Malian widow Mariama Sow, 30, and her three children are trying to find some semblance of normalcy in their lives in Dakar, Senegal, since they left the historic city of Timbuktu in northern Mali last June to escape the Islamist occupation.
One of Amina Diallo’s sons, 14-year-old Salif, has been missing since August last year. She thinks Islamists kidnapped him while he was on his way to the market in their hometown of Gao, in northern Mali, and recruited him as a child soldier.
As the Malian army and its foreign partners are slowly securing northern cities in the West African nation, it is still unclear how the country will turn its back on the political crisis that led to the March 2012 military coup.
Fatimata Wallet Haibala sits among a group of women and teenage girls under a tent, her handicapped boy on her lap. The scene could be a rural picture of a Tuareg gathering in the desert. But the mother mother of five resides in a refugee camp in Goudebo, Burkina Faso, almost 100 kilometres from their home in Mali.
Despite uncertainty and the ongoing conflict, Mali will work to rebuild and safeguard its cultural heritage, says the West African country’s minister of culture Bruno Maïga.
Development workers and aid strategists are urging the U.S. government to adopt a comprehensive strategy for addressing root problems in “fragile states”, warning that an outdated focus on military intervention is draining resources and exacerbating security problems.
Soldiers belonging to the African-led International Support Mission to Mali continue to stream into this West African nation, as several hundred troops have already been deployed to secure towns across the country.
At the entrance to the Evangelical church in Mopti, central Mali, military soldiers stood on either side of the door as Pastor Luc Sagara greeted his parishioners for Sunday mass.
Communities in northern Mali are in need of humanitarian intervention following the recent military operations in Gao and Timbuktu, leading non-governmental organisations to call for deliveries of food aid, fuel and even currency notes.
“We know they are close. We do not feel safe,” mutters Allassane Traoré, as he stares down the road on which the Islamists entered the town of Diabaly in central Mali, almost two weeks ago.
Malians, including students and businesses owners, are donating money to their military’s costly war against armed Islamic groups that have occupied the north of this impoverished West African country and committed atrocities against local populations.
As Washington broadens its military “footprint” in the Sahel region of Africa, U.S. analysts are urging the administration of President Barack Obama to devote more effort to diplomacy, especially in Mali.
A column of Chadian soldiers – members of the region's most battle-hardened army – moved north from Niger's capital Niamey on Tuesday to join French and African forces battling to free northern Mali from the grip of armed Islamic groups.
U.S. Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta has applauded France's surprise airstrikes on Islamist rebels in northern Mali that began late last week and continued over the weekend.
Even as U.S. and French officials suggest that a United Nations resolution on military intervention in Mali could come by the end of the week, concerns are rising that such action could do far more harm than good.