"It’s like a real military boot-camp”
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.