I had already been to Banikane in the past because part of my family originally comes from there. Before, like in many of the nearby villages, there was a clinic and a pharmacy. But because of everything that’s happened recently, all the doctors and chemists have left the region. Now villagers are forced to travel around 80km by donkey to get to Niafunké in order to receive medical attention at the hospital or even buy a packet of aspirin.
Banikane's hospital was left deserted after its staff left the area between the months of March and April.
The town’s teachers have also left. The school at Banikane is now deserted and many of the children now find themselves wandering around with nothing to do. Some parents have decided to send their kids to the madrasahs (a religious educational institution where Islam is studied). One such school is based out of the local mosque, but the others are mobile, meaning that the professors travel from village to village to teach children Arabic as well as how to recite hadiths and suras, which is better than nothing. If the Islamists decided to come and see what happens outside of the big cities, these teachings could, consequently, be radicalised.
An abandonned schoolroom in Banikane.
That’s the problem in these villages – first they were abandoned by the state, and now the Islamists ignore them too. The Islamists are more focused on strategic points like Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal. The media has covered almost everything that has happened in these cities, whereas little has been said about what’s going on in smaller towns and villages. It’s not that people want Islamists to come to their towns, but what I have noticed, or at least what appears to be the case in Timbuktu where I ended my trip, is that life is getting back on track. For example, residents there have access to medication, which is distributed by the Islamists themselves.
Because the village's teachers left the school, children in Banikane now learn from the Koran.