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. 


  1. Hello,

    How is the situation in West Mali right now? I'm thinking of going from Mauritania to Guinea via west Mali, but there are not many comments on Mali from 2012 and specially from past few months.

    I would be travelling in Mali alone for about a week in January and/or February 2013 and I'm an Estonian citizen.

  2. Hi Märten. Mali is in a bad way. The country is divided in two and the north is being run by extremist Islamists. It doesn't mean you can't visit, but you won't be able to go downstream from Ségou very easily, nor to the Dogon Country. If you restrict your travels to Bamako and the southwest you should be fine. I would get on to the BBC Africa news web pages and start read on the last few months of events. Happy travels if you decide to go - Mali certainly needs visitors

  3. Hi Richard:
    as Marten I plan to visit Mali solo flying to Bamako in mid January and then staying in south-Segou,Djenne,Mopti and Dogon if possible, may be Sikasso. I am an American and will have a driver/guide. I would really appreciate your comments whether it is still safe enough,realizing that it all changes as clouds in the sky.

  4. I'm afraid I think you'll have to revisit your plans - at least downriver from Ségou. Mopti is barely visitable as far as I know, and the Dogon Country not at all.

    Best wishes for whatever you decide.

  5. More than four and a half years later.... Any news?

  6. One of the three hostages the Dutch hostage, Sjaak Rijke, was freed in 2015, but the other two hostages are still believed to be alive and in captivity. There's a wealth of sobering information on the excellent Sahara Overland website,