Mali conflict robs displaced children of school

Not a single school in Segou admitted displaced children. (File/AFP)
Updated 06 October 2019

Mali conflict robs displaced children of school

  • Militant groups are closing schools down in Mali
  • Recently they attacked two military camps and killed 38 soldiers

SEGOU, Mali: In a better world, nine-year-old Oumou Tomboura would have already had several years of schooling behind her and be able to write, read and count.
But in Mali, education is another casualty of conflict.
When the new academic year began last week, Oumou sat not on a classroom bench but on a mat outdoors in the southern-central town of Segou, chopping onions and tomatoes for the next meal.
Her family is among tens of thousands to have fled militant groups working their way southwards from the desert north to central Mali in a seven-year-old insurgency, battling the army and its allies.
Six months ago, Oumou’s mother, Fatouma Dja, 29, left the dangerous village of Mamba, finding refuge for her three children 200 kilometers away.
“Of course I would like her to go to school, but it isn’t possible,” Dja said.
“When Oumou was old enough to go to school in Mamba, jihadists came and threatened the teachers and the school was closed. So she never went,” Dja said wearily, bearing her youngest child on her back.
Renowned for venerable centers of learning and trade down the centuries such as Timbuktu on the southern edge of the Sahara and for a remarkable musical heritage, Mali is badly battered by the revolt.
A fresh blow came this week with the deadliest militant raids of the insurgency on two military camps in central Mali, where 38 soldiers were declared killed and dozens missing.
In Segou, not a single school admitted displaced children alongside the town pupils on Tuesday, when classes resumed.
The situation in Segou is overwhelming — more than 20,000 people have taken refuge there, and Mali is a desperately poor nation.
But Abdoulaye Diallo, a member of Segou’s Educational Action Committee, which oversees primary schooling in the town, said displaced families should not despair.
“The displaced should come and register with us, so we can point them to a school that will take them,” he said.
Dja said she was not informed of this.
In any case, she was busy doing her sums, totting up the cost of new clothes, shoes and school supplies. “It will cost 50,000 CFA francs ($83) and I don’t have that,” she said, lowering her eyes.
The new school year will be just as hard for those who stayed behind.
One school in three has shut down in the Mopti region, which is most affected by raids from militants loyal to ethnic Fulani — or Peul — preacher Amadou Koufa. The raids prompt retaliatory violence by self-proclaimed community defense militias.
Across Mali, 920 schools are listed as closed, more than two-thirds of them in the three central regions — Mopti, Segou and Koulikoro.
At the local education authority in Segou, regional director Itous Ag Ahmed Iknan, said he had just been informed of dramatic events in the village of Souba.
The previous week, eight militants had gone there, where they preached for 50 minutes.
“In their preaching, they insisted that schools be closed,” he said.
“The army has to come back, so that the zone can be secured, otherwise the schools will not re-open.”
French military intervention in 2013 drove militants forces out of key northern towns including Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal, and Paris today lends military support to the Malian army and regional troops of the G5 Sahel force set up to counter insurgents.
Militant forces have steadily moved into the center, usually adopting guerilla tactics. Violence by armed groups has also led to school closures in neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger, according to the UN.
The Bamako government and international organizations have responded with lessons by radio, a framework of psychiatric support to help children affected by trauma or post-traumatic stress, and ad-hoc learning centers in villages and camps.
For Modibo Galy, a Malian researcher at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands, “in the eyes of the Amadou Koufa group, schools are the incarnation of Western culture, a symbol of the Westerners they are fighting.”
“Teachers are civil servants who sometimes come from outside the region,” Galy said. “They may become suspected of passing information to the army, of being spies.”
Under this intense pressure, teachers often quit, one by one, and the school’s lifeblood can drain away.


Jailed UK-Iranian Zaghari-Ratcliffe is ‘chess piece’: husband

Updated 17 min 3 sec ago

Jailed UK-Iranian Zaghari-Ratcliffe is ‘chess piece’: husband

  • Ratcliffe said there was a 'gap' between him and the government over its tactics
  • Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested at Tehran airport in April 2016

LONDON: The husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian woman jailed in Tehran, on Thursday said his wife was being used as a “chess piece,” following talks with Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Speaking from Downing Street after his meeting, Richard Ratcliffe said there was a “gap” between him and the government over its tactics.
“I think there remains that gap between my sense that the government needs to be tougher with Iran, alongside improving relations generally, and the Foreign Office instinct to not have things escalate,” he told reporters.
“I don’t think I have come away thinking Nazanin is coming out tomorrow or even next week.”
Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested at Tehran airport in April 2016 after visiting relatives in Iran with her young daughter.
She worked for the Thomson Reuters Foundation — the media organization’s philanthropic arm — at the time.
Her family say Johnson jeopardized her case by mischaracterizing her job at the time.
Iranian authorities convicted her of sedition — a charge Zaghari-Ratcliffe has always contested — and she is serving a five-year jail term.
Her case has unfolded amid escalating tensions between Tehran and the West, particularly the United States and Britain.
But Ratcliffe believes it is particularly linked to London’s failure to return £400 million ($500 million, 450 million euros) owed to Tehran for a 1970s tank deal.
Ratcliffe said Thursday that his wife was “being held hostage” and used as a “chess piece.”
“That wasn’t disputed in there,” he said. “The UK obviously is wary of that tightrope it is walking between the US and Europe in Iran relations.
“I was saying ‘I think this is different’. This is a global norm, that actually we all uphold universal values where hostage-taking shouldn’t be happening.”
Ratcliffe had previously blamed Johnson for making his wife’s case worse by mistakenly stating, when he was foreign minister, that Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been training journalists while visiting Iran.
The pair “didn’t talk about the past” on Thursday, he said.
Johnson “was very clear that he was committed in what he was doing... and that if there was anything they could do almost within reason, that they were ready to do it,” Ratcliffe added.
“I don’t doubt his personal commitment to Nazanin.”