Dressed in sunglasses and a beige headscarf during a tour of the war-torn northern city of Gao, the Malian army’s “iron fist” would not welcome the inevitable comparisons with GI Jane.
Lieutenant-Colonel Nema Segara, who has risen to the rank of number two in Mali’s militant-infested north -- making her one of Africa’s most senior female soldiers -- clearly has no time for the fantasy of war films.
“This isn’t Hollywood. It’s not the movies,” she scolds as a group of rights activists complain about the treatment of Islamist detainees.
Ridley Scott’s 1997 hit film “GI Jane” tells the fictional story of the first woman to undergo training in the US Navy Special Warfare Group, and the sexism she faces during the selection procedure.
But Segara is a real-life warrior and has become something of a celebrity on the front line of the west African country’s battle to flush out Islamist fighters who occupied the desert cities of the north last year.
Today Segara, known simply as Nema to millions of Malians, is looking for militant weapons caches as she makes a stop at Gao’s main market, reopening after it was gutted by fire during an Islamist raid in February.
Followed by soldiers, a Malian television crew and admirers, Segara wanders between stalls as if on the campaign trail during an election. People come to see her, to salute her, to thank her.
“I ask you to be vigilant. The raid started here, that’s why it burned. We do not want other attacks,” she tells a woman selling meat, fish and vegetables in a vast market hall blackened by the flames.
Gao and the rest of the northern desert area comprising about 60 percent of Mali fell to ethnic Tuareg rebels a year ago.
But they lost control to Al Qaeda-linked radicals who imposed a brutal version of Islamic law, carrying out amputations, executions and beatings, before Mali’s former colonial ruler France sent in troops and took back the cities of the north in January.
With French and African soldiers in a battle to flush out armed Islamists entrenched in the region’s vast desert and northeastern mountains, the newly liberated residents of Gao are having to accept a harsh version of freedom in which many of their rights are curtailed in the name of security.
Since February’s raid the people of Gao have been banned from sailing boats on the Niger river, from where the jihadists infiltrated the city.
Enforcing the strict new regime, soldiers go to the waterfront to reprimand 30 fishermen who are breaking the embargo. The fishermen say they will die if they are no longer able to work.
Segara will not divulge her age but she was born in Bamako around 50 years ago, and joined the army in 1986.
She has since trained or held army positions in France, Nigeria, the United States and Liberia before returning last year, just as the Islamist occupation began.
نستخدم ملفات الكوكيز لنسهل عليك استخدام مواقعنا الإلكترونية ونكيف المحتوى والإعلانات وفقا لمتطلباتك واحتياجاتك الخاصة، لتوفير ميزات وسائل التواصل الاجتماعية ولتحليل حركة المرور لدينا...اعرف أكثر