Monthly Archives: January 2013

I learned a long time ago not to trust BBC News. Orgreave and 9/11 are just two examples out of a massive list I could reel off, given the time. And so this week we have the alleged burning of ancient manuscripts at the library in Timbuktu. This blog from Lissnup questions the BBC’s report but also the assertion that Islamist terrorists are on a mission of wanton destruction. The other day someone on my Twitter timeline – a Tory or some right-winger – linked Timbuktu with the Taliban’s destruction of the massive Buddhist statues carved into a mountain in Afghanistan. The frothing anger was palpable, even through the Internet. The question for me was always, “Why would Muslims, referred to as ‘Islamists’, want to destroy something written by other Muslims”? It just didn’t make sense. The only reason our media would say such a thing is to provoke outrage and therefore convince the public to accept the need for an endless war in the Sahel, the Maghreb and perhaps, the rest of the West African region.

This is a particularly illuminating paragraph.

It is possible that the empty boxes are of manuscripts destroyed during the process of restoration. Restoration is a continuous process at the Ahmed Baba Centre – and other private libraries such as the SAVAMA consortium – as mss come in from all over the region (Azawad); this I saw when doing research at Ahmed Baba. However, a colleague doing her research in Timbuktu as well told me that these are a few mss.

It is also possible that the empty boxes are of mss stolen; mss are stolen all the time in Timbuktu and sold (usually to some Westerner for a variety of motives).

There are some Westerners who clearly fancy themselves as wannabe Indiana Joneses. Some people will pay the earth for such treasures and there are plenty of Western billionaires who would want these manuscripts as part of their private collection.

@lissnup

The following is a statement by researcher Mohammad Mathee regarding the alleged destruction of manuscripts (mss) in Timbuktu, Mali.

“I work as a researcher on the Timbuktu manuscripts once part of the UCT-Tombouctou Manuscripts Project though based at the University of Johannesburg now. I do not think it is as straightforward as BBC and other media are reporting it of Islamic extremists burning the Ahmad Baba Centre. From the news coming in from Mali, the report in the Guardian, BBC etc. is exaggerated. The new building has not been torched (in fact, it seems the Ansar al-Din guys and ilk took care quite nicely of the building).

According to a senior researcher at the Ahmed Baba Centre, 10 000 ms were placed in the vault of the new building (the archival library built by the South African government and civil society). However, according to Dr. Mahmoud Zoubeir, first director of…

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No British troops on the ground in the Sahel?

US involvement in Vietnam began with sending military advisers and look what happened.

Since the French military adventure in Mali began, we’ve heard a lot from Dizzy Dave Cameron about how British troops will not be sent to the Sahel to serve in a combat role. So the other day when I heard Britain was to dispatch 330 soldiers to the region in an “advisory” capacity, I was reminded of the US’s involvement in the Vietnam War, which began in 1956 when Eisenhower sent “military advisers” there to “train” the Vietnamese forces. In actual fact, advisers and observers had been sent there in 1950 by Truman to support the French efforts but in small numbers.

In 1954, the Americans and the French installed the puppet president, Ngô Đình Diệm in Saigon (he won a rigged election). He had impeccable anti-Communist credentials and was a Roman Catholic. An ideal choice for a country with a large Buddhist population. Opposition grew to  Diệm’s rule and by 1957, there was a full-scale insurgency. Diệm responded by torturing and killing those whom he believed were Communists. Such was his popularity, that he faced two assassination attempts. He was finally killed in 1963 in a CIA-supported coup and was replaced by Dương Văn Minh.

When Kennedy became US president in 1961, he sent more “military advisers” to Vietnam to support the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN). My father was part of a contingent sent to Saigon in 1963. When Kennedy was assassinated in the same year, Johnson sent even more troops to Vietnam and by 1965, he’d escalated the war. You know what happened next.

The sending of “military advisers” to another country to counter “insurgents” is never a good sign. The Cat suspects that British special forces have also been sent to Mali and neighbouring Niger. Today, Cameron has flown to Algeria to have talks with his opposite number, Abdelmalek Sellal. No prizes for guessing what they’ll be talking about.

The Globe and Mail reports that Canadian special forces are already in Mali to “protect the country’s diplomats”.

The US has negotiated a deal with the Nigerien government to establish a base for its unmanned drones.

The head of the U.S. Africa Command, General Carter Ham, visited Niger last month. The poor, landlocked West Africa state has said it wants to have closer security cooperation with Washington.

Carter Ham… you’ve got to love that name. AFRICOM was established in 2006.

The new scramble for Africa is under way and ordinary people will get caught in the middle while the US, France, Britain, Canada and the rest of them slug it out with China and India (yes, India) for the continent’s resources.

Anyone for yellow cake uranium?

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Life on Gilligan’s Island (Part 48)

East London Mosque, the site of sustained attacks from Andrew "Bomber" Gilligan. East London Mosque, the site of sustained attacks from Andrew "Bomber" Gilligan.

East London Mosque, the site of sustained attacks from Andrew “Bomber” Gilligan.

Kennite was forced to announce on his Telegraph blog that he was about to be hired as Bozza’s cycling “tsar”. For this role, he will be paid £38,000 for 2 days work. A nice little earner. On that blog, he told us the following,

It’s part-time; I’ll continue in my day job, covering national and international news for the Telegraph, though I will no longer be called London Editor or cover any matter related to City Hall or Boris Johnson.

He will no longer be called “London Editor”. These are weasel words. He will still comment on London matters, particularly those that relate to Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman and Ken Livingstone. In a second blog about his new appointment, he said,

There was inevitably a second group of reactions. A small number of people who could fairly be described as partisan, such as Labour’s Len Duvall and the Ken Livingstone blogger Sunny Hundal, have damned itas “cronyist.” But as Mayorwatch’s Martin Hoscik – another man who could never be described as a patsy for the mayor – points out, all mayors are entitled to appoint political supporters to political jobs, and do so routinely without controversy. Nobody would or should call, say, the Labour assembly member Val Shawcross a crony because Boris’s predecessor appointed her as chair of the fire authority.

Such dishonesty. But notice how he gets in another dig at his favourite bogeyman, Ken Livingstone. He just can’t help himself.

In yesterday’s blog, Kennite attacked East London Mosque, which he has described, in the past, as a hotbed of extremism (or words to that effect).

I was offered the “Muslim patrol” story in Tower Hamlets, where self-proclaimed “Muslim vigilantes” filmed themselves verbally abusing and intimidating a gay man. Perhaps wrongly, I didn’t use it because I wasn’t sure whether a few kids on YouTube had national importance. I am glad, however, that the local police appear to be taking it seriously for once – in contrast to their lamentable attempts to ignore, downplay and cover up previous acts of “Islamic enforcement” and bigotry in the East End.

Really? The police “covered up”, “ignored” and downplayed “Islamic enforcement in the “East End”? The East End is a big place, by the way. But you know where this is leading, don’t you? Oh yes, it’s another smear job on the East London Mosque.

One Tower Hamlets organisation of undoubted national importance that continues to laugh up its sleeve at us is the East London Mosque, the capital’s largest. The mosque’s PR machine lost no time cranking out a statement condemning the “vigilantes” and claiming that the mosque was “committed to building co-operation and harmony between all communities in this borough. The actions of this tiny minority have no place in our faith.” This claim has been trustingly repeated by various journalists in the coverage this week. But, as the most cursory investigation would show, it is a brazen lie.

The only reason why Kennite doubts the ELM’s statement is because it’s been issued by a mosque, which by definition means they’re also Muslim. There is no other reason.

Then, in the next paragraph, Kennite gets into a bit of a tangle.

There is no evidence that the East London Mosque is directly involved in the latest attacks. But at least one activist in the Islamic Forum of Europe, the Islamic supremacist group that runs the mosque, has previously threatened and intimidated people for violating “Islamic norms,” using the IFE’s name.

Notice how he mentions the Islamic Forum for Europe, whom he accuses of threatening and intimidating behaviour and draws a lazy link between the self-styled vigilantes, the ELM and IFE. I’m only surprised he hasn’t mentioned al-Qaeda.  The English Defence League also have a penchant for intimidation. They also make the same noises about the ELM and the IFE. Coincidence?

He continues his rant,

And as this blog has repeatedly documented, the mosque itself and its annexe, the London Muslim Centre, host a constant stream of viciously homophobic and other hate preachers. In June 2011, after coming under particular pressure on the subject, the mosque promised: “Any speaker who is believed to have said something homophobic will not be allowed to use our premises.”

And certain members of UKIP have made “viciously homophobic” statements. But they’re mostly white and possibly Christian, so they don’t count. Eh, Kennite?

At the end of the blog, we find this,

Hat-tip to Harry’s Place for the adverts and one of the videos.

Ah, Harry’s Place, that fount of tolerance and understanding. Reading the blogs on that site is a little like splashing your eyes with nitric acid.

So, while Kennite has apparently surrendered his role as the Torygraph’s London Editor, he will continue to churn out smear jobs about Rahman, Livingstone and anyone who defends them or challenges his narrative. It’s business as usual.

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The British Right, the EU and the absence of modernity

John Bull: pigheadedness, anti-intellectual and resistant to modernity

Whenever I returned from a visit to the continent in the 1980s and 1990s, my heart would sink as I approached the port or airport. For I knew that when I set foot on British soil I was likely to be confronted with an antiquated train that was dirty and smelly. These days I need to re-mortgage the home I don’t own to pay the fare. On the continent, the railways are fast, clean, efficient and reasonably priced. Everyone has a seat and no one stands. Those countries embrace modernity. This country mostly rejects it. We have one high speed line. That is all.

In 1970, when my father announced to the family that we were going to move from Germany to England, I wasn’t happy. I wanted to stay in Germany. I’d grown used to the country and learned to speak German. But if you’re a child growing up in a military family, you get used to moving every 3 or 4 years. You lose friends and you quickly make more. That’s the way it is.

When we arrived in England, I was surprised that little had changed since my previous visits in 1963 and 1967. The country was still fusty, curled up around the edges like a stale cheese and pickle sandwich. Many television programmes were a source of horror and I was appalled to see white men blacking up and singing minstrel songs in 1970! I was disgusted when I heard comedians tell jokes about “nig nogs” and “pakis”. Grown up men telling jokes that schoolchildren whispered to their mates on the playground. Grown men!

People were still complaining or making jokes about the Germans. The attitude toward the French was no better. Other European countries also came in for abuse. No one was safe. But there was no justification for this superiority complex. None at all. It seemed that Britain was resting on its laurels; always harking back to the 19th century and the days of Empire. “This country kick-started the industrial revolution”! “We invented the railways”! So? What are you doing now?

Britain’s post-war governments had tried and failed many times to join the EEC. Now European nations must be wondering why they bothered in the first place. But in the 1970s Britain persisted with its application for membership and because the biggest obstacle, De Gaulle was cold in the grave, it was finally successful.

So on Wednesday when Cameron appeared before the cameras to announce that he would give the British people a say over the EU, it reminded me of all the times I’d heard jokes about the Germans and the French. On Twitter, the Europhobes crowed.  They started popping the corks – prematurely, of course. Some started talking fondly about the Empire. “Oh, those were the days”! “We should never have given up Inja”!

Britain is not a modern country. The parties of the right are obsessed with the days of Empire. They refuse to face the future, because it’s much more comforting to look to the past. But it’s not a past that exists in either the bowdlerized history books beloved of Michael Gove and Niall Ferguson or the popular memory. It’s a past that’s formed entirely out of the nothingness of nostalgia; it’s shit and dust. The Tories and their ideological cousins, UKIP, are incapable of doing anything but looking backwards and in doing so, they want to drag us back to some mythological age when there was “free trade” and “civilization” was dispensed from the barrel of a gun.

And with the talk of a referendum, comes the Churchillian rhetoric about “fighting them on the beaches”. Plucky little England against beastly Europe. These people demand Imperial Preference from an Empire that no longer exists and “free trade” that isn’t free. The thing is, in spite of what our Europhobic friends say, Britain still trades with its former colonies. Today when I visited the supermarket, I saw Anchor Butter (from New Zealand), New Zealand lamb, Sri Lankan tea and coffee from Kenya – openly on sale. Who says that Britain doesn’t trade with these countries? UKIP does and so do Europhobic Tories.

It was a Conservative government under Edward Heath that took Britain into the EEC. The Labour Party was mostly opposed because they saw it as an institution dominated by bankers and bosses. By the 1980s, the Labour position had changed because of Thatcher’s anti-union laws. The EU was gradually seen as a bulwark against the excesses of rapacious neoliberalism, though it was pretty much hopeless, because those laws were passed (so much for a “loss” of sovereignty) and trade unions were forced to comply.The Tories complained that Britain would lose its sovereignty. It didn’t.

The Tory-supporting media drives the debate on Europe and it would be wrong to suggest that it doesn’t. It would also be wrong to suggest that many British people are well-informed about Europe. They aren’t. If you tell that to a member of UKIP, they’ll tell you that you’re being “patronizing” but they’re in denial and they’re arrogant. Just have a look at the papers: they all say the same things about Europe and the EU.

The alleged ban on curved bananas was a myth fabricated right here in Britain. You see, Britain can still manufacture things, even if those things are completely wrong or useless. The press continues to make up stories about Europe and the EU. Take this example quoted by Roy Greenslade in The Guardian.

I pointed out on Monday that the Daily Express had run a bogus splash,EU wants to merge UK and France.

A similar story appeared in the Express’s red-top sister title, the Daily StarClowns plan to turn us French.

I can only shake my head in dismay. How can we have a sensible and rational debate about the EU when our “free” press prints lies like these?

I’ve said in a previous blog that the EU isn’t perfect. But when one unpacks the narrative of the right’s opposition to the EU, one uncovers the sheer hatred of foreigners and immigrants that lies beneath rhetoric about sovereignty. I see plenty of comments on Telegraph blogs that do nothing but bleat about “purity” and how Britain’s culture is being destroyed by immigrants. Like it or not, this country is a nation of immigrants and it is all the better for it. But it still isn’t a modern country.

What really galls me about the UKIP and Tory Europhobe argument is their tendency to insist that there is a consensus of support for their position. But this consensus is entirely imagined. They talk of the “people” but they have nothing but contempt for the people. They demand a referendum on the EU but they won’t give us a referendum on austerity, the cuts to education and the selling off of the NHS to medical companies.  Their obsession over Europe and the EU is pathological, perhaps sociopathic. Even a psychoanalyst would say so.

As for modernity, it’s resisted at every turn. Right-wing politicians and businesses (including Registered Social Landlords) operate like feudal overlords. The poor, the unemployed, the disabled are all dumped on. Those with the least means are saddled with  massive debts and high costs. Modern? Hell, Britain isn’t even civilized. A socialist  acquaintance told me years ago that “Britain was the last colony of the British Empire”. He was right. We’re all living under the heel of rapacious colonizers and little empire builders in a country that refuses to grow up and enter the modern world.

Europhobes cry “Many people weren’t old enough to vote in the Common Market referendum of 1975”. The people who use this line are the same people who weren’t old enough to be Tory MPs during the Thatcher years, but who now insist on forcing through policies that not even that government could get away with.

We need a proper grown up debate on the EU, not more lies, mischief-making and scaremongering by the press.

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Nightmare on King Street (Part 14)

Yesterday, as I was looking at my Twitter timeline, I saw this tweet from H&F Council’s propaganda department,

H&F propaganda1

So I followed the link to this article on the Council’s website. I will quote the first two paragraphs,

A judge has thrown out a legal challenge that threatened £1billion worth of community benefits to North Fulham and Earls Court, describing it as ‘absurd’.

West Kensington Estate resident Harold Greatwood, applied to court to launch a judicial review of Hammersmith & Fulham (H&F) Council’s decision to enter into a Conditional Land Sale Agreement with EC Properties to include the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates in the wider regeneration of Earls Court.

Gloating? You ain’t seen nothing yet!

Finding that the challenge to the Council’s consultation was “not reasonably arguable”, Mr Justice Mitting said: “The analysis of the consultation responses put to cabinet on 23 April 2012 and 3 September 2012 was balanced and fair. The suggestion that the results of the consultation were hidden is unwarranted”. He went on to say that “The time for the consultation – nine weeks – was adequate” and that “The suggestion that because the defendant did not address the consultation documents to tenants by name or to the ‘tenant’, the process was flawed, is absurd.”

Justice? Justice only exists for those who can afford to pay for it. As for justice being “blind”, that’s another myth. Judges are ideological too. I suspect the Council has a dedicated legal team whose job is to deal with this and other property and land deals.

I saw another tweet on H&F Council’s Twitter timeline.

H&F tweet

This isn’t riding roughshod over the majority of the tenant’s wishes, it’s getting into a steamroller, putting a brick onto the accelerator pedal and running over the tenants again and again. I clicked on the link.

There’s a quote from Council Leader, Nicholas Botterill.

Cllr Nicholas Botterill, Leader of H&F Council, said: “We believe that the residents living on the estates have negotiated the best deal of any regeneration scheme in the country. They will only have to move when their new home is ready to be occupied. That new home will be the same area as they are already living in. People will be compensated and we will keep support groups and neighbours together.

Whoa! Hang on! Botterill says, “The residents living on the estates have negotiated the best deal of any regeneration scheme in the country”. Which “residents” are these? Not the residents who oppose this development and he can only mean the astroturf group of residents that was set up by the Council to give the impression of a consensus for the redevelopment project. It’s an old PR con trick that Edward Bernays would have admired.

Here’s some more,

“Residents, their current and future children will be living in an even better, safer neighbourhood environment with access to new leisure and community facilities. Most of all local people will benefit from the thousands of new job opportunities that will be created”.

“Local people”, says Botterill. Most of those “local people” will be forced out of their homes to make way for the affluent and those who will take, at face value, the words of the developer and the vendors who will sell shoebox properties that have a luxury price tag on them.

At the end of the article, which was quite possibly written by the Council’s propaganda minister, Harry Phibbs, it asks,

What happens next?

  • Hammersmith & Fulham Council will make an application to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government  for consent for the transfer of the estates to EC Properties. This is likely to be considered in March.
  • When the Section 106 agreement with the developer is firmed up, the Planning Authority will refer the planning application to the Mayor of London, while the Secretary of State also has the discretion to call it in.

The Secretary of State, the immensely rotund Eric Pickles, is already on board and so is Emperor Bozza. It looks like a done deal… or is it? The Council, in its arrogance, believes that it can do no wrong. We’ll see.

The former Council Leader, Stephen Greenhalgh, is facing a criminal investigation over the alleged “VIP list” where tenants who signed up to support the redevelopment were promised preferential treatment. If this investigation goes ahead, I expect other councillors and council officials to face charges. For all the Council’s gloating, the VIP list could come back to bite them. The Council and Greenhalgh deny any wrongdoing.

Funnily enough, when I click on any link on the pages I’ve linked to, I get the following message,

http://www.lbhf.gov.uk is unavailable or may not exist.

Amusing. No?

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Prinz Harry versus the beastly Taliban

This morning the BBC News Channel gave us 28 minutes of its airtime to show us a film of Royal brat, Prinz Harry (yes, I insist on spelling the word “prince” in German) posing beside his Apache helicopter and sharing meals with his pals. Such a brave young man. He killed beastly Taliban insurgents. He’s like a one man army. But others are not so fortunate. They have their limbs blown off or are traumatized for life. Prinz Harry got off lightly and the Army was always going to make sure he came back in one piece. He won’t be neglected by the Army either, like so many other soldiers, who get a kick in the teeth or who have to endure substandard housing.  Some are caught up in the criminal justice system or end up sleeping rough on the streets. That won’t happen to Prinz Harry, who will have a nice warm palace to live in.

In the eyes of the mainstream media, the Prinz is a hero because anyone can be a hero these days – especially if you’re a Prinz. The word “hero” has become so devalued by the British media. All you have to do to qualify is be a soldier in Afghanistan. That’s all.  You don’t even have to rescue a comrade while under fire either. You just have to be there.

I suspect the Prinz will sign himself up as patron of Help for Heroes. Then he’ll do a strip for the cameras or don his Nazi uniform for a larf. Go on, Harry, give us a twirl!

Today the government announced 5,300 Army cuts… the day after Cameron talked about fighting “terrorists” in North Africa.

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Mali, Mauritania and slavery

Biram Dah Abeid. Picture courtesy of  babacarbaye.unblog.fr

One thing that hasn’t been mentioned about the current conflict in Mali (and neighbouring Mauritania) is slavery. For centuries Tauregs have kept slaves and I remember reading about this many years ago.

I found this article on the International Business Times website.

The practice of slavery long has been a cultural norm in many Malian communities. As in neighboring Mauritania, slaves and slave owners are often described in terms of “black” and “white,” since slave descendants tend to have black African roots and their masters are typically of lighter-skinned Berber ancestry. But in fact, members of both groups have varying skin tones, and ethnicities are sometimes mixed due to masters raping female slaves.

According to Temedt, a Mali-based advocacy program, about 200,000 people are currently enslaved in the country and about 600,000 more are slave descendants under some form of control even though they live separately from their masters. Temedt works with Anti-Slavery International, a London-based human rights organization, to help free victims of slavery and then assist them in the transition to independence.

This article by Mark Tran in The Guardian (dated 23/10/12) says,

“The slave population is already defenceless; it will become even more so as the conflict intensifies. We are like the straw that will be trampled underfoot when elephants fight,” said Ibrahim Ag Idbaltanat, an activist who received the Anti-Slavery International award in London last Wednesday.

Slavery was formally abolished in Mali in the 1960s, after the country gained independence from France. However, although slavery is not allowed under the constitution, there is no anti-slavery law and descent-based slavery through the maternal bloodline still exists in northern regions.

People descended from slaves remain the “property” of their “masters”, either living with them and serving them directly, or living separately but remaining under their control.

While slavery was abolished in the 1960s, the practice continues particularly in Mauritania where it is officially illegal.

This is from Anti-Slavery International.

Whilst there has been no definitive research on the extent of slavery in the country, SOS Esclaves estimate that approximately 18 per cent of Mauritania’s population (over half a million people) live in slavery today.

Slavery has existed in Mauritania for hundreds of years and is deeply rooted within society across the country. The Haratine are the group most affected by slavery practices and are traditionally owned by Bidane, or white moors, the minority ruling elite of Arab-Berber descent in Mauritania. Historically the white moors raided and enslaved people from the indigenous black population and today, all cases of slavery in Mauritania involve people whose ancestors were enslaved before them.

Slavery status is an inherited status. This age-old distinction underpins the very nature of slavery in Mauritania whereby individuals are assigned to a ‘slave caste’ which is ascribed at birth. Those in slavery are devoid of all their fundamental human rights, are owned and controlled by their masters, and are treated like their property. They are forced to work for their masters throughout their lives and are never paid for their work. They do what their masters tell them to do or they are threatened and abused.

A new law criminalising slavery was passed by the Mauritanian Parliament in 2007 but it is not clear how many people have been prosecuted for keeping slaves if, indeed, anyone has been prosecuted at all. It seems that slavery is still taking place in Mauritania in spite of the law.

In 2011,Biram Dah Abeid, a prominent anti-slavery activist, was arrested on trumped up charges. The Guardian reports,

Abeid originally went to a police station with two girls, aged nine and 13, who had been forced to work as servants for the family of the local police commissioner, according to the press release published by the NGOs. An argument took place, which allegedly ended with Abeid being injured. The “mistress” of the girls was charged but released on bail.

A 2007 law made slavery illegal in Mauritania. “But in fact no one has ever been sentenced. Charges are dropped because the courts are under constant pressure from traditional, religious and tribal forces, all of which tolerate this practice,” said Fatima Mbaye, head of the Mauritanian Human Rights League.

Abeid was eventually released on bail last September. The charges, as far as I know, have not been dropped. However he was granted freedom of movement and visited Europe to raise awareness of the issue of the continued practice of slavery in Mauritania.

According to this blog, Abeid narrowly escaped an assassination attempt in the Mauritanian capital, Nouakchott on 5 January.  Other anti-slavery activists have also been harassed.

While Cameron, Hollande and other Western leaders talk about “Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb” and “Jihadists”, they deliberately elide the region’s other problems. The situation is not as clear cut as “good guys versus evil terrorists”. Yet our media continues to ply us with this grog.

Slavery is still alive in the Sahel and thousands of French troops in the region will do nothing to end it.

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