“I have mixed feelings”, my friend told me last night. “Sometimes I think Bamako is full of life, vibrant and exciting”. “Other times”, he went on to say, “I think it’s a disaster”.
Bamako has been defined as one of the fastest growing African cities, and it is definitely noticeable. Although most big cities in Africa are congested, polluted, dusty and overcrowded, Bamako’s ascent to massive urbanisation truly resembled an explosion. Of people, cars, mopeds, houses. Bamako itself became overwhelmed by the masses flooding into its streets. The city is so vast one truly wonders where Bamako ends and where the rest of Mali begins. Bamako, meaning “the city of the three caimans”, was rather unknown to the international community until 2012, when the world’s attention was directed to it and we were all forced to look it up on a map. “Mali, uh”. “Oh, Timbuktu is in Mali?”.
Although the northern regions of the country were the worst hit by the rebel uprisings of the Tuareg-led separatists and the various jihadist groups (see my previous blog post, “North”), southern Mali, of which Bamako is part, was hit by a different “version” of the conflict. Bamako was flooded with IDPs fleeing the northern regions and hit by a coup d’état in March of 2012, which severely destabilised the capital, mirroring the unrest in the rest of the country. According to UNHCR data from the end of last year, there were 254,800 internally displaced persons (IDPs) within the country, of which an estimated 50 to 70 thousand live in improvised housing in the capital. There are no refugee camps in the urban area, which often means that IDPs are forced to live in appalling conditions.
Sini Sanuman moves very swiftly and comfortably within the confines of Bamako due to its vast experience in the city; many communities are already familiar with the team, and the team are familiar with them. This is a great advantage for Sini Sanuman as the task is facilitated by the already strong relationship and trust that was built through the years. The situation in Bamako today, however, is far more complex than in the past.
Our animators (community outreach persons) have begun working with local communities to lead workshops on gender-based violence, and it is through this means that they are able to identify survivors to refer to our reintegration centre to benefit from training and psycho-social support. Our centre will officially be opening very soon, but survivors have already been identified. The demand is great, and the cases that our animators encounter are primarily IDPs survivors of rape by rebels, the military or their own family members as well as survivors of sexual violence at the time of the coup d’état in Bamako and the subsequent general unrest. The south, and Bamako in particular, was affected by a far quieter conflict and went through more subtle, yet still devastating, violence, often perpetrated by national authorities.
The stories that have come back to us in the office are difficult to repeat. Rodrigue Dembelé, one of our best animators, told me of stories that, despite his years of experience, brought him to tears. A woman being raped by four men in front of her husband, who was being forced to watch, two sisters gang-raped by a group of eight men, a woman who cannot bring herself to love her rape-conceived child. The trauma of these women and men is great, but their major concern remains secrecy.
Bamako is a micro-cosmos of all that happened in Mali in the past few years. Northern Mali has been brutally attacked by different groups, but the scars that the South bears are equally as deep.
Posted By Giorgia Nicatore
Posted Aug 20th, 2014