Gaddafi Canal – Gourma Rharous, Mali - Atlas Obscura

Gaddafi Canal

Gourma Rharous, Mali

Muammar Gaddafi's well-intentioned investment in his favorite city turned out to be a nightmare. 


In 2006, when Muammar Gaddafi was still the dictator of Libya, he paid the city of Timbuktu in Mali a visit to celebrate the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. He brought in hundreds of people to the city to pray with him in a soccer stadium after declaring himself the imam of the city. Gaddafi declared Timbuktu to be his favorite city publicly, and spoke of his great plans to use his immense wealth to shape it into the best condition it could be. He bought a crumbling and rundown hotel on the outskirts of the city and had it renovated for millions of euros. To allow the guests to travel to the hotel by boat, he also had an 8-mile (13 km) canal dug from the hotel to the river Niger south of the city. 

However, as a result of the Arab Spring in 2011 and the NATO led bombings of Libya, Gaddafi was overthrown and killed by rebels. Following these events, Gaddafi’s projects in Timbuktu started crumbling.  Before long, the canal was silted up and dried.  

As if that wasn’t enough, the canal also proved to be a death trap to locals once it flooded.  What had once been a natural shallow branch of the river Niger had been turned into a deep canal with steep, slippery sandy banks that people and animals couldn’t escape. 


Know Before You Go

Most countries advise against all travel to most parts of Mali (2017), including the region and city of Timbuktu.

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