Timbuktu, Mali and the civil war
As a child of the 60’s I’d heard of Timbuktu long before I realized that it was an ancient African city with a rich history that rivals anywhere in the world. For children, and I suspect many adults too, Timbuktu, the West African capital of Mali was a mythical far away land much like the lost city of 'Atlantis' or Lewis Carrol’s ‘Neverland’.
But Timbuktu is a real place and is back on our lips again as the French Government take up arms to support Mali’s fledging democracy against the growing military presence of Islamic forces.
I’m not going to jump to any conclusions because I know far too little about the country and its present situation. I’m sure it's complex, often tribal and with the combustible mix of colonial legacy, religious clashes, and Mali’s strategic position, untangling this present conflict will not be easy.
What we do know for sure is that over the centuries, Mali and its surrounding areas have been fought over as a key prize of Africa. The Malian-Mauritanian frontier, for example was a powerful trading state from about A.D. 700 to 1075. The Malinké Kingdom of Mali which had its origins on Niger River in the 11th century. Expanding rapidly in the 13th century under the leadership of Soundiata Keita, it reached its height about 1325.
The Mali Empire was destroyed by Moroccan’s in 1591. And Timbuktu became both the regions commercial and Islamic faith centre. The buildings and priceless artifacts are envied the world over.
The European rush for Africa saw French intervention in the 1880’s. Mali would become a French colony for the next 80 years.
In 1960 Mali began its journey of independence. As all fledgling sovereign states, Mali has been beset with problems but by 2000 it seemed Malians had turned the corner with democratic elections and a growing economy.
But once again Mali’s future is in doubt. The West see the rebels and their supposedly Al-Queda connections as an African –Afghanistan-. Sounds ominous!
It’s difficult for us here in the UK to get the full picture. I was however, encouraged to see neighboring African countries coming together for an African response. And whilst that may not be perfect, at least it's Africans dealing with an African problem.