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Malian Mothers Want Peace So They Can See Their Children

  • Aisha Mint Ahmed, who works as a cleaner on the U.N. base in Kidal in northern Mali, longs for the return of government services outlined in Mali’s 2015 peace agreement so that she will no longer have to send her daughters to live with far-off relatives to go to school. (All photos: The Carter Center/ J. Hahn)

  • Safi Inorano is also a cleaner with two daughters living and going to school far away. Since the civil war, she can no longer dress how she likes in town, so she dresses conservatively and then changes into something more her style when she gets to work.

Aisha Ahmed and Safi Inorano go about their daily tasks with holes in their hearts.

While they work as cleaners on the U.N. base in Kidal, Mali, their daughters live with relatives hundreds of miles away in cities that – unlike their own – have functioning schools.

“I miss them very much – very much,” Ahmed says of her daughters, who are 17 and 13, “but I don’t have a choice. This is their only hope.”

In 2012, separatist rebel groups teamed with Islamic jihadists to try to win independence for Mali’s sparsely populated northern region, which includes the town of Kidal. The rebels captured significant swaths of land before the French teamed with Malian government to reclaim the territory, and in 2015, the separatists signed a peace agreement with the government.

That should have led to the re-opening of schools, but four years on, Kidal’s schools are still operating with mostly untrained volunteer teachers. Parents who can scrape together enough money send their children away to school.

“If I could have my three daughters in school in Kidal, I would,” says Inorano. “But I can’t, so they are in Bamako. My hope for them is that they will succeed in school and go on to have the freedom to live their lives in peace and be able to take care of themselves.”

Both Inarano and Ahmed are single mothers, and they say they were fortunate to find work on the base because since the conflict, there are few jobs in the north for women.

Even before the war, life in the region was difficult – then, as now, there was no electric grid, little clean water, inadequate health care. But the influence of the Islamists who joined forces with the rebels eroded women’s freedom.

Women can no longer dress as they wish or wear their hair and nails the way they like. They can’t play basketball or go dancing. They can’t ride on the back of a motorbike with their brother or sit next to a male cousin. And jihadists at times terrorize the population.

“We can’t sleep and feel safe,” said one woman, a former U.N. cleaner who wanted to remain anonymous. “We worry all the time.”

Today, four years after the signing of the peace agreement, the men in the former rebel groups and the men in Mali’s government continue to wrangle about who needs to do what to make the agreement a success.

Women have been largely excluded from these discussions, but Aisha Ahmed has a message for the participants: “You need to struggle. You need to persist to bring peace,” she said. “Life is not sweet without peace. It is necessary.”

Since January 2018, The Carter Center has served as the Independent Observer of the implementation of the peace agreement, identifying which of the 78 commitments in the agreement have been fulfilled and which still need doing – pointing out barriers to progress and making recommendations on how to overcome them.

“If everything laid out in the agreement comes to fruition, schools in the north would reopen. Social services would improve, job opportunities would increase, and people would feel safer,” said John Goodman, an associate director in the Center’s Conflict Resolution Program. “The Carter Center has just a small role to play, but we’re here working on this issue to try to make life better for people like Aisha and Safi and their daughters.”

Learn more about the Carter Center's Conflict Resolution Program »

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