As conflict in Mali globalizes, trials filmed in “Bamako” (2006) worth re-viewing

lemondeThe news out of Paris is all about Mali, as evidenced by this screenshot from LeMonde. That’s because last week France sent troops to fight rebels who’ve held the north for months. It did so on request of the government that still holds power in the southern region where Mali’s capital, Bamako, is located. (The BBC reported that other countries, in the West and in Africa, are lending support to the French efforts, while a New York Times article contended that U.S. missteps helped fuel the crisis.)

Groups holding the north are said to include AQIM, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Unrest began last April, and drew global attention because of last summer’s destruction of a UNESCO World Heritage site – adobe Timbuktu tombs held sacred by some Muslims but loathed by persons who’d seized the city. In October, a U.N. official alleged that rebels were “buying child soldiers,” among many other human rights offenses.

President François Hollande said (my translation) of last week’s decision:

‘France will respond … strictly within the boundaries of U.N. Security Council resolutions, on request of Malian authorities fighting armed Islamist groups.’

France once was the colonizer of much of West Africa – Mali won independence in 1960 – and LeMonde reports that although there’s evidence of approval in Bamako, an array of Algerian publications have decried what some characterized as a return to a kind of colonialism. These differences of opinion invite further inquiry.

bamakoA great starting place is Bamako, a 2006 film that portrays 2 trials unfolding within the walls of a neighborhood compound. (IntLawGrrl Karen E. Bravo’s review here.) One is a figurative trial – that of a husband, wife, and daughter pulled in different directions by the challenges and lures of modernization. The stops-and-starts of modernization also crop up in the compound: one night, many cluster around the lone TV to watch a Western shoot-’em-up (starring the American actor Danny Glover, a producer of Bamako) titled Death in Timbuktu. The other trial is literal – an outdoor proceeding in which ermine-clad judges hear individual witnesses give evidence in support of an anti-globalization complaint that a partie civile described as “African civil society” has lodged against the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and unnamed other international institutions. Immediately at issue is closure of stops on a once-public railroad, occasioned by the railway’s forced privatization – closure that is said to have deprived many Malians of jobs and transport, and to have sent many on a peril-fraught emigration toward hoped-for work on the other side of the Mediterranean. These trials add layers to understanding of today’s news.

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