The family of a leading Malian opposition figure who was kidnapped days before the country’s parliamentary elections in late March says the government is “moving too slow” in securing his release.
Soumaila Cisse, the runner-up in a 2018 presidential election, was kidnapped by unidentified gunmen on March 25 in Mali’s restive Timbuktu region.
The 70-year-old’s son, Bocar Cisse, said it was more than five weeks after the kidnapping when the family was contacted by the committee set up to negotiate the politician’s release.
“They say they are negotiating, but when we ask them for more information they don’t tell us anything,” Bocar Cisse said. “We don’t know anything, we don’t know if he is dead or alive,” added the 40-year-old, speaking on behalf of his mother and three brothers.
“Everyone misses him; we are all lost.”
Two people kidnapped alongside Cisse – who were later released – said they had also not heard from the committee, which was appointed weeks after the abduction, according to documents seen by Al Jazeera.
Speaking from Ivory Coast, Bocar Cisse said his family last heard from this father on the afternoon of March 25 as his two car-convoy left the city of Niafunke, a stronghold for his Union for the Republic and Democracy party (URD), and which lies on the cusp of northern and central Mali.
He was on the campaign trail before the March 29 legislative elections but was venturing into an area which is largely out of bounds to state authorities and where armed groups are known to roam.
As the cars passed through a small forest, masked attackers opened fire, dragged the passengers out, blindfolded them and placed them under a tree. Cisse sustained a hand injury from the shattered car windows, while his bodyguard received a gunshot wound and later died. Six others injured in the shooting were released immediately, while nine people, including Cisse, were abducted.
Over the following days, the kidnapped men were moved between hideouts and slept out in the open. At times, they heard the sound of gunfire but insisted they were not mistreated, according to the two released men whose names have been changed to protect their identities.
“We cannot say where it was exactly because we don’t know that area and our eyes were covered,” Mamadou* told Al Jazeera.
On the morning of March 29, Cisse was led away from the other eight kidnapped men, who were later released. Two days later, the Malian government appointed former Prime Minister Ousmane Maiga to head a “crisis unit” and said in a statement that it was prepared to “make every effort” to secure his release.
‘Nothing has happened’
However, Cisse’s whereabouts are unknown to this day.
“They’ve given us very little news, and we’re not sure that they are in contact with the kidnappers,” Bocar Cisse said.
“We have been expecting him to be free a long time ago. Nothing has happened; the government is moving too slow,” he added.
Kidnap survivors have also been left in the dark. “I have not met this commission, I have never seen them, I have not talked to them,” Mamadou said.
Samba*, who was also abducted, said: “Since we’ve been freed, nobody has contacted us or called to see if everything is OK.”