Burning Down The Old One

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Travel Mate on a Badjan from Ivory Coast into the North in 2009. A thirty eight hour marathon my son and I would rather forget.

The Islamic jihad issues in Mali have always been just out of reach. They are close enough to be very mindful, at times, but just far enough away to console the mind, nerves, heart, and soul by the ability to barely claim, “It is not here.”

Which is what every Malian I know tells me, until the day it does, to their great surprise.

If in their ignorance and their passion they would be unable to construct a new and fairly decent social system, at least they were capable of burning down the old one.”   ( Moritz Thomsen. The Saddest Pleasure : A Journey On Two Rivers)

Well, it arrived, this week.

More little armed incidents are popping up in Bamako recently, but they are quickly pushed aside in my mind, rationalized that I only pass through there, time spent in Bamako is minimal.

However, deep into the South Eastern corner of Mali in Misseni, 30 armed men attack a Military police station, killing and officer or two. This is just south of where I live, and even closer to some of the rural villages I am working in. They hoisted their Jihadist Flag over the building.

The question on my mind is how many locals are helping this group of thirty armed men? They arrived on Motorcycles, with guns. This does not go unnoticed, you can’t just disappear in that region like you can in the vast expanses of desert in the north. Who fed and lodged them? Where did they retreat to after the attack?

My personal thought is that there is no way they remained in Mali. I feel they must have retreated across the unmarked borders into the void of Northern Ivory Coast. There is simply too much free range mining going on in the bush for such a large group of them to remain in the area unnoticed. They probably dispersed and immersed in regional families. They would not retreat north, for this puts them into a slightly more populous village regions, and closer to the reach of any Sikasso military activity. The only option is to cross over into the more barren region of northern Ivory Coast.

How I think about the Sikasso region has changed.

I am still ready to return to Mali. But I can no longer think of this issue as being north, up there. For the first time since 2012, this Islamic radical issue is North AND South. It changes things.

I often sit out on the street at night to watch the sunset with local men from Gao, in Northern Mali. Those times we are often silent, some times talkative. The issues of radicalism are real to my relationships, because it is real for their families, “up there”.

I often find myself looking North with a heavy heart.  ALL of these Northerners I sit and chat with are ALL devotedly Muslim, but they cringe at what these radical groups are doing.

One of my sitting benches faces south, the sun sets to my right, the heavy, deep, yellow sunset rays stream down the street punching through the dust lifted by the evening masses of people.
Now I look to the South and know there are people supporting this jihadist activity, in some capacity, also.

As I have often commented,  “Some people love us. Others hate us.”

I am not joking when I say it. Why? Because it’s true.

Let me tell you a story I have shared with only one other person to date.

My wife and I were sitting on the side of the road at the main round point in Sikasso (by the main market) a few years back. It was getting dark, and an older man walking by saw us and stopped. He began ranting at us in poor quality French.

However, body language, facial and hand expressions, with the odd caught word and phrase is enough to get the message sometimes.

The gentleman had some serious disdain on his face and was basically telling us, grand hand gestures, pointed and waging fingers included, how he hates us and wishes we would go away. This went on for thirsty seconds until the gentleman made a cutting of the throat gesture with his finger, and said something.

I am not certain which he said in his French. He either said he had killed an American (We are Canadian) one time by cutting his throat (while doing a throat cutting gesture with his finger), or he was saying Americans deserve to be have their throats cut.

That was out of the box. Either way it was alarming. I just kindly listened, and said thank you for taking time to make conversation with us, and he left. We did not make a scene, though Lynn was retreating being my arm and pulled me in close.

Either way, this made it a disconcerting experience, one, the likes of which, we have never had before, or since in 20 years of playing in French West Africa.

We have to distinguish between the separatist desires for independence  of the MNLA, and these other element who desire for Mali to become an Islamic state of some nature. It is sometimes hard to distinguish between the two…

What took place in Mali’s SE region, has nothing to do with Liberation of Azawad, but Jihad, some form of radical or political motives mixed.  Groups like these have clearly indicated their reach, and support, is deeper than imagined, with locals hiding and supporting them…. even into Ivory Coast.

It changes something…

Tell me your thoughts.
How would this make you feel?
What does it cause you think?
What questions would this bring up in your mind?

I have time to mull it over as we are in the final weeks of Lobster fishing. Finally got the drip irrigation test garden Plot for Man Of Peace Development, going…. Testing things….

This relatively unknown Former Peace Corps Worker, and writer fascinates me. Though I do not think these rebels have any noble desires like the men Thomsen is writing about.

“l was frightened but exhilarated. I had been only four years in the country but I had seen enough to hate the government and its timidities and in-efficiencies, the corruption of the police, and the shameless way the people were raped by the ruling families. I hoped that it was finally happening, that the whole poisonous and feudal system that enslaved the country would come crashing down. I had always dimly felt that when the people of Ecuador would gather together to topple the ever-changing but identical regimes that kept them slaves, that the terror would begin among the wild free Negroes of the coast, those men of spontaneity, vengeance, and emotion. If in their ignorance and their passion they would be unable to construct a new and fairly decent social system, at least they were capable of burning down the old one.”   ( Moritz Thomsen. The Saddest Pleasure : A Journey On Two Rivers)

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