Despite its liberation by French forces in early 2013, Timbuktu is still fighting crime and terrorism. Aside from the presence of security and defence forces, public services are scarce or have only partially returned, and armed groups proliferate. Our reporter returned to this city full of history, an intellectual centre of Islam, which still bears the scars of jihadist occupation and where UN peacekeepers are trying their best to keep the peace.
For more than 700 years, Timbuktu, the "Mysterious City", has been a key location for camel caravans. Before the Islamists seized control of it in 2012, this historical city in central Mali, on the edge of the Sahara desert, also attracted tourists from around the world. Since its liberation at the end of January 2013 after the intervention of French forces, Timbuktu has had a new lease of life, but the city is still struggling to recover from the dark period when Sharia law was applied to the letter. Ten months of repression, imprisonment, looting, rape and destruction – in particular of mausoleums classified as UNESCO World Heritage Sites – have left deep wounds.
Our report provides a rare overview of daily life for residents of the "Pearl of the Desert". Yehia, Mahamane and the other Malians we met denounce the insecurity that has taken root at the gates of the city and elsewhere in the region. Criminal attacks and bombings are increasing on the main roads, which are vital to the local economy. However, the police, gendarmes and national guard constantly patrol this famed city torn apart by violence. And 3,000 UN peacekeepers are deployed alongside a unit of the French army and the Malian defence forces, in order to fight against terrorist holdouts, drug trafficking and rampant crime.
Given the very real risk of kidnapping and murder, our exclusive report was made possible thanks to the armed protection of the UN’s MINUSMA peacekeepers.