peter tinti

independent journalist

Understanding Ebola: A Roundtable Discussion with Four Experts


For this week’s podcast on Beacon, a discussion of the deeper issues behind the Ebola epidemic in West Africa with professors Kim Yi Dionne, Adia Benton, Jeremy Youde, and Stéphane Helleringer.

The deadliest Ebola outbreak in recorded history is happening right now in West Africa, with three particular countries, Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone desperately trying to curb the spread of the disease. At the time of recording this podcast, over a dozen cases have also been reported in Nigeria.

The official death toll at the moment is 1,550 and counting. Earlier this week, the World Health Organization said the actual number could be as many as four times greater than the 1,550 reported. WHO officials have conceded that it will likely be 6 months before they can bring the spread of the virus under control and some estimates suggest that as many as 20,000 people may contract the virus before the end of the crisis.

With international air carriers cutting off flights to Ebola affected areas and local governments deploying their militaries to impose mass quarantines, the current outbreak now represents much more than a public health crisis. In fact, the International Monetary fund recently stated that the ongoing crisis has had an acute impact on economies throughout the region.

On today’s podcast I discuss the ongoing Ebola outbreak in West Africa with professors Kim Yi Dionne, Adia Benton, Jeremy Youde, and Stéphane Helleringer.

All four experts were kind enough to take the time to join me via skype, in what I pitched to them as a virtual roundtable of sorts.

Click here to listen.

50 Photos from Ferguson


On August 14, I travelled to Ferguson, Missouri thanks to generous donations from readers. Your support provided the budget for a full week of coverage from the front lines of the crisis. As I work on a longer piece that builds on my previously published day-to-day accounts, here are 50 photos from those seven days in Ferguson.

Ferguson, Mo. — 

Click here to continue reading.

Days of Peace, Nights of Violence in Ferguson, Missouri


After two consecutive days of peaceful protests were shattered by two consecutive violent nights, Ferguson residents see no end in sight. This is the latest crowd-funded dispatch from West Florissant Avenue for Beacon.

Ferguson, Mo. — Despite calls for peaceful protests and a gentler, more nuanced approach to community policing, the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson has been rocked by four consecutive nights of chaos stretching from Friday night into Tuesday morning (see notes on Friday and Saturday night here and here). 

Violence came to Ferguson earlier than usual on Sunday evening, when gunshots rang out from a crowd that had gathered on West Florissant Avenue to protest the killing of unarmed teenager Michael Brown by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson.  

The 9 p.m. volley sparked clashes between police officers and protestors, many of whom had come to Ferguson from outside the area to participate in ongoing demonstrations. Police used stun grenades, smoke canisters, and tear gas to disperse a crowd that included peaceful protestors and young children. 

Click here to continue reading.

You Shoot, We Shoot Back: Notes From the First Curfew in Ferguson


On Saturday, August 16, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon ordered a state of emergency and implemented a midnight curfew in the city of Ferguson in an attempt to restore order in the wake of the police killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown. Though many of the protestors returned home as midnight approached, a few hundred stayed in defiance of the curfew. Here are photos and video from the standoff that ensued.

Ferguson, Mo. — An air of uncertainty hung over the Ferguson community on Saturday night and into Sunday morning, as police and protestors prepared for a showdown in advance of the first curfew since the killing of unarmed black teen Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson. 

Protestors assembled at the lot of a QuikTrip convenience store on West Florissant Avenue. Since protestors set the store on fire last week, the charred remains of the QuikTrip have become a key gathering point for demonstrations in Ferguson.

Click here to continue reading.

Peaceful Protests Take a Troubling Turn in Ferguson


Demonstrators gathered on West Florissant street in Ferguson, Missouri for the seventh consecutive evening to protest the killing of an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown. The protests began just as they had on Thursday night, in an organized and peaceful manner with minimal police presence. But the evening took an ugly turn when gun shots rang out. Amid teargas and a stalemate between protestors and police, looters targeted several local businesses. Photos and video below.

Ferguson, Mo. — Protestors in Ferguson took to the streets for a seventh consecutive evening on Friday in what many hoped would mark a turning point in relations between local police and the Ferguson community.

Click here to continue reading.

Voices from West Florissant, Ferguson, Missouri.


The Ferguson Police Department held a press conference today during which they disclosed the name of the police officer who shot unarmed teen Michael Brown on August 9. The much-anticipated press conference sparked outrage, however, when Ferguson police chief Tom Jackson chose to make Brown’s alleged participation in an unarmed robbery of a convenience store the focal point of the event. Here are some perspectives recorded in Ferguson following the press conference.

Click here to continue reading.

Anatomy of a Peaceful Protest in Ferguson, Mo.


Protestors from the Ferguson community and broader St. Louis metropolitan area gathered for a sixth consecutive evening to protest the shooting of unarmed 18-year-old, Michael Brown. But as much as the gatherings were meant to protest the killing of the black teenager at the hands of local police, they also served as a rebuttal to the widely-criticized, heavy-handed police responses to earlier protests.

FERGUSON, Mo — On Thursday evening, protestors initially gathered blocks away from where a police officer shot Michael Brown on Saturday, August 9.

Click here to continue reading.

The Golden Hour and US-Africa Relations. An interview with Todd Moss


On today’s podcast, I’m joined by Todd Moss, the Chief Operating Officer at the Center for Global Development, where he is also a Senior Fellow. From May 2007 to October 2008, Moss served as Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of African Affairs at the U.S. Department of State. In addition to being an expert in US-Africa relations, finance, and capital markets, Moss is also a novelist. His debut novel, The Golden Hour, will be released on September 4th.

Click here to listen.

The New French Militarism In the Sahel


Though most of the troops and materiel for France’s new counterterrorism mission, Opération Barkhane, are already on the ground in Africa, it would be a mistake to characterize the mission as mere reshuffling of French military assets in the region. As an operation committed to actively hunting Al Qaeda-linked militants across five countries in Sahel, Barkhane represents a stunning rejection of recent French policy toward the continent and could radically alter security dynamics throughout the region.

French government officials have been publicizing their plans to launch a new counterterrorism initiative in the Sahel, code-named Opération Barkhane, for the better part of a month. The mission will consist of over 3,000 troops spread across five countries, who, according to The Economist, will be supported by 20 supply helicopters, ten transport aircraft, six fighter planes, three drones, and 200 armored vehicles.

Although the bulk of the forces and equipment required for Barkhane are already on the ground in Africa, it would be a mistake to characterize the operation as a mere reshuffling of French military assets in the region. In fact, Barkhanerepresents a stunning rejection of recent French policy toward Africa, which in turn was meant to be a departure from France’s previous post-colonial posture toward the continent.

“The objective is principally one of counterterrorism,” French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told reporters in Paris last month. “The aim is to prevent what I call the highway of all forms of traffic to become a place of permanent passage, where jihadist groups can rebuild themselves between Libya and the Atlantic Ocean.”

The operation is likely to deepen existing counterterrorism cooperation between France and Mauritania, as well as strengthen partnerships with Burkina Faso, from where France already carries out operations crucial to its counterterrorism efforts in the region.

Early indications are that approximately 1,200 troops will be based in N’Djamena, Chad, where France has maintained an uninterrupted presence since 1986 as part of Opération Épervier. Another 1,000 troops will remain in Gao, Mali, the launching pad for Opération Serval, France’s recently-concluded mission to drive Islamist rebels from northern Mali that began in January of last year.

Other troops will operate from of a constellation of forward-operating bases and sites in Mali and Chad, as well as Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Niger.

Click here to continue reading.

Wonk Read: Ransoming Citizens, Europe Becomes Qaeda’s Patron


From dirt roads to ivory towers, semi-regular reviews of academic papers, reports, articles, and manuscripts that come across my desk about the people, places, and topics I cover on Beacon and elsewhere.

Rukmini Callimachi* has just published a must read report for the New York Times on the inner workings of ransoms paid by European governments to Al Qaeda in exchange for hostages. “Put more bluntly,” Callimachi writes, “Europe has become an inadvertent underwriter of Al Qaeda.”

That European governments have been handing millions of dollars in cash, often literally, to Al Qaeda-linked groups since 2003 will come as news to few who follow kidnapping in the Sahara and Sahel. In fact, Mauritanian activist Nasser Weddady made a similar argument in the New York Times opinion pages in February 2013 (see: “How Europe Bankrolls Terror“).

But Callimachi’s reporting on the specific amounts paid by governments, interlocutors, third-party go-betweens, and state-owned companies is the most vivid and comprehensive to date. The report also stands out for its description of how kidnapping for ransom by groups linked to Al Qaeda began as a highly improvised endeavor and matured into a sophisticated gambit replete with advanced planning, logistics networks, best-practices, and divisions of labor.

On this front, I’d like to make a few points.

For the sake of argument and clarity, it makes sense to highlight where ransom money starts and ends. It is absolutely fair and accurate to report that the bulk of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’s funding comes from ransom payments and that these payments are by and large paid out by European governments.

But we can also assess the impact of ransom payments in the Sahel through the lens of organized crime and political economies.  That is, ransom payments in the Sahel are particularly problematic not only because they transfer funds to terrorist organizations, but because these vast sums are injected into a criminal economy that is intertwined with political and security arrangements throughout the region.

Click here to continue reading.

Wonk Read: Preventing Violent Extremism in Burkina Faso


From dirt roads to ivory towers, semi-regular reviews of academic papers, reports, and manuscripts that come across my desk about the people, places, and topics I cover on Beacon and elsewhere.

The Global Center on Cooperative Security recently published a report titled,Preventing Violent Extremism in Burkina Faso: Toward National Resilience Amid Regional Insecurity.

Supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, and co-authored by Augustin Loada (Executive Director of the Ouagadougou-based Centre pour la Gouvernance Democratique) and Peter Romaniuk (Senior Fellow at the Global Center in New York), the report assesses the threat of violent extremism in Burkina Faso. It also surveys the sources of resilience to violent extremism.

This report is a timely analysis, as Burkina Faso is increasingly considered – rightly or wrongly – a pillar of stability within a region rocked by instability. Two of Burkina Faso’s neighbors, Mali and Cote d’Ivoire, descended into chaos in recent years and the specter of instability looms large over another neighbor, Niger. In nearby Nigeria, a full-fledged Islamist insurgency, and a haphazard government effort to quell it, has pushed the northern half of the country to the brink of full-scale civil war.

So many of these threats to stability are transnational in nature. Armed Islamist movements such as Boko Haram and its offshoot, Ansaru, operate in Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon, and there is mounting evidence that they have collaborated with like-minded groups further abroad. Al-Qaeda’s North Africa affiliate, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and similar groups such as Mujao and Al-Murabitoun, operate in several states across the Sahara and Sahel. Transnational organized criminal networks, which are often intertwined with the groups described above, facilitate the flow of arms, narcotics and people in a multitude of directions throughout the region.

Despite inflows of refugees fleeing violence in neighboring states and the aforementioned groups that pass through Burkina’s territory, Burkina Faso has managed come away from regional turmoil relatively unscathed, and in doing so, successfully sold itself as a vital and reliable security partner for the United States and France.

In my own conversations with U.S. diplomatic and defense officials, Burkina Faso’s stability is regularly cited as a reason behind Washington’s decision to fly surveillance aircraft, including unarmed drones and turboprop planes designed to look like civilian aircraft, out of Burkina Faso. Eager to increase its intelligence gathering capabilities in the region, the U.S. had been searching for locations within West Africa from where surveillance aircraft could be flown. Several of the locations under consideration were ultimately scrapped either due to concerns over security and instability in the prospective host country, or because local governments decided that hosting U.S. surveillance aircraft would be too sensitive politically.

Click here to continue reading.

Saving South Sudan, Life and Death. An Interview with Tim Freccia


On today’s podcast, I interview photographer and filmmaker Tim Freccia, who recently travelled to South Sudan to film “Saving South Sudan.” Tim also has an exhibition called “Life and Death” opening today at the Ricco/Maresca gallery in New York City, featuring portraits of fighters belonging to the infamous “White Army.” I spoke with Tim over the phone earlier this week about the exhibition, his work in South Sudan, and some other topics related to photojournalism in Africa.

Click here to listen.

Album Review: Mali Overdrive, by Anansy Cissé


A review of Mali Overdrive, the debut international release by Anansy Cisse, a talented musician from northern Mali whose heavily distorted guitar and flawless composition offer one of the more original recordings out of West Africa in recent years.

Though music from northern Mali has been finding its way to Bamako’s recording studios for decades, there has been a veritable boom in albums by northern Malians for foreign consumption over the last two years.

The uptick in international releases by artists from Mali’s north may in part be a product of the Islamist militants takeover of northern Mali in 2012. It was during that ugly period in Mali’s history that a patchwork of jihadist groups took the unthinkable step of banning music throughout much of the area under their control.

Musicians whose livelihoods depended on live gigs at bars, nightclubs, weddings, and baptisms fled the area en masse. Some sought refuge abroad. Others found themselves in Bamako, relying on the hospitality of friends, family, and strangers to get by. The exodus from northern Mali also brought untold artists closer to the world music pipelines that pass through West African capitals such as Bamako.

One such artist is Anansy Cissé, a guitarist from the region of Timbuktu. According to the press release accompanying his debut international release,Mali Overdrive, Cissé was forced to dismantle the recording studio he ran in Diré following the invasion of Islamist militants.

Click here to continue reading.

Pop Music, Elections, and Slavery in Mauritania


The Islamic Republic of Mauritania is holding elections today that are certain to re-elect current President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz. To learn more about today’s elections and some of the social dynamics driving Mauritanian politics today, I spoke with Erin Pettigrew, a PhD student at Stanford University who specializes in Mauritanian history, and Nasser Weddady, a Mauritanian-American activist who is best known for his use of social media during the Arab Spring. This is the first of many podcasts to come.

Click here to listen.

Suits and Suicide Vests

For as long as I knew it, the building that housed the Mayor’s Office in Gao, a town in northern Mali, was a graceless mass of concrete. It may have been designed and built with care, but the off-brand, neo-Sudanic structure lacked upkeep. I went there for the first time in August of 2008. As a new resident preparing for what was meant to be a two-year stint as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I went to introduce myself to the bureaucratic powers that be.

Over the course of that year, my Malian counterpart, who was also a government official of sorts, brought me to the Mayor’s Office at least a dozen times. These visits were almost always carried out as a matter of protocol. He knew, and I would soon learn, that while the people who staffed these government offices could do little to help us with projects, they were fully capable of blocking of them. Such is the petty, suffocating power of local officials in broken systems of government.