On Friday, Bamako flashed into the European media’s consciousness. In the early morning, men with automatic weapons had arrived at the Malian capital’s Radisson Blu hotel. Shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’, they killed two security guards and took 170 staff and guests hostage. It was the third attack of its kind this year. The first was at La Terrasse restaurant in Bamako on 7 March, where five people died; the second, on 7 August, was at the Hotel Byblos in central Mali. Thirteen people died.
In his film Timbuktu, Abderrahmane Sissako shows a traditional Muslim society overrun by outsiders claiming they have the God-given authority to tell everyone what to do. The film is inspired by the 2012 takeover of much of Northern Mali by jihadist and other rebel groups. It is both specific to its setting and raises questions about struggles playing out across the Muslim world. I can't think of another creative work that takes such an imaginative, subtle, assured look at Islamist militancy and its effects.
Bruce Whitehouse in the LRB, 30 August 2012: What does Mali’s spectacular slide from celebrated democratic model to failed state augur for the rest of Africa? The number of electoral democracies on the continent has fallen from 24 to 19 in the last seven years. It may be that Mali is a portent of state collapse to come, as the façade of democracy erodes, exposing the informal government mechanisms that really run the show. What if, as the historian Stephen Ellis has argued, the increasing fragility of African states is ‘an early sign of a wider problem with the system of international governance’ built after World War Two? Western powers are discovering that in Africa, as in Afghanistan, there are limits to their ability to impose or even reform state systems.