Mali – The next elections at stake for Malian medias

Among the news about the war, Malian media try to tackle with other issues such as the next elections due in July 2013. Newspapers focuse on the abstention rate but also the division of the political landscape.

“How to improve the turnout?” The question asked by the Malia newspaper l’Essor shifts from the current news about war and the announcement of 63 Malian soldiers’ deaths. Why talking about elections when the war is not over yet? In a way, the newspaper tries to move forward and to analyze the next issues for the country. Expected in July, the idea of democratic elections is a first move toward hope and reconstruction. Based on a report published by the German Erbert Friedrich foundation about the low voting rate in Mali. According to experts Mohamed Traoré and Sékou Mamadou Chérif Diaby, the illiteracy rate and the lack of political culture are the main reasons for the abstention rate. But technical matters such as the inaccuracy of the electoral file, the roadmap and  the nature of the voting system present also an issue.

Twitter Screenshot

Twitter Screenshot

Confronted with a lot of political parties (at least 80), Malians will have to face a difficult choice in July. To make sure that most Malians do vote, a number of recommandations have been established. The newspaper Le Républicain sum them up : the creation of an administration which will be in charge of all the electoral structures. The establishement of a new biometric registration system, new electoral lists and a vast campaign of civic education and a formation to citizenship in order to push more people to vote.

From 1992 to 2007, the turnout to national elections has allways been very low. This is the problem, experts want to solve for the 2013 elections. Last year, before the military coup, a National and independent electoral commission called the CENI was created but there were many controversies during the electoral campaign. The electoral file was not so reliable and some opposition parties did not trust the commission.They even went to the Supreme Court because they did not agree on the interpretation of the electoral law.

According to Le Républicain, the reasons of the abstention rate in the past two decades can also come from political defiance and a deeper unease in the malian society. The security issue is also at stake for these elections, since the north is not completly freed of the conflicts between French troops and djihadists. French president François Hollande, in his speech on french TV channel France 2, yesterday, pointed out the necessity to have steady elections. These elections stand for a strong symbol. In front of the international community, they will show that Malians can overcome the next step after the war and start their reconstruction. François Hollande precised that France will not interfere with the choice of a new president for Malians. “The time when France chose African leaders is over “ Jeune Afrique reports.

François Hollande’s speech on France 2

Kassim Traore, a Malian reporter based in Bamako, reported on his Facebook status the decision of the comittee to support the electoral process’ s second reunion on Wednesday 27th.

Screenshot of Facebook profile

Screenshot of Facebook profile

Members discussed about the refugee vote’s issue and also the electoral budget. They agreed on a date, the 7 th of July for the first round and the 21th of July for the second one. But some political parties think that the country need more time to prepare its elections. In March, Moussa Sinko Coulibaly, the Minister in charge of the territorial administration announced that the elections were supposed to be held at the end of July.

His statement awoke the political class which is now fidgeting to prepare the electoral campaign. They will have to convince many disenchanting voters according to France 24 website.

Footage by France 24 about the disenchanting voters

Twitter screeshot

Twitter screeshot

Observers still watch the influence of Captain Sanogo which is very much present according to Gilles Yabi from the International Crisis Group. In February 2013, the American governments also announced that US will provide financial aid to the country only if democratic elections were held.

Since the establishement of a democratic regime in the 90’s, Mali has also adopted multipartism until reaching 120 political parties in 2009. For the Malian newspaper l’Indépendant, a lot of young Malians are currently gathering to apply for the elections. The polictical landscape is still divided but it is moving forward despite the war in the country.

Twitter screenshot

Twitter screenshot

Lilia Blaise

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Mali – Bad day for the press one year after coup

 

The press is still mobilized in Mali after the arrest of their colleague Boukary Daou for a publication on Le Républicain newspaper about the captain Sanogo. His imprisonment is considered as unfair by the profession who sees it as a way to muzzle the press. One year after the coup, freedom of the press is on the verge to collapse.

A Malian absurdity. This is how Malika Groga-Bada, a journalist at Jeune Afrique described the Boukary Dadou’s matter. The director of Le Républicain newspaper was arrested by agents on the 6th of March and held in jail. He was then transfered to a common police and had a first court audience. The judge decided to keep him in jail until his new trial on the 16th of April. The counts of indictment held against him are incitement to crime and propagation of false informations based on the articles 35 and 36 of the Malian Press code. For Malika Groga-Bada the whole issue is an absudity given the context.

Boukary Daou. (Photo Credit: Profile picture of the journalist on Facebook)

Boukary Daou. (Photo Credit: Profile picture of the journalist on Facebook)

«We could have hoped that in such conditions, State Security had other things to do (…)Instead, we are amazed that its priority is to hunt down journalists rather paying attention to the the fights between French troops and Jihadists.»
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For now, Boukary Daou is still in a difficult position. He risks three years of jail and a fine. He still has the support of his colleagues such as Kassim Traoré, a Malian reporter.

«We have asked for his bail but we still have not received any answer. » he said.  «The charges are too severe and we know what to expect with such issues.»

According to Kassim Traoré, the journalists have been put under pressure and abuse since the coup.

«I have been frequently arrested at my house and kept for one day in custody. But for Boukary Daou, we are really confused because we do not have any clue about his release.»

The Committee to protect journalists has also denounced in a press relase the charges. The Comittee did a report on press freedom after the coup which show that twelve journalists have suffered from arbitrary detentions.  He saw his colleague yesterday in jail and said he was ready to resist and in good mood.

Violences in 2012 on other Malian journalists

«But we don’t know how long it is going to last.» From France, the spokerperson for the Foreign affairs Ministry, Philippe Lalliot called for the «immediate freeing» of Boukary Daou. And Malian journalists and African journalists based in Paris made a sit-in on the 19th of March in front of the Malian embassy in Paris. 

Screenshot of TV5monde Channel's footage on the protest in Paris to support Boukary Daou

Screenshot of TV5monde Channel’s footage on the protest in Paris to support Boukary Daou

The Malian authorities remain silent on the case for now. The Malian president, Diacounda Traore said a few words three days ago in Dakar about the issue, but it was the same declarations that he made last week. For him the whole article for which Boukary Daou has been condemned is made up by the journalist and he is suspicious that real soldiers are behind this open letter (video).

The country celebrates today the one year anniversary about the coup.

Lilia Blaise

Is freedom of the press threatened in Mali ?

After three days of “dead journey” for the press in Mali, Malian journalists have finally obtained the partial release of their colleague Boukary Daou, director of Le républicain newspaper. His arrest raises questions about freedom of the press in Mali.

Journalists made a statement with what they called a “Dead journey” to support one of their colleague who was arrested last week after having published an open letter from Malian militaries which was critical about one of their chief. It is not a story about the issues of covering the war or even about the exactions of the Malian army. Boukary Daou was arrested by Malian intelligence agents because he had published an open letter on the 6th of March addressed to Amadou Sanogo, an army captain who toppled the Malian president last year. The Malian soldiers  who wrote the letter accused Sanogo causing a political chaos last year with his coup. But they mostly denounce the financial benefits of the salary Sanogo is currently receiving, which is believed to be 8000 dollars per month. Amadou Haya Sanogo was also named to head a government committee to oversee reforms in the military. This decision surprised a lot of observers because of the dark past of Sanogo. In 2012, after the coup, Human Rights Watch denounced security forces’torture and abuses but also their intimidation of journalists:

“Members of state security forces have tried to suppress the publication of information regarding abuses in the aftermath of the failed counter-coup. They have called in for questioning or visited the offices of at least five journalists and two civil servants who were investigating the coup, the treatment of detainees, enforced disappearances, or the existence of a mass grave. While the journalists and civil servants did not suffer any physical aggression during the questioning, they reported being pressured to reveal their sources, drop their investigations, and desist from publishing or speaking about the events. Several believed their phone conversations were routinely intercepted by the state security forces. The intimidation of journalists appears to form part of a wider crackdown on Malian journalism, which began after the March 22 coup and has since intensified.” the Human Rights report says in July 2012.

Screenshot of a supporting campaign for Boukary Daou by the website Maliweb

Screenshot of a supporting campaign for Boukary Daou by the website Maliweb

The untouchable captain?

According to Professor Bruce Whitehouse who writes the blog, Bridges from Bamako, this story reflects what has been left out by international media: the dissension in the army ranks which has been pointed out by the junior officer in the open letter of Boukary Daou. He ends the letter by saying if Sanogo does not answer, he and his colleagues will stop the fighting. According to Bruce Whitehouse, this story raises many problems, such as “who is in charge in Bamako ?” and how much power the armys has. According to BBC report, “Malian authorities say Daou was arrested for being irresponsible and unpatriotic in publishing the letter”. No word from the government has been said on this issue except by Malian Foreign Affairs Minister, Tieman Coulibaly, who said that there was “no junta in Mali” and that Sanogo “is a Malian soldier who can lead the reform”. Laurent Fabius, French Foreign Affairs Minister also said during a TV debate that “military power should be submitted to civil power…” but he also said he was sure that the Malian government would do everything to insure press freedom.US ambasador to Mali also expressed her concern and urged for the protection of media “under the law”.

TV debate on TV5 Monde with Laurent Fabius and Tieman Coulibaly

The Malian Dioncounda Traore spoke out during a press conference and said that the person who signed the letter “Captain Toure” did not exist and accused the journalist to encourage to mutiny for the front soldiers. The Malian president said the law will decide wether he is guilty or not.

The Malian media is supporting Boukary Daou and after three days of symbolic strike,  they suceeded in getting their colleague’s arrest to be handled by the police. Makan Koné, director of the house of press in Mali asked for the freedom of his colleague. The jounalists also denounce the lack of legal procedure for Boukary Daou’s arrest. The International Federation of journalists and the NGO Reporters Without Borders have also supported the movement. This arrest has happened in a quite fragile media landscape without any precise legal frame.

A radio journalist told the BBC it twas not the first time that such arbitrary arrests : The situation is chaotic for the media because there are people in authority who believe that if we’re stopped from denouncing what they’re up to, then they’ll get away with it “ Ramata Dia from Radio Guntan says.

On the 11th of March, during their first general Assembly, thirteen journalists had denounced a degradation of press freedom in Mali according to TV5 Monde report. The country was ranked 25th in Reporters Without Borders report on press freedom in 2012. It is now at the 99th position. Today, Boukary Daou is being judged by the judiciary police but he still risks prosecutions from the military juntia. His colleagues are alo waiting to know more about his treatment when he was imprisoned. No information has been released yet about the soldiers who first wrote the open letter.

Lilia Blaise

Does Mali need UN Peacekeepers?

One week ago,  enthusiastic pictures of relieved Malians were all over the headlines. Today with the difficult battle in Gao, the French army may be supported by troops from the UN. In West African Media, the main debate is about how useful this help will be.

Between the AFISMA  and the UN troops, almost 8 000 soldiers could be sent to Mali in order to stabilize the current situation.  Last week, Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister asked a peacekeeping force from the UN Security Council. But the Malian government is still undecided about this option. Among the resurgence of violence in cities such as Gao and Kidal, the international community fears an escalation of hostilities in Mali. Last Friday, the first suicide bombings since the French intervention took place in Gao. The concern about a long war is the first priority for the UN Security Council. The increasing number of refugees and the need for humanitarian aid both favor an international intervention, according to Algerian newspaper El Watan.

UN peacekeepers in Somalia. Photo Credit: Flickr, expertinfantry

UN peacekeepers in Somalia. Photo Credit: Flickr, expertinfantry

The UN presence is a tough issue for the local authorities and the Malian army, which is still fighting to win back the north of the country. On a TV debate, Filifing Sacko, a former UN representative, said that the current support from the AFISMA (African-led Iternational Support Mission to Mali) should be reinforced rather than bringing the UN troops. In the beginning of the negociations about intervention in Mali last December, UN and ECOWAS (the West African Economic Community) disagreed about the intervention from AFISMA. While the former was in favor of the peace talk process, the latter put pressure for a military operation. Now that French troops have launched their military action, AFISMA is also playing an important part in the Mali conflict. There is no timeline for military action and the debate is now about  “how best to maintain stability in the country,” reports the Washington Post. Other options such as African forces commanded by AU (African Union) and ECOWAS have also been discussed. Troops from Benin, Ivory Coast and Senegal representing the West African states have arrived in Bamako. According to the Malian Ministry of Defence, at least 5000 West African soldiers will arrive before the end of February.

As historian Mohamedoun Dicko said on the aforementioned TV debate, what worries the Malians is the UN’s arrival before the end of AFISMA’s mission. Examples of other experiences such as Rwanda are still vivid memories of failures for the UN peacekeepers. The mission of the UN and AFISMA are quite different.Whereas AFISMA is engaged in the fighting, UN peacekeepers would provide “a peace guarantee.” “If the fights are not finished, why do we send peacekeepers?” Professor Mohamedoun Dicko asked in the debate. The last concern is that UN peacekeepers are mainly deployed in the capital rather than in more challenging areas such as the borders.

African soldiers were late to arrive after the beginning of Operation Serval. They are now on the frontline of the conflict and for most, the fight is not over.  The other issue is their military capacity. Mauritania is still refusing to send any soldiers despite the Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz’s support for French intervention. On the African Union side, outgoing president Thomas Boni Yayi required the UN to “get moving” on the Malian case.  In other words, he wants them to send UN peacekeepers. So all African forces are not on the same page on this question.

For now, everyone seems to be waiting for the green light from the government of Mali. According to the Malian experts who appeared on the above TV debate, it’s also a question of national integrity. According to French UN ambassador Gerard Araud, most of the peacekeeping contingents will come from African units within AFISMA. Nonetheless, it raises the question of how long and how much Mali will depend upon international aid. For the allAfrica website, we are facing a “Serval dilemma” which expresses the fear of an endless war.

Lilia Blaise

François Hollande, what’s next ?

 

«François Hollande, le malien» the title of a a Malian media just after the French action in Mali was explicit. But since then ,the French troops have captured several key cities under the hold of islamists armed groups.  François Hollande came in Tumbuktu to celebrate victory but in several african media, the main question is: what’s next?

There are two attitudes. Either thrilling and enthusiastic titles about the «Hero», François Hollande or a careful and neutral tone from the African media. For the Malian newspaper, l’Essor, he is an «icon» of the «liberty» as the President made a tour on the 1st of February in Mali.
The Burkinabe daily newspaper Le Pays even grades the President 10/10 to pay tribute to his action. In the Malian daily newspaper Le républicain, one journalist speaks about an «African France more african than ever». But after the feverish party comes the questions. And other African media follow with attention the military moves in the area.

Screenshot from Al Jazeera footage of President Hollande visit to Mali

Screenshot from Al Jazeera footage of President Hollande visit to Mali

Sahara media for instance, based in Mauritania, questions the real retreat of islamists. According to the news media, the MNLA has taken back the control of Ménaka city. It was approved by the French forces who hope to rely on the movement in order to hunt the islamists before they cross the border with Algeria. For the negociations, Paris and Bamako hope the MNLA will give up its aspiration for independence.

French President visit to Mali

And in Jeune Afrique, the declarations of Laurent Fabius, French Foreign Affairs Ministry who said the French troops would probaby start to withdraw in March. But it’ won’t be without a training process of the Malian army for the Malian soldiers under the care of European Union. So France and its soldiers could stay during this mission for an undetermined period in Mali.

Mali’s war is not over. Al Jazeera footage

So after the enthusiasm, African media show that the war is not finished and try to analyse what is going to happen next. An interesting piece of news is brought by the radio Cameroon voices about the strategy of militarisation in Mali. The article comes back on the agreement between Niger and The United States on the 29 th of January to establish a military base just near the Mali border, in Niger. For the African radio, it is a sign that war against terrorism is not over in this area and West Africa could become more involved in the coming years.

On the frontline. ORTM video of Malian army

French President François Hollande receiving a camel as a gift.

Daily life in Bamako during the war. Screenshot from Twitter

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Lilia Blaise

The beginning of the war in Mali has raised many questions about media coverage and ethics. In France, even if the main media criticized the army limits for the journalists, they did not escape the critics from foreign media. At this point of the conflict, the mainstream media in Africa and Middle East offers another point of view.

 

Photos Credits: Magharebia

Photos Credits: Flickr Magharebia

Covering a war is never easy especially when you have no choice but to respect the military limits. In order to avoid expected war coverage and to reach a largest audience, the TV channel Al Jazeera chose to interview the Malian publicopinion about what they think of the French intervention in their country. Rather than using vox pop, the media made an interactive map and asked two simple questions as in opinion polls: “Do you think France should have intervene in Mali? And why?” They gave a number so everyone could text a response or call. The journalists of Al Jazeera created a map organized with the main themes of the answers among which we have Gratitude, Security, Stability, Anti-terrorism and Necessity. The most interesting is the last one: Anti-intervention. The opponent voices to the French action have often been presented as coming from the Islamists or Jihadists. Last coverage of the conflict by French media was more based on “freeing” or “rescuing” the country. Stories are about militaries encountering relieved or traumatized citizens, each time French troops enter a city previously held by the Islamist militants.

Al jazeera's interactive map Mali speaks. (Screenshot of Al Jazeera website)

Al jazeera’s interactive map Mali speaks. (Screenshot of Al Jazeera website)

Even the Malian media embrace the arrival of France with enthusiasm. But there are always some dissident voices as the 4% presented by Al Jazeera map show: the majority of them don’t agree because of the risks of civilian victims. Others tackled with a tough point also made by other close countries to the Mali: the reminiscence of French neocolonialism in Africa, which is perceived as an infringement to the sovereignty, an intrusion into the land.

The same Al Jazeera channel for instance, after stating that 96% of the interviewed population was in favor of the French intervention, made a TV show about Mali’s war without images. In this show, the opinion is clear, the lack of images for a journalist stuck in Bamako can lead “further from the truth” but also to biased information dependent of the French authorities on the field.

Listening Post – Mali’s ‘war without images’.Source: Al jazeera

Some say Mali has been a “war without images”, and if that is because the French government want the story told their way then journalists have a problem. But the responsibility of reporters is more than just being in the right place at the right time. There is no such thing as observation without interpretation and words like ‘Islamist’, ‘atrocity’ and – especially – ‘terrorist’ are easy to say but not so easy to define. When journalists slip into the standard narratives there is plenty that does not fit in the picture.»

For other countries than France, the question of media coverage in Mali seems to raise a lot of issues. The International media organization Reporters Without Borders denounced in a statement released on January 16 the “media blackout” and spoke about a “war behind closed doors”.  The tuniso-american journalist Yasmine Ryan spoke also the absence of any press conference held in Gao by the French or the lack of information about children soldiers in the rebel troops.

French and Malian troops consolidate gains. Source: Al Jazeera

Guerrilla warfare is dirty, by its very nature. Just how irregular or dirty this war is, or whether it is a more conventional war, is difficult to judge with media kept so far from the conflict zone. »

But there is more to this critic than what we think. As in the interactive map, Yasmine Ryan also wrote about the controversial role of France:

Foreign intervention is controversial for many Malians, particularly in the form of an operation where its former colonial occupier is playing such a key role. For most of 2012, the Malian authorities had requested international support – funding, weapons and training – for its own forces instead of bringing in foreign military muscle. »

In the countries close to Mali, such as Tunisia and Algeria, criticism  have also been made. The newspapers were cautious and dubious about the aim of France at the beginning of the intervention. Algerian press editorials have underlined the loneliness of France in the intervention. Other African media fear a sinking of the conflict into civil war or guerillas. From across the hexagon, the media coverage of war in Mali mirrors and confronts the French media but they also give a complementary point of view and a balance. That is what we will try to do in this blog. We will give a voice to the African media and their point of views but also to the citizen journalists, bloggers and observers who can offer an insight into the backstage of Mali’s war. Of course we will also analyse the most dissident voices of this conflict, the Islamist militants war propaganda through Sahrawian media for instance.At last it’s important to underline that’s this criticism about French media is sometimes coming for not reliable sources such as propagandist PressTV, an iranian TV channel broadcasted in english.

Lilia Blaise

To know more about the conflict, here is the timeline made by the New York Times about the crisis in Mali.