Posts Tagged 'Trans-Sahara'

Snapshot: Bamako, Mali

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By Kimberly Tiscione, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment/Flintlock Public Affairs

I recently had the opportunity to spend a month in Bamako, Mali, while supporting Exercise Flintlock 10. Flintlock is the special operations forces exercise, conducted by Special Operations Command Africa with participation of key European nations, focused on military interoperability and capacity-building with partner nations throughout the Trans-Saharan region of Africa.

It was my first time traveling to Africa and I honestly didn’t know what to expect of the citizens, the city or the culture. What I’ve learned is that Malians are very hospitable, the city is quite large, there’s an active marketplace and physical fitness is widely common.

Bambara is the local language in Bamako. Many people in the service industry speak French, maybe with a little of English too. Few in our group knew much French, but we learned. We also found that Spanish and Italian were similar enough to help us communicate. The Malians we worked with regularly taught us French and Bambara during our month-long stay.

The dress in Bamako is a combination of traditional African dress and western influenced design. Shoes are different forms of sandals. We also noticed a lot of clothes from America that appeared to have been donated. President Obama t-shirts and stickers on scooters were everywhere!

African traditions haven’t been lost in this city either. We especially noticed the local influence in art and music. Women also still carry things like baskets and bags balanced on their heads and babies on their lower back, secured by a light-weight cloth.

Driving in the city is an adventure. We had contracted drivers, which was probably the safest bet for us because we were unfamiliar with the city and driving norms. There are paved streets, with vehicles and pedestrians all sharing the space. Police direct traffic at intersections, including traffic circles. There is definitely a culturally understood manner in which all of these elements mix together. I had a white-knuckled grip more than once.

You may see vehicle makes from Toyota to Mercedes, in sizes varying from SUVs to small sedans. There are yellow Mercedes taxi sedans for hire. But the most popular form of mass transportation we saw were green van-sized busses (think Scooby Doo van) with routes throughout the city. This also just may be the Power K scooter capital of the world. Scooters are largely popular and often seen transporting multiple people.

Though poverty is pretty widespread, the marketplace is active. We mainly saw open markets that line the roads and city centers. You can buy anything and everything you need for life support and entertainment at roadside stands. People also sell items like fruits, pre-paid phone cards, fly swatters and cigarettes at street intersections to drivers and passengers in cars and on scooters. We even found a grocery store we nick-named Wal-mart: it was two-story and sold everything from four-wheelers, to beverages, to food and toiletries.

Sorry, guys: No Starbucks or McDonald’s here. But the food in our hotel was good and we enjoyed meals on the local market. You could buy kabobs and pizza in many places. Don’t miss out! Ask around for the most reputable local eateries. You’ll enjoy a good meal without being rushed.

Another cultural icon: Football is King in Bamako. There is a local team and excitement is building for the World Cup. We also saw several local youth and adult leagues. And every night on our way home from work we saw players doing physical training, practicing and playing games. Soccer jerseys are a hot commodity. And as a World Cup sponsor, Orange, proclaims on a local billboard, there are many countries with many languages, but we all have one in common: football!
If you’re visiting Bamako, I recommend the following:

1. Be familiar with a little bit of French. It will make your trip much more enjoyable.
2. CFA (the local currency, pronounced “see-fa”) is the only way, and surely the safest, to make purchases in many local places.
3. Ask your hosts to show you the local markets and eateries.
4. Travel safe and smart. It’s a big city.
5. Bring sunscreen, bug juice and a hat. It’s HOT!
6. Bring clothes that are comfortable, but stylish.
7. Smile and engage the local citizens.


Ouagadougou by Bus

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By Eric Elliott, U.S. Africa Command Public Affairs

Each day during much of FLINTLOCK 10, those of us assigned to the Multinational Coordination Center would travel by bus from our hotels in Ouagadougou through the outskirts of the city to Camp Baangre near the village of Kamboinse. Morning and evening, dozens of exercise participants from more than a dozen different countries would make that 45 minute drive and for many it was a priceless glimpse into daily Burkina daily life.

Ouagadougou is a city of more than a million inhabitants and has traffic typical of any modern capital. Fortunately we would travel opposite the normal flow of Burkinabe commuters. So each morning and evening we would pass long lines of cars and trucks that would give way to carts of wood, stones, sand, vegetables or other goods drawn by jaded donkeys or pushed by weary young men as we moved away from the city. Often our progress would be slowed by a donkey or goat loose in the road or a group of men trying to move an exceptionally heavy cart. There were also the buses full of people with boxes, bundles, suit cases, chicken cages bikes, piled high, defying gravity, on top.

And everywhere were people, young and old, on bicycles and motorcycles. Women in colorful dresses with a baby strapped to their backs or with a toddler clutching her back. Men in traditional outfits that would billow in the wind or three or four teenagers balanced precariously on a single bike.

Once I expressed my amazement about a young lady who rode by on a bike with a large platter of papayas balanced on her head and a baby on her back and the Nigerian officer sitting next to me snickered and said, “Brother, this is Africa.”

Along the side of the road, there was the constant movement of people walking. We would see the mass of bright African cloths with an occasional glimpse of Bob Marley or Barrack Obama from the back of a t-shirt. We would see groups of children going to school and often one or two would break away from the crowd to run waving after the bus.

What has always amazed American visitors is the ability of many African women to balance almost anything on their heads. Sacks of grain, tubs full of shoes or toys, bundles of wood, trays of fruit, bags of cloths, a broken bench are just a few of the things I saw conveyed on the heads walking or riding past the bus. Or there were the groups of four or five teenage girls standing in a circle gossiping, each with a plateau of mangoes or papayas poised on their braids.
Behind the people we would see the shops and stands selling everything imaginable. It was like driving through a shopping center with themes that would change by the block. There was the block with the furniture stores. Row upon row of couches, love seats or recliners on display on the side of the road and trestle tables piled high with fifteen or twenty twin sized mattresses. Next would be the hardware stores with metal gates, electric fans, bricks and lumber for sale. At the next corner there were people hawking cloths, toys, fruits, vegetables, grain. All the necessities of life seemed available along this single stretch of highway.

Usually our bus driver would put on some sort of entertainment for us. Sometimes it was African music videos. Other times it would be African sitcoms that would leave those who understood French hysteric with laughter and leaving those who don’t understand French wondering what was so funny.

On my last day on the bus I was surrounded my officers from Mali, Senegal, Nigeria, Morocco and Burkina Faso, and the driver put on a Kenny Rogers CD. I thought it as an odd choice until they all energetically began singing “you picked a fine time to leave me Lucille.”

Then I remembered the words of the Nigerian officer, the one who was singing loudest about his four hungry children and his crop in the field.

“Brother, this is Africa,” he said.

(Note: Eric Elliott, U.S. Africa Command Public Affairs, was in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, while supporting Exercise Flintlock, a multi-national military exercise conducted in various Trans-Saharan countries to develop military capacity of African, American and European participants.)

Finding Common Ground in Africa

On 5/12/2010 5:12:11 PM Staff Sergeant Amanda McCarty wrote:

(Note: Sergeant McCarty, U.S. Africa Command Public Affairs, is blogging from Camp Bangare in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, while supporting Exercise Flintlock, a multi-national military exercise conducted in various Trans-Saharan countries to develop military capacity of African, American and European participants.)

I arrived in Burkina Faso May 10 in support of Exercise Flintlock. Being my first time to the country, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was excited to be part of the union of so many countries in the exercise and to experience different ways of life, but I have to admit a vast change in culture can be a bit un-nerving for me sometimes.

I awoke the morning after my arrival and headed down the restaurant for breakfast, not sure what I’d find. I entered a large room to find a plethora of different patterned uniforms, Americans eating raisin bran flakes next to Malians eating eggs and Frenchmen eating croissants. They sat together like family, talking in French and English, as they enjoyed breakfast. I stood, just observing for a few seconds before I went on. I ate thinking of how a meal can bring people from all walks of life together.

Later that day when lunchtime rolled around, I made my way with a fellow American to check out what African cuisine would be served at the Camp Bangare where the exercise was taking place. The venue was an open tent outside, filled with large round tables seating eight or more people. The dishes were served buffet style and as I made my way through the line I met an African-born U.S. Army lieutenant serving as a translator. He explained to me the different dishes, like yam, and how it is a starchy staple for many. Chicken, rice, potatoes, avocado and pineapple were a few of the other I items dished up. I put a few things to try on my plate and looked for a seat.

I had lost my American colleague, but found an open seat at a table of mainly Africans. We talked and enjoyed the food and each other’s company. I learned a little about each person I spoke with and discovered any concerns I may have had were gone. It seemed again that food was a common denominator for us.

I realized that despite our differences, we all shared at least something – a career devoted to service, the hope and determination for a more stable and secure Africa, and of course, a meal that brought us all together around the table to learn more about each other, make new friends, and eat whatever may be the cuisine du jour.


AFRICOM-related news clips for 11 January 2010

Obama Plays Down Military Role in Yemen, Somalia

 New York Times – By Sarah Wheaton

 11 January 2010

US President Barack Obama said his administration is seeking to emphasize international cooperation, rather than military action, to address concerns about terrorist cells in Somalia and Yemen.


 Bomb plot strains US Nigeria relations

 AFP – By Non-attributed Author

 8 January 2010

 US security measures in the wake of a failed bomb attack on an American airline have revealed cracks in relations between the US and Nigeria, a strategic ally in Africa.


 Bomb plot suspect’s odyssey revealing

 Pittsburgh Tribune- Review – By Carl Prine

 10 January 2010

Christmas Day bombing suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab took a convoluted path which is a prime example of the challenges facing counter-terrorism efforts, including AFRICOM’s counter-terrorism program Operation Enduring Freedom Trans-Sahara.


 US Dept of Defense – African Counterterrorism Gets Greater Focus

 American Forces Press Service – By John J. Kruzel

 7 January 2010

 Counterterrorism in Africa is spotlighted after a botched terrorist attack on a holiday flight.  This includes AFRICOM’s capacity building efforts on the continent to deal with transnational problems like combating terrorism.


P-3s join pirate patrol in the Seychelles

 Navy Times – By Andrew Tilghman

 8 January 2010

 A detachment of P-3 Orions has moved to the Seychelles islands in the Indian Ocean to conduct surveillance missions that support U.S. Africa Command’s goal in promoting stability and security within the region.


US welcomes moves in Guinea to form transition government

AFP – By Non-attributed Author

8 January 2010

 The United States welcomed moves by Guinea’s interim junta leader to form a transition government and advance to civilian rule over a year after the military seized power in a coup.


U.S. pushes Sudan on election preparations

 Reuters – By Non-attributed Author

 8 January 2010

 Sudan’s leaders must redouble efforts to guarantee fair elections or risk plunging the giant African nation back into chaos and violence, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Friday.


U.S. warns of attack threat to Sudan-Uganda flights

 Reuters – By Andrew Heavens

 9 January 2010

 The United States has warned that "regional extremists" were planning an attack on Air Uganda flights between southern Sudan and Kampala.  Both Uganda and Sudan downplayed the risk.


U.S., NATO Expand Afghan War To Horn Of Africa And Indian Ocean News – By Rick Rozoff

 8 January 2010

The United States and its NATO allies have laid the groundwork for increased naval, air and ground operations in the Horn of Africa and the Gulf of Aden.


UN News Service Africa Briefs

 Full Articles on UN Website

 10 January 2010

 *     Success of Sudan peace pact requires redoubled efforts by all, Ban says on anniversary

*     Sudan: UN sends long range patrol to scene of deadly ethnic clash in south

*     UN completes initial round of training for local judges in eastern Chad

*     UN aid agencies will not abandon Somalia despite insecurity, says official

*     Celebrities set off for Kilimanjaro to spotlight water crisis, raise funds – UN

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