Nasser Weddady is a Mauritanian living in the United States. Currently outreach Director with the Islamic Congress, he is also an activist and a blogger. On his blog called Dekhnstan, he offers another view on what’s happening in Mali based on his knowledge of the area.
How did you start to blog about Mali?
First, it came from a personal interest in Mali as a neighboring country since I am a Mauritanian citizen and also as a member of the Mauritanian opposition. Like most Mauritanians, we are very conscious of the historical ties between the two countries. We have close boundaries and you have a lot of Mauritanians living in Mali and Malians who come to Mauritania, so whatever happens in Mali- particularly the Azawad region – has a deep impact on Mauritania. This is one of the misunderstandings from United States and France when they analyze the war in Mali.
What kind of misunderstanding?
It seems that they believe that General Aziz who is the current ruler of Mauritania has a strong power base allowing him to intervene militarily in Mali.. In reality his rule has no real political legitimacy. His only pillar of power is the army. Historically, the Mauritanian Army as an institution is not interested in fighting wars, but rather in preserving its privileges. Also, if there casualties as a consequence of a military intervention in Mali will have serious political consequences within the army itself. This is important because members of tribes from the south east regions bordering Mali are overrepresented in the military. There was a wave of popular discontent predating any Mauritanian military involvement there. The announcement of French intervention in Mali was not met by any enthusiasm in Mauritania either because the public is generally wary of having a war on its own borders. So when General Aziz said on the March 4 that he was ready to intervene with the United Nations, he was trying to balance public opinion’s rejection of involving the country in a war with his own need to be a Western ally against terrorism in exchange of financial and political support. Mauritanian society still vividly remembers the trauma of the Sahara War in the late 70s; a war of choice that ended up destabilizing the country and installing a military rule that continues till today.
So you think Mauritanian public opinion is still against the French intervention?
I will speak from my point of view. People are upset because the international community failed to act earlier. The French intervention itself is a proof of this failure. So my position is quite ambivalent. The French Intervention was necessary but had European nations ceased to pay ransom money for hostages, and took the jihadist threat seriously there wouldn’t have been an AQIM or MUJAO to begin with. This intervention stands as a symbol of the EU’s failure to conceive a coherent security Policy regarding the Maghreb and Sahel region. Europe has grown weak and unreliable to face international security threats.
Since you are based in the United States, how do you get information of what is happening on the ground?
I have a lot of contacts in Mauritania and also sources all over the Sahel region including Chad. But I tend to not rely a lot on big media because there is a severe media media blackout imposed by the French military which seriously undermines media coverage. Despite the presence of good numbers of reporters on the ground, we have a hard time getting the facts.
What do you reproach the global media for?
I guess it’s more the common mistakes are due to the fact that they lack a deep knowledge of the country and the region. For instance, some media make the mistake of saying that what is happening in Mali is a direct consequence of the war in Libya. That narrative is violently divorced from reality and has more to do with ideological spin that the facts. The problems of Northern Mali have been in the making for 50 years and did not start yesterday. The other theory that presents all Tuaregs as bad guys and that northern Mali was somewhat hijacked by foreign islamists is also false. Northern Mali is inhabited different ethnic groups whose members joined Jihadi groups thus the situation is far more complex than the soundbites we are fed in the media.
But I don’t blame the journalists on the ground, it’s more a problem in the editing room. People who assign journalists and decide what is and what isn’t a media story lack a background of knowledge about the country allowing them to make informed decisions about their coverage. Furthermore the quest for higher ratings comes at the expense of quality journalism. To cover the war in Mali effectively, one has to have a solid ethnographic and geopolitical understanding of the region and its dynamics . Unfortunately, what we call the « news cycle » does not allow time and space for in-depth journalism anymore.
What do you think of a media such as Saharamedia?
Its coverage is of Mali’s event is vastly superior to mainstream corporate media because the website’s team has long track record of networking and outreaching in the area. That is why they became the primary media outlet breaking all the major stories about the war in Mali despite their very modest resources. Experiences like Saharamedia provide a completely different kind of news coverage altogether, unlike the highly western-centric coverage during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars which was mainly defined by Western media organizations. Here it’s local news operating on the ground that is defining the coverage. All of the staffers are natives of the region and know Mali’s populations very well and understand what is going on day-to-day.
You have popularity on social networks; you have almost 30,000 followers on Twitter. How do you see yourself in this context? As an opinion leader? A fact checker ?
As a citizen journalist, I will publish every information I deem vital to understanding the events and root causes of the conflict. But my job is also to verify information that is circulating. I also find myself every now and then challenging big media organizations’ coverage because I have other sources beyond their reach, feeding me on daily basis. However, I feel that my primary role due to my limited time is also to be an observer and to flag any mistakes I come across in media related to the issue. If I read a good story, I will promote it, if I see a bad story; I will criticize it and explain why. I guess, in a way, I am trying to act as an opinion leader but I see myself more as an information entrepreneur.
For further reading of Nasser Weddady’s articles: How Europe bankrolls Terror on The New York Times