In Mali, JNIM has imposed a blockade on Timbuktu. The Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims, affiliated with al-Qaeda, has forbidden trucks carrying goods from entering the city for several days. Local authorities are attempting to reassure the population, and as of now, there is no shortage of supplies in the city.
In a series of audio messages circulated early last week – beginning from August 8th, 2023 – the JNIM commander for the Timbuktu region, Talha Abou Hind, announced that no more trucks from Algeria and Mauritania, the main sources of goods consumed in Timbuktu, as well as from Mali’s southern Mema region, would be allowed passage. He also stated that his forces were mobilizing around the city for a “total war” against the Malian state, which had “called upon Wagner [Russian paramilitary group] just as it had called upon Barkhane and Takuba [French and European military forces that have since left Mali].”
In the past few days, the threat has been carried out: according to numerous sources in Timbuktu, no trucks from Algeria, Mauritania, or Malian towns like Bambara Maoudé, Mopti, or Goundam have been able to enter the city. Transporters are waiting at the borders, stuck in the Taoudeni region, or turning back. However, private vehicles are still able to move.
Despite this, according to testimonies collected by RFI, there is currently a calm atmosphere in Timbuktu. There are no shortages, as merchants have stocks, and some goods are still arriving from the south. “I was at the market this morning, and everything is available,” one resident testifies. However, some traders are cautious, saying, “If the situation persists, it will become difficult.” Nonetheless, a prominent resident of the city assures, “We trust that for now, nothing is alarming.”
Reassurances from Authorities
While the people of Timbuktu are not succumbing to panic, a few dozen families – exact figures are unavailable – have decided to leave the city. Some are afraid of the jihadist threat, while others – mainly Arabs – fear the reaction of the Malian army and potential misunderstandings.
Local military and administrative authorities are attempting to reassure the situation. Through statements and public declarations, the governorate of Timbuktu and the military command of the area have affirmed their commitment to everyone’s safety and asked the population to remain in the city and continue their daily activities. When contacted by RFI, the governorate did not respond.
This situation is further complicated by tensions between the Malian army and former rebels from the Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA), a signatory of the 2015 peace agreement, in Ber, only about sixty kilometers away.