News / Africa

A Look Inside Northern Mali

VOA reporter Idrissa Fall details his experiences reporting in Mali after the coup in this special edition of Reporter's Notebook:

"Well it was kind of scary because crossing the border from Niger to Mali you first come to the first checkpoint in an area called Labasanga. You see these young kids 16 to 18 years old with their guns.  Most of the time they look at you.  They don’t ask for papers.  They didn’t check my luggage.  They let us go with my driver and my fixer.  It is how we get inside Gao.  The most scary part was coming inside Gao and looking for rebels. And then you discover the city -- all the major leaders of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb are there.  And that change the whole reporting I was doing.

I was wearing local clothes, I looked like some guy who (1:05) put these Tuareg things on my face so nobody would know who I was.  But the day I went to interview a physician in the hospital and coming out and seeing these guys who look like Pakistanis or Afghanis who were asking who I was, speaking in English, then you get scared.  And when we went out of the hospital, my fixer told me this guy is from Iraq, I was saying, “Well, this is not a rebel-controlled area.  It looks like an area controlled especially by Islamist extremists.”

They are applying what they call Sharia, the Islamic law.  According to the Islamic law, when you steal something or you use drugs, they have the right according to law to cut your right hand [off].  And this kid when I met him, it looked like he lost his mind.  He’s wandering in the city asking for money and so I took pictures of him.  He couldn’t even explain what happened to him.  So he’s there wandering in the streets of Gao.

The churches were down. Nothing was left.  They took off the doors, the windows, everything in the name of Jesus Christ was taken off.  Really people go there to do their toilets [relieve themselves] now inside churches.  And it is the same thing for whatever was restaurants or bars selling alcohol.  Even the cyber cafes that you used to go to access the Internet… they destroyed everything.  It is the same for the banks.  They looted all the banks.  There are no banks working.  And the only bank left was the headquarters of the rebels.  And no money, no Western Union.  It is very, very tough.

The rule of Islamic law is women have to cover [up].  You know the hijab, when you see only the eyes? Now all the young ladies are wearing hijab.  They got the message, because if you don’t do it, you’re going to be in trouble.  On the other hand, I met this courageous woman.  Her name is Nafisatu Maige.  I remember her.  When I interviewed her, she said, "Listen, I used to wear a veil because of my own conviction as a Muslim.  But since the Islamists came and wanted to impose the hijab on me,  I am defying them.  I don’t wear a veil. I don’t wear a hijab.”  She’s driving her motorcycle every day.  Even she allowed herself to go into those meetings only reserved for men.  And she would go there to meet with the chief of security with a guy name Abdul Hakim, and she says she’s ready to die, she’s ready to be killed.  But she will not wear a veil.  Really it is a kind of courage and she was not the only one.

I think it is like Afghanistan, because you have Islamic [law], you have drug trafficking. You have hostages they take.  And the only difference in Afghanistan is that you have a military presence of the international community and there is nobody in the north in Mali.  You may have another Somalia.  You may have another Yemen.
I think we were the first international radio down there.  Being able to go in the field, even sometimes if it is dangerous, even for one day, being able to come back and tell to the world what’s going on there I think is very, very important.

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