Film Tells Story of Exiled Musicians in Mali
In every culture, music is a special way to tell a story.  It says something unique and important about a culture, and is an essential way to connect people.  Music’s importance is seen most visibly in Malian culture, where music is not a profession or a pastime, but a people.  Griots are musicians who tell stories about Malian history, and hold the keys to the past.  In Mali, therefore, music is culture.

In 2012, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa banned all music in Northern Mali.  This movement took over Northern Mali after a violent take over instigated by Islamic extremism.  This music ban forced Malian musicians to either flee the nation or move underground.  As a result, an incredible counter-cultural movement is sweeping over Malian music.

“They Will Have to Kill Us First: Malian Musicians in Exile” is a documentary currently being commissioned by British director Johanna Schwartz and producer Kat Amara Korba.  The documentary will explore how Malian musicians are seeking to restore music and peace to the ailing nation.  Musicians featured in the documentary will include Khaira Arby (the “Nightingale of the North”,) Manny Ansar (a music festival director), and Toumani Diabate (a 72nd generation Griot.)

The project began shooting in February 2013, near the beginnings of the conflict, and will continue to shoot through April.  The documentary is being independently funded through a Kickstarter Campaign.  The fundraiser officially achieved its goal of 30,000 British pounds on December 7, 2013, but is still accepting pledges to meet production costs.

As stated by Malian musician Fadimata Disco Walet Oumar, “They want to ban music?  They will have to kill us first.”  Mali’s musical rebellion is a testament to the power of expression.

Taylor Diamond

Sources: Kickstarter, They Will Have to Kill Us First

The World Health Organization confirmed the eradication of smallpox in 1979, the only human disease to be completely eradicated. Now, another disease is getting closer to the same fate. Dracunculiasis, or guinea worm, is on its way out. In a weekly report, the CDC has said that only 89 cases of guinea worm were recorded in the first half of 2013. This is a 77 percent reduction over last year.

In contrast, there have been over 300 cases of polio, another disease nearing eradication, in the same time period.

Dracunculiasis is spread through ingesting stagnant water contaminated with the Dracunculus medinensis larvae. About one year after infection, the worm can grow up to 30 inches, and emerge through the surface of the skin, frequently on the lower limbs. While it is rarely fatal, pain and bacterial infections often follow and can cause permanent a disability.

While the number of cases has dropped, there are no drugs available that could prevent or heal the current cases. The possibility of spreading the parasite is particularly high if the infected person frequents stagnant water sources, such as an open well or pond.

The worm is now only found in four countries: Chad, Ethiopia, Mali, and South Sudan. A majority of the cases were found in South Sudan, but the country has seen an 80 percent decrease since last year. Mali is facing a tougher time in the eradication process. Due to a coup d’état in April of 2012, health workers have not been able to reach some areas of the country.

– David Smith

Sources: NPR, CDC, WHO
Photo: KidWorldCitizen

Mali Refugee Children School Teaching Tuareg Separatists Ansar Dine
In the wake of the jihadist occupation of Mali, hundreds of thousands of displaced Malian children currently await the opportunity to return to school. The country’s $9.1 million back-to-school campaign, “Peace is back, School is back,” aims to re-establish the education system by reinstating teachers and providing school supplies. The campaign also plans to provide therapy for children and teachers affected by secessionist occupation of the country.

Among obstacles to the campaign are teachers who have yet to return to the north after seeking refuge in the south. Seen by jihadists as a face of the Malian state, many teachers fled for their lives when groups linked to al-Qaeda began to target schools that employed “western-style” education methods. Books were burned and classrooms were destroyed. Teachers were forced to flee south. Many of these teachers are still skeptical of security in the north and are hesitant to return.

“We have to help the teachers deal with psycho-social trauma for themselves and for the children,” Francoise Ackermans, Unicef’s representative to Mali, said to The Guardian.

Mali’s Ministry of Education reports that 1,400 of 2,500 displaced teachers have returned to the north and taken advantage of a grant from the European Union that allots $500 for each returning teacher. However, even if all 2,500 teachers are accounted for, 2,500 teaching positions in northern Mali will remain empty. To combat this problem, Unicef is providing training and therapy for 9,000 Malian teachers. Financial contributions to the campaign are also lacking. Ackermans noted that only $4 million have been pledged to the campaign so far. She emphasizes that if the campaign is to be successful, effective communication among communities is key.

“It’s a nationwide intervention and we have to mobilize the communities and send the right messages,” Ackermans said. “So it’s about communication and mobilization at the community level.”

Education is Mali’s focus in postwar recovery. Despite financial hardship and a lack of teachers, progress is being made. Children in southern Mali begin a new school year on October 1st. Children in northern Mali, who are currently participating in accelerated learning programs, will begin in November. Ackermans refers to education as “the cornerstone of Mali’s reconstruction.”

“What’s a more visible sign of things going back to normal than a girl and a boy walking to school in the morning?” Ackermans asked.

The campaign still has a long way to go in accommodating the estimated 800,000 children affected by the jihadist occupation. If the campaign is to be successful, the international community needs to step up by raising awareness and financial support. Without securing its future by providing its children with access to education, the country cannot remain stable. Ackerman stresses that each child has the right to education, and Mali will not be able to return to normality until that right is realized.

“An educated child is becoming a citizen of his own country and of the world. This is one of the basic rights of every child,” Ackermans said to Voice of America. “We have to commit ourselves to work together on that.”

– Matt Berg

Sources: The Guardian
Photo: Education and Transition

crashed house
Earlier this month, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita won the presidential election in Mali and promised to unite the country. After the elections, the French general who led the military campaign to restore order headed home, leaving Mali’s future in the hands of UN peacekeepers. UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, pledged to support the newly elected Government in their efforts to address the root causes of the conflict.

Mali’s political system had deteriorated from mismanagement. In the north, the state was overrun by extensive criminal networks often involving local dignitaries. Beginning in early 2012, Mali experienced a coup d-etat, renewed fighting between the government and Tuareg rebels, and the seizure of northern territory by radical Islamists. The Tuareg-led Mouvement National for the Liberation de l’Azawad began fighting for a state of their own.

Malians embraced the French intervention in the conflict in January of this year. Other nations, including the United States, offered aid to Mali under the pretense that Mali would hold free elections and choose civilian leaders. After a seven month French campaign, known as Operation Serval, to destroy the Islamist enclave in the north, hundreds of fighters have been killed and many others displaced across the Sahara.

France was able to pull out the country with relative ease, but many are concerned that this may not be the case for the UN. Unlike France, the UN faces an open-ended mission, limited resources and the difficult task of state building in Mali. According to a UN Special representative in Mali, “The UN is here to facilitate the return of the state to north Mali and provide security until the army is ready to take over…It’s a mission which is likely to last a few years.”

The UN will act as a buffer between the government and the north and facilitate discussions in order to broker a peace deal. However, the tasks laid out for the UN are numerous and broad. Realistically, a mission such as this could take up to ten years to complete.

Since the coup, 350,000 Malians have been internally displaced and over 175,000 have become refugees in neighboring countries. The conflict in the north disrupted economic activity and the delivery of basic social services. In addition, public buildings and services were often looted in the North. All three regional capital cities in the north lack the pre-conflict levels of electricity, water, and medical services.

As the refugees and internally displaced persons return to the north, the already damaged infrastructure will inevitably become more strained. The average Malian lives on $2/day. Due to the conflict, most of those displaced do not have the capital to return home and start over. Support from the international community is critical because it is unlikely that the infrastructure in the north will be capable of meeting the needs of the current citizens, let alone the return of the displaced.

If Malian forces fail to secure the north, the Islamists will return. The problems in the North are caused by poverty, corruption, and underdevelopment. One main issue that the UN and the newly elected government will have to address is the illegal economy. With over 300,000 youth entering the job market each year, the youth have found it difficult to find jobs and instead turn to the illegal market to make a quick profit.

This economic marginalization of the youth only fuels the illegal market, which is especially present in the north. The illegal market funds the rebels of the north and disarmament is impossible without first addressing the cause of youth unemployment. The UN and France are working together on several development projects in the region which will create jobs, support local suppliers and benefit the economy.

In Mali, foreign aid has become a recurring cycle – generating jobs present, but leaving the country incapable of sustainable economic growth. Between 1996 and 2005, 27.6% of the Malian state’s budget came from official development assistance. During the 2012 coup, NGOs left and so did their aid, further crippling the nation. The country is a frequent recipient of foreign aid, but corruption prevents the aid from getting to those who need it most.

Due to a lack of oversight and accountability, aid resources are diverted to those at the top. These problems related to aid tie in directly with Mali’s problematic institutions. In order for aid to be more effective in Mali, aid management should be decentralized.

The single largest increase in public perceptions of the public sector’s integrity came after the 2012 coup. The Malian people attribute a ‘lack of patriotism’ and ‘weakness of the state’ as reasons for the country’s ever-recurring crises.

– Kelsey Ziomek
Sources: Reuters, UN News, UN, Post-Gazette

The traditionally conflict-ridden state, Mali, recently elected former Mali Prime Minister Ibrahim Boubacar Keita as president. Keita won in a landslide presidential run-off with 78 percent of the national vote. This election was designed to bring stability back to Mali after a recent coup and Islamist rebel takeover of northern Mali. This election also marks a transition back to democracy after 18 months of crisis.

46 percent of 6.8 million registered voters casted their ballots on August 11, 2013. Soumaila Cisse was one of Keita’s competitors and received only roughly 22 percent of the vote, coming second in the run-off election. With this victory, Keita has been awarded a strong mandate bringing peace to Mali. But in addition to trying to secure a lasting peace with the Tuareg separatist rebels in northern Mali, Keita also needs to address military reforms, widespread corruption, and the economic crisis.

This election holds major implications because it is designed to unlock billions in international aid that have been offered to Mali in good faith. Aid to this country by international donors had been blocked after both the 2012 coup and insurgency by radical Islamist forces sent Mali into turmoil. With this election and revival of democracy in Mali, Keita will have access to over 4 billion dollars in reconstruction aid. Additionally, the United Nations will be deploying 12,600 troops in peacekeeping missions as France withdraws their 3,000 troops. In January, France helped the Mali government fight and repel the Islamist insurgents in Timbuktu, Gao, and Kidal.

Although Keita and the return of democracy are welcomed by many, a significant number of Mali southerners are opposed to funding the northerners as they try to recover from Islamist rebel occupation because they blame the north for the country’s current crisis.

Another divisive problem that exists is the promotion of coup leader Captain Amadou Sanogo to the rank of lieutenant general. Sanogo and his forces have been linked to serious crimes such as attacks and torture of civilians. This promotion has been highly scrutinized by groups such as the Human Rights Watch. This scrutinization is the first step to investigations of Sanogo and his departure from the military.

Regardless of the problems and obstacles ahead, Keita is known to be tough and a blunt speaker, but he has affirmed his commitment to bring peace and security reunite the people of Mali. The hope is now that Keita remains true to the people and does not appoint his political backers as a way to repay favors and fill cabinet position with his cronies.

– Rahul Shah

Sources: Reuters, Zee News, BBC
Photo: la Croix

In 2012, Ali Mahmoud fled his home country of Mali after a coup d’etat plunged the nation into a state of hardship. However, after relocating to a refugee camp in western Niger, Mahmoud has since found fame, fortune, and even love.

The 40 year-old artisan became a staple of his refugee camp by forging and repairing tools with his blacksmithing expertise. Specializing in knives and ornamental swords, Mahmoud’s one-man business earns roughly $50 USD per day. This number may seem modest, but these profits are amidst a population whose average annual income is equivalent to $360 USD. With over 55% of its citizens in poverty, Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world.

Ali’s father, Galio, explains this success is in part because “Every man here owns a sword or wants to own one.”

Constructing a sword or knife can take up to four days for Mahmoud. He buys his metals from the local market and works at an anvil from outside his straw shelter. His knives are sold for roughly $50 USD, whereas a sword and sheath can be purchased for about twice that price. For those who are unable to afford his goods, Mahmoud is open to bartering; he most commonly receives gifts of food in exchange for his services.

Mahmoud has been conscious of accruing a savings to finance his future wedding. His wife-to-be, Anata, is an 18 year old girl who was raised in the same hometown as Mahmoud. He has saved over $600 USD to pay for Anata’s dowry, simply noting that he is “very happy to have met Anata.”

Mahmoud’s business was supported by the Office of the United States High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which has organized projects to help refugees develop an income and become self sustaining. UNHCR will be moving Mahmoud and 17,000 Malian refugees to a camp in Intikan, which is a safer location deeper in Niger. Despite this, Mahmoud is eager that the move will allow his customer base to grow, and he aspires to expand his business to allow other Malian refugees to work under him.

“I am eager to go as soon as possible to Intikan,” he explains, “where I hope the number of my customers will double or triple.”

Blacksmithing was once a cornerstone of civilization, with blacksmiths being as common as local general stores. However, the industrial revolution significantly decreased the demand for blacksmiths. While niche organizations have kept the trade alive to this day, it is usually practiced for the purpose of art as opposed to utility.

For a country like Niger, the demand for the blacksmith’s skillset has proven itself. As Maumoud was given the resources to help himself, he works to give others the tools they need to become self sustainable. His story proves that, even in a struggling country, the entrepreneurial spirit can be found in the least likely of places.

– Timothy Monbleau

Source: BBC, The Art Career Project, UNHCR, World Bank, World Vision

TIMBUKTU, Mali — Though slavery was formally abolished in the West African nation of Mali in 1960, roughly 200,000 people continue to live as modern-day slaves and hundreds more are only now experiencing freedom for the first time.

According to the advocacy group Anti-Slavery International, “descent-based slavery” has existed for generations in Mali but worsened in March 2012 when Islamist rebels gained control of northern Mali. The lighter-skinned Tuaregs and Arab Moors used the ethnic background they shared with jihadists to control darker-skinned ethnic groups.

Many Tuareg and Arab Moor families recaptured former slaves, and those enslaved reported that their treatment worsened during the Islamists’ ten-month reign, during which a highly conservative brand of Islamic sharia law was enforced. A French-led military intervention rid Mali’s northern towns of these Islamists in early 2013, and many Tuaregs and Arab Moors fled the region fearing reprisal for their actions have .

While many former slaveholders have fled the region, the impact of slavery has left a possibly irreparable gulf between Mali’s different ethnic groups. Tuaregs and Arab Moors formerly raided communities of darker-skinned populations in order to acquire slaves for a variety of unpaid roles, ranging from salt mining to sexual slavery. Darker-skinned ethnic groups also entered voluntarily into bondage systems to feed their families because, due to discrimination, they are unable to acquire a better source of income.

These groups have adopted the language and customs of the Tuaregs and Arab Moors, but they are still subjected to unfair treatment and poor working conditions. Those who have managed to escape slavery often come to Timbuktu in order to find employment, but they end up with jobs closely resembling their former experiences as slaves.

Though former slaves celebrate as their longtime captors leave Mali, a guerrilla war surges on. Many slaves have escaped from the families that held control over their bloodline for generations, but the impact of slavery is readily apparent. Today, Timbuktu is a wasteland offering virtually no economic opportunities, even though many of its citizens are finally free.

– Katie Bandera

Source: Antislavery, Washington Post
Photo: The Guardian

In a recent statement to reporters in Geneva, Switzerland, UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency, issued an urgent call for funds to help Mali Refugees get access to life-saving aid.  Spokesman Andrej Mahecic told journalists, “To date, we have received only 13 percent of the $153.7 million needed to assist desperate Malians displaced inside and outside their country.”  The UN first sounded the alarm in April, calling for US $144 million in aid.  However, in the subsequent months, as the crisis in Mali has worsened, and several thousand more refugees began fleeing the country, the need has become greater and more urgent.

UNHCR warned that basic needs such as the need for water are not being adequately met in the arid Sahel region where many refugees have fled.  The standard is 20 liters of water (about 5 gallons) per day per son. Currently refugees are receiving half that amount.  To compound the problem, water has to be transported to remote regions by truck, and that takes both time and money.  Efforts to dig wells have been only partially successful, as lingering drought has caused several wells to run try after as little as 12 weeks. The shortage of water, according UNHCR, is “dire.”  Efforts to provide schooling in the refugee camps have also been hampered, leaving 3 out of 4 refugee children without access to education.

More than 170,000 refugees need assistance.  That number does not include almost 200,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) still in Mali and still in great need.  Moreover, people have fled to neighboring Burkina Faso, Niger, and Mauritania, countries which themselves are facing serious problems with poverty, conflict, and water shortages.

In addition to governments providing the much-needed aid, individuals can donate to UNCHR’s efforts as well through this link on the organization website.

– Délice Williams

Sources: UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, Oxfam
Sources: MSNBC Media

Conflict Fuels Poverty in Mali
Over the past year, Mali has been experiencing ongoing-armed conflict in its northern regions, threatening to reverse the progress made in the fight against poverty. In the last decade, poverty in Mali at the national level has been reduced from 56% in 2001, to 43% in 2010. Mali was regarded as a model of African democracy until the military seized power in March 2012. Taureg rebels declared the independence of the ‘Azawad state’ in the north, which was quickly taken over by al-Qaeda allies.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over 400,000 people have been displaced, of which over 200,000 are internally displaced and over 145,000 have been forced to take refuge in neighboring countries. The influx of these refugees into these host communities has put further strain on the already fragile countries. However, the food crisis in northern Mali is preventing many refugees from returning to their homes.

Agriculture is the major contributor to economic growth in Mali. It is dominated, however, by rain-fed agriculture, and therefore vulnerable to environmental and climate changes such as drought, floods, and desert locust invasions. The conflict in Mali came on top of a drought, which hit the Sahel region of Africa last year for the third time in a decade. Food security and nutrition have deteriorated significantly resulting in hunger for hundreds of thousands of people.

The violence in the conflict region makes it difficult for assistance to reach those in need. One in five households faces extreme shortages in northern regions with food consumption deteriorating significantly. Even before the crisis, around 15% of children in Mali suffered from acute malnutrition, a problem that has been worsened by these recent events. About 69% of Mali’s population lives below the national poverty line, so most must face extreme food shortages from an already difficult position.

Malian authorities are working to resolve the conflict with the Taureg rebels to end the crisis engulfing the nation. The UN Refugee Agency warned that increased international aid is “vital to prevent a worsening of the humanitarian situation across the Sahel region.” There is agreement among most humanitarian organizations in Mali that the humanitarian situation is at crisis point and deteriorating. Despite the scale of needs and the seriousness of the situation, the humanitarian response remains largely underfunded. The most urgent needs are food, shelter, clean water, health and education.

Ali Warlich

Sources: BBC, WFP, UNHCR
Photo: Rescue

Political Crisis in Mali Affects Education
How does a political crisis or violent fighting within a country affect education?

For Mali, a political crisis has meant the displacement of over 700,000 students and teachers, the destruction and closing of at least 115 schools, and a large psychological impact on students from exposure to violence that must be addressed.

The political crisis in Mali began over a year ago. It puts the Mali government against Tuareg rebels and has resulted in the uprooting of a large number of residents from northern Mali and has pushed them southward, out of harms way. This uprooting has forced many children to find new schools to attend. It has also pushed teachers into finding new schools to teach in. While 500,000 out of the original 700,000 students have found new schools to attend since being displaced, there is still “an urgent need to rebuild schools, train teachers and provide learning supplies,” according to a statement made by UNICEF.  This is because many of these news schools were already facing issues with overcrowding are now operating beyond their capacities, and finding themselves unable to cope with the displayed northerners.

Malian educational authorities are working with UNICEF officials to quickly open up more schools in northern Mali. Over 1,100 Malian teachers have been trained to provide psychological support to students, as well as mine-risk education, since December. This is a big necessity because, as put by UNICEF Representative Françoise Ackermans, “when a teacher is afraid to teach and when a student is afraid to go to school, the whole education is at risk.”

Yet, education will continue to be negatively affected as long as violence progresses in the area. As of today, Mali is still highly volatile, making even walking to school dangerous. Political crises and violent fighting between two groups within a country have very serious effects on its citizens, creating far-reaching consequences. Ensuring children have access to schools ensures these children have access to knowledge, an important asset to all.

– Angela Hooks

Source: UN News Centre
Photo: Care