Ben Lowry: Bamako – an impoverished city near to the Sahara desert

Poor countries such as Mali lack the special forces skills of western nations, so it was good to see French special forces among those who helped the Malian forces end the siege at the Radisson Blu in Bamako, writes Ben Lowry. Above, security forces inside the hotel. (Mali TV ORTM,  AP)
Poor countries such as Mali lack the special forces skills of western nations, so it was good to see French special forces among those who helped the Malian forces end the siege at the Radisson Blu in Bamako, writes Ben Lowry. Above, security forces inside the hotel. (Mali TV ORTM, AP)

This is tragic news from Bamako, a fine city with a Sahara feel that I visited in 2006 after a two-day train ride into the African interior from Dakar, on the coast of Senegal.

The main problem then was poverty so acute (in one of the world’s poorest countries) that people are constantly – and understandably – trying to get some business out of a westerner.

Ben Lowry News Letter Deputy Editor 2014

Ben Lowry News Letter Deputy Editor 2014

But I had no sense of it being unsafe or unstable, and I walked extensively around the city and past slums before I was clobbered with dysentery and malaria, which prevented me travelling on to Timbuktu.

I remember visiting an upmarket hotel one evening near the river, and seeing Germans and British people sitting round the terrace – the sort of people who have now been killed.

In such a comfortable setting a sudden violent death is far from your thoughts.

Years later the north of the country was seized by Islamic extremists but not the capital.

Poor countries lack the special forces skills of nations such as the UK so it is good that French forces (Mali was a French colony) helped retake the Radisson Blu.