The liberation of the main cities of Northern Mali has created a great sense of relief and joy in the country, but the task of reconstruction and reconciliation is huge.
A month after the French offensive, the Malian and African troops have regained control of the main cities in the North, previously occupied by Islamist armed groups. The French-led operation began on Jan. 11, following an attempt by Islamist militants to progress further south.
“The whole of Mali was in turmoil when we learned with dismay the progress of Islamists to the South,” Mohamed-Ibrahim Yattara, a church leader in Bamako, told World Watch Monitor.
A year ago, he and his family fled Timbuktu in the northeast and headed to the capital, in the southwest of the country. Like him, thousands of Malians have sought refuge in the South and others in neighboring Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania.
“For us who fled our homes and our cities in recent months, the victory of the Islamists over the armed forces and security has aroused painful and excruciating memories. Our minds were full of intrusive memories of looting and destruction of our homes and institutions,” he said.
For nearly a year the Islamist armed groups imposed a strict Islamic law in the regions under their control. Intimidation, threats and mutilation became common practice. The practice of other religions was banned; Places of worship and churches were desecrated and looted.
“All these memories suddenly vanished and turned into a dream when we learned with great joy about the French army intervention. What was commonly called ‘the crisis in Mali’ has come to an early settlement,” said Yattara, who also is the head of a Bible training institute in Timbuktu.
Despite regaining freedom, Malian people face new challenges created by the Islamic takeover. Nine months of occupation have left Northern Mali in great need of reconstruction. A number of public buildings were destroyed, including schools, health clinics, ancient monuments, hotels and restaurants.
Human-rights groups have accused the army of attacking civilians. Malian government forces targeted light-skinned Arab and Tuareg ethnic groups associated with the rebels, Human Rights Watch said in a report published Feb. 1. The Malian government has denied the accusations and has publicly warned against revenge attacks.
Mali is No. 7 on the 2013 World Watch List, a ranking of the 50 countries where persecution of Christians is most severe. The list is published annually by Open Doors International, a ministry to persecuted Christians worldwide.