Saturday 26 November 2011

Devastating news from Mali - kidnaps in Timbuktu and Hombori

The kidnaps of two French men in Hombori and the killing of a German and the kidnap of three other men (Dutch, Swedish and South African) in Timbuktu (Tombouctou) this week are catastrophic news for thousands of people who work in Mali's beleaguered tourism sector. Mali had been hoping recently for a lifting of the foreign travel advisories that for so long have appeared alarmist and exaggerated.

For the first time, Europeans have been kidnapped in a large town, and in broad daylight. And the Hombori kidnaps are the first instance of kidnapping south of the Niger River, which has always been seen as a major security barrier, with no bridges anywhere between Ségou and Gao.

The only two previous kidnappings of Westerners in Mali (in 2009) had taken place in the extreme east of the country, near the Niger border southeast of Gao.

For really good analysis of some of the security and political issues around the latest kidnaps, read Andrew Lebovich's excellent post at Al-Wasat. As he shows, security in the Sahel is not simply about fighting AQIM (perhaps it's not even mostly about that), but about rough and dirty international relations - and by extension human rights and access to resources.

For now, though, what matters is getting the Timbuktu and Hombori hostages safely released and giving the Malians back some dignity and a reason to hope that the future will be better and not squandered by men in power. And that means making the country truly safe for visitors and locals alike. 

Thursday 24 November 2011

Good, up-to-date travel news about Niger, Niamey

There's a good thread of fresh travel news about Niger on The HUBB forum. Following the news about relaxation of travel restrictions in the north three months ago, reported by the Xinhua news agency, it feels like positive progress.