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Africa/Global: Changing "the Media"

AfricaFocus Bulletin
December 1, 2015 (151201)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"I've thought a lot about the outrage over unequal media coverage when it comes to attacks in the Western world vs death in 'other' black and brown countries. I cringed when Barack Obama called the Paris attacks an attack on 'all humanity'--as if brutal attacks in Pakistan, Lebanon, Nigeria, Kenya and Somalia and Mexico are not quite up to that benchmark. I agree that we in the media need to do a better job ... [but] I can't help but think that the 'Why didn't the media care about _____' stories will come, generate outrage clicks and shares, and pass, without people really taking the time to examine their own media consumption habits. ... the stories were written, you just didn't click." - Karen Attiah, Nov. 17, 2015

As Washington Post digital editor Karen Attiah notes, there are solid grounds for outrage at unequal media coverage of deaths in different parts of the world. But the outrage often comes without a differentiated analysis of "the media," and failure to recognize that each of us can have some effects on changing that coverage. Granted that those who can make the most difference are the media gatekeepers and editors who decide priorities for coverage on a daily basis. But "the media" most of us have access to today include not only the so-called "mainstream media," but also many other forms of media less restricted by gatekeepers, such as blogs, Facebook, Youtube, and many more.

Readers and viewers can affect the reach of both mainstream and other media by clicking, sharing, and other forms of multiplier actions. In this digital age, mainstream editors must also pay attention to click counts, and you can have influence by "boosting" good articles by good journalists, not just complaining about the bad ones.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains excerpts from an outstanding set of articles on the attack in Bamako, Mali, from one prominent mainstream media outlet, The Washington Post, in the weeks following Karen Attiah's Facebook post cited above. So if you care about Bamako as well as Paris, read these excerpts and also click to read the full articles on The Washington Post website.

For previous articles by Karen Attiah in the Washington Post, visit

See in particular for related comment on the media:

"How Western media would cover Baltimore if it happened elsewhere," by Karen Attiah, April 30, 2015

"Stop being angry at Western media for 'ignoring' Boko Haram," by Karen Attiah, Jan. 16, 2015

Another related article on Mali appeared in the Washington Post on Nov. 30. "After this month’s attack in Bamako, what do we know about fundamentalist Islam in Mali?," by Sebastian Elischer

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on peace and conflict issues, visit

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++

Facebook post by Karen Attiah, Nov. 17, 2015

I've thought a lot about the outrage over unequal media coverage when it comes to attacks in the Western world vs death in "other" black and brown countries. I cringed when Barack Obama called the Paris attacks an attack on "all humanity"--as if brutal attacks in Pakistan, Lebanon, Nigeria, Kenya and Somalia and Mexico are not quite up to that benchmark. I agree that we in the media need to do a better job capturing that humanity in our stories on a regular basis, not just when an act of mass violence rips lives apart. We need to care about LIFE in countries and cultures other than our own.

I can't help but think that the "Why didn't the media care about _____" stories will come, generate outrage clicks and shares, and pass, without people really taking the time to examine their own media consumption habits. We didn't Ignore Garissa. We didn't ignore Nigeria. Let me echo my colleagues and say, that the stories were written, you just didn't click.

I suggest that for all who are upset at what is perceived as a lack of coverage of places like Kenya, Nigeria, and Lebanon, now would be a good time to find, follow, subscribe to, click on, share the stories of the many journalists who are reporting and writing these stories in the places you are concerned about and who sometimes risk life and limb to do so.

The clicks, the shares, the likes, on stories from Africa, from Latin America, the Middle East--it makes a difference. It tells us in the media that YOU care about these stories.

"Extremists stormed the Radisson hotel in Mali's capital, and at least 20 people are dead. These resources can help you learn more."

by Laura Seay and Kim Yi Dionne

Monkey Cage, Washington Post, Nov. 21

[article includes introduction and an extensive list of resources, with links]

"Mali's president declares state of emergency after deadly hotel attack, National mourning in Mali after gunmen storm luxury hotel,"

by Pamela Constable

Washington Post, Nov. 21, 2015

[Kevin Sieff in Nairobi contributed to this report.]

Bamako, Mali -- On most weekends, every table at the Canoe Club, a stylish riverside bistro and bar, is reserved long in advance. Western diplomats and United Nations staffers rub elbows with Malian officials and business travelers late into the evening, noshing on paella or pizza and enjoying French wine and champagne.

On Saturday, a day after terrorists invaded the luxury Radisson Blu hotel in this poor West African capital, taking 130 people hostage and leaving 21 dead, the Canoe Club was deserted. Idle waiters repolished glasses or refolded linen napkins. Patrick Aleine, the chef and co-owner, sat at the empty bar in a despondent funk.

"This is a disaster," he said, speaking in French. "We have always tried to make foreigners feel at ease and secure here, and we are always full. Today, there is not a single customer. Tomorrow, there is not a single table reserved. I am staying open for now, but if the foreigners don't start coming back, the Malians won't come either. Then we will be finished."

On the surface, the crowded, hardscrabble city of nearly 2 million people appeared to return to normal with astonishing speed so soon after a horrific terrorist attack.

Motorbike traffic clogged the narrow streets and red-dirt alleys. Fishermen poled canoes on the Niger River, which divides the capital. Women with babies on their backs hung laundry outside tin shanties, sold baskets of fruit or ladled out rice and stew at lunch stands. Every few hours, the Muslim call to prayer echoed from mosques scattered across the city.

In the morning, President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita announced a 10-day state of emergency, giving security officials extra powers to enter homes without a warrant and to ban public rallies or marches. He also declared three days of national mourning, acting to tamp down public reaction to the violence. Police and army troops were stationed on many corners, and armored pickup trucks full of combat troops circled the Radisson Blu and other sensitive areas of the city.

Later, the president visited some victims of the hotel attack in a local hospital and toured the hotel, accompanied by Prime Minister Modibo Keita and surrounded by bodyguards. Camera crews, blocked from following them inside, peered at glass and debris strewn across the lobby floor. Amid the scrum, a group of grim-faced Western guests emerged with loads of baggage and were hustled into waiting SUVs by armed escorts, headed out of the country.

From behind a police barricade, a crowd of young men watched the scene. Most said they were Muslim, as are 95 percent of Malians. They expressed anger and consternation at the attack, saying it was the act of terrorists who did not represent their religion. One violent regional jihadist group, the Mourabitounes, has claimed responsibility, and witnesses said that the attackers freed hostages who could recite the Koran.

"This is not good for us or for our country," said Mainanto Mamdu, 21, a mechanic. "There is no meaning to what these terrorists are doing, but it seems they can do whatever they want."

Nafila Dao, 23, who sells cellphones, said the threat of Islamist extremism is "everywhere now, and we cannot stop it. We were taught that Islam is tolerant of all religions and people. These people are just murderers."

There was a jittery tone to every conversation and encounter, an uneasy chill beneath the routine commotion. Many people walked away nervously when asked about the hotel attack. Despite the new security measures, many people seemed to feel that their government was helpless to stop terrorism. Some worried that the close relationship Mali has long enjoyed with its European allies, especially France and Belgium, was at stake.

... [article continues at]

A senior police official, whose squad was among the first to reach the besieged hotel Friday, said Mali and its international allies must work together to fight extremists. "We are facing a menace to all countries and all colors," he said. "I have brave men and they stopped the guests from panicking, but we cannot defeat these groups with force. We have to go deeply into their mentality and their psyche."

"Five things you should know about Friday's terrorist attack in Mali"

by Susanna D. Wing

Monkey Cage, The Washington Post, Nov. 21, 2015

[Susanna D. Wing is associate professor and chair of political science at Haverford College. She is also the author of the awardwinning book, "Constructing Democracy in Africa: Mali in Transition."]

The Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako, Mali, hosted a gathering of first ladies of West Africa when I was staying there in October 2011. The regal, powerful women and their attendants dominated the upscale lobby. The hotel was known for being safe and secure -- a requirement for its diplomatic and business clientele.

In the early morning of Nov. 20, the hotel was the target of a brazen attack in which gunmen breached the security perimeter of the hotel, shot a security guard and then took more than 100 people hostage. Thankfully, most of those hostages escaped. Sadly, many did not. What are the five things you should know about the Mali and the attack on the Radisson Blu?

1. The Bamako and Paris attacks are connected, but analysis should focus less on global terror trends and more on the complicated history of Mali politics. In the wake of the tragic Paris attacks, it is tempting to frame the most recent Bamako attack as connected. While the terrible events in Paris and Bamako are linked because terrorists in both instances crave the attention that such highprofile attacks bring to their project, the Malian attack is part of a more complicated history of insecurity linked to local politics.

Certainly, the Radisson Blu hotel was targeted precisely because it is a favorite among expatriates. Moreover, a video released this past October by Iyad Ag Ghali, leader of Mali-based jihadist organization Ansar Dine, explicitly connects dissatisfaction with Mali's political settlement to attacking Mali's former colonial master, France. In the video, Ag Ghali claimed those who signed the Algiers peace accord -- a recently brokered peace agreement that offered partial autonomy to northern Mali -- had sold out. Ag Ghali also praised the January attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris and called for continued attacks on France.

In recent months, Amadou Koufa, an ally of Ag Ghali, created the Macina Liberation Front (MLF) and has led attacks against the United Nations Mission in Mali. In conjunction with Al Mouraboutin, an alQaeda affiliate led by Moktar Belmoktar, it claimed responsibility for the attack on the Hotel Byblos in Sevaré in central Mali occupied primarily by peacekeepers. The week prior to the attack at the Radisson, embassies called for increased vigilance in Bamako and the capital was placed on a heightened terror alert. Al-Mouraboutin has claimed responsibility for the attack.

2. The French intervention in January 2013 was only effective in the short term. Following the 2012 coup d'état in Mali, the French were able to rapidly retake Northern territory occupied by extremist groups such as Ansar Dine, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), and al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM). Many Malians applauded the French intervention, and a former French diplomat claimed that it was a courageous act on the part of President Francois Hollande. The same diplomat also pointed out that the intervention ignored the root causes of terrorism and "denied the troubling reality of Malian politics." The military response only temporarily dispersed adherents to the rebel groups who then splintered and formed new alliances.

The French Operation Serval and subsequent Operation Barkhane did not include a long-term mandate for achieving stability in Mali. The French left those tricky issues to be sorted out and moved on to focus on regional counter-terrorism. However, the political crisis in Mali is intimately linked to the rise in terrorist activities in the country.

3. Counter-terrorism campaigns in the Sahel prioritize security and not politics. The U.S. State Department, in partnership with USAID and the Department of Defense, has led the Trans-Sahara Counter Terrorism Partnership (TSCTP). The program has suffered from poor management, a lack of coordination and slow disbursement of funds. Some argue that the U.S. program has been a complete failure and, sadly, the French counterterrorism program in the Sahel is modeled on the U.S. war on terror.

Mali President Amadou Toumani Touré promoted the flagship Special Program for Peace, Security and Development in Northern Mali (PSPSDN) to address insecurity in the North. The program focused primarily on bolstering security forces at a time when local populations in the North complained about discrimination by security personnel and a lack of development funding reaching the region. The program was rife with corruption and only served to stir up animosity across the region.

4. The 2015 Algiers Peace Accord was fragile from the start. In June 2015 rebel factions in Mali signed The Algiers Accord with progovernment groups. Few people had much faith that the accords would actually bring peace and be fully implemented. Mali has a long history of peace accords with the Tuareg that have not been fully implemented. These suspicions were proven warranted when a ceasefire was broken nearly immediately. Since the accords were signed, violence has spread southward.

5. Mali's fragile democracy remains rife with tensions. The conflict in Mali today is part of ongoing tensions that go back decades despite the country's democratic reputation. Mali was considered a model democracy prior to the March 2012 coup d'état. Since independence, various Tuareg groups pushed for autonomy and the creation of an independent state of Azawad. The Tuareg are not the only ethnic group living in northern Mali, in fact, they are a minority, which complicates the creation of Azawad.

Even before the crisis in 2012, tensions in the capital had been increasing between those promoting a secular state and those challenging those ideals. The High Islamic Council of Mali gained political legitimacy as President Amadou Toumani Touré became increasingly unpopular. The calls for an Islamic State of Mali, led by Ansar Dine and others, were an extreme version of this complicated tension. In response to the attack on the Radisson Blu, President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita declared three days of national mourning and a 10-day state of emergency. Commenting on the terrorist attack, a cellphone merchant in Bamako, Nafila Dao, proclaimed "We were taught that Islam is tolerant of all religions and people. These people are just murderers."

"Malians defy the threat of terror"

by Pamela Constable

Washington Post, Nov. 22, 2015

[Pamela Constable covers immigration issues and immigrant communities. A former foreign correspondent for the Post based in Kabul and New Delhi, she also reports periodically from Afghanistan and other trouble spots overseas.]

Bamako, Mali -- Church bells pealed and wedding music blared across this West African capital Sunday, as Malians dressed in their vivid holiday best defied the threat of terror and skirted a state of emergency to celebrate the rituals of life.

After visiting the luxury hotel where two gunmen shot and killed 19 people after taking about 130 hostage Friday, Senegal's president Macky Sall said at a news conference Sunday that a meeting of a West African regional organization would be held soon to discuss regional security concerns.

A coalition of separatist groups in northern Mali claimed that the attack on the Radisson Blu Hotel had been aimed at sabotaging peace talks they are holding with the Malian government of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. A critical peace meeting was scheduled to be held at the hotel soon. The group's leader said jihadist groups are trying to destroy the country.

The attack has been claimed by al-Mourabitoun, a violent jihadist group affiliated with al-Qaeda that seeks to drive Western influence from Mali and has been responsible for a number of other deadly assaults in the past several years. But experts said the gunmen, who also died, could be linked to other extremist Islamist groups in the region, a confusing array of shifting leaders and allegiances.

The social and religious outings held across the capital Sunday were congenial but not fully carefree, and the hotel siege was still on everyone's mind. Some foreign church-goers were accompanied by bodyguards, and male wedding guests sat and watched with extra attentiveness as their wives and daughters danced in outdoor tents.

But despite the jolting reminder Friday that Mali and its capital remain vulnerable to a variety of violent groups -- and the announcements Saturday of a 10-day reduction of civil liberties and three days of national mourning -- thousands of people decided not to let grief or anxiety ruin their plans.

From mid-morning on, people streamed into churches to sing and pray, then mingled in the shade afterward to chat. Many women were clad in brilliant patterned gowns and turbans; some men sported loose tunics called fokia, printed with colorful drawings of Jesus and Mary or with phrases from the Bible.

In interviews, some worshipers confined themselves to cautious platitudes about the future being in God's hands. But others offered concerned comments about Islamist violence, which has spread from the country's arid north, threatening the social peace that both minority Christians and majority Muslims have long known in the more developed south.

"It's true that we Christians are especially exposed, but so are moderate Muslims," said Edmund, 60, a retired airline worker wearing a tunic with "Glory, hallelujah" written across it. He asked that his last name not be used. "These terrorists do not speak for God. It is easy for them to indoctrinate young people in our precarious societies, with so much poverty and lack of work, but it is a perversion to promise them a better world through force."

... [article continues at]

Some of the [wedding] celebrations went on for hours, with women in elaborate party costumes singing and dancing traditional welcomes to the groom while the bride was hidden nearby, being attended by friends. At one wedding, an uncle of the bride, dressed in a ceremonial white cap and robe, watched the festivities with a satisfied smile and a close eye on the street.

"We are all troubled by this attack, and we know people are dead, but we must still celebrate the living," said the uncle, a 56-yearold office administrator named Sidib Boubacar. "We are a little limited by the current circumstances," he added, referring to the new security restrictions, "but if we stop what we are doing, it will show we are afraid."

France's war in Mali has not been able to end extremist violence

by Pamela Constable

The Washington Post, Nov. 25, 2015

Bamako, Mali -- Two years after French troops drove jihadist forces from northern Mali, a deadly attack on a luxury hotel has raised concerns that Islamist extremists are gaining ground again in this volatile country, despite a new peace accord among domestic rebel groups.

While Malian and U.N. officials point to the peace agreement as a potential milestone in pacifying the lawless, Arab-dominated north, they also worry that violence could surge again. The weak central government is struggling with a host of challenges: entrenched poverty, drug smuggling, and a mix of growing competition and collaboration among Islamist factions in the West African region.

"Mali today is as fragile as it was before the coup in 2012," said Peter Pham, director of the Africa Center at the Atlantic Council in Washington, referring to the military power grab that occurred as a rebellion in the north gained strength. France intervened the following year, after Islamist fighters seized control of a large chunk of territory.

"The French may have prevented an Islamist takeover, but you can't rebuild a hollowed-out state in two years," Pham said. "The borders are fictional, and there is a fluid and permeable dynamic among jihadist, rebel and criminal groups in the region. We are still playing Whac-A-Mole."

Few people predict that this nation of 17 million people will become an Islamist beachhead again. But both Malian and foreign observers worry that extremist groups based in surrounding countries could still create turmoil, by capitalizing on domestic discontent here and on the momentum from recent terrorist attacks in Paris and elsewhere.

Two jihadist groups have asserted responsibility for last week's attack on the Radisson Blu Hotel, which left at least 20 people dead in the bustling capital, hundreds of miles from the vast desert region where Islamist militias normally operate. Experts differ on the possible motive, with U.N. officials insisting the attack was an effort to derail the peace talks and others suggesting it was part of a new muscle-flexing rivalry between pro-al-Qaeda and proIslamic -State groups in the region.

There also are conflicting opinions about the best way to contain the possible comeback of Islamist extremism after two years of rule by the government of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, which is widely described as democratic but sluggish and corrupt.

Some look to the 8,000-member Malian army to enforce security, although it is thinly spread and in dire need of reform and training as well as equipment and funding, analysts say. Others say the key lies in quickly bringing development, services and jobs to the longabandoned north, calling this the only way to prevent large numbers of unemployed young Muslim men -- as well as older ex-rebels from various tribal separatist groups -- from being recruited by wellfinanced jihadist groups.

"It is a great achievement that the combatant groups have been brought together and speak with one voice, but we need to bring peace dividends -- water, electricity, roads, schools -- so the population sees peace making a difference in their lives," Mongi Hamdi, the U.N. special representative for Mali, said in an interview. "That is the glue that will keep people attached to peace."

Mali is heavily dependent on the international community for security and economic survival. A U.N. peacekeeping force with more than 10,000 troops is stationed here, and a smaller French counterterrorism force has been based here since 2013. Large amounts of development aid have come from the United States, France and other countries. Some critics say the funding has been partly wasted through corruption, but Hamdi and others argue that even more is needed to reinforce the writ of the state in conflict areas.

Until now, Mali has been viewed largely as suffering from the predations of extremist groups spawned in neighboring countries. Libyan militants thronged into northern Mali after dictator Moammar Gaddafi was overthrown in 2011, and a notorious Algerian jihadist leader named Mokhtar Belmokhtar formed the group al-Mourabitoun that most experts believe planned the Nov. 20 hotel attack.

... [article continues at]

"There is still a positive peace dynamic, but the state is weak and corrupt, and we have only had a democratic government for two years," said Mahamadou Camara, a magazine editor and former press official in the Keïta administration. "The greatest risk we face today is that the positive momentum will reverse into a new spiral of violence."

"This is what citizens say is needed to end Mali's insecurity"

by Jaimie Bleck, Abdoulaye Dembele and Guindo Sidiki

Monkey Cage, The Washington Post, Nov. 27, 2015

Jaimie Bleck is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame. She is also an American Council of Learned Societies fellow currently conducting research in Mali. Her book "Education and Empowered Citizenship in Mali" was published earlier this year.

Abdoulaye Dembele is the national coordinator for the Farafina Institute in Mali.

Sidiki Guindo is the director of the GISSE Institute for Public Opinion Polling in Mali and a professor at ENSAE (l'Ecole Nationale de la Statistique et l'Analyse Economique) in Dakar, Senegal.

On Nov. 20, the world's eyes turned to Mali once again as 21 people were killed during an attack at the Radisson hotel in Bamako, the country's capital. Many more were trapped in the building until Malian Special Forces led a joint raid and killed two assailants. Two different groups have claimed credit for the attack and two arrests were made Thursday, but at the time of writing there is still speculation as to which actors were responsible and an unspecified number of accomplices are still at large.

The siege of the Radisson was only the most recent attack against civilians in a wave of instability that has struck the country since an insurgency began in northern Mali in early 2012. Mali continues to face widespread insecurity despite a French intervention (in 2013), the restoration of presidential and legislative elections (also 2013), the ongoing presence of more than 12,000 international troops, and the recent signing of peace accords in June 2015. An increase in attacks in Mali against U.N. forces over the last two years has earned the peacekeeping mission there the dubious distinction of being the "world's most dangerous."

In trying to understand the crisis, we return to the summer of 2013 -- before the elections that ushered Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (IBK) in as president -- and ended more than a year of junta rule. At that time, more than 500,000 citizens had fled Northern Mali. We surveyed nearly 900 internally displaced persons who fled to Bamako as well as Sévaré and Mopti, twin cities that acted as an unofficial dividing line between the government-controlled south and the north at the height of its rebel occupation. We note that our study population is not representative of all who fled; for instance, they are typically more pro-government than those who fled to camps in Mauritania.

When asked to name solutions to the crisis in Mali, the largest percentage of displaced people -- over 40 percent -- referenced the importance of improving governance and reducing corruption. In other words, the most popular idea to resolve the crisis pointed not to a security response but to government reform.

... [article continues at]

As the Malian government and international donors seek to understand what led to the attack and how to prevent other similar tragedies in the future, the testimony of ordinary citizens suggests the need for a broader reflection on the strength and evolution of state institutions. While even the strongest states are vulnerable to these acts of terror, forgetting the importance of a capable and well-governed state risks trapping Mali in a cycle of crisis.

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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