peter tinti

independent journalist

Lines in the Sand, VICE on HBO

For those who have a subscription to HBO or have access to an HBO password, please check out a film I worked on for Episode 4 of this season’s VICE on HBO. The segment focuses on cocaine trafficking from South America to Europe via West Africa, and the extent to which armed Islamist groups profit from these networks. I’m credited as a consulting producer. You won’t see me on camera, but I’m lurking behind the scenes. Check out the sneak peek below:

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A Postcard from Guantánamo: How Mohamedou Ould Slahi Became a Suspected Terrorist, Then a Best-Selling Author

VICE

It was a simple prayer. Every day, Mariem Mint Elwadia asked God for the same thing: She wanted to see her son, Mohamedou Ould Slahi, just one more time before she died.

The last time she laid eyes on him, Slahi was on his way to the police station for questioning, an inconvenience that had become somewhat routine back then, in November 2001. It was just after dusk on the outskirts of Nouakchott, the dusty capital of the arid West African nation of Mauritania. Slahi had come home from work and was preparing to shower when the police arrived at the family home. As usual, he drove his own car to the police station.

“Don’t worry, I’ll be back soon,” the 30-year-old told his family. But Slahi never returned. His car sat idle in the police parking lot for weeks, and Mauritanian authorities refused to provide his family with any information on his whereabouts.

Sixteen months later, in March 2003, a 4-by-6 postcard arrived at the house. It didn’t offer much in the way of details. At the top right sat an 80-cent stamp from the US that featured a picturesque mountain vista. The return address read 160 Camp X-Ray, Washington, DC 20353, USA. The postmark, dated 2002, suggested the card had been sent via the US Postal Service. In a section labeled “camp,” there was a four-letter acronym penned in narrow, inelegant handwriting.

It read “GTMO.”

Mohamedou Ould Slahi had become a Guantánamo Bay detainee, and his mother found out through a postcard.

“I am writing this postcard for the fourth time, and I have not received any response from you. I do not know if you are receiving these cards or not,” Slahi wrote on the back. “I do not know if God will help me and deliver me from this injustice, but in any case, be patient and invest time in prayer.”

At the time, Elwadia could not have known that US intelligence officials considered her son to be a key player in al Qaeda’s European and North American operations and a central figure in the 9/11 attacks. Nor could she have known that Slahi would be tortured for months at a time over the course of several years, or that a judge would order his release, or that that decision would be cruelly reversed. And no one could have predicted that Slahi would become a New York Times best-selling author from inside the walls of the world’s most infamous prison. But there is little about the globe-spanning life of Mohamedou Ould Slahi that follows a straight line, which is why his story, steeped in unknowable complexity and murky details, is perhaps the perfect parable of the post-9/11 era.

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Tackling Ebola, One Broadcast at a Time

Foreign Policy

Health workers aren’t the only ones fighting Ebola — so are radio journalists, hip-hop singers, and imams.

Guéckédou, Guinea — Diallo Fatou Traoré stands at the entrance of a rural radio station, of which she is the director, and asks that everyone entering use a hand-washing station. In less tenuous times, such a request would be unfathomably rude. But here in Guinea’s southeastern Forestière region, the heart of the current Ebola epidemic, extreme caution has become the norm

Traoré and her team of 18 journalists, technicians, and on-air presenters are probably not the first people who come to mind when thinking about those on the front lines of the battle against Ebola, but each have been deeply engaged in fighting the spread of the disease. “We had seven cases and four dead at the start, and people did not believe in Ebola,” says Traoré, who recalls people calling into her station with personal theories and anecdotes. “We started interactive programming with a doctor answering questions and responding to phone calls, and the mentality changed.”

Across Guinea, it is ordinary citizens like Traoré who are fighting Ebola despite limited resources and no prior experience with the virus. Attention and praise are rightly given to the health workers risking their lives to treat the sick; across West Africa, 382 health workers had become infected and 216 had died as of Oct. 1, according to the World Health Organization. But countless other people from a range of backgrounds — journalists, religious leaders, artists — have been doing their own small part to combat the disease, even as national and international leaders have equivocated and global health organizations dithered.

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The Toxic Politics of Ebola

Foreign Policy

In Guinea, the epidemic isn’t just killing people. It’s threatening to tear the country apart.

Guéckédou, Guinea — Thérèse Moundekeno was a pharmacy student in Conakry, Guinea’s coastal capital city, when she received a phone call in April advising her to do everything possible to come home to Guéckédou, a city deep in the country’s southeastern Forestière region. It was the latest in a string of bad news for Moundekeno, whose sister and brother-in-law had died of a mysterious illness weeks earlier. Now her mother had fallen sick. By the time Moundekeno could leave school and make the daylong trip back to Guéckédou by public transport, her mother was dead.

When she arrived at the hospital, a doctor with the organization Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières, or MSF) refused Moundekeno’s request to see her mother’s body. “He told me the same virus that killed your mother can kill you,” she recalls.

For her mother’s funeral, Moundekeno says she had little choice but to eschew local traditions and her religious beliefs, which would require her to clean and dress her mother’s body before burying it. It was an agonizing decision, made all the more painful when she saw her mother’s cadaver loaded into the hospital vehicle in a graceless body bag rather than vibrant traditional fabrics.

“When the vehicle arrived at the cemetery, everyone dispersed,” Moundekeno says, holding back tears. “Everyone.”

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Sketches of West Florissant Avenue

Beacon

Amid the teargas and rubber bullets on West Florissant Avenue were the less tangible, but no less real complexities that my camera could not capture. What follows is the humble observations of an outsider who spent seven days in Ferguson, made possible by your support.

Ferguson, Mo. — By the time I arrived at the corner of West Florissant Avenue and Canfield Drive, Michael Brown’s death was already a national story. Not because the unarmed black teen was shot several times in broad daylight by a white police officer named Darren Wilson, but because the violent clashes between protesters and police in the wake of his death made for must-see TV.

Crowds had gathered to call for justice for Michael Brown, which in the short term, meant calling for the arrest of Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot him.  In response, police dressed like soldiers pointed sniper rifles at unarmed citizens. They deployed tear gas. They fired rubber bullets. They lobbed stun grenades at unsuspecting citizens and used something called a “sound cannon” to disperse crowds.

During my seven days in Ferguson, my dispatches from West Florissant Avenue focused on these dynamics. They emphasized the weapons of war, the looting and Molotov cocktails, and the tension between police officers and protesters. But these raw moments, while compelling and important, are only one part of the story unfolding on West Florissant Avenue.

What follows are notes from West Florissant Avenue that eschew play-by-play reporting in favor of something less tangible, but no less real. They do not aspire to tell the whole story, but to shed light on the underlying complexities that my camera could not capture. They are the humble observations of an outsider.

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The US and France Are Teaming Up to Fight A Sprawling War on Terror in Africa

VICE News

In July of this year, France launched Operation Barkhane, an ambitious counterterrorism initiative spread across five countries in Africa’s Sahel and Sahara regions. The mission seeks to build upon the success of the French military intervention that drove al Qaeda-linked jihadi militants from northern Mali in 2013, and comes at a time when the US is expanding its own counterterrorism operations on the continent, setting the stage for what some analysts consider a burgeoning Franco-American alliance in Africa.

“This is a new chapter in French-American relations,” Michael Shurkin, a former CIA analyst who is now a political scientist at the RAND Corporation, told VICE News. “There is an unprecedented level of cooperation going on.”

In an August 11 memo to US Secretary of State John Kerry and US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, President Barack Obama, citing an “unforeseen emergency,” authorized the transfer of up to $10 million “to assist France in its efforts to secure Mali, Niger, and Chad from terrorists and violent extremism.” The move hints at a division of labor in which the US foots the bill for a cash-strapped French military that is both logistically and politically better placed than the US to engage in combat operations in the Sahel.

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The New French Militarism In the Sahel

Medium

France’s new counterterrorism mission in the Sahel represents a stunning rejection of recent French policy toward the African continent, and with its commitment to actively hunting and killing terrorists, Opération Barkhane could radically alter security dynamics throughout the region.

French government officials recently unveiled plans to launch a new counterterrorism initiative in the Sahel, code-named Opération Barkhane.The mission consists 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, Barkhane represents 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.”

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The New French Militarism In the Sahel

Beacon

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.

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On Africa’s Human Trafficking Trail

Wall Street Journal

Ibrahim and his colleagues, none older than 40, are smugglers who specialize in the transport of a very specific commodity: humans.

AGADEZ, Niger — It’s 8 a.m., and Ibrahim is chain-smoking in a clandestine flophouse with his new business partners, Adam, Ahmed, Barka and Sidi. They sit on a cheap plastic mat that does little to soften the concrete floor. As soon as one of them finishes a cigarette, another tosses the communal pack in his direction. When one carton is kicked, a new one is ripped open without hesitation.

Ibrahim grew up in southern Libya, where he attended university in the town of Kufra. After earning his degree in agricultural engineering, he landed a job at a large-scale farm. He lived comfortably off his salary and even saved enough to open a shop that sold canned goods, bottled drinks and American Legend cigarettes.

But on the stifling Tuesday morning that I meet him, Ibrahim is in the darkest corner of a filthy room in Agadez, Niger, 1,000 miles across the Sahara from Kufra and a world away from his previous life in Moammar Gadhafi’s Libya.

“Did you tell him there are no human rights in Libya?” a fidgety Ibrahim asks my translator. “Tell him human rights do not exist in Libya,” he insists, glaring at my notebook to make sure I am writing something down.

Ibrahim and his colleagues, none older than 40, are smugglers who specialize in the transport of a very specific commodity: humans. They move migrants who have come to Agadez from all over West Africa into southern Libya, where many will work their way to the Mediterranean coast—a process that can take months if not years. From there, they pay their way onto boats that smuggle immigrants to Europe.

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Contextualizing Boko Haram

Beacon

With last week’s rush-hour bombing of a bus station outside the Nigerian capital of Abuja and the subsequent kidnapping of over 200 schoolgirls in the country’s northeast, Islamist sect Boko Haram appears to be as dangerous as ever. The goal of this article is to fill in the gaps between breaking news accounts and existing academic scholarship to offer readers an accessible look into Boko Haram, its history, and the current socio-political context in which it operates.

Last week, Islamist sect Boko Haram bombed a bus station just outside the Nigerian capital of Abuja. That same day, as authorities were tabulating a body count from the explosions that would eventually reach 71, Boko Haram militants disguised as Nigerian soldiers kidnapped over 200 girls from a school in the country’s northeast.

Several of the girls have since escaped, but the majority are still missing and there is a growing fear that most of these girls — aged 15 to 18 — are likely to be used as cooks, servants and sex slaves by Boko Haram.

Though the dual attacks were particularly pernicious, Boko Haram and its offshoots have been launching deadly attacks throughout northern Nigeria for the better part of five years. 2014 is proving to be a particularly lethal year, with at least 1,500 dead since January.

With some notable exceptions, most of the violence surrounding Boko Haram has been limited to Nigeria’s northeast. Concrete details of the horrific, day-to-day violence rarely register in the south of the country. In Nigeria’s largest urban center, the megacity of Lagos, news of the bloody insurgency is often reported with the indifference of a weather update.

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Lines in the Malian Sand: Tuareg Fractures Widen as Talks Continue to Stall

Think Africa Press

Divisions within northern Mali’s various Tuareg groups have slowed down negotiations with the government and reawakened old regional rivalries.

NIAMEY, Niger– Two years ago, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) was celebrating the establishment of a newly-declared independent state in northern Mali. The Tuareg secessionist group’s forces had enjoyed a series of victories against government forces and had taken control of large parts of the region, including major cities, towns and military bases. After various failed rebellions in the past 50 years, it looked this one might finally be a success. This seemed to be the best-organised and best-equipped uprising so far, and the Malian government seemed utterly unable to cope.

But, it seems, it was not to be. Today, most of northern Mali is back under state control − at least as much as it ever was − and a recent defection by a prominent MNLA leader has left many wondering if the group is on brink of internal collapse. What a difference two years, an Islamist takeover, and a French-led intervention make.

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War, Peace and Civil Affairs in Niger

Wall Street Journal

Flintlock demonstrates both the commitment and the limits of U.S. military engagement in West Africa.

TAHOUA, Niger — Just outside this nondescript transit hub nestled between the rocky badlands of the Sahel and the encroaching Sahara, soldiers from Burkina Faso jog in unison. Senegalese commandos march toward a training tent. A Toyota Land Cruiser with an anti-aircraft gun affixed to its cab carries Nigerien military police into a dusty horizon. U.S. special forces lift weights at an impromptu gym.

All of these troops are in Tahoua as part of Flintlock 2014, an African-led military exercise sponsored annually by U.S. Africa Command. Apart from 2012, when Flintlock was cancelled after the proposed host nation Mali descended into chaos, the exercise has taken place every year since 2005 to strengthen the capacity of militaries in the increasingly unstable Sahel region.

This year, Flintlock is being held in Niger, a desperately poor, landlocked West African nation of 17 million that shares long, porous borders with volatile states including Mali, Algeria, Libya and Nigeria. The exercise, which began on Feb. 19 and will run until March 9, focuses on security, counter-terrorism, and humanitarian support. In addition to special forces from the U.S., troops from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Canada, France, Germany, Denmark, Norway, Italy, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom comprise the approximately 1,000 personnel scattered across four locations.

Though U.S. special forces and their counterparts pride themselves on their ability to leave a light footprint, their presence during these weeks is palpable. A network of military aircraft fly low over villages, shuttling troops and supplies between a transit hub on the outskirts of the capital city, Niamey, and a constellation of forward operating bases further afield.

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Legislative Elections Could Signal Mali’s Return to Politics as Usual

World Politics Review

Voters in the West African nation of Mali will go to the polls this weekend for legislative elections that may offer insight into the country’s uncertain political trajectory. Mali descended into chaos last year, when a coup d’etat in the country’s south paved the way for Islamist militants linked to al-Qaida to take over the northern two-thirds of the country.

In late-July, Malians turned out in record numbers for a presidential election that the international community—particularly, France and the U.S.—had been calling for as a condition for unlocking nearly $4 billion in pledged assistance. That election came just six months after a French-led military intervention drove the mosaic of Islamist and Tuareg nationalist rebels from their northern strongholds. Despite calls for delays by prominent NGOs and some local politicians who feared that a rushed vote might further destabilize the country, the election was ultimately deemed free and fair by international observers.

But serious questions remain regarding Mali’s political transition, and lingering security concerns in the north have many analysts wondering if Mali—once wrongly considered a model democracy in Africa—is actually on a viable path to stability, or rushing headlong back toward the failed “politics as usual” that characterized the pre-coup period.

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Africa Express Strikes the Right Note

The Wall Street Journal

André de Ridder, one of the world’s most daring conductors, has hit a minor snag. His flute-player, Cheick Diallo, can’t play F-sharp.

Mr. de Ridder is based in Berlin, often working in London. Mr. Diallo normally plays at Tempo, a small nightclub here in Mali’s capital. Otherwise, he gets by from the money he earns playing traditional ceremonies—”weddings, baptisms, funerals . . . all of that,” he says.

Messrs. de Ridder and Diallo are recording this particular session in an impromptu music studio just off the banks of the Niger, on the third floor of the Maison des Jeunes, a not-quite-dilapidated art space that doubles as a bar and hostel of sorts.

Mr. Diallo is playing the traditional flute of his ethnic group, the Peuhl, also known as Fulani in much of West Africa. When he delicately trills in the lower registers of his long, wooden instrument, he produces a sound that would embed inconspicuously within a Western orchestra.

Seconds later, the entire room jumps when Mr. Diallo employs more indigenous techniques, attacking each note with a jarring yelp, then creating two-note harmonies as he hums and plays simultaneously.It seems like Mr. Diallo can make just about any sound come out of his simple instrument. Any sound, that is, except an F-sharp, which Mr. de Ridder needs him to play as part of his attempt to re-create Terry Riley’s minimalist classic “In C” with Malian musicians.

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Despite Nigeria’s crackdown, Boko Haram continues its killing ways

CS Monitor

The radical Islamists of Boko Haram appear to have killed 40 students asleep at a college in Yobe on Sunday. Is Nigeria’s get-tough approach working?

Abuja, Nigeria: Suspected members of the rebel sect Boko Haram stormed an agricultural college in Yobe, northeastern Nigeria, on Sunday, killing at least 40 in the latest of a string of attacks that have rocked northern Nigeria.

The surge in violence comes amid a four-month state of emergency covering three states in northeastern Nigeria, and after a spate of summer slaughters, including what appeared to be the gunning down of school children and of Muslims considered too religiously moderate, even as they prayed in their mosque.

Boko Haram has increasingly set its sights on civilian targets, prompting many Nigerians to question claims by the government and the military that they are winning the war against violent extremism.

Though exact numbers are hard to verify, Boko Haram and its affiliates are thought to have killed thousands since it first launched an Islamist insurgency in 2009.

Initially established a decade ago as a religious movement opposed to Western culture, Boko Haram has since morphed into a militant group determined to establish an Islamic state in northern Nigeria.

The group rose to international prominence in 2010 and 2011 when it carried out a series of deadly attacks against the Nigerian government and detonated a car bomb after crashing into a United Nations building in Abuja, the capital.

The gunmen in Sunday’s attack are reported to have killed dozens of students as they slept and rounded up others for execution. Several more students were injured trying to flee.

The attacks also come as Nigeria – Africa’s most populous nation, top oil producer, and second largest economy – prepares to celebrate its 53rd year of independence amid concerns that Boko Haram is planning more attacks to coincide with the national holiday on Tuesday.

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