Mali's road ahead: Reprisal fears and desert warfare

A man drives a motorbike in Mali's capital, Bamako, decorated with French flags among others to show his support for the international forces -24 January 2013

"If I could I would get rid of this skin. It's like I have 'terrorist' written on my forehead," said a Tuareg friend of mine - let's call him Boubou - here in Mali's capital, Bamako, as he pinched the light brown skin on his arm.

"It is not safe here for us."

We had first met a few years ago in Timbuktu, well before the ancient town, along with the rest of northern Mali, had been overrun by a Tuareg separatist rebellion and a loose coalition of Islamist militant groups early last year.

Now Boubou, like many Tuareg people, fears a terrible backlash from darker-skinned soldiers and civilians as French forces enable Mali's vengeful army to recapture Timbuktu and other northern towns in the months ahead.

An ethnic Tuareg soldier in the Malian army rides in a pickup truck in Niono, 19 January 2013 Not many Tuaregs support the MNLA rebels, says Boubou. This Tuareg soldier is in the Malian army

"We Tuaregs are finished," he lamented, angrily blaming the MNLA rebels who he insisted had no support among the Tuaregs - themselves a minority group in the north - whom they claimed to represent.

But is he right?

As the military campaign here slowly gathers momentum, this fractured country is swirling with all sorts of predictions - both dire and optimistic - about the path head.

Here, for what it is worth, is my sense of where things might be going.

Plan in tatters

Mali's humiliated army will be itching to march into Timbuktu - on Saturday if possible.

But the French will be anxious to slow them down, waiting for West African troop reinforcements to arrive in central Mali in the next week or so.

Chadian soldiers stand in front of their armoured vehicles as they prepare to leave a military camp on the outskirts of Niamey on 24 January  2013 Chadian soldiers are experienced desert warriors

There is no sense in advancing if your rear is exposed, and so, when they finally get the logistics sorted out, the Nigerians and others will be given the job of patrolling newly recaptured towns, and trying to prevent the Islamist militants from returning.

Start Quote

All this happened because of a lack of good governance, so we need to address this issue in a very, very urgent manner”

End Quote Hamadoun Toure Ex-communications minister

Chad's army is a case apart - they are highly experienced in desert warfare and will be pushing in from the Niger border towards the eastern town of Gao.

There are other reasons for slowing the pace.

Mali's ill-disciplined army is already being accused of summary executions and rapes - justifying my friend Boubou's fears of reprisals against Tuaregs.

The original international plan had always called for a long military build-up to give European soldiers a chance to retrain the Malians and hopefully minimise human rights abuses by them against civilians.

That plan is in tatters now, but a training programme is being accelerated.

Putschists sidelined

Malian politics could also do with some time, and some heavy outside pressure, to get things moving.

That applies for power-brokers in northern towns who may - as the recent Ansar Dine defections in Kidal suggest - be looking for ways to surrender; although who is going to take any of them seriously now is another matter.

Coming face-to-face with Islamist rebels

Binta Diarra who fled Diabaly in Mali

It also applies, perhaps more acutely, here in Bamako.

Remember last year's military coup? And the painstaking negotiations that created a transitional government? And all the talk about a roadmap to democracy that has not yet materialised?

As former Communications Minister Hamadoun Toure put it to me: "We need another perspective - and to prepare for democratic rule in the future.

"It means preparing for elections now, while trying to liberate the country.

"All this [the coup, and the conflict] happened because of a lack of good governance, so we need to address this issue in a very, very urgent manner."

The encouraging news is that Mali's coup leaders - not an inspiring crowd - have been emphatically sidelined by events on the ground.

But it remains to be seen whether other, more credible leaders can now harness public frustration and pull this country towards a properly accountable democracy.

The French, presumably, will expect a clean election as the first down payment on their rescue mission.

Fighting in Mali map
Andrew Harding Article written by Andrew Harding Andrew Harding Africa correspondent

South Africa cricket: Not just a 'white sport'?

Andrew Harding looks at whether grassroots initiatives and quotas can help broaden cricket's appeal in South Africa.

Read full article

More on This Story

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 205.

    WhyMe44 (201),

    “… You've shot yourself in the foot here buddy …”

    From Blix's report "… It is obvious that, while the numerous initiatives, which are now taken by the Iraqi side … these initiatives 3–4 months into the new resolution cannot be said to constitute “immediate” cooperation. Nor do they necessarily cover all areas of relevance.”

  • rate this

    Comment number 204.

    Oh God Self Delusion - and mass hysteria - does not hold water in God temple mate

    again what was their excuse for gaza - 3 days - kids being missiled ..and they turn a blind eye ..but somehow when some idiot in mali - tells them - not to play - bob marley songs -west are outraged..Whaaaatt

    Again - What is the Excuse for Killing Kids with Drones..Kids are tyrants ?? Really -What Else

  • rate this

    Comment number 203.

    @200.CharleyFarley: “Chryses @ 197 said:
    "..Yay! We welcome another conspiracy theorist! Suuuure they did! What proof? "

    Don't pretend to be be naive.”

    Is that your way of admitting you have no proof?

  • rate this

    Comment number 202.

    V-4r-Vendetta (198),

    “AAArgh - Same old conspiracy Card …”

    Other posters don’t bring in the conspiracy theories.

    “… so what is their Excuse for Gaza …”

    The French are not leading the Mali military into Gaza.

    “…what is their excuse for supoort for undemocratic puppets …”

    If the West does not do so, they’re criticized for interfering.

  • rate this

    Comment number 201.

    Chryses @ 199 said:
    "...You are mistaken."

    You've shot yourself in the foot here buddy.

    Read it properly under the header: 'Aftermath'


Comments 5 of 205


Features & Analysis

Elsewhere on the BBC

  • TravelAround the world

    BBC Travel takes a look at the most striking images from the past seven days


  • A bicycle with a Copenhagen WheelClick Watch

    The wheel giving push bikes an extra boost by turning them into smart electric hybrids

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.