As many of you know, a crisis has been unfolding in Mali for several months now. In March 2012, a group of military officers staged a coup, dissolving the current government, and sending the president into exile just weeks before elections were to be held. The coup has been widely condemned by many Malians, and by foreign governments in Africa, Europe, and the West. In April, a group of Touareg rebels and Islamist militants captured three of Mali’s regional centers in the north (Gao, Timbuktu, Taoudenni).
The Tuaregs are an ethnic group in Mali’s north, and groups of Tuaregs have staged a number of rebellions against the central government over the past century. However, it seems that the Touareg revolutionaries have largely beens swept aside by Islamist groups Ansar Dine and Al Qaeda in the Magreb who seek to impose a strict form of sharia law heretofore unknown in Mali.
Islamist groups have engaged in jihadism, terrorism and arms trafficking, and committed atrocities in the northern Malian cities of Timbuktu, Gao, and Douentza. Recent reports have indicated widespread human rights abuses. The UN reports that as many as 450,000 Malians have fled their homes for refugee camps in Mauritania and Niger, or to seek shelter with friends or family in southern Mali. In October 2012, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution urging a military action to remove Islamists that are terrorizing the population in the northern Mali.
How does all of this affect our work?
First, rest assured that none of our volunteers or collaborators is in harm’s way. Our current school construction projects are in the Sikasso region, well away from the violence in the north. For 2012, we are planning to break ground on a new school in the southern part of the Segou region, which is also far from the violence.
Second, we plan to continue our fundraising and construction projects as usual. We feel that our work is more important now than ever. Following the coup, most non-governmental organizations and foreign governments have withdrawn all aid other than essential humanitarian aid. This has meant the loss of jobs for many, and impacted local economies.
Our president and super-volunteer Judy Lorimer usually travels to Mali in November each year. Due to the current situation, she is postponing her trip annual trip until at least January, while keeping tabs on the situation and talking to our friends in Mali. While northern Mali is unsafe for travel, in the capital and southern regions, for many life goes on as usual. There have been several protests in the capital Bamako, mostly peaceful, although there have been a few instances of violence. In fact, one recent article indicated that gold and cotton producers (two of Mali’s largest exports) are doing well due to high prices on the international marketplace.
Malians need our help now more than ever.
The conflict has created a refugee crisis. While many northerners have fled to cities in the south, many others living in refugee camps across the border in Mauritania and Niger. Each of these countries is dealing with food shortages, and conditions for refugees are extremely difficult, with poor sanitation that can lead to outbreaks of cholera and other diseases. Please consider making a donation to one of the organizations that is providing aid directly to refugees:
- Catholic Relief Services
- Doctors without Borders (Médecins sans Frontières).
- International Committee of the Red Cross (choose Niamey – covers Mali and Niger).
- Relief International