Fed up with waiting for inter-regional forces to intervene in northern Mali in order to free it from Islamist control, residents in the capital Bamako have begun training, they say, to take back the territory. Our Observer visited a football pitch in the capital where impromptu training sessions are held.
For the past few weeks, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union (AU) have waited for the United Nations to give the go-ahead for military intervention in northern Mali, which would require their backing.
On July 5, the UN endorsed West African political efforts to find a solution to the crisis in Mali, but refrained from tackling the question of military action in the country until a more detailed plan could be outlined.
In a resolution, the UN Security Council said it was ready “to further examine this request and encouraged close cooperation between the Malian Transitional authorities, ECOWAS, the African Union, and other countries to prepare detailed options in regard to any such force’s mandate.”
In other words, while a military intervention is not possible right now, it hasn’t been entirely ruled out if Mali can demonstrate that its military is ready for such an undertaking.
Boubacar Alkouraichi filmed the above video on July 11 in Bamako. In it, civilian volunteers are seen doing physical exercises and a new recruit registers with the group.

"It’s like a real military boot-camp”

Boubacar Alkouraichi is one of our Observers in Bamako.
The people there were for the most part from northern Mali. They were students or salespeople, there were even quite a few women. Actually, there was a woman student in charge of recruitment. The group calls itself Bou Yan Ba Hawi, which means ‘Death is better than shame’ in the Songhai language. When I spoke with them they all told me the same thing, ‘The hour of sacrifice has come’.
They began training two months ago because they felt as though those in control in Bamako were powerless and were incapable of taking on armed groups [in the north]. They meet on a football field in Magnambougou [a disadvantaged neighbourhood in Bamako]. There were about a thousand people there. They were doing push-ups, running, jumps and crawling on the ground. It was like a real military boot-camp. They even followed army discipline. People who were late were made to do extra exercises. I saw one man who was made to do push-ups for smoking a cigarette during a break.
"There are some people from the army leading training sessions"
There are both civilians and people from the military who lead the training sessions. They didn’t want me to film them. They told me they wanted to be discreet because what they’re doing is strictly legal. I didn’t see any weapons. They told me that they didn’t have any and that for the moment they are only doing physical exercises.
Participation is voluntary – there’s no cash handouts or wages. The student in charge of recruitment wrote down the names of new arrivals in a register. Volunteers must show a birth certificate, ID and bring a photo that is then pasted into the register.
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Peggy Bruguière.