We Never Knew Exactly Where: Dispatches From the Lost Country of Mali (Borderlands Book 1)
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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.
business, a bustling metropolis of Fulani and Tuareg herders, Arab and Moor merchants, Bambara, Songhai, and Dogon fishers and farmers. Buildings stand four and five stories high above narrow dirt and asphalt streets that seethe with cars, animals, and people. Young men wheel wooden carts or lead donkeys laden with crates of live chickens, sacks of grain, and dried fish, while women and girls walk gracefully with buckets of water or trays of boiled eggs and dried meat balanced atop their heads.
a natural border, the Bandiagara Plateau and the sandstone cliff country where the plateau ends. Here, Fulani herders mix uneasily with Dogon farmers, each vying for what little productive land is left on this brittle landscape. Later in May, I would drive across this plateau where southern Mali and Azawad meet on parched land of sandstone bluffs broken by patches of yellow grass, dwarf mesquite, and acacia. Reports of rebel raids on villages along the fringes of the plateau were just starting to
successive dropoffs on my right, a few dozen feet here and 100 feet there. The path descended about 500 feet down to a broad sandy field pleasantly shaded by palm trees. A half-mile away we could see cone-shaped mud granaries and a long concrete school building. The Malian flag flew from a pole beside it, though the school was closed. We walked across the field and into a village built of rock slabs broken from the cliffs, and roofs made of thatch from grass or dried millet and corn stalks.
extension, emergency relief, a motor pool, and his personal staff. But now the offices were closed, the staff and vehicles long gone. As prefect over the past five years, Air Zaye had managed state services in the surrounding district for which Koro is the capital. He was one of a handful of officials of the Malian state still at his post in a several-hundred-square-mile area east of the town of Bandiagara. A month earlier he had sent his family away. Even the Malian Republican Guardsmen who
again. By January 2012, the MNLA was alleged to have executed some 60 captured Malian soldiers, while it accused the Malian army of attacking nomad camps, killing women and children, and destroying livestock. Meanwhile, stories of corruption were rife in Bamako and other cities. People talked of farmers losing land without compensation to make way for villas built by ministers, generals, and other luminaries. The March coup was meant to end the frustration, but it was really only the beginning.