27 Jan 2013

Inside Gao – motorbikes, celebrations and ‘liberté’

We drove into Gao on the back of a military pick up. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

Thousands of residents of the town came out onto the streets. Shouting praise for France and Francois Hollande and then the motorbikes came up.

Thousands of men and women on motorbikes honking their horns and screaming. Weeping in hysterics and disbelief that this day had come.

They rallied around us as we sped through the streets throwing Malian flags around our necks. Grabbing our hands shouting “thank you, thank you.”

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For nine long months the people of Gao have not been allowed to sing, dance, shout or smoke. The women have not been allowed outside unveiled, let alone ride motorbikes.

Now they were doing everything as loudly and chaotically as possible. Behind us the dust swept up and we saw bikes stretching into the distance. The green, yellow and red of the Malian flag and the red, white and blue of France everywhere.

A young man in a black T-shirt climbed upon the back of our pick up – he shouted “Liberté! Liberté!” before stepping off and being lost in the crowd.

It is hard to find the words to describe a scene of such passion and thrill as the extraordinary moment I witnessed streaming through the streets of Gao this afternoon.

Follow Lindsey Hilsum on Twitter: @lindseyhilsum



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18 reader comments

  1. Constance Blackwell says:

    Lindsey always has the right words for the occasion – now to keep the Islamistics – out – out
    and away

  2. Philip Andrews says:

    France’s motives are not all altruistic. Mali was a French colony you only have to look at the maps to see what form of construct it is. There’s a lot of mineral wealth there and the French are going back in for this reason as well, its highly convenient that the jihadists moved in to the northern part of the country bullied the local population and gave the French the excuse to move in. There’s more at play here than meets the eye.

    1. clover Melville says:

      Then praise god a motive arose which brought this about – if evil and threat to our freedom cannot be seen point blank the motive is a tool bringing liberty and salvation – extremists bring peaceful men and women of same culture into one day forceably having to fight and kill others presented as their ‘enemies ‘ history lies not to us like man does . Australian and proud of it

    2. Michail Azarniyouch says:

      People in Gao are free and the jihadist (terrorist) have no business to be here. the jihadist are a foreign paid terrorist group under the umbrella of al queida who only seek destruction. lies, hatred, deceit , rape and murder. These must be rinsed from all of Africa. African Continent is at the most important cross-road toward freedom, development , democracy. This reportage by Lindsay is fantastic and heart breaking. Obscurantist and conspirationist abstain!

    3. Olivier says:

      “France’s motives are not all altruistic.”

      Ha ha ha… That’s a good one. Do you know one country whose motive are all altruistic? What… the UK??? Ha ha ha ha ha…

  3. amer says:

    why the word “JIHADISTS” is used for those people whose business is terrorism, cigarette smuggling, human trafficking etc??? people?? As I understand the word Jihadist is a religious word and it means “” a person who struggles in the way of God Almighty “”,
    could lindseyhilsum tell us in which religion cigarette smuggling is Jihad?? She should not be so ignorant while reporting international issues.

    1. Browns44 says:


      Is it possible that the people called them selves “JIHADISTS”?

      1. Olivier says:

        The Arabic term is mudjahed, plural mudjaheddin – the one fighting the jihad.

  4. Anne says:

    I prefer the word Jihadists. Other sources use Islamist and it tends to therefore get stuck in people’s minds that Islam = terrorist which is so NOT the case. Yes, every guerilla movement etc has always funded itself via nefarious means. There are lots of people who claim to be working via the mechanims of one God or another and most of them are murderers and have a one track world view (i.e. their own view is the only right one – such as Tony Blair) and they come from all persuasions. Thank you Lindsay.

    1. Alan says:

      Anne, they are actually Islamists engaged in a Jihad, otherwise known as a Holy War. They believe they are the true purist followers of the Muslim faith.
      Just to set the record straight.

  5. joe alvarado says:

    now Mali is a country again

  6. carolyn says:

    Vive la France!

  7. Brad Cole says:


    That would be Islam

  8. N says:

    Philip Andrews > France protect Uranium from Niger, and try to avoid a new state that could “produce” terroriste send to France like it was done twice in the past.

  9. Fran Perry says:

    Nice one Lindsay Hilsum..You keep it real. Clearly there is no altruism in the French intervention but what they are doing at the moment is currently good for the people in Mali.. That is the sub text of what you are saying I think and I soooo trust your judgement. You are building a picture up for us from real experience….what a woman of courage.

  10. mike hoyle says:

    very good ‘war zone’ footage

  11. Judith Bush says:

    Always a good report from Lindsey and you looked great on that truck

  12. Maurice says:

    Being french and not a supporter of our government I was happily surprised to see the french army move in.They did it in a most professional and efficient way.It is amazing that they got such a little support from the other western powers.
    It is about time that western peoplerealize that the islamists with Al Quaida are leading a total war against them.They want to impose their religious and obscurantist dictatorship and dont recognize democracy.There is only one way to get rid of them.Guess what !

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