Preparations for a Malian Intervention Begin, and African Leaders Seek Foreign Help

According to All Africa, talks between Ansar Dine and the MNLA have broken down, meaning the joint state that was being planned has been scuttled. This comes as political violence continues in further south in the capital, where complicit army members allowed the interim president to be beaten by protesters.

It is interesting to watch ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) and their reaction to the crises in Mali: on the one hand, they strongly condemned the coup by Sango, and on the other, they are strongly condemning the Tuareg rebellion in the north. They have backed up these condemnations with travel restrictions. 

ECOWAS is also supporting French backed peacekeeping expedition into Mali with the intention of stopping the rebels in the north and restoring stability. The language used lumps all the northern rebel movements together as unacceptable:

While lauding the efforts of the mediator, President Blaise Compaore and the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS Chairman, President Alassane Ouattara of Côte d’Ivoire in restoring peace to Mali, the AU Chairman said the priorities for now were strengthening constitutional rule, restoring Mali’s territorial integrity and ensuring religious tolerance by rejecting the declaration of Islamic Shariah law in the north. Agreeing that Africans are people of dialogue, the Beninois leader warned that talks could not be allowed to continue without any end in sight while the secular nature of the Malian State was at stake.

He warned that the situation in Mali should not be allowed to become like that in Afghanistan with terrorists everywhere, adding that the free flow of heavy and light weapons, and drugs was dangerous to the whole sub-region. He described the behaviour of the Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, (MNLA), Ansar Dine and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, (AQMI) rebels in the north as intolerable, saying they were acting like terrorists.

The language of terrorism is, of course, silly, particularly when talking about Afghanistan. There are few “terrorists” in Afghanistan, that is, al-Qaeda operates elsewhere at the moment (if anywhere). What exists in Afghanistan is an ethnic conflict, where some Ghilzai Pashtun see the Taliban as fulfilling the role of liberators from the Durranis that traditionally have been the bureaucrats of a centralized Afghan state. The West has taken sides in this conflict, and has marginalized quite a few pashtuns by propping up an un-elected government of ethnic minorities and patsies. The Tuareg situation has been an ethnic conflict, so the comparison to Afghanistan isn’t too far off sans the terrorism language, which becomes synonymous with “stuff we don’t like”. 

In the most troubling developments yet, on par with rumors of wacko interpretations of Islam being enforced in the north, Niger’s ambassador to the US is beating the drums for US support for the intervention:

At an event here in Washington, Ambassador Sidikou warned that “Terrorists are consolidating their positions by the day in northern Mali, and we are just talking in countless meetings. Do we pretend to ignore their agenda?”

Sidikou said that agenda was to weaken the states in the region and to create sanctuary for extremist groups.

“We are talking to our friends in the U.S. to provide support, equipment, intelligence and training to armed forces in the region,” he continued. “Each day we allow Ansar Dine to act in Mali is another day against peace and security at the global level.”

Recent history shows that if you want to fight “terrorism”, the last country you should contact is the United States, a country that has done more for terrorism than any other in history. Yet African leaders are also framing this as part of a global struggle, just as the MNLA has done. It’s a sign of our times that this framing is going on, a product of globalization and communication technology.  The MNLA’s alliance with Ansar Dine, even if it is now defunct, has already assured US involvement here, if that involvement hasn’t already clandestinely happened. 

The UNHCR is very helpful, as usual:

A UNHCR official characterised the “sharp degeneration of the situation in Mali” as “totally unexpected”.

I don’t speak any of the local languages, but somehow I was expecting this. 

As usual, AllAfrica provides the best coverage of the area, and has done the research into what the prospect of intervention war actually means:

The prospect of U.S. or other Western soldiers actually going into Mali is also far off.

“The problem today is foreign fighters,” Rudolph Atallah, a former member of the U.S. Air Force and now a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank, said on Thursday.

“If you look at the letters that came from Osama bin Laden’s compound, he told his fighters to focus on Western targets. If the U.S. shows up with boots on the ground anywhere in that area, we give them a raison d’etre.”

Still, others suggest that the Islamist connection in Mali is being blown out of proportion.

“People today support Ansar Dine not primarily because of their ideology but because they have been able to deliver more than the other groups, materially and in terms of security,” says Anouar Boukhars, with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

“The existence of various Islamist groups in northern Mali should not be overstated. Most Islamist movements in Mali do not advocate the use of violence.”

Subsequent events appear to bear out such nuanced caution. By Tuesday, just days after the initial announcement, the MNLA-Ansar Dine alliance had fallen apart, reportedly over disagreement on the imposition of Sharia law.

Nonetheless, the push for intervention continues apace, with some seeing the breakdown of the MNLA-Ansar Dine agreement leading to more instability.

“We’re ready to go, provided we have the support,” Ambassador Sidikou said on Thursday. “If we don’t move quickly, the situation we’ll face will be much worse than we have right now. It’s that simple.”


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