As many readers might know, I often write about travel as well as politics. I had hoped to write a beautiful piece about the breathtaking country of Mali in West Africa after a visit there I had planned for this October. Alas, that trip and that article won’t come to pass. Instead, I write today wearing my political hat about another human tragedy in yet another country that isn’t deemed of interest to the US or Europe (collectively “the West”).
For those who study travel, especially the broad gamut of adventure travel, Mali and the storied city of Timbuktu nestled at the start of the vast Sahara desert are legendary goals of most intrepid travelers. There are many great civilizations throughout Africa but only a few have architectural wonders that have been preserved. Egypt, of course, comes immediately to mind. But, the churches of early Christian Ethiopia and the relics of Great Zimbabwe also stand out as places to see during every history buff’s lifetime. Equally, the great Mosques, relics, Taureg edifices and gravity defying homes of Bandiagara make the list of things on most dedicated travelers’ bucket lists. I have long waited to explore the great country of Mali and booked a trip this past winter excited to do a week long drive through the country (though I had heard some rumblings of a lack of safety in Timbuktu–a kidnapping–such that I considered the option of leaving out the northern reaches of the country). I was certain of this trip in that Mali has been one of the most stable of democracies in West Africa if not in all of Africa for the past several decades. But, that stability is no more and today Mali, as a nation, lies in shambles. The Northern portion (including Timbuktu) has been overtaken by rebels. Some are Taureg and others part of Al Queda in the Maghreb and others Al Dine all loosely and tensely working together. The result is the declaration of a separate nation of Azawad no longer leaving Mali whole.
How did this happen? Like the turn of history, the law of unanticipated consequences played the catalyst. Over the past several years, rebel activity and general lawlessness ruled over some parts of the desolate Saharan region of Mali. In the last year, these acts become bolder and more pronounced and including some in Timbuktu. A couple of Westerners were kidnapped (to make a point) and there were some shootings. The government of Mali tried to intercede but with limited resources and vast stretches of country unable to be guarded they had some failures. Some looked to the next government to come up with a better solution and the long serving President had agreed to follow the Constitution and step down. Elections were set and out of nowhere it would seem a coup happened. A group of junior officers purportedly led a coup rather than allow the weeks away election to happen because they felt the government was not policing the Northern rebels with diligence. While the intent may have been noble (at least the purported or stated intent since the truth seems that was not the real point as the rebel leader is now quite wealthy as a result of a deal he brokered with an interim government to give up power), the result was that most unanticipated a consequence. The coup emboldened and strengthened the rebels and while there were riots and fires in Bamako, the capital city in the Southwest, the rebels joined forces, admittedly with some unease, and took the North.
Since that time, there have been large scale beheadings, attacks on Westerners as well as Malians especially those deemed not to be “Islamic
enough.” Like the Taliban, there has been desecration of historical sites, oddly including one of the most spectacular of Mosques simply because Westerners and non-believers had been allowed to enter over the years. And, after at time, there has been a mass exodus over the border by hundreds of thousands if not more people into Mauritania, Senegal and Burkina Faso. Many have died en route if not at the hands of the rebels and yet it is nearly impossible to find any news story about this human tragedy. And it isn’t getting better, it is getting worse. Century old grudges between different ethnic tribal groups have come to the fore and violence is rampant not only in the North but throughout Mali and in the refugee camps. Blood is being spilled but the corporate media, especially in the US, if focused on whether President Obama’s words taken out of context mean he isn’t “really American” or which dull white guy is Mitt Romney going to pick as his second in command of a failed backward looking ship. But I digress. Where is the media? Where is the Obama Administration? Where is Congress? Apparently, they all drank a little Rwandan/Sudanese cool-aid and decided that Mali doesn’t have oil so why bother. Plus, admitting that a group related to Al Queda has taken over half a country and created a new Islamic Republic of Alawad is not a convenient story for either party in an election year.
Maybe, hopefully, the State Department and President Obama are concerned and acting to quell potential genocide but determined not to give in to the rebels thirst for notoriety and the trappings of success. But, the media sure could do the world a favor and try to stop this bloodletting before it turns further to tragedy. Wake up everyone and put Mali (and that is Mali, not Malawi, i.e. where Madonna adopted a child) on your lips whether in prayer or in demand for justice and an end to genocide. African troops, if not European, UN and/or NATO need to get on the ground fast and support the country before the South devolves as badly as the North and ancient rivalries begin a blood letting there as well. I understand that Bamako and other parts of the South are not safe as we speak but that is more due to crime, riots and insecurity due to rampant poverty than to ethnic strife. But, if the act of a few low level officers can split a nation, divide a people and give way to genocide, that devastation cannot be far behind.
What started as a desire to travel to a special place led me to pay attention (via the internet and VERY OCCASIONALLY the NY Times) to this tragedy and forces me to scream now. WAKE UP AMERICA! We need to concern ourselves now rather than make apologies a decade from now like we did regarding Rwanda. Search the internet, find ways to get involved or at least know what is happening and force our leaders to focus on this human horror before it consumes a people, a nation and potentially gives Al Queda a new stronghold with a Taureg Taliban.
Get interested and demand action. Start at wikipedia and go from there: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2012_Malian_coup_d%27%C3%A9tat