The conflict in Mali could be creating a “ticking time bomb” for neighbouringWestern Sahara, the UN secretary general has warned, amid growing concern about the threat of terrorism in west and north Africa.
Ban Ki-moon said in a report to the UN security council there was “serious concern” that the war against al-Qaida-backed Islamists in northern Mali could spill over into other countries in the region, infiltrating refugee camps where hundreds of thousands of people from Western Sahara – known as Saharawis – have lived since Morocco annexed the territory in 1975.
First Niger and Chad, now Morocco, the long time US ally, which has kept the Western Saharan people under great duress for decades, promises to feel the costs of this conflict in Mali.
Colonially drawn borders are fickle. Ethnic allegiances and alliances, and their inevitable conflicts do not contain themselves to these neatly drawn borders. The French, in invading Mali, have tried to renew that colonial influence, though it appears that it is not that effective. Suicide attacks are becoming part of everyday life for many Malians, even though Mali likely went through its entire history without a single suicide bomb (as Iraq did prior to US invasion).
The food emergency also does not adhere to national and economic borders, and is likely going to intensify this year despite the good harvest last year:
The situation this year is exacerbated by a lower than expected harvest in Nigeria (pdf), which produces a lot of the grain consumed in the Sahel – prices have shot up. The crisis in Malihas prevented thousands of families there from planting at all.
According to the CIA factbook, the Western Sahara must bring in foodstuffs due to the lack of arable land. Morocco may need to make up the difference if these food shortages in the Sahel continue.
The conflict in Sahel is obviously far from over, and expect to see more news coming out of the region over the next year.