Mali – The story of an embedded Chadian journalist

Abdel-Nasser Mahamat Ali Garboa alias Abdelnasser Garboa is a Chadian journalist covering the war in Mali. He was the one who took the picture of the remains of Abu Zeid and and he shared it on Twitter . But for him, covering a war is not always easy especially when you are embedded with the army of your country.

So I would have liked to know a little more about you, your journalistic career, and how did you find yourself covering the war in Mali?

From the first day of my writings, I decided to take the name of Abdelnasser Garboa. I started journalism at the age of 19 years to the only daily newspaper in Chad, “Le Progrès” which belongs to one of my uncles, Mahamat Hissene. In 2000 I entered the University of Ngaoundere in Cameroon to study law. While I was in second year, the lure of journalism attract me towards writing the first Cameroonian private daily “Mutations”. Mutations had passed the daily periodicity and was searching correspondents in the north of the country was covered by very few private media. It was in March 2002. I then covered restructuring operations bases organs of the ruling party, the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM). In 2005, Chad was then faced with the rebel army who swore to have the skin of President Idriss Déby. Not wanting to settle for terse press the Government on the balance sheets of battles, unmet also small visits to battlefields after a confrontation. I ask the Minister of National Defence at the time, General Bichara Issa Djadallah, to incorporate me in a combat unit leaving for the East. He became my request and allow me to embark with General Daoud Abakar Abdelkerim Kareinkeïno alias, one of the most iconic warlords Chad. He was Director General of the Gendarmerie. This was my first experience of war coverage. I spent three months with them to skim the areas east of the country behind the elements of the United Front for Change and those of the Union of Resistance Forces. This experience gave me a better understanding. I first learned about the geography of this part of the country almost every bastion of rebellion. I got to know our soldiers and to appreciate them. I also learned to understand the issues, people and practices of this bloody conflict. My way ofdealing with this conflict of information has completely changed. My greatest gain is to know what it looks like when you talk about movement forces belligerence. It was a unique experience. Regarding the war in Mali, the first day of the announcement of the entry of our troops in action I thought that I should do something. I went to the Ministry of National Defense and then to the General Staff of the Armed Forces to cover how to deploy our units. I was the first to interview the commandant of forces and the one of the operations. During the creation of a pool of journalists to support our troops, I volunteered and then, the adventure began. For me, journalism is always synonymous with great coverage and extensive survey.

Twitter live coverage of the war of Abdelnasser Garboa in Mali

Twitter live coverage of the war of Abdelnasser Garboa in Mali

My other question relates to your use of Twitter and social networks in general: how do you use it?


I admit, that before the war in Mali, I used very little Twitter, I was much more on Facebook where I shared stuff with friends in France, Cameroon and the rest of the world. The need of Twitter came when I started covering Mali. I found there was a lack of information onthe operations of Chadian soldiers on the ground. While our forces Gao jumped on, no French press mentioned it. There was a total blackout maybe because it is the will of the French General Staff that put forward the French and Malian soldiers. But when I arrived in Gao on January 27, there was no Malian soldier in this city. It was sickening for Chadians. It was the same when we arrived in Menaka, and into Kidal. No communication as made on the operation of Chadian soldiers. So Chadian journalists decided to redress this imbalance. The problem is that the state media is not very credible in the eyes of many people. So I tried to give a different look. But I do admit that is a subjectiv point of view since I fully support the operation of Chadian soldiers and I will ensure that no information that would undermine the moral of the troops is released. In these kinds of operation must be very careful. I respect the facts, but the role of the army is crucial.

When you posted the picture of what is believed to be Abu Zeid’s dead body, did you know the impact it would have?


I knew that Abu Zeid was a wanted emir and that his picture would be an important shot. But the impact of its propagation was beyond my imagination. There was an unecessary controversy created by Le Drian about the reliability of it. Many of my fellow did not like the dismissive attitude of the French minister.

Screenshot of Paris Match  Magazine with the picture taken by Abdelnasser Garboa

Screenshot of Paris Match Magazine with the picture taken by Abdelnasser Garboa

But how did you know it was him?

Why would I not believe a soldier who descends from a mountaintop claiming to have killed Abu Zeid and showing a photo of his corpse? Does my support to these soldiers is worse than the French or American press for their soldiers in Afghanistan or Iraq? More, who dared to ask for a DNA test to the USA following the assassination of Bin Laden? It was not difficult to identify Abou Zeid. His dead corresponded to the pictures of him circulating on the net. I trust my senses more than anything else. And in the end, François Hollande gave me reason but after twenty days.

You said you offered more a subjective point of view, but until which point ? How do you remain neutral when you are “embedded” with the Chadian army representing your country?
To support an operation does not mean we should distort information. I try to just report the facts. I do not want to dig up dirt at ay price. I report what I see and what I hear, officially. It must be remembered that our confines are also shared by all our French colleagues when they cover the war of their soldiers. It’s very strict and controlled. Of course, we must not fall into war propaganda. But I think some stories deserve to be told later, at the end of the conflict, with more details.

What do you think of the war in Mali coverage in foreign media?

Foreign media are very far from the ground. France wanted a clean and mute war. They sendreporters to cover patrol missions and not real combat operation. We have an advantage as Chadian journalists to be able to cover Chadian soldiers conducting raids on the ground in direct contact. This is essential to publicize these conflicts. We have great images that we can’t all broadcast for obvious reasons.

NB: Today, there are still doubts about the killing of Abu Zeid even if he has been replaced by AQIM. According to the Long war journal, AQIM has neither denied nor confirmed Abu Zeid ‘s death.

Interview by Lilia Blaise

Mali – Nasser Weddady, the “information entrepreneur”

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.

Courtesy of Nasser Weddady

Courtesy of Nasser Weddady

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.

weddady

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.

weddady2

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.

Lilia Blaise

For further reading of Nasser Weddady’s articles: How Europe bankrolls Terror on The New York Times

Mali – Boukary Daou is almost free

Today was an important journey for the Malian press. Boukary Daou, the director of Le Républicain newspaper was released from jail until the resuming of his trial on the 16th of April. For Malian journalists it is a small victory.

Kassim Traore annouced it early in the afternoon. His colleague is finally free. After having been imprisoned for twenty four days, Boukary Daou joined his family of five children and his happy colleagues. The judge accepted his application for bail on Tuesday. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, he shared his cell with 50 other inmates. It’s only temporary, but it’s a victory for some Malian journalists who feared that freedom of press has completely disappeared in Bamako. The director of Le Républicain was arrested for the publication of an open letter adressed to the army. His crisis committee is also “optimistic” about the “justice” according to Mahamane Hamèye Cissé, one of the members of the committee which supported Boukary Daou from the beginning.

Boukary Daou in the middle after his release, betwwen his two colleagues, Samby Touré and Kassim Taoré. Courtesy of Kassim Traoré

Boukary Daou in the middle after his release, betwwen his two colleagues, Samby Touré and Kassim Taoré. Courtesy of Kassim Traoré

The support came also from the director of the Africcan editor forum, Chériff Sy who held a press conference on the 27th of March. He said he was very confident that Boukary Daou would be soon relased. And he spoke to the Ministry of Communication and the Ministry of justice about the case. He also played the role of a mediator between both parties and try to convince the crisis committee to stop the boycott of National institutions. Boukary Daou’s case is not yet closed.

mali

The Malian media are waiting to see what will be the final judgement mid-April. The journalist was also released under conditions. He committed himself to not publish again the letter. But for now he is celebrating and he will meet with other journalists at the House of press tomorrow for a general assembly.

Lilia Blaise

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

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.»
txi

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

War in Mali: the necessity of cautious news

Some say they are dead, other don’t. In less than a week, Chadian newspapers announced the death of one of the key members from AQIM terrorist group and also the death of Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the leader of the attack in In Amenas. But in France, the news has still not been confirmed. And AQIM has just stated that Abu Zeid is dead but not Belmokhtar. Since the beginning of the war in Mali, how much can we trust the media?

Screenshot of a twit pic on twitter by the caricaturist Damien Glez

Screenshot of a twit pic on twitter by the caricaturist Damien Glez

It was allover Twitter, the news was spreading on the web faster than any other and some media took the information for granted. Two leaders of terrorist groups were killed by Chadian troops according to the news of Friday march 2nd. It has been four days and the French Minister of Defense has still not confirmed it. According to the AFP news agency, the chief of staff of general army forces Edouard Guillaud said that Abu Zeid is “likely” dead, but his corpse has not been found yet. And AQIM has just confirmed on Monday that Abu Zeid was killed but not Belmokhtar which shows once more that there is more to the story than what we think.

alja

tchad

From Chad, the general commanding Chadian troops in northern Mali said Sunday that he was not able to confirm the death of Mokhtar Belmokhtar. Even so, the Chadian government announced it on Chad’s national state television one day before. Every global media took the news, quoting different sources, a “report”or the Chadian government. Somehow the news has not been verified and today, French media remain cautious to release anything.

The press release by the Chadian army about the killing of the two terrorist on the National Chadian TV:

Why is it so difficult to verify such crucial information? On one side, we have the French media and the French news agency based in Paris and who are quite dependent of the army press releases. On the other side, Chadian troops are fighting in the mountains which are difficult to access even for the journalists including those who are embedded.

The American media are the most distant from the conflict and must write news gathered from external sources rather than on direct field observations out of Mali. The best informed recent article was the the WSJ and was written by correspondents based in Ghana and Paris. The only information is therefore coming from the army or anonymous sources according to Sahara media. The website said these sources are “generally well-informed”, but did not give any more details.

It was Chadian general Zakaria Ngobongue who confirmed the killing of Belmokhtar on Saturday after Chadian President Idriss Déby announced the killing of Abdelhamid Abu Zeid on Friday.  According to the Algerian website El Khabar, the Chadian army said in a statement  that ”Chadian troops in Mali completely destroyed the basic rule of jihadists in the Adrar Mountains in a series of Aafogas, specifically in Omatetaa Valley”. Official news and army news seem to be not so reliable, the following days showed. As an official from the Chadian ministry said to the Wall Street Journal, the killed ones were identified by their followers and buried immediately because  “It’s not in our culture to go around with bodies, they are not trophies.” Hassan Syllan, the Chadian Communication Minister, said to the newspaper. Still, according to Hassan Sylla, the fact that Mali and France have not confirmed shows that the research for a body seems to be in jeopardy .

Coverages by the BBC and Al Jazeera of Mokhtar Belmokhtar’s death.

Why did the global media rush to make this announcement? For l’Expression, an Algerian newspaper, it is because some of the news agencies in the United States said they had “very reliable” sources about this without really quoting anyone. Reuters News agencybased its information on a Chad press release but specified that Washington had not confirmed the news. But it also shows that somehow in a world where news is supposed to be more reachable than ever, some is simply impossible to verify. What was the right thing to do? While the Media had to speak about it, they should have stayed in the conditional tone rather than preenting it as a beaking news. Being cautious is therefore the only deontological solution rather than giving unclear and incomplete information. This bring us back to a similar same issue previously raised on this blog, which is the difficulty for journalists to cover a war where information devices d contents are extremely controlled. For instance, why does the French army publish its own videos on its Facebook pages? It was in order to communicate but not to give an impartial information. It may be also the case that the Chadian army is more eager to show they are winning in the war rather than to speak of several Chadian soldiers dead on the field. 26 of them died in battles on the 22th of February on the frontline. Among the other African countries, Chad has sent the biggest contingent in Mali and it confirmed during the Cedeao summit that it was impatient for the fight to come to an end.

Lilia Blaise

On the same subject: The war in Mali by Al Jazeera: Malian speak project and the invisible war

The difficult position of Morocco in Mali

There is a country concerned by the Mali conflict, which is not often present in global news. Morocco plays an important diplomatic and political part in the conflict. Its historical conflict with Algeria could be an issue.

The Moroccan media doesn’t speak a lot about Morocco’s involvement with the war in Mali. But the country is getting more and more involved  with what happens not far from its borders. At the beginning of the conflict, its position was crystal clear: support the French intervention. Besides its deep financial links with France, Morocco has also cultural and tribal connections with Mali according to JeuneAfrique newspaper. The «Chorfa» (people who claimed to be direct descendants from the prophet) are present in both countries and have had a strong relationship for years. Whereas Egypt has condemned the French intervention and Tunisia has stated, it was against a “foreign” military action, Morocco has been helping France by letting its military planes and bombers fly above the country.

ecreen shot of Mohamed VI's encounter with François Hollande in May 2012

screenshot of Mohamed VI encounter with François Holland in May 2012

In September, Malian Prime Minister Cheikh Modibo Diarra,also asked for Morocco’s help. According to the newspaper JeuneAfrique, Morocco’s support is also determined by its complex relationship with Algeria, the other lead country in the Sahel zone. Algeria plays an important part in the operations especially since In Amenas hostage crisis, but the country also shares with Morocco the control of the Sahel area. But due to complicated relationships between the two countries they don’t have a common strategy for defense and security. One of the issue is over the Western Sahara’s status. This state is bordering Morocco is seen as a part of the country from Moroccan’s point of view but Algeria disagrees. The Sahrawian opposition movement, the Polisario Front has demanded its independence since the 70’s after the state was not under spanish colonization anymore. Since 2007, the United Nations has asked to Alger and Rabat to find common ground about the Western Sahara situation, which is still a moot point.

In an interview on the channel TV5 Monde, Moroccan Prime Minister, Abdellilah Benkirane, explicitly said that Algeria did not want further involvement from Morocco in the Malian conflict according to Yabiladi website.Benkirane sees the French intervention as the only alternative since Algeria and Morocco could not find a solution together.

In response, Amar Bellani, spokesperson for the Algerian foreign ministry said it was a “mis demeanour” for Benkirane to make such a statement and the newspaper l’Expression questions the motives of such a declaration at a time when the two countries are trying to get closer to find a solution. The newspaper raises an interesting point about the different position between Islamist Benkirane and the King Mohamed VI on this matter.While the former has no interest in Algeria and Marocco finding a common solution, the latter may be more diplomatic according to the newspaper. The opinion was shared by El Watan newspaper which did not understand this “double discourse” of Morocco. El Watan points out that at the same time,Nasser Bourita the Moroccan Minister of Foreign Affairs, was assuring Alger of Mohamed VI’s good will to strengthen the relationship between the two countries.

Today, as the conflict sinks into a long war, will the two countries find a strategy together? While a Moroccan military intervention could not be approved by Algeria, both countries seem to have a political interest seeing the jihadist’s threat come to an end. Morocco stated that security was its first priority at the Cedeao summit last week. According to Le Mag website, a solution does exist: Last Friday, Omar Hilale, Moroccan ambassador to the United Nations amicably called  on Algeria in order to find a common political agreement on the Western Sahara issue. It was an answer to the violation of human rights in Western Sahara denounced by Algeria and a first attempt to solve the problem between the two parties. But this may be more like a diplomatic move rather than a political statement. Alger’s response was not very optimistic. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs considered it as a way to “make a durable status quo” on Western Sahara without solving the problem he said to TSA Algérie website.

This conflict between Algeria and Morocco should be watched closely because the strategy of the two countries in West Africa will be important in the future of Mali. With the Malian crisis, Morocco could return to heading up a security policy in West Africa. This policy has been on standby since Morocco cancelled its diplomatic relations with countries, including Algeria, which recognized Western Sahara as an independent territory.

Lilia Blaise

Mali – How to cover a war?

Makan Koné is the chairman of the house of press in Mali. He tells us about the daily life of Malian journalists and their coverage of the conflict.

makankoné
How do you cover the war in your own country? Is it not difficult to stay neutral?
Makan Koné: Of course, it is difficult because we are always tempted to show more patriotism in such situations. Besides, we are in a state of emergency which implies that the media are under control. In a war, news are always serving the war effort. But we attempt to stay neutral and objective. The most important is to provide information. The House of Press was created in 1996 and since the beginning of the conflict, we have made an agreement with the French embassy to ease the media coverage.  We are a media outlet ourselves now and we post news everyday on our website. We have more means in order to send journalists in Sévaré or Gao and to cover more the field.

What are the difficulties of the coverage besides security issues?

Makan Koné: I think the main obstacle is to know what you can’t say and to deal with it. For instance, it is hard to criticize the Malian army but I think we should do it more. In my opinion, it is really important to show that the Malian army has not the military means today to assure security allover the country. I am always surprised that the government have not learnt lessons from the previous actions of the army last year. So it is difficult to speak openly about these issues in Malian media and to put the stress on the weaknesses of the Malian army . We try nonetheless to not censor ourselves.

What do you think of the CSA (The Conseil Supérieur de l’Audiovisuel) in France which called in France Televisions chairman because of some “sensitive” images of dead people in Mali showed on TV?

Makan Koné: I think it is a very tough issue. On one hand, we have to show the exactions even more if they are the result of a “revenge” operation by the Malian army. France 24 showed images as well and it had an informativ value. On the other hand, it can be very dangerous to show such images when the situation in Mali is still on the brink to collapse. I think we should speak about it and be aware of it through media reports but we should ponder more about the way we show these images.

What do you think of the French media coverage? Do they show enough of the war? Do they stay neutral according to you?

Makan Koné: Here in Bamako we daily watch  French media. I watch France 24 and France 2 coverage. I think it is quite neutral but the only thing bothering me is more the “expertise” some french pundits think they have on the country. Some of them are often wrong or not precise enough in their statements. For instance, when you speak about MNLA as a “tuareg rebellion”, it is completely untrue because not all tuaregs are from this movement. My mother is a tuareg for instance.

What’s next according to you? Do you think the situation will finally be stabilized in the North?

Makan Koné: We may go through a period of respite in the North even if for now, nothing is sure especially with the recent suicide blasts in Tessalit. The pillar of the conflict is still the Malian army and its capacity to secure the country. I think it’s premature to speak of elections in July. Maybe three or four months after hopefully, we will have elections with strong institutions.
Interview by Lilia Blaise

Mali – “Libya could play an important role in the terrorist reorganization”

Tarik Hafid is an Algerian journalist for Le SoirdAlgérie an independent daily newspaper. He comments on the situation in Mali from Algeria. According to Mr Hafid, the next terrorist threat could come from Libya.

How are Algerian media currently covering the situation in Mali?

Tarik Hafid: The Algerian media has been closely following what’s been happening in Mali for several years. In the early 2000s, the Algerian press was the first to draw attention to the establishment of certain leaders of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC, which later became AQMI) in the area around Azawad. These forecast have unfortunately been confirmed. Algerian media are still very critical of the France’s military action in Mali. Many newspapers do not hesitate to use the word “neocolonialism”. One another thing is sure for the Algerian press, the current Malian government has not political control or military control.

Since the hostage crisis in In Amenas, what has been the situation in Algeria? 

TH: We must first recall that Algeria has been facing the phenomenon of terrorism for more than two decades. The hostage’ situation of In Amenas certainly resulted from the specific nature of the target, the status of the victims, the organization of the terrorist group and the reply of the Algerian army. So it is important not to consistently link the security situation in Algeria with what is happening in Mali. Terrorists have different strategies for each countries they are in. But they also have an overall strategy for this region in particular. It is thanks to the drugs produced in Morocco and ransom money which enables them to buy weapons in Libya to be effective in Mali, Algeria and Nigeria. But we must remain watchful, as Islamist terrorism is indeed able to spread.

sahel

Map of Aqmi activities in Sahel by l’Express.

Do you struggle to get information about what is happening in the field?

TH: For a journalist, working in a country like Mali requires huge financial and logistical resources. Since the beginning of the French military operation, most of the news is provided by embedded journalists. So for the Algerian media, most of the work is done remotely.

What do you think is next for the “Serval” operation and the stabilization of Mali? What will be the impact on Algeria?

TH: It’s difficult to comment on the future events in light of what’s happening right now. Regarding Mali, I think the security should stabilize on the security policy. But I do not think that France will leavethe country soon. In my opinion, Paris should be more involved in its  policy  to put an end to the conflict between the central government in Bamako and communities of Azawad. Moreover, it seems that France could reinforce its presence in Niger in order to closely monitor its interests. But I think that in the future, the real danger will come from Libya. After the defeat of northern Mali, AQIM  and Mujao will surely be moving to Libya. This country offers several advantages for terrorist groups: lack of security, tribalism, availability of weapons of all types and ease of recruitment for new members. The south of Libya is also on the axis of the drugs’ trade. In my opinion, the next basis of terrorist groups in the Sahel will be located in Libya.And Algeria will have to be all the more vigilant on its borders. Moreover, we must learn from previous events, as the terrorist group who attacked In Amenascrossed the Libyan border to Algeria.

Interview by Lilia Blaise