Saturday, November 28, 2015

More Misery In Mali


When I worked at Warner Bros, I visited our French company as often as I could and I usually would go see a band at the now infamous Bataclan Theatre. I saw some of our French bands play there-- like Les Negresses Vertes-- but once to see the Queens of the Stone Age, who were the progenitor of the Eagles of Death Metal. I wanted to see them play live because they covered a Romeo Void song I had an interest in (above).

Even when I went to Mali a few years ago there was a music component-- a trip out to Quizambougou to watch Bassekou Kouyate finish recording his second album. We were staying in Bamako, where I saw Bassekou play a live show at the French Cultural Center, and where, most recently a group of Daesh-related terrorists shot up the Radisson Blu Hotel and took over 100 guests hostage, killing 18 of them as well as a security guard.
The attack on the Radisson Blu hotel in the Malian capital Bamako, which killed 19 people, is the latest terrorist act on an African continent now stricken daily by fundamentalist horror and obscurantism.

Despite billions of dollars pledged to address this scourge, terrorism thrives in Africa due to the failure of states, the plundering of resources, and endemic corruption. Al-Qaeda, Al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, and more recently the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have engaged in deadly and constant destabilization in the hope of extending their power.

...The recently released Global Terrorism Index confirms this increase in violence. Boko Haram is ranked the deadliest organization with 6,644 deaths in 2014, compared with 6,073 for ISIS. Even as it loses ground to the Nigerian army, Boko Haram has multiplied its attacks, primarily against markets and public gatherings. Regular attacks in Mali and Kenya suggest that Al-Qaeda and Al-Shabaab will continue contributing to this violent one-upmanship.

Opening the second Dakar International Forum on Security in Africa on Nov. 9, Senegalese President Macky Sall reiterated his call for more resources. However, addressing terrorism in Africa demands more than financial means. According to him, the framework of intervention based on U.N. peacekeeping operations, to which his country is a major contributor, needs to adapt. The urgency of the situation requires fighting rather than simply maintaining peace.
Above and beyond the State Department's warning to Americans about travel, Mali was singled out even before this latest attack as a place to stay away from, a real shame in light of what an incredibly unique and fascinating place it is for American tourists. (That Radisson Blu, didn't have tourists but business people staying there.)
The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the risks of travel to Mali. We especially warn against travel to the northern parts of the country and along the border with Mauritania because of ongoing military operations and threats of attacks and kidnappings targeting westerners. Mali faces significant security challenges because of the presence in northern Mali of extremists and militant factions. The potential for attacks throughout the country, including in Bamako, remains. This Travel Warning replaces the Travel Warning dated January 13, 2015.

Violent extremist and militant elements, including al- Qaeda in the Lands of Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Ansar al-Dine, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad (MUJAO), and al-Murabitun are present in northern Mali. While these extremist elements have been mostly dislodged from the major population centers of Gao and Timbuktu, they continue to conduct attacks targeting security forces in and around these locations.

During the past year, there has been an increase in attacks targeting the United Nations peacekeepers of the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). Rocket attacks targeting MINUSMA camps in various northern locations were reported. In addition, separate violent incidents involving suicide bombings, explosives, and land mines have occurred. The majority of these incidents resulted in numerous injuries and casualties.

Terrorist groups have increased their rhetoric calling for additional attacks or kidnapping attempts on westerners and others, particularly those linked to support for international military intervention.

While the security situation in Bamako and southern Mali has been relatively stable, on March 7, there was an armed attack on La Terrasse, a nightclub in the Hippodrome area of Bamako, in which a French citizen, a Belgian citizen, and three Malian citizens were killed. The Government of Mali has increased security in the capital, but the potential for additional attacks targeting Westerners in the capital city and throughout the country remains. Police harassment and violent crime in Bamako persist, including several armed carjacking incidents, one of which resulted in the death of a French citizen.

...The U.S. Embassy reminds U.S. citizens of the potential for terrorist activity throughout Mali. U.S. citizens are urged to exercise caution, be alert to their surroundings, and avoid crowds, demonstrations, or any other form of public gatherings when visiting locations frequented by westerners, in and around Bamako. Periodic public demonstrations occur throughout Mali. While most demonstrations are peaceful, a few have become confrontational. U.S. citizens throughout Mali should develop a personal security plan. We recommend you vary your daily routine, and travel only on main roads to the extent this is possible. Malian security forces regularly update security safeguards, including checkpoints and other movement control measures, without prior notice.
They also warn about unsafe domestic air flights and Ebola.

Bamako doesn't have much to offer, other than a good restaurant-- if it's still open (which I doubt). But the really great things to see in Mali are accessed through Bamako via insecure roads. As much as I loved Djenne, Timbuktu, the Dogon country and experiencing the birthplace of the blues, there's nothing that would get me there at this point. In fact, today there was another terrorist attack, this one up north in Kidal, where UN peacekeepers were targeted and several were killed by mortar shells.

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