Thursday, 18 June 2009

Malian troops raid Dyer murder suspects' camp

This major step-up in Mali's northern war with AQIM between Tuesday and today doesn't seem to have much press coverage (nor the murder of a Malian intelligence officer, Lt Col Lamana Ould Cheikh, in Timbuktu last week, which presumably prompted the big assault). Or maybe I'm reading the wrong papers. Maybe the Sun has it again? Anyway, various reports are saying that a raid on a camp at Garn-Akassa (don't know where that is, one source says "west of Tessalit", ie west of the Tanezrouft route from Algeria to Mali, 100km in side Mali) has resulted in the deaths of around 20 fighters. There's a lot of speculation at the forum about what's been going on. This is where to go if you're interested in getting a more nuanced picture of what's happening in the Sahara. But even if you read French, some of the contributors can be pretty opaque, and Google's translation tool if anything makes them even harder to understand in English.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Why was a British plan to rescue Dyer cancelled?

An SAS mission to rescue Edwin Dyer is reported in the Sun, of all places. They surely have this sort of plan in mind for every hostage situation, but it's unusual for them to talk to the media about it – a measure of their anger at the decision not to carry it out. Unfortunately it sits very uncomfortably with Jeremy Keenan's analysis. Thanks to Jim Mann Taylor at the 153 Club for circulating the Sun story.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Get the Americans out of Mali

What are they doing in Kidal, anyway?

Easy to forget how long and deeply involved the Americans have been in a part of the world that most US taxpayers would struggle to identify on a world map. But I wouldn't want all the Americans out of Mali - sorry, terribly arrogant thing to say. The Peace Corps have been doing a fantastic job in recent years, helping promote just the sort of tourism that Edwin Dyer loved.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Dyer's murder in Mali: do the Americans share the blame?

I wish this post wasn't here, but it needs to be marked that the British hostage Edwin Dyer was killed last week in Mali, and the web of motives and connections behind his murder needs some exposure. I've no idea how close Jeremy Keenan's analysis here, in the Independent, is to the truth, but it feels uncomfortably plausible that the US has supported al-Qa'ida in the Maghreb. This sounds like a conspiracy theory, but it's nothing new – the Mujahideen in Afghanistan were supplied by the US to oust the Russians. And look what a mess that got us all into. Then again, there may be further levels of complexity beneath what Keenan outlines. And perhaps Barack Obama would like to do something about this. . . Perhaps he would dearly like to clear his "advisors" and intelligence people out of West Africa. But perhaps he simply cannot. Perhaps Bush's legacy, described in Keenan's book, The Dark Sahara: American's War on Terror in Africa, is going to persist, sickeningly, through Obama's first term.

Dyer's murder is a tragedy not just for his own family but for the desperately poor people of northern Mali, where a nascent tourism, based around music and cultural festivals along the Niger River, was just emerging. Insurance cover to go north of Timbuktu was already a problem, and the future of the festivals is seriously threatened if travellers stay away. But as Andy Morgan's article about the Festival in the Desert makes clear, this is an intrinsically safe part of the world, no matter what the British foreign office and the US State department might dryly advise, with their frightening statements and unhelpful lack of statistics.

Photo: on the road between Douentza and Gao: cracked windscreen, but cracking scenery and the buses felt safer than riding the K9 through Kingston on a Friday evening.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Visas for Mauritania now required in advance

A long gap in my rigorous blogging schedule. . .
Apologies to anyone who thought this blog had given up the ghost.

Mail from another Mauritania reader:

I am emailing you because there has been a change in Mauritanian border policy that might affect the readers of your blog. I have recently embarked on a journey through West Africa. I flew into Marrakech and planned to go overland from there. However, when I got to the Mauri border on May 13, I was warned by a lot of French tourists on the Moroccan side who were turned back by Mauritania to get their visa in Rabat. I made the trip through no mans land myself with a Mauritanian trader who knew the staff well, just to be sure. However, there was (and is) no way around the new policy (bribery, forged documents didn't help), that had been instated only a few hours prior (at 13:00). Everyone who needs a visa now needs to get one prior to arrival.
Joris Bouwsma

Any further news on this?