Category Archives: Uncategorized

Mali Conflict Continues as Press Turns Away

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/apr/09/mali-conflict-spread-western-sahara

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:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/2013/apr/10/no-magic-wand-sahel-food-shortages

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. 

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Peter Tinti @ allafrica.com: The Devils Without Details

http://allafrica.com/stories/201208290418.html

Mr. Tinti has written an erudite piece for AllAfrica.com that not only goes out of its way to describe the very complicated dynamics that make up the political violence happening in northern Mali, but takes a shot at the many analysts (myself included) that are speaking “out of turn” when it comes to Mali. 

Mali is now viewed largely through the lens of counter-terrorism and to date few policy proposals account for the complex and interrelated local structures that will shape the security outcomes in northern Mali. This is a problem. Any intervention not delicately calibrated to local socio-political dynamics risks exacerbating the crisis, undermining the very goals policymakers aim to achieve.

Linking external intervention to local realities in Mali will be no small undertaking. As Islamist groups consolidate control in the north, there is a growing misconception that the situation may have finished shifting, with clear-cut interests and alliances beginning to take shape. But reports on the ground suggest otherwise. Political posturing in northern Mali is as volatile and fluid as ever, with a panoply of actors – internal and external – acting on behalf of a mix of ideological affiliations, economic interests, pre-existing grievances, ethnic identities, tribal networks and even personal animosities.

 

His observations with regard to the many analysts of the Malian situation are sound. In fact, they hit as close to home as this blog, whose author knows about as much about Mali as any beltway bandit. 

Tinti was perhaps too polite in his piece, saying that there were obvious dangers to oversimplifying the Malian conflict, while avoiding the very disturbing fact that Counter Terrorism Analysis is a big budget industry. I am absolutely positive that he is aware of the problems Greenwald pointed out in his last column at Salon, and it lurks around his piece like an elephant (or a donkey, as the case may be) in the very same room. 

The shoddy terrorism analysis that Tinti criticizes should not be thought of as analysis in good faith. A good portion of the analysts calling for war in Mali because of ill informed views are not doing so out of professionalism and lack thereof, but out of a desire to see Western intervention in the country. There is much at stake here, such as, for instance, the minerals sitting pretty in Northern Mali. There is the ever present military industrial complex, which needs to replace any toys detonated on Malian land. And, if you are not conspiracy minded, there is always the possibility that terrorism could strike out hard from Mali, making those that did not see the clear threat the losers.

Either way, this is an excellent article for anyone interested in the Malian crisis.

Negotiations Underway in Mali

http://allafrica.com/stories/201208090304.html

Negotiations are underway in Mali, and hopefully hostilities can be averted for as long as possible. Gao is not happy about the occupation by MUJAO, hinting that the hardline groups may not be as powerful as the media portrayed them to be:

MUJAO pushed out the National Movement for Independence and Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), a grouping of Tuareg separatist rebels, in late June. Since then, some local youths in Gao have reportedly joined the MUJAO cause as paid mercenaries, but most residents are in stiff opposition to the rigid Sharia law the group has imposed. On 5 August, people in Gao protested in the streets at the planned amputation of the hand of an alleged thief.

It is interesting that ECOWAS and others are calling for Ansar Dine to move away from MUJAO and the other hardline groups. Previously the media had portrayed Ansar Dine as the big bad Islamist in town, though there seem to be more subtleties worth pointing out in this conflict. 

The International Crisis Group has criticized the ECOWAS negotiation tactics as “aggravating existing fault lines in Malian society.”

The now weakened MNLA has indicated that it is open to negotiations with the interim government in Bamako, which took over from the military junta, and has toned down its separatist demands.

It’s my hope (and I’m sure the hope of the ICG) that the MNLA can come to some agreement with Bamako before foreign intervention occurs. Otherwise, all Tuareg will be in the crosshairs of peacekeepers. 

The Libyan invasion by NATO forces last year resulted in a stable government for Libya, but has destabilized Mali in a time of critical environmental crisis. Rising temperatures and drought have caused mass migrations of Malians and terrible hunger for everyone in the country. Ban Ki Moon has called for sanctions against groups he deems extremist, and while I’m sure he thinks that this would be a positive development in Mali’s situation, I don’t see how that helps the hungry, many of whom are supported by the same insurgents that would be sanctioned. 

This seems to be a period of calm for Mali, and it needs to last if the people of Mali are to get any respite from the environmental catastrophe already present in this war torn country. 

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Prime Time Police/Authority Dramas

Let’s take a roster:

CBS

  • Monday at 10: Hawaii Five O
  • Tuesday from 8-10:30PM: NCIS, NCIS Los Angeles, Person of Interest
  • Wednesday from 9-1030PM: Criminal Minds, CSI
  • Thursday at 10: Criminal Minds
  • Friday 9-1030: CSI NY, Blue Bloods
  • Saturday: NYC22, back to back 48 Hours Mystery

Fox

  • Friday for 2 hours, Bones
  • Saturday, back to back Cops

ABC

  • Thursday is the big night for the authorities. First it’s Wipeout, the military-themed reality show, and then Rookie Blue

Let’s look beyond the big ones:

TNT

  • Tuesday most of the afternoon and evening, Franklin and Bash, Rizzoli and Isles
  • Wendesday and Thursday, it’s The Mentalist
  • Saturday, the movie A Time to Kill

you get the idea.

In 2012, “drama” programming is primarily made up of police procedurals,

In 1980, the lineup was a little different. For instance, on Sunday night, the only police-related programming on the big three was CHiPS, which is not exactly your normal police procedural. CBS was playing police dramas during the week, but it would be, at most, one per prime time slot.

However, it should be noted that there were still plenty of military related programs, like MASH and Private Benjamin. In any case, it’s food for thought.

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Discussion of Mali Intervention Hits Mainstream While President of Niger Declares Libya Intervention to be a Catalyst

http://www.npr.org/2012/08/02/157713415/a-diplomats-extended-visit-with-al-qaida-in-mali

Renee Montagne covered the Mali rebellions on NPR’s Morning Edition a few days back. She interviewed a Canadian Diplomat who had been captive of AQIM for several months. Judging by his tone of voice and very bleak outlook on the situation, his experience deeply affected him.

However when listening to the interview, one gets the feeling that Montagne was leading him with questions about American interventions. She specifically mentions drone strikes by the American military as an option for the Mali situation, piggybacking on his assertion that AQIM is not able to be negotiated with.

It’s no surprise to hear war mongering from NPR. Montagne is part of a DC media establishment that actively supports American imperialism. I won’t go through Glenn Greenwald’s arguments on this, because he does it much better than I could ever hope to. However Montagne’s credentials speak volumes (from Wikipedia):

Montagne was among the news anchors who attended the traditional off-the-record luncheon held with the U.S. president in advance of Barack Obama‘s 2011 State of the Union Address.

Attendance at an ‘off the record luncheon’ is usually a sign that you are held in high regard by the administration. Responsible reporters like Michael Hastings or even Helen Thomas, would never be invited to such an event. Montagne simply isn’t the type to say, “Malian affairs should be left to the Malians and their immediate neighbors”. Her solution to problems of international scale is to advocate for intervention.

Her guest, Robert Fowler, was simultaneously calling for some kind of Western intervention (though he was very pessemistic about its outcome), but said that the Libyan invasion had created a major heavy weapons problem in the Sahel region. Montagne, who presumably wrote the summary, parses it this way:

Fowler, a career diplomat, says the U.S. and its allies have “massively failed” in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. Over the past decade, authoritarian leaders have been ousted in all three countries, but the transitions that have followed have been messy.

“We have caused one of the most unstable regions in the world to become awash in weapons,” he says.

However if you listen to the interview, it’s very clear that the specific place awash with weapons is Libya:

 I believe that what we did in Libya proves the imperative of the law of unintended consequences, and by overthrowing Gadhafi in the way we did – by the way I was perfectly happy to see him overthrown – we have caused one of the most unstable regions in the world to become awash in masses of weaponry.

Montagne glossed over this statement in favor of focusing on AQIM’s variety of extremism that, according to Fowler, renders them unable to be negotiated with.

It’s not wise to gloss over this statement, however. In this interview with Al-Jazeera, Niger’s president, Mahmadou Issoufou, goes on the record as saying that the death of Gaddafi was a huge catalyst in causing the vicious new uprisings in Mali.

“I have to say that what is happening in Mali is the result of the Libyan crisis – that’s what caused a military coup which made things even worse,”
“I don’t believe it was necessary to kill Gaddafi, especially the way he was killed.”

It’s interesting to see Mali’s close neighbor, Niger, publicly express dissatisfaction not only with the method with which Gaddafi was killed, but the fact that he was killed at all. On the other hand, we see Western diplomats thousands of miles away going out of their way to make sure that they are on the record saying that they are glad Gaddafi is dead, but similarly explaining that they think the consequences are very real.

This distinction isn’t picked up by the media at all. NPR’s Ofeibea Quist-Arcton has been reporting on the people of Mali, which is a much needed facet of this story, and has made mention of factions that are controlling the northern territories in Mali. She’s probably the only responsible reporter the NPR employs when it comes to African affairs. Hell, I’d have her interviewing Fowler over Montagne, who sounds downright eager to hear about the prospect of intervention.

Jeremy Keenan has said that the MNLA is militarily superior to the forces of Ansar Dine. Western media reports that Ansar Dine and the MUJAO forces have “taken over” the territory, but they should be more specific in saying that MUJAO has taken some major urban centers and forced the MNLA out. The MNLA maintains that it still controls 90% of the Azawad proper.

Ansar Dine has said that they do not see their struggle as being part of the independent Azawad. Their struggle is for sharia law implementation. Their exact words were:

“We have handed (regional mediator) Blaise Compaore a letter by Iyad Ag Ghaly,” said a source close to the Ansar Dine delegation which has been holding talks with the Burkina Faso president in Ouagadougou.

“All we want is the implementation of sharia” in Mali, he said. “We are against independence.

I still hold out hope that the powers that be will see the internal rifts between the Tuareg and will use that to make sure that sharia is not implemented.

The western media needs to be more responsible in its reporting on this conflict. The issues are far deeper than NPR has generally made them out to be in its prime time reporting. It scares the hell out of me, because the last thing anyone in Mali needs is robot bombers flying around their skies.

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North Africa Turns to Solar while Phosphate Mining Ramps Up

http://spectrum.ieee.org/energywise/green-tech/solar/algeria-joining-north-african-march-toward-solar-power

Juan Cole posted in his “Top Ten Reasons Fracking Won’t Last” that Algeria was hoping to become a solar energy powerhouse (sadly, pun intended). The Sahara desert has almost infinite potential for solar energy production because, well, it’s a desert. 364 days a year there is full sunlight, and given the equatorial nature, for days longer than other geographical areas.

This is coming on the heels of growing interest in north African phosphate mining:

http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/10_46/b4203080895976.htm

Miners have been working in Khouribga for almost a century, but only now is the area poised to become central to the global economy. Back in the 1920s pioneers started tunneling through the earth here, digging through layers of sediment formed under an ancient sea, looking for phosphate-rich rock and occasionally plucking out the tooth of a 30-million-year-old shark. The phosphate extracted from the rock, used in fertilizer, detergent, food additives, and more recently lithium-ion batteries, sold for decades in its raw state for less than $40 per metric ton. Those days are gone. It’s currently trading at about $130.

Phosphates are used in a diverse set of industries, from agriculture to tech. It is the building block of modern food production, meaning that cheap phosphates are key to cheap food for a growing world population.

This is good news for King Mohammed VI, 47, who owns more than half the world’s phosphate reserves. James Prokopanko, chief executive officer of Plymouth (Minn.)-based fertilizer giant Mosaic (MOS), has called Morocco the Saudi Arabia of phosphate,

This sounds great on paper: an African nation, friendly to the West, providing raw materials critical to food production  to the nations of the world.

However, since our job here is to examine indirect costs, it might behoove us to consider the plight of other African nations that are inundated with mineral resources. Nigeria comes to mind as a worst case scenario: the country is a wild west for oil and mineral production, and is currently struggling with popular insurgencies dedicated to liberating areas plagued by the problems with mining. Minerals are a blessing and a curse. Closer to home, United States municipalities are struggling themselves with the very real and present dangers of hydraulic fracturing. I cannot imagine that phosphate mining is any different for ground water.

The question now becomes one of competing industries. On the one hand, we have Algeria and others striking ahead with solar power production, a clean energy alternative to the fossil fuels that Algeria also possesses. This would attract money from Europe and others without being a political and social liability. On the other hand, we have untapped mineral resources in the Atlas mountains that will make it the center of international attention when it comes to agriculture. I cannot imagine that the regime of King Muhammad VI will be any better than the United States when it comes to mining for these phosphates, and the looming specter of Western imperialism for mineral resources should be in the minds of policymakers in Morocco.

This is something to keep your eye on.

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Drugs and the CIA – Mexican Officials Blame CIA for Continuing Drug War

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2012/07/2012721152715628181.html

“It’s like pest control companies, they only control,” Guillermo Terrazas Villanueva, the Chihuahua spokesman, told Al Jazeera last month at his office in Juarez. “If you finish off the pests, you are out of a job. If they finish the drug business, they finish their jobs.”

A spokesman for the CIA in Washington wouldn’t comment on the accusations directly, instead he referred Al Jazeera to an official website.

CIA operations in war torn Mexico are allegedly under the auspices of combating the drug trade, presumably stopping traffic into America and other nations. The accusations of Mexico’s foremost drug warriors is an indication of the general atmosphere in Mexico surrounding the drug war: very grim.

However Villanueva’s accusations aren’t completely out of left field. As AJE points out, this wouldn’t be the first time there have been accusations of manipulation of the drug trade by the CIA. This is an organization that gets paid to be paranoid, and whose operations included the drugging of prostitutes with LSD and the aforementioned trafficking of cocaine in order to fund a puppet Nicaraguan government.

It’s impossible at this point to verify what the CIA’s involvement with the drug trade is. However I want to bring one more aspect of the drug trade into this strange discussion. The CIA can manufacture its own LSD, and seems to have the cocaine market on lock, so what’s left?

Heroin, of course!

It was recently revealed that Afghan heroin trade is up by about 3% (it’s like a Cost of Living Adjustment!), which suggests that all the posturing and worry over drugs done by the US government is either a farce, or it’s been grossly ineffective. We’ll give the USG the benefit of the doubt and say it’s both, but it’s been common knowledge that the military has been protecting poppy fields. Photos speak loudly. Fox News screams. Geraldo even says that destruction of poppy would put the troops at risk. Wait, so opium allegedly funds the Taliban (allegedly being the key word, they were taking down poppy growers under their reign of terror), but protecting poppy fields will protect Taliban money and protect American soldiers? I suppose that makes sense. Image


This, combined with the draconian drug war back home, is a pandemic of corruption. Drug money is big, larger than some national economies.

If this is a coordinated effort to control the illegal drug trade, what can we do to stop it?

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US Drought Will Cause Billions in Damage

http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2012/07/17/156894107/drought-in-u-s-now-worst-since-1956-food-prices-to-spike-economy-to-suffer

One of the industries least affected by the recession was agriculture. This is about to be undermined:

Already, the U.S. Agriculture Department has designated 1,016 counties in 26 states as natural disaster areas — meaning hard-hit farmers in those areas can apply for low-interest emergency loans from USDA. According to Bloomberg, that’s “the biggest such declaration ever.”

Weather Underground’s Jeff Masters adds that the costs associated with this drought “are certain to be many billions of dollars, and the disaster could be one of the top 10 most expensive weather-related disasters in U.S. history.” As he points out, “droughts historically have been some of the costliest U.S. weather disasters.”

It looks like the federal government has acknowledged the damages with the surge of disaster declarations, however this is just the beginning of a steep decline in American agriculture. 

The Ogallala aquifer is a source of water for much of the midwest’s agriculture. This aquifer began to be tapped heavily in and around the 1950s, but has seen incredible declines since that time.

What we’re seeing today is probably a function of climate change. What we see tomorrow will be a combination of climate change and the tapping out of one of the largest underground bodies of water on the planet. The duo will be absolutely devastating to American farmers, yet at the moment, there isn’t much of a push to do anything but business as usual. The stalled 2012 Farm Bill is light on anything resembling a rescue of the aquifer. It will probably take a disaster with regard to the aquifer before the issue is addressed.

One has to wonder if this current crisis will provide an opportunity to reverse our current path toward ultra expensive food. 

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Tuareg Offer Help Against Terrorism

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2012/07/2012715192710362142.html

It’s interesting to see the MNLA’s new strategy: adopt the terrorism language of their nation state counterparts. It’s hard to say how this will turn out for them, but it makes for intriguing news nonetheless:

“The MNLA is not physically in every city in the Azawad, but that doesn’t mean we don’t exist … Azawad is a very large territory,” he said.

“We’re open to any collaboration against terrorism … we’re listening to the international community and are available for possible dialogue with Mali via mediator countries,” he said. But for now we haven’t seen will from Mali to sit at the negotiating table.”

“We’re currently working on a new military strategy to fight against terrorism in Azawad,” he added.

The AJE article characterizes the MNLA as having less military capability than Ansar Dine, but this goes in the face of Jeremy Keenan’s statements about the Tuareg insurgencies. It is clear, however, that Ansar Dine is the louder, more troublesome rebellion, and this may account for AJE’s characterization. 

The ICG distributed a statement on the crisis, warning ECOWAS to not aggravate the “deep fault lines” in Malian society. This is good advice: the war has an ethnic dimension, but still remains a territorial and political dispute over autonomy. It is possible, though not certain, that foreign intervention could turn this into something else. 

ECOWAS countries willing to send troops do not appear to fully grasp the complex social situation in northern Mali, and underestimate the high risk of inter-tribal settling of scores that would result from external military intervention. Such an intervention would turn Mali into a new front of the war on terror at the expense of longstanding political demands in the north and rule out any chance of peaceful coexistence between the different communities.

It’s useful to remember that the MNLA blocked out Ansar Dine’s leader prior to the start of hostilities, though ICG, in their recommendations, lumps them together in a single statement:

To the Leaders of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad and Ansar Dine:

12. Formulate publicly clear agendas and commit to:

a) respecting human rights and the principles of democratic and pluralist governance, especially with regard to religion, in the areas under their control;

b) guaranteeing security and equal access of the population to basic public services and facilitating the access of humanitarian organisations to the population;

c) helping to establish the facts regarding the atrocities at Aguelhoc as well as all other atrocities perpetrated during the military conquest of the north;

d) combatting the criminal trafficking activities that thrive in the territory they control;

e) joining immediately the fight against AQIM and its armed offshoots; and

f) exploring with the Malian government how to reach a rapprochement to avoid a lasting partition of the country and an internecine war.

Though they don’t mention it, I think recent news and the MNLA’s statements regarding combating terrorism may be reason for another recommendation to the parties invovled in the fate of the Azawad:

Make efforts to move the MNLA further from Ansar Dine and their goals

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MNLA Activists Petition French Parliament, Lessons from Ho Chi Minh

http://allafrica.com/stories/201206250246.html

Mali’s stormy politics spilled onto the streets of Paris on Saturday when supporters and opponents of a breakaway Tuareg state in the north tried, calling itself Azawad, to win the newly elected French government’s ear.

Supporters of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) gathered outside the French National Assembly in Paris on Saturday.

After the Socialist victory in this month’s parliamentary election, they were calling for the new French government to talk to the breakaway leaders.

In April the MNLA declared northern Mali an independent state, which they call Azawad, after a coup by a faction of the military destabilised the central government.

Both ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy and current President François Hollande have said they want the country whole.

Members and supporters of The Association of North Malians turned up to oppose the MNLA’s attempt to divide Mali

The MNLA, while undertaking politics by other means to the south, is undertaking politics as usual in France.

I can’t help but remember that Ho Chi Minh’s appeal to the western powers at Versailles to consider the rights of the people of Indochina as they carved up the world. Ho was, of course, completely ignored, and it’s not difficult to surmise that it affected his political philosophy for the rest of his days. You know the rest of that story.

I foresee a similar response to the MNLA supporters from France and its leadership. Insurgencies such as the movement to free the Azawad are created through a lack of political representation. France will more than likely regret its decision to ignore the Tuareg. 

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