NEWSLETTER - March 7, 2013
Dear Friends of Caravan to Class,
The news on Timbuktu and Mali continues to be an important part of the global news cycle.
Liberation of Timbuktu and Recent Events
Only days after the French liberated Timbuktu and much of Northern Mali, they reported that they would leave soon. However, as events have unfolded, they, and the rest of the world, have come to realize how tightly linked Ansar Dine, the group of Islamic militants that took over Northern Mali, was with Al Qaida. As a result, the French will likely not leave until either a UN peacekeeping force arrives or they are able to establish a very secure cordon in the north of the Sahara Desert.
Associated Press discovered several documents from senior Al Qaida leadership, proving the extremely close ties between Ansar Dine and Al Qaida. Unbelievably, one document, from senior Al Qaida leadership, admonished the militants in Timbuktu for their overly harsh rule of the local people, claiming that they should have eased into their position as rulers in order to gain more followers to their violent form of Jihad. Another more comical document found in Timbuktu lists, in Arabic, 22 ways to avoid a drone attack.
Unfortunately, we have reason to believe that Al Qaida was using one of our cement school buildings, as it is one of the very few cement buildings in that part of the desert, not far from Timbuktu. We will know more when Caravan to Class' Hamadou Toure returns from his fact-finding trip to Timbuktu. This trip will help us develop a plan of action to, hopefully, reopen our schools shortly.
The good news is that the French, along with African forces, comprised of principally Chadian soldiers, have been battling Ansar Dine/Al Qaida militants mostly near the Algerian border and near the cities of Gao and Kidal. The MNLA, Tuareg separatists, who previously conspired with Ansar Dine during the initial takeover of Northern Mali, are now collaborating with the French to wipe out Ansar Dine. They have been effective. Al Qaida confirms the death of Abu Zeid, who was one of the most senior Al Qaida leaders, after Osama Bin Laden, and was the head of Al Qaida's operations in Africa.
In addition, while unconfirmed, it is widely believed that another senior Al Qaida, Jihadist, Moktar Belmoktar, responsible for significant death and destruction, as the mastermind of the Algerian Gas Plant hostage crisis that left more than 30 foreign hostages dead, was also killed recently. Belmoktar, known as the Fantom by security forces worldwide, is an almost mythical figure of in the Sahara Desert, an Alergian Jihaddist who reportedly went to Afghanistan to fight the Russians while still a teenager. He has been responsible for all of the trafficking in the Sahara, including hostage-taking, for the past 15 years.
Through much of the fighting in the far northern parts of the Sahara Desert, during the past weeks, Timbuktu has been peaceful and quiet with signs of residents returning to normal life being present everywhere. For the North to truly have a chance at peace, Mali itself will need to get its act together. The government is still very fragile and it is widely talked about in Mali that if the French had not intervened, there would have been another Coup. Clearly, the international community will have to demand that Mali brings stability to the political/governing process before receiving additional aid. Part of this stability of political process will have to address legitimate grievances of the Tuareg community and Northern Mali. It is time that Mali realizes that if they do not prioritize the development of the North, it will ultimately lose the north either to a Sudan-like split or a violent takeover again. Caravan to Class hopes to play our small part in development of the North by bringing literacy to the deserving children of Northern Mali.
As we speak, Caravan to Class' Mr. Hamadou Toure is in Timbuktu for two weeks conducting a full review of the seven villages where Caravan to Class has schools. He will meet with the village leaders, parents, authorities in Timbuktu, the UN World Food Program, Ministry of Education, as well as other government officials. On the basis of Hamadou's report, Caravan to Class will develop a plan of action, which we will share with you, to resume our mission of education in the villages near Timbuktu.
In the meantime
TurtleWill, a charitable organization that recently closed, has been supporting some Timbuktu refugees in Burkina Faso, through Caravan to Class. Moussa Ag Elmoctar, from a village in Timbuktu and a refugee in Burkina Faso, has started a school at their refugee compound for some of the younger children that the Burkina Faso Education Ministry does not have places for. We hope that they will be able to return to Timbuktu one day soon and start an officially sanctioned school with the help of Caravan to Class.
What you can do
We are so grateful for all the support you have shown for Caravan to Class' mission of bringing literacy to some of the poorest and most neglected communities in northern Mali. Your donations have helped to educate the unfortunate, yet deserving, children living in a region torn by conflict.
We need your help to spread our message! Please ask your friends, family, and colleagues to join our cause and like our Caravan to Class Facebook page. We plan to use our Facebook page to continue posting information on the situation in Timbuktu, human interest stories, updates on our progress of reopening schools. We need your help to reach a larger audience. Please also consider asking your friends to like our Facebook page. We appreciate each and every one of you helping to spread awareness of our mission to provide fundamental education in an underserved yet culturally rich area of the world, which centuries ago was a leading center of learning.
Thank you again for inspiring us to continue our fight for literacy in Timbuktu.
Barry Hoffner, Founder and Executive Director of Caravan to Class