Keep Peace Corps out of Mali

Although I’d hoped to take a break from this blog over the summer, I’ve been watching recent events in Mali with a growing sense of alarm. Below is a list of some notable terrorist incidents in parts of Mali that were, until recently, considered “safe.” The map  shows locations of  seven incidents I have enumerated, but note that this is not an exhaustive list of terrorist activity in Mali.

Sites of terrorist attacks in central/southern Mali (numbers correspond to locations enumerated below)

Sites of terrorist attacks in central/southern Mali (numbers correspond to locations enumerated below)

  • Kayes region: In November 2012 the radical jihadi/criminal organization known as  MUJAO claims credit for kidnapping French citizen Gilbert Rodriguez Leal in Diéma (1), near the Mauritanian border. MUJAO announces Leal’s death in April 2014. Prior to the national-level unrest that began in early 2012, Peace Corps Volunteers had been posted to Diéma.
  • Bamako district: On 7 March 2015 gunmen kill five people during an attack on La Terrasse nightclub in Bamako’s Hippodrome neighborhood (2). The group Al Mourabitoune, an offshoot of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, claims responsibility. Prior to the national-level unrest that began in early 2012, the bars and restaurants of Hippodrome were a frequent destination for off-duty Peace Corps Volunteers in the capital.
  • Koulikoro region: On 8 August 2015 the national gendarmerie post in Baguinéda (3), a small town located just 15 km outside the District of Bamako, is attacked by unknown assailants. According to Studio Tamani, they manage to sack the offices and burn a vehicle before escaping into the night; none has been apprehended. Prior to the national-level unrest that began in early 2012, Peace Corps Volunteers had been posted to Baguinéda and its environs.
  • Sikasso region: In June 2015, gunmen on motorcycles mount separate attacks on police posts near the border with Cote d’Ivoire in Fakola (4) in the Kolondieba district and in Misseni (5) in the Kadiolo district. Islamist group Ansar Dine later claims responsibility. Prior to the national-level unrest that began in early 2012, Peace Corps Volunteers had been posted to both districts.
  • Ségou region: On 1 August 2015, unknown gunmen kill two Malian soldiers and wound four in an ambush on the Diabaly-Nampala road in the Niono district. This follows a January attack on the town of Nampala (6) in which ten Malian troops died. Prior to the national-level unrest that began in early 2012, Peace Corps Volunteers had been posted to the Niono district.
  • Mopti region: On 7 August 2015 attackers kill at least five civilians and four Malian soldiers at the Hotel Byblos in Sévaré (7). While Al Mourabitoune allegedly claims responsibility, some reports highlight the attackers’ links to the Macina Liberation Front, a recent offshoot of Ansar Dine. Prior to the national-level unrest that began in early 2012, Peace Corps Volunteers had been posted to Sévaré, which at one time was also home to a regional Peace Corps office.

This list suggests a disturbing trend: the “bad guys” who, for the most part, once contained their nefarious activities to Mali’s unruly northern reaches–particularly the regions of Timbuktu, Gao, and Kidal–have penetrated into the rest of the country. Of Mali’s nine administrative regions plus the District of Bamako, each has now been the scene of at least one terrorist attack, and most have seen terrorist violence within the last 90 days.

The spread of this violence, directed both at military personnel and soft civilian targets, is particularly worrisome at this moment in time because the Peace Corps, the U.S. government-funded development agency, is getting ready to re-deploy Volunteers to Mali. Peace Corps had very sensibly pulled all its Volunteers out of the country in April 2012 in the wake of the army coup in Bamako and militant takeover of the north. Last year, it sent a very small number of “Peace Corps Response” volunteers to Mali for short-term service; they completed their in-country training and were sent to their posts in November 2014. Now the agency is gearing up to send a much larger number of Volunteers to posts in southern Mali.

When I heard from the Peace Corps director that this move was in the offing early last year, I thought it was prudent. In light of the recent events outlined above, however, I think the risk of Peace Corps Volunteers becoming targets of terrorist activity in Mali is unacceptably high. As the list of violent incidents grows longer, and more and more unprecedented tragedies take place, Malian security forces have not been able to keep foreigners, UN personnel, or even their own troops safe from harm. PCVs should not be sent into this environment.

I write these words with a heavy heart. As a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer whose service in Mali years ago is the origin of my career as an anthropologist and Africanist scholar, I wish every American who sought the opportunity could serve for two years in a peaceful, secure place like the Mali I remember. Unfortunately, as recent events illustrate, the Mali of today is no longer that place. Gone are the days when the threat of a kidnapping, shooting, or suicide bombing was unknown to Malians, or even known only to northerners. The threat is now pervasive and shows no sign of diminishing.

Thus far I have kept to myself my serious reservations about the return of PCVs to Mali. I know that Peace Corps staff and U.S. Government officials are strongly committed to the safety of Volunteers wherever they are posted, and they have always taken action to protect PCVs in Mali. Lately, however, I’ve begun to wonder: If we’ve misjudged the threat and a Volunteer is taken hostage, wounded, or killed in Mali, how could I justify this silence? There is no way I would want my own son or daughter to be exposed to the level of danger that currently prevails for Westerners throughout Mali.

We must engage with the world as it is, not as we wish it to be. For me, this means recognizing the risks in Mali for what they have become. If any U.S. Government employee, PCV, trainee or trainee’s relative, or anyone living in Mali would like to weigh in on this question, I invite them to do so in the comments section below.

Postscript, 12 August: With tonight’s attack on the Sogoniko bus station in Bamako, the security situation in southern Mali edges closer to the abyss. As a PCV I spent countless hours at that station waiting for Sikasso-bound buses. Could anyone possibly make the case that Mali is a safer place for Americans today than it was in April 2012, when Peace Corps evacuated the country? Or is the primary distinction simply the fact that the U.S. supports the Malian regime now, and it didn’t back then?

Postscript 2, 26 November: I’ve received word that Peace Corps Volunteers will be evacuated from Mali in the wake of the Radisson Blu attack.

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33 Responses to Keep Peace Corps out of Mali

  1. Priffe says:

    If the south of Mali is no longer safe, there is nothing to keep insecurity from spreading into neighbouring states.

  2. Jim Evans says:

    I tend to agree it’s currently a bad idea to send volunteers back to Mali. It breaks my heart to see what’s happening there. I was a PCV in Mali twenty years ago, in the Koro Arrondisment in the Mopti Region. Our regional house was still in Mopti at the time. It moved to Sevare’ just before I left the country. I never felt threatened anywhere I went. I loved it there.

    • Thinks you mr Jim for everything u do for my contry is very sad heard about what happened to my contry so i thinks everyone on peace corp was in my contry specifically in mopti region were I’m original

  3. ruediger scholz says:

    Dear Bruce, Thanks for your post even tho I have to say the return of the peace corps is not on top of the agenda in Mali. You made a list of the last incidents but to make it clear: not all of them maybe even not the majority of them are having a terrorist background like the recent shooting at the gendarmerie at Banguineda had local background. Also it is not the task of local security forces to protect UN members as you wrote. Shouldn’t it be the other way round? As a matter of fact the UN again has proofed incapable of reaching its aims in the North but nevertheless put up a nice administration in the amitié hôtel that not only prevents me from golfing there but has attracted criminal elements to the city. Thus one might ask if attacks on the UN here are really political or terrorist notions or are also criminally motivated. Sure terrorism has crossed the magical red line south but what did u expect from an incapable local army and an incompetent Minusma? There is a discussion about EUTM to change the mission and do partnering in the North which would be an appropriate reaction on this. One thing I have to agree with you is that maybe not the overall situation in the capital has changed but the atmosphere. Am staying with malian friends while writing this post and they want to prevent me from going out like i used to do. Of course I would not frequent La terrasse and the like now but walking in the grand marché never was a problem. I believe it still is not but the mood has changed. People are more concerned and thats indeed not a good sign. I just hope other ardent conflicts wont make the public forget about Mali while desperate Malians are stranded on European shores every day. Greetings from Bamako Rüdiger

    • brucewhitehouse says:

      It doesn’t matter whether violence has a “local background,” is criminally or politically motivated; I’m not sure such distinctions are meaningful in assessing threats to PCVs. Also, I believe that the Malian government does have a legal responsibility to protect UN personnel and foreign diplomats on its soil. But I entirely agree with you that MINUSMA has done a terrible job of protecting Malian civilians, which is supposedly its primary purpose.

      • ruediger scholz says:

        There is a discussion now in Germany if we should go North supporting MINUSMA. I’d rather prefer partnering with the Malian forces we have trained well, but this could entail combat action and German politics always is inclined to stay safely in the air. Most evicent would be common action with the french operation Barkhane, as there is a German-French Brigade, but there is no mandate for this, so we started something in Mali and again have no exit strategy.

  4. “We must engage with the world as it is, not as we wish it to be” – can’t get this out of my head. Thank you Bruce. As always: very readable stuff, but nevertheless “something to chew on” i.e. not to be just taken and swallowed.

  5. Susan Cummings Maroni says:

    Thank you, Bruce, for all these posts. I don’t often comment, but I value the insight of someone who loves and knows Mali and has been there recently. I am yearning to return for a visit, but I won’t consider it yet. I know that if you, of all people, feel that Mali is not safe for Peace Corps volunteers, this should be taken very seriously. In the meantime, I hope you and your family are well and thriving.

  6. Allan MacLeod says:

    Bruce, Again I thank you for your articles and excellent deductions. My wife and I worked in Mali for 26 years, and never had to face those whose greatest desire was to kill us. We faced guns several times, but never by angry individuals, such as can be faced today. I would not want my son or daughter to be in Mali these days.

  7. Abba says:

    It is sad to see our friends leaving or not returning to our Maliba, but your safety is the most important, as per tradition in my homeland and that some of you may have experienced during your stay we will not ask our Jatigui* to come when his/her life will be at risk.
    We can just ask you to be our spokesman in your country, your voice counts for us! you could help by getting your authorities to be looking at our situtation and help us!
    You know the country and you got a better reading of the situation, if you let other interpret the situation we will move from a difficult situation to the worst one!!!!!
    The great majority of Malians are tolerant and practise a tolerant islam we are for democracy and we have never been integrists or radicals, it is then urge to help that majority to win the battle against terrorism and barbary
    Thanks to you Bruce and be blessed!

    • brucewhitehouse says:

      Abba, I appreciate your thoughts. And here’s the real tragedy–there are 15 million peaceful, hospitable people in Mali who would love to have a PCV in their community. But it only takes a few hundred troubled, misinformed people to turn the entire country into a “no-go” zone. Looking around the region, Peace Corps programs have shut down due to security concerns in Mauritania (2009) and Niger (2011), and evacuated their Volunteers from Guinea no less than three times in recent years (insecurity in 2007 and 2009, the Ebola outbreak in 2014). There are fewer and fewer countries in West Africa these days where Americans can go to work and live safely for two years. Let’s pray that Senegal and Burkina remain stable!

  8. Ernst Aebi says:

    Thank you Bruce for keeping us/me informed. After having lived for tree-years in Araouane, in the desert north of Timbuktu, and having frequently traveled in Mali, it makes me sad to hear what is happening now. In the 1990ties I was attacked and robbed, 100 kms north of Timbuktu (described in the film BAREFOOT TO TIMBUKTU, and the book SEASONS OF SAND), but then it was an anomaly. I still have good friends in Mali and I am sad for them.

  9. Matt says:

    I am a Response volunteer currently serving in Mali. I am reading and commenting on this post as I stand on the side of a road in Sikasso. I have to say I agree with you. Although I feel safe tucked away in my village, anytime I leave the thought is always in the back of my mind that I could be a target. I’ve lived in Mali for four years and I originally served here from 2010-2012. I was evacuated. It was tragic. As much as we all want PC back in Mali, I’m afraid it is too soon. If something were to happen it would be a tragedy and leave a black mark on Mali and Peace Corps.

    • brucewhitehouse says:

      Thanks Matt – I guess this means I’ve just heard from 20% of all PCVs currently serving in Mali. Stay safe and greet the people for me.

  10. Having worked and lived in Mali for 5 years in the 1970’s and 80’s, it breaks my heart to have my greatest fears described. During our years there, I never feared for my safety or that of the PCV’s that I was responsible for. I still hear from Malian friends who tell me they are fine as well as their extended families–some of whom live in the Mopti area. I have grown grandchildren who have spent time all over Africa and really love it. I don’t encourage them going back there now. Your article only underlines my fears for their safety. Shirley Furst, PCMO 1985-88.

  11. Maybe Peace Corps should only send African-Americans ? They might be safer here than in the streets of Ferguson…
    Sorry for making fun with this sad and serious matter.
    Just pointing out the main problem : visibility.
    I totally agree with your post.

  12. mpursell says:

    I’m currently serving as a Peace Corps Response Volunteer in Mali and served here from 2011-2012 when we were evacuated following the coup. I never once felt unsafe, nor do I feel unsafe now. Yes, there have been security threats in Mali, but volunteers are not the targets. Volunteers usually aren’t around the people who are targeted. I understand part of the concern is the possibility of something happening to a volunteer, but that could happen to a volunteer serving in any country where PC has a presence. There will always be concerns and there is always risk, especially when an attack happens. But it’s always a matter of “what if”? What if we’d done things differently? What if we’d made a different decision regarding security concerns? I’m not trying to downplay what’s been happening on the ground, but there will always be risk. One can be caught in the crossfire of a security situation and it wouldn’t be intentional. I know part of this opinion comes from me not wanting to be forced to leave again, but I really don’t think the concern should be so great. I feel safe in village and I feel just as safe when I travel in bigger cities in Mali. I don’t see the threat and hope this blog post doesn’t negatively affect PC’s movements in country. I understand where this post is coming from, but I also think it makes people worry more than necessary.

    • brucewhitehouse says:

      I understand where you’re coming from. But the argument that PCVs are safe because they aren’t currently the targets of escalating violence assumes that past events form a reliable basis for predicting future events in Mali. Part of my purpose with this post was to show that this assumption is no longer justifiable. Nothing like the attacks I listed above had ever occurred in those locations until recently. The specific threat won’t be visible to the PCV on the ground until it’s too late.

  13. Chris Di Franco says:

    Hi Bruce! First off let me say that I am a huge fan of this blog and it was, in fact, my primary source of information during the coup in 2012. I was a PCV back then and i am a Response volunteer serving in Mali right now. We all have, of course, been closely monitoring the situation here as it has evolved this year. And while there is undeniably a deterioration in the security situation, i must say that i fully agree with Marcy that it has not yet come to the point we were in back in April 2012.
    First off i don’t think it fair to include three of the seven events in your list, namely the ones in Diema, Niono, and Sevare. PC/Mali’s operations are so far removed from all these places (precisely for the reason of security) that we might as well be in a different country. We always knew the situation was unstable in the north, but the majority of PCRVs posted in the south remain confident of their security there. Of the attacks that have occurred in areas where PC operates, with the exception of some, though not all, of the attacks that have occurred in Bamako, attacks have consistently been directed at Malian police, gendarme, and military. In other words, in the south, and again with the exception of Bamako, foreigners are far from being exclusively targeted.
    In regards to Bamako, it is not the first time in our program’s 40+ year history that the city has descended into an unacceptable security situation. In 1990, as thousands of people were being killed in the events that led up to ATT’s coup, PCV travel to Bamako was strictly prohibited. There are and have been several PC programs around the world that have or still do restrict or prohibit travel to the capital or other major city or area of the country (including, of course, ours). I, therefore, see several steps that can be taken well ahead of resorting to suspension of the program, including placing severe limitation on volunteer’s movements (site and market town only, for example). Though our lives would get harder, they wouldn’t be any harder than the lives of our predecessors who served in Mali in the first two decades of the program.
    Which brings me finally to our security at site which, i don’t believe even you have argued, is in any danger whatsoever. Honoring PC’s goal to serve the most underserved, volunteers in Mali are placed in rural villages often so disconnected from the rest of the country that many have been completely unaffected by the events of the last three years (and many, in fact, know almost nothing about them). Aside from the extreme unlikeliness of trouble finding us at site, the “bandit style” attacks that have occurred in the south (again, against police/military outposts only) would have a much harder time being effective in a rural village in Mali. As it so happens, I am the last PCV to have served in Diema and, having heard from my community about the circumstances of Leal’s kidnapping, I am confident that the chances of a similar attempt to kidnap me (an integrated PCV with the protection of the entire community) being successful are far inferior. And this is speaking of an area that is high risk, that PC has no intention of operating in anytime soon, and that in fact all US Gov’t personnel need written permission from the embassy to even pass by.

    To sum up, i believe several steps can still be taken to secure our volunteers well ahead of resorting to the suspension of the program. And i believe the crux of the problem remains having a viable exit strategy. In 2012 it wasn’t the compromise of the volunteer’s security at site that prompted our evacuation (as all the volunteers serving in the south felt very safe at site), it was the fact that should anything happen we had no way out (what with all borders and the airport being closed).

    Finally i’d like to say a couple of things about terrorism. When i was a child I was living abroad when 9/11 happened. I was attending an american private school, who had to paint over our buses and darken their windows. Still didn’t stop someone from spilling a bunch of flower over one of our bus stops in the middle of the anthrax freakout. I resided in Europe in the years immediately following 2001, living in a society coping with the various attacks that took place. In 2012 i was evacuated from Mali in the midst of attacks and the general collapse of the country. I moved back to Boston where, within a year, we suffered a bombing and a manhunt. Shootings in movie theaters, schools, and streets of every major city in the US. Attacks in major cities around the world from Paris to Nairobi to Istanbul. My point is that my generation has grown up in a world that is very unstable and unsafe. Now we can either choose to retreat from all these places, and face the consequences of that retreat. Or we can choose to continue the work we’ve set out to do, and refuse to be scared into abandoning our brothers, our sisters, and our purpose. Because no matter where I’ve seen terror used, i have never seen it be more successful that in the places we abandon to it. I’m not saying we should stay no matter the threat, and i’m not saying that everybody should act as I do (though i still encourage it). But i am saying that while our parents may have had the luxury of growing up in a place where they didn’t need to worry about being blown up or being shot, that is simply not the world me and my generation have grown up in. And if we choose to abandon every place where a shooting occurs, soon we’ll find we have no place left to go. Retreat, here, is simply not a strategy that will lead to anything good, especially when, at least for now, we have people ready to freely VOLUNTEER to stay.

    Thanks again for this blog Bruce, as a fellow lover of this country i cannot tell you how eagerly i go through it.

    Ala ka an kisi.
    Ala ka Mali deme
    Ala ka here ciaya

    • brucewhitehouse says:

      Thanks Chris for this thorough and reasoned response. The only thing I’d dispute in your account is the notion that thousands died in Bamako in 1991; I have never seen such a high figure in any historical account of that period. Be that as it may, it seems to me that PC has really changed its thinking about threats, and maybe I’m just using the old thinking (which said that as soon as bullets start flying, the PCVs have to go). But I still don’t think the current level of risk is acceptable in Mali, and I think it’s getting worse. Good luck, ala k’an kisi geregere ma.

  14. kkeenoy0301 says:

    Why is it that a terrorism threat is considered more dangerous than others? I realize the U.S. is a bigger country than Mali, but travel from one end to the other is actually easier. Let’s compare the two countries and decide which place the PCVs are safer.

  15. Judy Moses says:

    I’m currently in Mali on a USAID small niche grant. Along with our project I have done some touring in the Segou, Djenne, Mopti, Dogon, and Sikasso area. granted this is not the height of tourism season but it is very sad to see communities that partially depend on tourism struggling. Beautiful, historical sites with few visitors. Perhaps naively I feel safe in all the villages where I have worked and areas I have traveled. I agree with the response that there are likely more risks traveling in parts of the US than Mali. Discouraging people with a love of Mali from returning is sad. We need people. Please come.

  16. As much as it discourages me to agree, i think that putting workers in villages where there is abolutly no police protection of any kind within 25-50 miles, where anyone can show up in the middle of the night with arms without hindrance and easily take someone, is premature at this stage. There is an illusion of security…. any security for them would only be reactionary after the fact. The issues in the Sikasso southern region indicate there is a stronger sympathy, of some sort, to help feed, food supply, and hide these radical types, both there and in Northern Côte D’Ivoire. I have heard stories there was some growing support of more radical teachers to the area and recruiters fromnthe north in the area since 2011….. before the coup. It seems the developments may be more than i ever dreamed was possible. The fact that Ivory Coast was the radical haven indicates to me that their Ivorian Northern Issues are not settled either, and the Ivorian Northern issues have becoming part of Mali’s southern issues in some fasion.
    Our agency uses bus, and moto transport for our rural work to keep overhead down. I’ll be honest, i was never looking over my shoulder in Mali… not since 2010 when we began, not even in 2012 with the coup, nor when French Jets arrived to stop the advance in 2013… as worrisome as those times were. This softer target, and decentralized activity all over the country marks something totally new, and I will, frankly be looking over my shoulder more when I return in October… hanging out less time in public spaces in both Bamako and even in Sikasso. I am hoping we do not see a major bombing in a city….

  17. LRN says:

    Though this article focuses on the issue of the safe return of PCVs, we in the missions community, here with small children and very, very small teams, are constantly reconfiguring our security stance. We’re not in the capital city. Our main focus is always on making ourselves a difficult target. The big thing we’re still hanging on right now is simply an assessment of all the attacks that have happened; they have targeted police and military and those associated with the military. But I wonder, in the vast experience of those living in places like these as they heat up, if you can guess a timeline for when the average thug starts taking advantage of ongoing terrorist activities’ resultant unrest and they begin to opportunistically attack the easier targets–tourists, foreigners with projects, missionaries. I still don’t feel threatened (though I can’t say my feelings count for much–I’m quite a newbie, at just three years in) by these terrorist groups, but I don’t imagine it takes too long for opportunistic crime to suddenly rise in the wake of the increased terrorist attacks.

  18. Todd says:

    Hi Bruce,
    Todd here….. I unfortunately agree with your assessment. Here in Senegal things seem calm at the moment, but i feel there is a religious conservatism that is becoming generalized among the students even here. I live near Cheikh Anta Diop University and you see almost all the girls wearing Islamic style headscarves and many young men wearing the beards and “high water pants” typical of Wahabis….something i rarely saw even 7 or 8 years ago. Now, conservativism does not equate to radicalism surely, but it does somehow begin to open up a space, a tolerance for these sorts of things. Even my own staff here, by all measures tolerant middle of the road Muslims, were ambivalent about the Charlie Hebdo massacre….most agreeing that “while the killing wasn’t right, the Hebdo guys more or less got what they deserved.”

    And the unfortunate inability of the governments throughout West Africa to eliminate the Talibe (Gerebou) system is probably just going to fuel this dynamic even more in the future. When I talk about Talibe, i differentiate legitimate Koranic schools with those exploitative Marabouts that simply send kids into the streets to beg for money. This sort of Talibe system is slavery plain and simple. The kids are undernourished (some starving), completely feral, and without any education (moral or academic) instruction and provide a convenient porte d’entree for these groups…. Regardless of where you look in North and West/Central Africa, the Talibe system is providing fertile ground for the spread of the major terror networks. Why else is “Western Education is Forbidden?”…. Al Shabab, Boko Haram all thrive on the presence of these malleable Talibe to expand their reach. The US Gov’t in Senegal made a major effort two years ago to address the Talibe issue after a major fire in Dakar killed 10 who were locked inside a building by a Marabout, but the whole issue quietly went away with absolutely no impact on the incidence of Talibe schools in Dakar. The threat of the US Gov’t to curtail development funding was never carried out. We assume that the inability of the government to make any progress is due to the intervention of the powerful brotherhoods as the Talibe system is a large part of the patronage system as it is very lucrative indeed for the entire religious system. Anyway, it would be good to do a well researched piece on this aspect as I fear it will be one of the major issues in the ongoing radicalization of West Africa.

  19. Bruce, thank you for your posts. Appreciate you keeping so many of us informed about this place that many of us RPCVs love dearly. I am still in touch with Soumaila Outtara in Bilasso and I do recall him telling me a few years ago about new types of Muslims that are against foreigners. He said he had never seen such a thing there before. I am wishing you the best and thank you again for sharing via your blog. – Deb

  20. Pingback: Terror comes to Mali’s capital, again | Bridges from Bamako

  21. afehistory says:

    Dear Bruce,

    I have followed your blog off and on since it was recommended by a fellow member of our organization, Virginia Friends of Mali (Richmond VA), after we established a sister city relationship with Segou in 2009. Yours are consistent, thoughtful assessments without naïveté (THAT alone is valuable and saves lots of time). Your perspective is that of a non-Malian who loves the country and is an alumni of the PCV experience, and primarily benefits those who want to visit Mali. I consider checking your blog a barometer reading – something to check when the air feels heavy and looming.

    I would appreciate your recommendations for Malian analysts and thinkers from a range of political and historical perspectives – from grassroots up, women and men. We need some voices from inside, from those who are living through these times and must navigate its complexities. Who are your go-to Malian analysts? Westerners in particular are missing this.


    Ana Edwards

    • afehistory says:

      I’ll just share that I have visited Bamako and Segou three times, each time around the time of the Festival Sur le Niger. In February 2010 for 9 days for the agreement signing and celebration of our sister city relationship, in January/February 2011 for 5 weeks hosted by local city councilor and as artist in residence of the Festival, and in 2013 during the unfortunate week of Jan 4 – 13. I have had a glimpse of life in Segou and Bamako before and since the 2012 coup. In 2010 I was able to spend one day in Djenne. In 2011 my host took me to visit villages, meet local NGOs, and many simple errands that while not exciting were good introductions to practices of daily life. Markala, Niono, Koutiala, were a few.

    • brucewhitehouse says:

      There’s no single person in Mali whose analysis I rely on, but I do rely on something of a collective–the discussion forum. As long as you can read French, it’s a great place to keep up to date and learn the range of opinions on current events in Mali (as long as you have time to sift through the messages that aren’t on topic).

  22. textscience0a4c39b225 says:

    Happened on this in July 2020 … I lived in Bamako from before this article was posted until present. The situation has not gotten better. That said, I’ve never felt unsafe here. I don’t venture much outside of Bamako, but according to this, and the US State Department, Bamako is dangerous. Yet I’ve never felt danger like the danger I routinely felt living in Oakland, California. On the other hand, the consequences of the reported danger in Mali has been devasting to the country and plays a large role in knocking down one by one the economic and social supports that might keep the country from spiraling downward. I don’t dispute the accuracy of the report, I agree that the Peace Corps should have left, I don’t claim that there is no danger here, but I do want to point out we are in a vicious cycle. I think there are better ways to handle the type of situation that a fundamentally peaceful and democratic emerging country like Mali has gone through.

    • brucewhitehouse says:

      I agree that Bamako is generally a safe place for expats to live. It was generally safe in 2015 despite a couple of attacks, and remains so in 2020. But PCVs carry a different symbolic value (both to the US government and its enemies) than other expats, even US citizens, and they were being posted all over southern Mali when I wrote this piece. I didn’t think that situation was sustainable; it took the attack on the Radisson Blu for Peace Corps to see things the same way.

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