(Editor’s Note: Over the past three weeks, Geoff Weiss and Andrea Papitto have written a series of blog posts about incredible towns and sites in Mali. Recently, a humanitarian crisis has gripped the country and friends of the writers have sent Geoff and Andrea missives of displacement and violence. For the next week and a half, Africa.com will publish the stories of these refugee citizens. We’ll continue with the Mali travel series later this month.)
Beyond its awe-inspiring sites, scholastic treasures and mythic cities, Mali is home to a diverse and warm-hearted people. Consequently—and given our deep ties and longstanding relationships there—we at Africa.com must temporarily turn away from our cultural examination of the country to refocus on the current humanitarian crisis occurring there.
Following the insurgency of a heavily-armed Tuareg rebel group seeking land possession in Mali’s north, over 30,000 citizens have fled the country in fear of violence. Among those currently seeking refugee status in neighboring nations such as Algeria, Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger are thousands of peaceful Tuareg citizens who have long lived safely in Mali but are now, increasingly, falling victim to retaliatory attacks.
Throughout the next week, in the hopes of spreading awareness and garnering aid, we will be bringing you firsthand accounts from displaced Tuareg citizens who have lost everything—their work, their homes, their very lives as they knew them. Coming from various walks of life, each profile will aim to provide a slightly different glimpse into the current tragedy told from the perspective of those victims currently in its throes.
Written by: Mohamed Ahmed Ag Mohamed, Retired teacher living in Abidjan
(Translated by: Geoff Weiss)
For a long time, armed Malian Tuaregs seemed to have the widespread support of the nation: developmental, financial, political, diplomatic, administrative, and not to mention a great deal of respect and tolerance—though eventually that began to show its limitations. But suddenly, when they rebelled, it was their non-armed and very loyal Tuareg counterparts in Mali who paid the price.
Retaliation and humiliation have been showered upon those peacemakers who simply wished to co-exist. Their possessions have been burned, ransacked and pillaged. They’ve withstood insult and abuse from crowds who attack them without any repercussions. They have fled their homes only to find themselves in the streets of exile, leaving everything behind them—not the least of which their dignity, their hope. They are ‘persona non grata’ in a country that no longer recognizes their status as citizens. They are thrown out onto the streets like vagabonds, in clear view of the politicians who watch them carelessly from afar.
There were Tuareg rebellions throughout the grip of French colonialism in addition to an extensive, undeclared war—all without retaliation against innocent civilians and those who had pledged their allegiance to colonists. Today, Mali runs away from its enemies and fights against the very patriots who attempt to lead peaceful lives within its city walls.
Our great heroes of the anti-colonial struggle, including Soundiata Keita, Biton Coulibaly, Damonzo Diarra, Thiéba Traoré, Firhoun and many more—who fought with honor and lead their warriors with dignity and courage on the battlefield—must be turning over in their graves given the lack of insight and action on the part of those today whose responsibility it is to defend our homeland.
The 21st century should be ashamed to have given birth to a democracy that selectively eats its young on the basis of skin color or last name. Where has the famous ‘djatiguiya’ (or Malian cordiality and hospitality) gone, which was once the pride of the Mandé people? It’s just a word, nothing more than a word, intended to ensure that the Malian population today remains rooted in its past, while, in reality, the country has once again missed its rendezvous with history—the opportunity to prove that this ancient nation could offer more to civilization.
We are on the road again 20 years later, and we thank all the countries who have given us the right to live in peace and security, proving that humanity and nobility are the cardinal values of these people. We, the peaceful Tuaregs and Arabs of Mali, whose plight is being witnessed by the international community, beseech you to help us find a homeland where we might finally rest our bags, raise our children, prosper both materially and spiritually, and bury our dead in peace.
To help the humanitarian crisis in Mali, you can make a donation to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Indicate OTHER OPERATIONS and then select “Niamey (Regional – Covers Mali and Niger).”
Geoff Weiss and Andrea Papitto first traveled to West Africa together in 2005. Geoff is a freelance journalist based in Lyon, France. Andrea is currently producing Essakane Film, a documentary on the Festival in the Desert, where she met many of her Tuareg friends who are now refugees. Contributions by: Andrea Papitto.