Terror-ists

Mali has an internal conflict that is complex and hard to understand. I have been here for 2.5 years and I still don’t have a great understanding of the who, what, where, why, whens of it all. Every time I think I am making head way in really understanding it all, a new fraction develops, a new nuance comes to light, or a new element is added to the fire.

I’m not going to try and explain the Malian conflict here – because I don’t think I could speak to it in an educated manner. I generally lump the conflict up to: one of the world’s first resource war is taking place in the desert of Mali where water, arable land, and economic opportunities are sparse, education levels are very low, and Islamic extremism is preying on young men who do not see very many options open to them in the future. You add all these factors together and you end up with a cluster-bomb of no good.

My first year in Mali, Bamako was plagued with its first ever terrorist activity. A deadly attack in a popular dance bar. That launched a series of attacks that happened every three months. Though largely, they could be linked to major “wins” by the UN military mission of capturing a rebel town or leader. So the attacks were seen as retaliation and the casualties where caught in a terrible situation of the “wrong place, at the wrong time.”

2016 was silent. People were lulled back to a sense of security, knowing that the threat was ever-present but not really believing that the cycle would continue. And it stayed that way for over a year.

On June 18th of this year however, another hot-spot for foreigners and middle/upper class Malians was attacked by a group of armed terrorists from the group Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen. Scary stuff. Now, I am left with a sense of not knowing if I am in fact in greater danger than I was on June 17th, if I am just more acutely aware of the risk that has always existed, or if I am just giving into the fear that these groups are hoping to cause.

Nonetheless, my life here has changed. I am more aware of where I am, who else is around, what is going on, and how popular an activity might be. I try to stay away from places that are known as “Expat hangouts” and avoid areas where there are lots of marked UN cars. These are the things that make me feel safer here. But, am I just giving into fear. By the very fact that I have changed some of my habits, are the terrorists getting exactly what they want – a sense of control by making people fearful of a looming threat?

Security is such an arbitrary thing – what makes you feel safe may not be the same things as what makes me feel safe. Respecting how someone feels in any given situation is key. Balancing that with not giving in general threats is where things get tricky. But this is still my life. I still go to the grocery store, see friends, go for walks, see live shows, do regular every day things. I just have to do it with a greater intuition, keeping my guard up until I get a real read of a situation. My regular life hasn’t been overly effected – though some of the people I know have been more directly impacted. But giving in and never going anywhere or doing anything only gives the bad guys more power over us. So my own form of personal resistance is to do the things I love, but to do them with extreme caution. Nevertheless we shall persist.

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