War is also a field for photojournalists who try to tell stories through pictures. Some of them, far from Gao’s battles try to show daily life in the country. But they are not the only ones, bloggers, citizens and NGO’s as well also post pictures on the social network. Here are a Twitter pics’s review of pictures behind the war.
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.
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
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.
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.
«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.
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
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.
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.
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.
To know more about the conflict, here is the timeline made by the New York Times about the crisis in Mali.