I was lucky enough to be given the chance to visit Laayoune and Bou’Craa in Western Sahara with the International Women’s Media Foundation. I produced this video about whether the benefits of the territory’s rich phosphate and fishing resources are being shared with the population.
I was delighted to be asked to author and produce two half hour documentaries for BBC World Service, one on how religious faith in Mali has been affected by the crisis of the last year, the other about how Christianity, Islam and animism peacefully co-exist in Burkina Faso. Listen again here – search for Beyond the War:
The chaos of the last year has had a real impact on the lives of many slaves and ex-slaves in northern Mali – this article featured on the Guardian website
Most recent reports suggest that not all of the manuscripts held at the Ahmed Baba Institute in Timbuktu have been destroyed. While of course it’s a tragedy that any of these amazing ancient texts could have been burned by Islamists as they retreated from the town, I believe it shows that some members of the Timbuktu community have stood up to the Islamists.
When I was last in Mali in October I wrote a piece for the Africa Report about what was happening to the thousands of manuscripts in the city. At the time I found it frustrating that even the owners of private libraries (such as the Mama Haidar library which holds some 40,000 texts) seemed not to know what was happening to the books or whether they were safe. In hindsight I think it means they were withholding information in order to ensure that outraged newspaper headlines making comparisons with the Taliban’s destruction of Bamiyan would not provoke the Islamists.
The Timbuktu manuscripts rightly deserve the universal attention they are receiving – they are truly magical and reflect the town’s unique position as an ancient centre of learning in the Islamic world. They recall the days of the great Malian king Kanka Moussa who wowed the world when he travelled to Mecca in the 15th century in a caravan laden with riches and gold from Mali’s famous mines.
Hopefully now the world’s attention is turned on the ancient ‘lost’ city of Timbuktu and all its mystical legends – and most importantly the citizens’ attempts to protect this irreplacable heritage – there will be an understanding that suggesting Mali is a fertile breeding ground for the extremists who took over the north only demonstrates a woefully superficial knowledge of Mali’s long and fascinating history.
Until March this year, Mali was best known for being a peaceful haven in a bad West African neighbourhood, famous for its countless amazing musicians including Salif Keita, Toumani Diabete and Tinariwen. Now it’s better known as ‘West Africa’s Afghanistan’. So what are Malian musicians doing to promote peace? On my last trip to Mali in September I spoke to Ousmane Toure, one of the leaders of ‘Sofas (Warriors) of the Republic…Listen here:
And the song ‘Ca Suffit’ (that’s enough!) is here:
It was great to get back to Mali finally after being away for too long. I used to be based in Bamako from 2007-8 as BBC correspondent, but I left then because the country was peaceful and calm. It was with a heavy heart that I flew in over the shimmering Niger river where once upon a time it was safe to take a pirogue all the way up to Timbuktu! It was a great and fascinating trip, I was mostly focusing on the cultural response to the crisis – what singers, artists, historians and writers think…. putting some of my work up now
I was also delighted to be named as one of the top 100 female tweeters by Foreign Policy magazine
I was very pleased recently to realise a page has been set up to list all the work I’ve done for the Guardian over the last year