Bars looted and torched in anti-alcohol protest in Timbuktu


Hundreds of children, teenagers and young adults led a violent protest against bars in Timbuktu, a city in the north of Mali, on February 25. Beer stocks were destroyed, the places vandalised and furniture burnt. These youths have been campaigning against alcohol for weeks without success, and so they organised a demonstration that descended into chaos. 

Teenagers living in the neighbourhood of Hamabangou in the south-eastern part of the city got together in February to protest against children using alcohol and drugs. For them, it's a "plague" that is destroying the health of the population.

According to our Observer, the authorities have done nothing in the face of the outcry, so the group of protesters decided to call a demonstration in their own neighbourhood – but it soon got out of hand. The police were present but did not step in.

Young adults looting bars and burning the furniture in Timbuktu on Saturday February 25. Video published on Facebook.

"The rally that they organised got out of control"

Mohamed AG Alher Dida works for local radio station Jamana and has been following the protests with interest over the past few weeks.

The young people didn't think that the protest would be so big – they thought it was just going to be a march in order to raise awareness of the problem. On Saturday, around 11 o'clock, they started marching through the neighbourhood of Hamabangou. They arrived in front of the only nightclub in the town, Kaleme, and started looting and ransacking it. [In Timbuktu, the sale of alcohol is authorised in bars and clubs].

Furniture and crates of beer were burnt in the street outside the bar. Photo published on Facebook. 

This user decries the violence of the rally, sharing photos of Kaleme nightclub, taken a few days after the protests.

Translation: "Today I had the courage to go and see the damage at the Kaleme nightclub, caused by this group of reactionary and arrogant young people. Led by a certain Chou Tandina." The post ends with the phrase: "I am a phoenix, I always rise from the ashes."

The group burnt furniture and took everything from inside. Young adults who were involved in the demonstration took advantage of the chaos and stole the sound system equipment. Everything that couldn't be carried was broken or burned.

"The police did nothing"

The police were in the area and didn't do anything. They came to the nightclub at around noon, and by then the protesters were in the process of burgling the nightclub manager's house while he was out shopping. The police didn't intervene.

Dozens of teenagers and young children were running through the streets of Timbuktu while the demonstration was ongoing. Video taken by our Observer and published on Facebook. 

In total, roughly 200 young people attacked six bars in the area. There were lots of children involved. They stole soft drinks from the bars, while the older kids actually stole valuables.

"It's not a religious or Islamist movement"

It's an anonymous movement – there is no discernable leader. They didn't protest under the banner of a particular group. It's not even a religious or Islamist movement. Young people in the area want underage drinking to stop, as well as the use of drugs.

Young people rallying against alcoholism

In Timbuktu, minors can buy a squeezable bag of alcohol, called 'Kick', for 150 CFA francs [0.20 euros], or Tramadol pills for 100 CFA francs [0.15 euros], usually sold in blister-packs. [Tramadol is a highly addictive painkiller, based on opium].

A sachet of "gin" Kick, easy to access for underage drinkers. Photo published on Facebook.

The Hamabangou neighbourhood is poor and that's why there is a market for drugs and alcohol. Young people are trying to solve the problem by themselves. These products are usually sold by Nigerien women, who rent out houses that they've turned into shops selling illegal merchandise.

Young people started going into schools a few weeks ago to try to increase awareness of the dangers of drugs and alcohol. The neighbourhood has a bad reputation, and they even refurbished the local cemetery on Saturday February 18, in order to look good in front of the authorities and the locals. Then they demanded of the leader of the neighbourhood to put a stop to the illegal selling of alcohol and drugs to underage customers.

"The young people regretted having vandalised things"

Their demand wasn't addressed. So when they organised this demonstration, people were angry and it descended into chaos. Everyone I spoke to afterwards said they regretted having vandalised things and condemned the acts of vandalism.

Town hall authorities, the governor, the local youth committee and civil society all condemned the violence. However, the president of the High Islamic Council of Mali, Mahmoud Dicko, openly supported the movement.