.

5. Motion in the direction of ECOWAS (the African Union and United Nations) based on the findings of the mission which visited recently in Bamako.

The Vice Presidents shall be appointed and the National Council of Transition (CNT) will be established as soon as possible and in any case within two weeks following the implementation of the Government of National Unity.

Furthermore it is understood that neither the President nor the Prime Minister nor the Ministers will participate in the next presidential election.” Will these restrictions also apply to the Vice Presidents, given they will play an important role in the transitional process?

The interesting thing about his address to the nation is the current Prime Minister was not mentioned in it. Why is this interesting? During the entire time from when Dioncounda was attacked to the time he was flown to Paris for treatment, PM Diarra has stood by Dioncounda, calling on people to let the political process play out. In fact, it could probably be attributed to him that Mali did not erupt into a civil war when the attack on Dioncounda happened. So it is interesting that he is not mentioned or acknowledged for the work that he has been doing. There is dissent among some of older political class in Mali that Diarra has been slow in getting the country back on track. Much of the dissent is coming from Dioncounda’s own party, ADEMA, which feels that they should be involved as much as possible in the running of the country. Many believe Diarra to be the coup’s puppet given that he has been appointed by the coup and also 3 major positions are held by the coup leaders.

However, now is not the time to play political games. Every day that these dissenters choose to make it harder for Diarra to operate, what they are doing is not just harming him, but more importantly, they are delaying a resolution to bring Malians much needed relief.  At this time national unity needs to become evident rather than just a song being sung. Even with Dioncounda, it is hard to say what will happen next. Given this address, it is hard to see where the PM will fit in and how all the political forces will indeed coordinate to create a stable, unified front. Without a strong base in the South, it will be hard for the army to follow a steadfast course. What Mali needs now more than ever is a government that sticks together and shows that Mali’s needs surpasses their own partisan interests. Additionally, Mali’s neighbors have given Mali a deadline of July 31st to create a unity government or risk facing sanctions again.  This seems unlikely at this point, but Dioncounda’s plan is a step in the right direction to make that happen. If what Dioncounda says is true, now that he is back, he could be the binding force that is needed as he shows that he is willing to coordinate with the coup leaders choices of leadership.  ECOWAS has been prompt at adding ten more days to the deadline to allow Dioncounda Traoré enough room for negotiations.

Elections have been set for May. Items to be resolved remain: checking out the rebels, restoring order in the North, bring home the refugees and holding elections. At the end of the day, a speech is all well and good, but actions speak louder than words and the question remains, can Dioncounda and Diarra pull it off for the greater good of Mali.  It remains clear, given Dioncounda’s return, that Malians will expect remarkable progress in the near future from these leaders.

 
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Posted by on July 31, 2012 in Past Posts

 

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Guiding Mali forward

If you had told me a few months ago what would happen in Mali, I would not have believed it. The events that have unfolded since the March 21st coup were an awakening. An awakening that Mali was not as stable a democracy that everyone in Africa seemed to think it was and that Mali had fallen the hardest when it seemed the most stable. Since then Mali’s way of life and the uncertainty in government has moved Mali back 20 years. It is unbelievable that one man could change so much. There seems to be little political drama these days and calm seems to be on the surface. The African Union has since disregarded the agreement that was signed with Sanogo giving him ex-Presidential privileges. However it remains to be seen how much power they have to even enforce it.  It is easier to give something than to take it away once given. The ripples of dissent are there. People are unhappy with the way things are playing in the North. The latest attack on Mali’s national treasures has caused such anger that it makes me question humanity a little. Mali has gotten more attention from the West with the destruction of Tombouctou’s mausoleums to its Sufi Saints, a UN World Heritage site. If sites/things can get this much attention, how come 250000 displaced refugees cannot get a similar reaction. Have we come to a time in our history where human life is cheap and dispensable but historical artifacts are not?

The refugee situation is becoming worse and the situation will continue to degrade unless the security is restored in the North. People flee when conditions are not safe. The Malian government has been unable to re-secure Northern territory. In addition the destruction on World Heritage sites and the increased punishment under Sharia law has made people desperate. People are so frightened that they are willing to leave homes, land and family behind. Just last week, a woman carrying her baby on her back who was getting water was flogged by Islamists. Her crime? Her head scarf had fallen as she tried to fill water. Today, she and her child lie in a hospital. In other incidents, young men have been flogged for stealing or associating with women. The young men of Tombouctou and Gao are so angered by the situation that they have taken to the streets with clubs and machetes. However while they are bigger in number, they are no match for Ansar Dine’s men that are equipped with guns.  Something has to happen soon from the Government of Mali. We cannot lose the future of Mali. Ansar Dine has proven its original mission of its own state to ensure the Tuareg’s well-being is polluted with an agenda of terrorism.

In yet another move to progress Mali back to democracy, Prime Minister Diarra advised ECOWAS of a roadmap to ending Mali’s two big issues: terrorism in the North and ability to hold credible elections after the one year transition. There is talk of creating more opportunities for political actors from other parties so that government can indeed be more diverse. Diarra has said that he would welcome the 3000 ECOWAS troops only if they were to rid the North of terrorists.  If all is kept on schedule and the new plan accepted then Mali would be on course to hold elections in May 2013. One of the biggest issues in Mali today is most political parties feel excluded from the government; hence instead of supporting Diarra they are constantly opposing his policies. If a government were created that held no majority, while it would bring in differing agendas, it will also give political parties the chance they seem to be asking for to make a difference. Hopefully, it will not become yet another political circus. Yeah has constantly called for a national unity government to be formed but has also cautioned against furthering personal agendas. He said in a recent debate:” When a nation is faced with its survival it must act in unison. The quarrels of interest will always exist but the existence of our territorial integrity must come before our partisan interests”.

Many people have asked us whether we plan on dropping out of the campaign. Giving up on Mali is not an option for us. Our efforts will be focused on making sure the right things happen for the Malian people in terms of getting refugee aid and contacting governments to advise them of how they can help.

It is essential that national unity be achieved first so that international support will return. Then a better equipped army can be deployed that has confidence in their leaders. After that the North can be regained and the terrorists kicked out. If we don’t do that soon, it may be too late. The time has run out and enough is enough. Once security and safety returns to the region, the refugees will return home.  Mali cannot afford another blunder. We are on the right path, but it is moving slowly

 
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Posted by on July 18, 2012 in Past Posts

 

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Calm returns to the South while the North Struggles

This past week has passed in relative calm. The capital has almost gotten back to normal and one would find it hard to believe that a coup ever happened. The junta seems to have backed down completely and it’s probably the sweet deal that Sanogo got for himself that is keeping him quiet. However, I am quite surprised other members of the 500-strong junta have remained quiet, which lends to believe that either Sanogo was really the undisputable leader or the rest of the junta is getting something as well that has been undisclosed. Dioncounda remains in Paris and is supposed to return sometime this week. Life continues in much the same way as it did before. Prime Minister Diarra is attempting to fill his role as leader of the country. He has a great responsibility and many are relying on him to push Mali back on track. Yeah had met with him last week to discuss ideas and solutions on how to get Mali’s issues of leadership addressed as well as the issue in the North. Yeah’s take is that without strong leadership and a plan in the South of the country where the government is based, the North’s issues cannot be resolved.

Last week Yeah also gave an exclusive interview to the well known newspaper L’Independent in Mali where he talked of the struggles in Mali. He advised that Mali should not accept ECOWAS troops on Mali’s soil killing Mali’s people in the North. The solution has to be bred on Mali’s soil. Also Yeah encouraged ECOWAS to work with the political class in Mali. With the issue in the North, Yeah said that it is important to involve well off neighbors like Algeria and Mauritania because ECOWAS does not have the logistics and money to support troops despite them wanting to send troops to Mali. Also the stakes are higher for these countries because if rebels/terrorists overflow across their borders, it could cause instability for them. You can read the entire interview here in English: http://samake2012.com/updates/2012/05/interview-with-malian-newspaper-lindependent/#more-1296 or here in French: http://www.maliweb.net/news/interview/2012/05/28/article,69486.html

For the most part, people are just watching and waiting to see what the non-partisan Diarra will do. As I have said before, as long as their leaders don’t make things worse, Malians will put up with it. Diarra seems to be a calming force amidst the chaos. Malians seem to actually heed his words. For the first time yesterday on National TV, he spoke to Segou soldiers on the issue in the North of the country. “I have always said that I do not support war, because it’s war that makes a child an orphan and it’s war that makes a woman a widow. But if we love our country, we must liberate it even if it’s through war, a war that will end the daily wars. A war that will open the door for peace and security because without peace we cannot have security and without security, there will be no prosperity for this nation,” the PM said. He spoke with the most passion and conviction than I have ever seen him have. He talked of how Mali would not concede any part of its land to the rebels. Talk is all well and good. The thing that is most concerning is that Mali currently does not have an equipped army. The 7000-strong army that is reported by statistics websites like CIA may be correct as far as man count. However, the fact remains that the army lacked the arms before the coup and they continue to lack the arms. To send them into the North without the equipment would be like signing their death sentence. Apparently, Western countries, especially America had given ATT a lot of arms and vehicles to fight off the rebels before the coup. Rumor has it that ATT sold or gifted much of this to the rebels themselves when they initially came over to Mali after Libya’s Gaddhafi fell. There are no reports one way or the other to corroborate the story. Fact remains; the army is defenseless and has the manpower but not the equipment to fight.

What Mali needs immediately is strong leadership in the south that has a plan on how to re-unite the country and ultimately gain back the territories in the North. The Tuaregs are a minority and not even they are in control right now. Control seems to be shared between Ansar Dine, MUJAO, AQIM and MNLA, all terrorist factions. So while the South seems to be gaining some control, the North is struggling with a terrorist problem and a refugee issue.

UNICEF despite increasing the aid it is providing has been warning about the sanitary conditions at the camps as well as the demand outweighing the supply. Ultimately, it will be the women and children that will bear the brunt of this refugee crisis. This refugee crisis started with the drought but has been intensified by the crisis in Mali. The problem has been overlooked long enough as the world’s attentions focused in South Bamako. In addition governments of Mauritania, Algeria, Senegal and Burkina Faso also have to deal with the refugees that fled across the border. One country’s crisis is becoming West Africa’s dilemma. This is just one big mess and it needs the international community to bring light to the growing humanitarian crisis. On the other hand there are terrorist groups operating freely in the North. They are restricting aid and making life very hard for residents by imposing Sharia law. There have also been reports that they are damaging World Heritage sites in Tombouctou that have been around for centuries. Imagine the destruction of the Great Wall of China or the Taj Mahal. As an Indian, I would be angered if anything happened to a symbol of my culture. Even the youth of the North have mobilized themselves, fed up with the lack of leadership from Bamako.

Finally, given ECOWAS’ failed track record to help bring civilian rule to Mali, ECOWAS has designated a new representative from the country of Benin. Let’s hope the new leadership will not bully Mali and cause more issues.

Strong leadership first will allow Mali to resolve this crisis and attempt to resolve the growing issue in the North. The question remains, will Prime Minister Diarra be that stabilizing force that Mali desperately needs and will ECOWAS finally include all political forces in Mali rather than enforcing their will.

 
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Posted by on June 2, 2012 in Past Posts

 

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On the agenda for Mali’s new Interim President

Today at 9am GMT, Malians around the country tuned in to their TV sets to watch the Malian government become legitimized at least in the world’s eyes. The roller-coaster of events that derailed a 20 year democracy saw a crest as an interim President Diacounda Traoré was sworn in.

So what does this mean for Mali? Diacounda’s task is by no means a small one. Plan of action during the next 40 days: reunite the country and set up elections. With Islamist forces taking over the North and calling for the independence of Azawad, Mali is in essence being divided. There is no clear indication as to which groups are involved in the takeover of the North. Initially, while it was thought that MNLA and AQIM were the only forces, it is becoming more and more apparent that many smaller factions may be involved like MUJWA, MUJAO, GSPC and GIA (http://thewasat.wordpress.com/2012/04/06/the-black-flag-flies-in-mali/). The latest report points at Boko Haram members in Gao. This is the same group that takes credit for its violence in Nigeria. If it is true that all these groups are operating in the North, the Northern regions of Mali are already proving to be a dangerous breeding ground which if not contained and eliminated could spread to the rest of Mali and even West Africa. More and more this takeover is becoming more about just having the land and free range to do as they please versus trying to create a better equal environment for the Tuaregs. This is best shown by the degree of looting and destruction of property as well as the harm of individuals. If one truly wanted to take over land for the end purpose of freeing one’s “oppressed” people, then one would not scare its residents or destroy hospitals, pharmacies, stores etc that are the proof of a civilized community. No! No one is trying to free the Tuaregs. What is happening is a personal agenda of terrorist organizations to take over a territory that can be best used to facilitate their drug and trafficking activities and serve as a breeding ground for training camps. What we have is a pre-9/11 Afghanistan being created.

The Rebels in the North

The Black Flag flies in Tombouctou signifying Ansar-Al Dine presence.

Furthermore, in the region of Tombouctou, there is the imposition of Sharia law, which essentially the leader of Ansar Al-Dine wants for the whole of Mali. What would Sharia mean for Mali? Well for one, the wearing of veils would become mandatory as it is now for our sisters in Tombouctou. Women are a very fashion oriented gender in Mali and would not appreciate being told how to dress or how to look. More serious however, would be the strict observance of Islam, which would seem out of place in this moderately Muslim country. Also, Muslim law follows a very strict punishment policy with thieves/vandals having their hands cut off and adulterers being stoned.

So how are we to restore territorial integrity? Initially, when the three territories had fallen, the junta had asked the African Union to provide help. The African Union stands ready to provide a 3000 strong army, but the junta have said, we don’t need boots just give us arms. The Malian army is a 7000 strong army and has been trained for many years by foreign forces to battle these problems in the North. However, not even the bravest of soldiers will run into battle without arms. Arms are a necessary evil but plans need to be carefully drawn and dialogue needs to happen before war. Waging a war without assessing future impacts could be dangerous. We do not want to harm more innocent lives. Plus the Malian army is capable( if equipped) and are more familiar with the desert regions. For all their mistakes, the junta, only 500 strong does not speak for Mali’s army and did not create the Northern problem; they exacerbated it by causing a moment of weakness for the country.

A forgotten people

In addition with the drought of the region, the refugee crisis worsens with each passing day. My heart aches to think of mothers that watch their children die and cannot do a thing about it. My heart aches as the number of people fleeing their homes grows each day. In this day and age, to watch one part of the world flourish and another continue to suffer seems unimaginable. But it exists. It gives individuals like me an opportunity to share my blessings and make a difference to someone in need. Yeah has been working with various organizations to make this possible. Hopefully soon, we will see these organizations shipping containers bringing much needed food. We have also set up a trust to accept anonymous donations if you can help: Friends of Mali Trust, 472 East 4380, North Provo, Utah 84604 or you may donate online at www.samake2012.com and put the keyword “refugee” in the comment field. If you today, could make a difference, please do. Even $1 will feed a child for a day in Mali. Imagine what $10 could do? Imagine what $100 could do? And if you cannot help financially, use the blessing of your voice and spread the word to your network. Let this not become another “African” problem or “not my problem”.

Given these issues, can Diacounda truly set up elections within the next 40 days? The answer is one riddled with ifs. If Diacounda truly embodies the things his party ADEMA says about him like “very keen on working toward consensus” and “a man of the people” (http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2012/04/20124917549965212.html), then maybe a united Mali is possible. Diacounda cannot do this alone. He has to work with other political parties whose leaders are not contaminated with embezzlement and bad governance. “We will never negotiate the partition of Mali,” Traoré said in his inauguration speech in which he promised to organize “free and transparent elections over the whole of the national territory”. Time will tell. The only solution now is for Diacounda to surround himself with “true” leaders who view Mali’s unity and integrity and the Malian peoples safety as their personal goal.

Tomorrow, Yeah will fly out with other members of ADPS to Burkina Faso. Why Burkina? The ECOWAS team has assigned President of Burkina Faso, Blaise Campaoré, as their mediator for the Mali crisis. Yeah and his team will present to the President of Burkina, their joint solution to saving Mali from further casualties and loss of territory. This is an important meeting and dialogue is the key to breeding a Mali solution rather than an international plan to restore Mali to its former self.

We will not rest till Mali is whole again. We will not rest till democracy is restored. We will not rest till every refugee returns home. That is the Samake2012 fight! Are you in? Make your voice heard today at http://www.samake2012.com

 
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Posted by on April 12, 2012 in Past Posts

 

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