Monthly Archives: February 2012

Senegalese Election Crisis Threatens Environmental Efforts

Senegal has been suffering from widespread protests that are beginning to take on a religious identity.

Time: Senegal Protests Grow Before Presidential Poll

The increasingly tense atmosphere on the ground has many concerned that there may be worse unrest if Wade is declared the winner of next Sunday’s vote. In power for 12 years, Wade oversaw a 2001 revision to the constitution which imposed a two-term maximum, a move that at the time was hailed as proof of Senegal’s democratic maturity. He disappointed many when he argued that the new constitution was not retroactive and so should not apply to him.

Senegal is unique among African countries in that it has never had a military coup and for the most part maintains a democratic government, until now that is.

It’s uncertain how this will turn out. However unrest in Senegal, along with other countries, threatens to destabilize the Sahel in another capacity: losing the fight to desertification.

Telegraph: African Dream of a “Green Wall” to Prevent Desertification

The project’s aim is to build a tree barrier across the Sahel region where desertification is rampant. The UN food and agriculture organisation (FAO) estimates that about two million hectares of forest (7,700 square miles) are being destroyed each year in the Sahel.

The FAO has also given warning that global warming will merely worsen the problem, leading to major migrations of people in countries that are already very poor and often unstable.

Eleven countries are associated with the great green wall scheme, which was initially dreamed up by Nigeria’s former president Olusegun Obasanjo in 2005, then adopted by Wade.

If all those nations took part, the wall would be 7,000 kilometres (4,340 miles) long and 15 kilometres wide.

The forest would also include catchment sinks to collect rainwater, which would be stored in reservoirs.

This was a promising project that, while moving slowly, had a lot of potential to stop the encroachment of the desert into active agricultural areas, particularly when coupled with international efforts (the Peace Corps’ mission in Mauritania and elsewhere comes to mind).

With revolt sweeping across the Sahel regions, and an active US presence fighting terrorist groups, projects like this are going to be on hold. This despite the very real threat of global warming to these areas. Putting a project like this on hold in favor of fighting this or that ethnic group is a very short term look at the issues there, as having agriculture literally dry up in the hinterlands of these nations will beget famine and further instability.

This would be a great time for the African Union to take a stand.


Iranian Geopolitics and Crude Oil

Despite your opinion on the Iranian nuclear weapon issue (a non issue, by all measures), the wargames with Iran are close to causing oil shocks not seen since the 1970’s.

Expert: Attack on Iran may mean $200/barrel oil

The comments come as U.S. National Security Adviser Tom Donilon was visiting Israel to voice America’s concerns over the prospect of an Israeli attack, as worry over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program mounts.

“It wouldn’t be a quick end to this crisis; it would be the beginning of either a larger war or a long-scale, large-scale containment effort to try to stop Iran from what they would undoubtedly do, which would be race to build a bomb.

“And during this you would see oil prices which are already spiking probably go through the roof. Experts warn that oil could hit $200 a barrel – some even think $300 a barrel. That would have repercussions on an already fragile global economy.”

Of course, Iran has never had an offensive war in the last half a century.

You Can’t Go Home Again: Tuareg Rebels and the Libyan Civil War

By now the popular narrative of the Libyan war has found its endpoint: Gaddafi was raped and murdered, the transitional government and its central bank are talking about oil revenue for the recovering economy, and Gaddafi loyalists in the interior are active, but not a huge threat.

The mission, supported by liberals and conservatives alike (though not by Congress, whose authority was circumvented by the Executive branch) including Near Eastern Studies luminaries like Dr. Juan Cole, was ostensibly to protect the citizens of Misrata from certain death and destruction at the hands of their dictator. It quickly became obvious that the NATO intervention was a mission of regime change, as bombardment of Tripoli seemed like it was outside the purview of the UN resolution. Whatever the reasons for the regime change, whether to protect Libya’s citizens from its dictator or some down and dirty real politik isn’t the focus of this post.

Instead, as this blog goes, the idea is to examine the indirect costs of the Libyan civil war, and one of the best examples of consequences not considered by the powers that be is the beginning of a third Tuareg rebellion in the Sahel.

Mali: Violence in North Forces over 20,000 Into Exile

UNHCR has deployed emergency teams to countries surrounding Mali to help meet the needs of some 20,000 people who have been forced to flee fighting in northern Mali. Most of the displaced are in Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania.

Fighting between rebel Tuareg groups and governmental forces in the Azawad region of northern Mali began in mid-January.

In the past three weeks, at least 10,000 people are reported to have crossed to Niger, 9,000 have found refuge in Mauritania and 3,000 in Burkina Faso.

Fighting between the Tuareg liberation movement MNLA (Mouvement National de Liberation de l’Azawad) and governmental forces resumed on 17 January in Mali, breaking a 2009 agreement that had officially ended the Tuareg rebellion.

The MNLA seeks to establish an autonomous state in the Azawad. The Tuareg, who call themselves the Kel Tamashek, are a traditionally nomadic and pastoralist society that was severely affected by the introduction of the nation state to the Sahara by the departing French colonial administration. The resulting division of their traditional lands caused displacement and eventually more violence. Seeking autonomy for their society once again, the Kel Tamashek have fought several wars to find independence. The last war ended in 2009 with a ceasefire.

What happened? Why did the Kel Tamashek resume hostilities?


It seems even after his death in October last year, Muammar Gadaffi has managed to remain central to the Tuareg insurgency in Mali and a fragile peace in the northern region of the country.

After Gadaffi’s death, thousands of Tuaregs who had previously served in his army, have now returned to Mali, Chad and Niger among others with potential risks of destabilising those countries. Key questions in the minds of many are who can fill the vacuum left by the Libyan dictator and what impact the ongoing violence in Northern Mali could have on the already volatile and complex security environment of the Sahel.

As anticipated, the Tuareg insurgency against the Mali government has been re-ignited and strengthened with weapons from Gadaffi’s arsenal.

Many have speculated that the Sunni (and soon Salafist) insurgency in Iraq was caused by the disbandment of the Baathist army of Saddam Hussein. This sounds familiar, and it gets worse:

Meanwhile, far from being a purely military exercise for the national army, the insurgency came at the time when Mali is looking forward to holding its presidential elections in April 2012. There is a fear that if peace is not restored immediately, the presidential elections might be under threat with risks of generalised instability in the country.

Already, social tensions are building up among various communities in the country. Parents of slain soldiers in the fighting took their anger to the street against members of the Tuareg community. To mitigate the tensions, the Muslim community as well as other religious leaders in Mali have been calling for peace, while the political leadership has been meeting in Algeria to craft yet another strategy to deal with the Tuareg insurgency. The resurgence of the Tuareg militants is causing a major problem for Mali, especially considering the already big threat of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

It remains to be seen how this conflict progresses. However it’s apparent that North and West Africa, the former rocked by revolutionary movements, the latter never that stable in the first place, will be dealing with the indirect costs of the Libyan civil war for some time.


When undertaking an action, costs must be realized. As is the case for limited minds such as ours, some costs are not accounted for. My intention here is to understand the costs, both hidden and obvious, to the beliefs we have and the actions we take. Whether it’s ideology, war, or macroeconomics, the rush to decision has its consequences.

This blog will often be reactionary. We do not understand the full consequences of our actions when we take them. However, just as often, some costs are obvious from the outset, yet are ignored for many reasons, reasons that are just as interesting as the costs themselves.

Hopefully this blog will be as helpful to me as to someone else.