We Never Knew Exactly Where: Dispatches From the Lost Country of Mali (Borderlands Book 1)
A masterful blend of reportage and history from one of the world's newest front lines in the war on terror -- the endangered African country of Mali.
What happens when a country suddenly splits in two? In 2012, Mali, once a poster child for African democracy, all but collapsed in a succession of coups and countercoups as Islamist rebels claimed control of the country’s north, making it a new safe haven for al Qaeda. Prizewinning author Peter Chilson became one of the few Westerners to travel to the conflict zone in the following months to document conditions on the ground. What he found was a hazy dividing line between the uncertain, demoralized remnants of Mali’s south and the new statelet formed in the north by jihadist fighters, who successfully commandeered a long-running rebellion by the country’s ethnic Tuareg minority to turn Mali into a new frontier in the fast-morphing global war on terror. Chilson’s definitive account -- the first in the new Borderlands series of ebooks from Foreign Policy magazine and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting -- is a gripping read, taking us back to the founding of French West Africa and right to the very front lines of this contentious new flashpoint.
Escarpment, named for the Dogon town, less than an hour’s drive east of Mopti. It was where the 19th-century Muslim jihadist El Hadj Umar Tall was killed in a broad rebellion against his Toucouleur Empire. Now, these towns, Mopti and Bandiagara, were the only population centers the Malian army held firm on its border with Azawad. I told Dacko what my plans were for driving through the red zone. “You’ll be fine,” he said. “But it is better if you have a fast car. There are bandits now in the
soldier pushed himself to his feet and told me to speak to his sergeant. He showed me to an adjacent room, where I saw the sergeant, a shaven-headed man in desert camouflage hunched over a desk. A bookcase stood behind him, empty but for a plastic bucket. Above the doorway hung a framed image of a white dove. The sergeant, broad shouldered with a broken nose, sat across from two men in green fatigues and caps, occupying wooden chairs. Gray stubble covered their faces. I greeted these men who had
testimonies from refugees who arrived in Mopti later, the rebels drove around Douentza firing guns in the air and raiding homes and shops for cars, appliances, tools, and money. “They broke into my house, shouting, ‘Azawad! Azawad!’” Oumar Dicko, a mechanic who fled to Mopti with his wife and children, told me. “I don’t know what Azawad is.” Across Mali and the rest of Africa many are wondering the same thing. 5 PETER CHILSON • WE NEVER KNEW EXACTLY WHERE Mali’s new northern frontier with
the new power in the north might mean for him and his family, but he kept changing the subject. Now, I decided to be blunt: “You know, they’re talking about sharia law in Timbuktu and across the north,” I said. “Koro is right on the border. Doesn’t that worry you?” Isaac never got cross, but he looked at me now as if I had accused him of something. “Of course we’re worried,” he said. To me it seemed that events in the north were now echoing what had unfolded in this region in the early 19th
to prison in Mali for agitating against the new government. (He was exiled to Morocco, where he died in 1994.) Tuaregs in Niger and Mali have since argued that they have been denied employment, food, and medical resources enjoyed by other ethnic groups, as well as fair treatment by the courts. As a result, talk of a Saharan Tuareg state has pushed beyond the area of Azawad to include parts of Algeria, Burkina Faso, Libya, Mauritania, and Niger as well. Still, by 1998 Mali believed it had