Thanks for all the interesting discussion. I'm having problems posting some replies, I think there's heavy traffic on Reddit right now. So I'm signing off for the night but will check in again tomorrow.
Hello Reddit. Jacky Rowland, one of few journalists to have been with French troops at the moment of the recapture of Timbuktu, will be here shortly to start answering questions.


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Rowland has been covering the conflict from Bamako and Timbuktu for Al Jazeera over the past two weeks, most recently reporting on French President Francois Hollande's visit to Mali. Based in Paris, she is a senior Al Jazeera correspondent covering Europe and the Arab world.

Follow her on Twitter: @jackyaljaz

Ask away!

Comments: 147 • Responses: 31  • Date: 

cleantoe12 karma

Were things in Timbuktu pretty stable, or were there moments where you figured you were in danger? Are journalists over there ever targeted?

JackyRowlandAJE219 karma

I followed French and Malian troops as they advanced into Timbuktu. The al-Qaeda linked fighters had heard that the armoured column was coming, so by the time we reached Timbuktu, they had already fled. I did not feel in danger at any stage when I was in the city. The important thing is to deal even-handedly with whomever you meet, whatever community they are from. I find that provided I show good faith, people show good faith to me.

im_paid9 karma

Were you at the museums and libraries that had thousands of ancient artifacts burned?

JackyRowlandAJE222 karma

The good news is that most of the ancient manuscripts were saved, despite initial reports that they had all been lost to fire. However a number of Sufi shrines were destroyed.

RedExergy7 karma

Do you think this conflict will last long, or do you think it might be over within 2013?

JackyRowlandAJE214 karma

I think we are going to see the current crisis contained in the next few months. The problem is that there's substantial scope for a new rebellion in the future. I remember visiting the region 20 years ago, after an earlier Tuareg rebellion in Mali. The central government in Mali will need to address underlying issues. The Tuareg have grievances - they don't believe there is enough investment in their region, they feel they don't have enough say in running their own affairs. We'll be looking out for negotiations to start...possibly leading to some kind of autonomy. And the future of the conflict will also depend on whether the rebels are able to take refuge over international borders.

GoMrJoe5 karma

Favourite animal?

JackyRowlandAJE211 karma

Cats I guess, and I saw a few cute ones in Timbuktu :-)

Flying_Birdy5 karma

How much resistance have the rebels in the north been providing? Are they generally fighting to hold every piece of ground or just retreating right away when attacked?

JackyRowlandAJE24 karma

All the way to Timbuktu, the rebels were just melting away. I didn't see any evidence of a fight in any of the towns we passed through with the French military convoy. Local people told us that the rebels ran away when they heard that the French had reach a town down the road. In most cases, the rebels left days before the French arrived. But it's a different picture up in the north-east, near Kidal and Tessalit - which are very much the rebels' last outposts in the desert.

probablyross5 karma

Hi Jacky, thanks for taking our questions.

I'm studying journalism in college right now and I'm wondering if you have any advice on becoming a successful journalist?

I'm really interested in international affairs and I can't think of anything more exciting than doing what you're doing right now. What path did you take to be able to cover stories like this and what would you say to someone wanting to do the same?

JackyRowlandAJE27 karma

Hey, I'll do my best to offer you a bit of career advice. It's a tougher environment now than when I started out oooooh 25 years ago! It's an old truism that you can't get a job unless you already have experience of doing the job - so you need to look for internships, opportunities to flesh out your CV and get yourself some bylines. I know doing internships can be difficult - working without money requires supportive parents or other sources of income. But I would just urge you to be persistent. There are a lot more platforms now - with the web - than when i started out.
I would also encourage you to identify those reporters whose work you admire - then study it, de-construct it.
I also know some people who get into reporting via NGO work. This is another route, although I'm a bit of a purist! Very best of luck to you.

murdock1543 karma

How strong is AQIM in the sehel region, and what do you think the likelihood is that they will continue fighting in the region. Also, whats the most important take away from the fighting so far?

JackyRowlandAJE210 karma

The AQIM is strong across the region and benefits from porous borders. We've seen how easy it is for fighters to move from Mauretania to Mali to Algeria... This is one of their strengths, the fact that they can withdraw, regroup, reappear. We saw this last month in the hostage-taking incident against that gas field in Algeria. I think the key factor here is the extent to which Mali's neighbours are willing and able to patrol and seal their borders. This will be the game changer - and Algeria already says it is doing so.

Spydos3 karma

Have you gotten into some serious conflicts with the people?

JackyRowlandAJE25 karma

Not at all. I find that if you approach people honestly and in good faith, they will reciprocate. I must thank in particular the three young woman who spoke openly to me about their ordeals at the hands of the rebels - two of them were flogged for "crimes" against "morality". And a 16 year old girl was raped. I have huge admiration for their courage and the support their families are giving them.

assara933 karma

I heard that women were allowed to show their faces under rebel rule. Usually, radical Islamists expect women to cover their faces, if not one or both eyes...

JackyRowlandAJE231 karma

I met a woman who went out of her house wearing her usual clothes. I am talking about a brightly coloured dress and a matching head scarf. She was taken in by the Islamic police who wanted her to wear a head-to-foot abaya. She didn't mention being told to cover her face. Anyway, when they told her that she didn't respect God, she answered back, "It is YOU who do not respect God." Either because of the way she dressed, or because of the way she stood up for herself, or maybe because of both, she was taken to the public market place and given 30 lashes. She was an inspiration to me.

wisebl00d3 karma

From your experiences, how are the Mali public reacting to the French intervention? I'm specifically wondering what the "common man/woman" in Mali thinks of the foreign intervention.

In the same vein as the question above - in general, do you know how the people of the countries surrounding Mali feel about the foreign intervention? I'm specifically wondering about the reaction of Algeria's citizens.

Stay safe!

JackyRowlandAJE26 karma

I've seen a lot of enthusiastic public support. But there are also some people lying low at home, particularly members of the Arab and Tuareg communities, who fear reprisals. Algeria has been ambivalent about this French intervention. At the beginning, the government opposed foreign military action. But the Algerians have allowed French military aircraft to use their airspace - and now they say they are beefing up their border patrols to prevent the rebels from melting away over the frontier...

wisebl00d2 karma

Thanks! I saw that someone asked a similar question to mine already, so, if you're willing to answer, I'd like to ask one more.

I've read some articles (more editorials I suppose) comparing France's involvement in Mali to the USA's involvement in Vietnam. Do you feel this is an apt comparison? Obviously the ideology of the the rebels is different, but do you think this could end up being a drawn-out, resource draining and unpopular public opinion conflict for France?

Thanks again!

JackyRowlandAJE27 karma

It really depends on how long it lasts and how many French lives are lost. The French are already positioning themselves for an early departure - devolving the mission to a UN-mandated West African force. Thus far, only one French life has been lost: a helicopter pilot Damien Boiteux on the first day of the intervention.

Salacious-3 karma

I don't know if you've had any experience in Iraq/Afghanistan, but how is the atmosphere or public sentiment (or whatever you want to call it: how people feel) different in Mali from those 2 conflicts?

JackyRowlandAJE213 karma

I have never been to Iraq but I was in Afghanistan several times ten years ago. In Mali, I have found much wider, grassroots public support for the French-led intervention, in comparison with Afghanistan. That said, a number of the members of the Arab and Tuareg communities have been targeted in indiscriminate revenge attacks by other groups who accuse them of collaborating with the rebels. The other Afghanistan similarity: what we are seeing now in N-E Mali, around Kidal and Tessalit - is like Tora Bora in Afghanistan.

NGU-Ben3 karma

Weird question, but were would you guys sleep? Was anyone really considered "safe"?

JackyRowlandAJE26 karma

Hey, we had several uncomfortable nights in tents, when we were following the French military convoy. But there are a few hotels in Timbuktu that are basic but adequate. Security is always an issue, but I must thank the hotel staff for their discretion and their hospitality in difficult circumstances.

suznebula3 karma

Hi Jacky! I have been following this story from a distance, and was thrilled to see this AMA today. Have there been a lot of donations and relief efforts for civilians?

JackyRowlandAJE24 karma

There is some relief effort, but as UNHCR was explaining to me, internally displaced people don't attract the same level of donations as refugees, even though their plight is as difficult.
I hope to be reporting later this week on how the World Food Program is sending food to Timbuktu via a barge from Mopti. When I was in Timbuktu, we found many shops closed because they could not get stock up the road. The Catholic Relief Services are also doing work here.

yellowstone143 karma

I assume that Mali didn't have any type of sufficient security force to deal with the rebels - so what will the future need to be in Mali for Mali not to need the intervention of the French again? I am assuming that the rebels would return if not for the presence of the French. I guess what I am trying to find out is whether Mali has the capacity to muster and maintain its own security force.

JackyRowlandAJE29 karma

Hey - this is the Million Central African Franc Question that you are posing. The fact that the rebels were able to take over the north in the first place tells you a lot about the capacity of the Malian armed forces.
The fact that the Malian army is now taking back towns is entirely because of the presence of the French - the presence in the armoured column on the ground and the air power, the air strikes inflicted on rebel positions. The future will depend on a UN-mandated West African force coming in, on the ground, to help the Malian army to hold the territory. But there is a real risk for Mali that there may be a future rebellion in the north. A lot will depend on whether Algeria and Mauretania seal their borders to prevent the rebels from "melting away". Algeria has said today that it is beefing up its border patrols.

JimmyMarshall2 karma

How long until I can go on vacation to Timbuktu and not wind up dead or kidnapped? And how much is left to see?

JackyRowlandAJE1 karma

I would say go anytime, the economy needs you! You could even make your trip coincide with the famous Festival in the Desert, if you are into music gigs.

JimmyMarshall1 karma

It's already safe enough again you think?

JackyRowlandAJE21 karma

It depends on your level of risk aversion. If you are the adventurous type, I would go for it. But it will be interesting to see how the security situation develops once the French leave....

emptycalm2 karma

Is there any indication that once France leaves that this won't start all over again? The Malian army seems to be pretty incapable of doing much and rebels from the north, be they Ansar Dine or the MNLA, are very well armed and know the desert like the back of their hands. Also, is there any attempt to negotiate with the MNLA who seem to have a lot of legitimate reasons for wanting a secular state of Azawad or is the West ignoring them because they want eventual control(not direct control but business influence) of the minerals and other resources in the region?

JackyRowlandAJE25 karma

Hey there, re the inherent weakness of the Malian army, please see my answers to a few other questions in this forum. As for negotiations with MNLA, this will be an important issue for the coming weeks. If the central government doesn't address some of the underlying reasons for the rebellion, it can happen again. Maybe some kind of limited autonomy for the Tuareg will be brought to the table? You are absolutely on the ball asking about the minerals and other natural resources. The French are very bothered about the growing influence of China in Africa. This intervention has been an opportunity for them to reassert themselves as Mali's "natural choice" of foreign partner.

LuizSanchez2 karma

Hi Jacky, there has been some rumours surronding war journalism and the notion of staging a shot in which fighters shoot rounds if ammo or tires are set alight due to the fact that the risk to capture many of these shots in battle often dissuade jounalists.

I have heard as much from soldiers in Iraq who say they were asked to do so rather than be on frontlines. Wht is your experience with frontline journalism, and is such a thing common practice in war journalism?

Lov the coverage btw, great job!

JackyRowlandAJE23 karma

Hey, thanks for this very important question. Honesty in journalism, all journalism, is very important to me. We don't fake frontline stuff. I don't fake frontline stuff. Thanks for your appreciation of our coverage.

ddd662 karma

Ive been following the malian conflict since the start now and honnestly im glad the french decided to intervene. The root of the problem is the forever going conflict between the Tuarebs and the Black africans; Has the goverment made any moves towards improving this relationship after this conflict?

JackyRowlandAJE21 karma

We are hearing about possible negotiations between the central government and the Tuareg. The Tuareg have long-standing grievances, including the distribution of resources to the north of the country, and as long as their grievances remain unaddressed, the risk for new conflict will be present. The government rules out independence for the north, and it rules out talking to jihadist groups. But some kind of limited autonomy for the north could be a formula up for discussion.

forgottoreddit2 karma

How much are the Taureg and AL Qaeda allied out of convenience v. shared ideology? Do you think these groups will split off or continue working together? Thanks for doing such important work

JackyRowlandAJE25 karma

Very much a marriage of convenience! The Tuareg started this rebellion, then al-Qaeda linked groups piggy-backed on it, then hijacked it. The Tuareg have already said they are ditching al-Qaeda and are ready to fight on the side of the French. Indeed, one faction within Ansaradine also says it is splitting off - although this may be more an act of desperation than a genuine ideological change.

pnkrzero1 karma

Do you think that ECOWAS should assume primary responsibility for the suppression of insurgency, given their inexperience in sub-regional FIGO military intervention? Should the Security Council approve a peacekeeping mission in a leadership role to guide the efforts of ECOWAS and ensure an efficient counter attempt against the rebel forces?

JackyRowlandAJE22 karma

You've hit on a pertinent point. There does indeed appear an appetite now for the UN to head up this peacekeeping mission, with a large West African element.

somewhereouthere1 karma

jackie what do you think is the real threat posed by AQIM to France and the French people? What is the evidence that supports their actions in Mali today?

JackyRowlandAJE26 karma

This is one of the arguments put forward by French politicians for the intervention in Mali. They say that not only is the security of North-West Africa at risk - but so too is the security of France and Europe. The French suspect that AQIM wants to export its jihadism to Europe. Certainly the statements of AQIM leaders appear to support that. The french have had military presences in countries including Mauretania for several years now, training local security forces to combat AQIM elements. Thus far, we have not seen major attacks by AQIM in mainland Europe. However, we must not forget the Toulouse shootings of March 2012, carried out by a French national, Mohamed Merah, who described himself as Al-Qaeda.

tragic-waste-of-skin1 karma


JackyRowlandAJE22 karma

This is very complicated and there are various different issues and different factions. They would get closer to a resolution if there could be an agreement between central government in Bamako and the Tuareg in the north. With this kind of agreement, the jihadist rebel elements would be more isolated.

E330citric_acid1 karma


JackyRowlandAJE23 karma

French and German fluently, and I get by in Arabic. French has been essential covering this story, Arabic was useful as well in Timbuktu. I know a little bit of Russian and Serbo-croat as well, but these are getting very rusty!

discman-2 karma


JackyRowlandAJE8 karma

I think it goes without saying that I speak English, since I am a correspondent for Aljazeera English.

discman-3 karma


JackyRowlandAJE210 karma

If you state the obvious, I will state the obvious.

aleigh801 karma

It is widely known/ reported that the Malian army is not equipped for such an extensive campaign without the help of the French. What about their will though? Do they they have the will and motivation to free their country? ...what I'm getting at is: Are Western resources worth it?

JackyRowlandAJE23 karma

I found quite a level of determination and commitment among the few soldiers and officers I spoke to. But they knew I was an international journalist - so we have to bear the whole PR element in mind.
Let's not forget what happened in Diabaly back in January. When the rebels attacked, the army abandoned their positions and fled. The army needs to earn public confidence.

bobbycans0 karma

I have heard that there are no Nessies in Timbuktu. Can you confirm?

JackyRowlandAJE21 karma

Hi Bobby, I'm really sorry but I don't understand your question. Can you ask again pls? Thanks

jimiffondu2 karma

I believe Bobby is referring to a fairly obscure British kids' cartoon series from the mid-80s... The theme tune of which I actually had on 7" vinyl...

Welcome to Reddit, Jacky. There are some strange people here... ;-)

JackyRowlandAJE22 karma

Thanks Jim - I'm a Reddit Novice so I'll do my best to accommodate all-comers :-)

Taoudeni0 karma

Do you know the curent situation in Taoudeni (salt mines in northern Mali) ? I've been there in 2008 and I wonder if the djihadists are still in charge there or if the region have been recaptured by French & Malian forces.

JackyRowlandAJE22 karma

I'm sorry I don't, but I'll be sure to update you if I get any info.

Zachisasloth0 karma

Would you rather fight 100 duck-sized horses or 1 horse-sized duck?

JackyRowlandAJE24 karma

The pen is mightier than the sword.

Zachisasloth1 karma

Indeed. So you would rather fight them with a pen, is that what you're saying? I feel like you would be at a disadvantage in the reach department if fighting the horse-sized duck.

JackyRowlandAJE28 karma

You don't know how tall I am :-)