VOA reporter Idriss Fall says he found “kind of a dead city” when he traveled to Northern Mali to get a first-hand look at what has become of the region since it was seized by armed rebels earlier this year.
Fall, a reporter for VOA’s French to Africa Service, made his way from Burkina Faso to Niger, then by road on a very long hot drive to Niamey and the city of Gao, becoming one of the first journalists to reach the remote Malian city since the takeover by rebel fighters and Islamic militants.
“The people are very, very scared,” he says. “Gao used to have a lot of people working on the street, but right now if you come there, it looks like kind of a dead city, I would say.”
He says the local Catholic Church in Gao has been destroyed, and businesses, including banks, were looted. There is no electricity and water is scarce. Fall says the economy is in ruins and most workers left the country or fled to Bamako.
Fall, who described his trip as “very dangerous” because of the presence in Gao of suspected leaders of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, said his purpose was to “see what was going on” in the region.
The new rulers in Gao belong to several regional groups, including the Tuareg rebel group MNLA and Islamist groups Ansar Dine and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa. Fall says Moctar Bel Moctar, who is believed to be a leader of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, had occupied the home of the former mayor.
The streets remain a dangerous place, he says, patrolled by rebel fighters and Islamists. Fall spent several days in Gao, and spoke with residents who did not want to leave their home or be forced to live under strict Islamic rule. “Those, really I admire their courage, who stay, life is very difficult,” he says.