We are hearing more and more worrisome news from the north. Reports from both RFI and the Algerian press indicate that jihadis from Pakistan have been arriving in Timbuktu and Kidal to join forces with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the local Salafist movement Ansar Dine. Mujao, the shadowy new Islamist group in the region, has issued an ultimatum that it will kill the seven Algerian diplomats it kidnapped last month if a 15-million Euro ransom is not paid. These reports come in the wake of the desecration of the tomb of Sidi Mahmoud Ben Amar in Timbuktu by Salafists, a symbolic act that has provoked verbal discord between “Sufist” and “reformist” Muslims in Bamako. Add to this the mounting humanitarian crisis, and it’s no wonder Benin President Yayi Boni has raised the specter of the region’s “Afghanistanization“.
Meanwhile in southern Mali, the hunt for alleged “mercenaries” continues, with the recent arrest of 18 Senegalese and an unknown number of Cameroonians in Bamako, and fears of mercenary presence in Koulikoro. Legitimate crackdowns, or arbitrary harassment of defenseless foreigners? There is a long, sad history of African governments scapegoating African migrants for all sorts of terrible things (on this subject, see the conclusion of my book, Migrants and Strangers in an African City.) And while I would like to say that time will tell, unfortunately the truth of such matters has a way of never quite coming to light around here. Rumors and misinformation merely give way to more rumors and misinformation.
Hamadoun Traoré, secretary general of the AEEM student syndicate who survived an apparent attempt to kill him on April 30, is still alive. It was earlier reported that he was gravely wounded, then it was rumored that he had died, then we heard from some sources that he had never in fact been injured at all. (A more recent article based on interviews with AEEM members and eyewitnesses to the attack claims that Traoré was indeed wounded and is recovering.) It was the rumor of his death on May 2 that prompted a student demonstration, the dispersion of which caused the panic in Bamako that day. A theory is afoot that dastardly politicians spread the rumor and paid off AEEM leaders to get students in the streets in hopes of fomenting a wider uprising against the junta. Whatever the case, given the AEEM’s status as a highly politicized organization, with the power to mobilize students (or at least prevent classes from being held), some are wondering whether its purpose should be reevaluated. Since the violence of April 30-May 1, schools in Bamako, from the primary to the university level, have remained closed as a security measure “until further notice.”
A university rector named Salif Berthé has been under arrest since May 1, the day after the attempted “counter-coup.” It’s unknown what Berthé might have done to get on the wrong side of the junta. A linguist by training, he was only named rector of the Université de Bamako last June, and subsequently was put in charge of the newly autonomous Université des Sciences Juridiques et Politiques (USJP, the ex-FSJP).
There have also been reports of a wave of arrests among members of the armed forces, which so far have included high-ranking officials such as ATT’s former military chief of staff, a son of former President Alpha Oumar Konaré, one of Konaré’s former bodyguards, and the army’s commander for the Sikasso region.
And to close, I offer a bit of news concerning me directly: this week the Fulbright program terminated its grants in Mali due to the security situation, meaning I no longer carry any affiliation with the U.S. Embassy in Bamako or with the State Department (which administers Fulbright grants abroad). I intend to stay on for a few more weeks to finish up my research — though I must add that all-purpose disclaimer insha’allah (God willing), because in Bamako these days, we just never know what will happen next….