FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Afghanistan of Africa

by RAMZY BAROUD

Northern Mali promises to be the graveyard of scores of innocent people if African countries don’t collectively challenge Western influence in the region.

Mali is fast becoming the Afghanistan of Africa.

The tragic reality is that Mali – a large but sparsely populated country, with around 15.5 million inhabitants – was until a few months ago paraded as a model of stability and fledgling democracy in west Africa.

What happened to make it a hotbed for terrorism, ethnic cleansing and a civil war which could destabilize the entire region?

On March 22 US-trained army captain Amadou Sanogo led a coup against the now-exiled president Amadou Toumani Toure, accusing him of not doing enough to challenge separatist threats in the country’s north.

There was widespread condemnation of Sanogo’s coup, though the US was more forgiving than African media, most of which saw the takeover as a violent end to two decades of democratization. US-owned news outlets claimed the coup was “a surprise to Sanogo himself” and even termed it “accidental,” an inane assessment that flies in the face of the evidence.

Whatever Sanogo’s motives the coup did nothing to halt the separatists – quite the opposite. The Tuaregs’ National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) used the political vacuum to declare independence in the north just two weeks later.

The declaration followed a succession of quick military victories which included the capture of Gao and other major towns.

These developments emboldened Islamist and other militant groups to seize cities across the country. A power struggle soon erupted, in which the Islamist Ansar Dine (“protectors of the faith”) gained the upper hand, ousting the MNLA from a number of areas including the historic city of Timbuktu.

These militants alleged that the Islamic history of the city was not consistent with their interpretation of the religion and immediately set about dismantling buildings, burning Islamic manuscripts and essentially destroying a Unesco world heritage site.

Another group soon moved in, thickening the plot. Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (Aqim) has been used by Washington to rationalize the establishment of the United States Africa Command (Africom), set up in 2008 with a brief covering the whole continent with the exception of Egypt. The US State Department claims that Africom “will play a supportive role as Africans build democratic institutions and establish good governance across the continent.”

It doesn’t explain how this process will be helped by Africom’s own Special Operations Command.

Media leaks and authoritative analysts have been linking Africom to the mess in Mali. The security vacuum in this strategically located country could be the exact opening the US has been seeking to establish a lasting military presence in Africa. This, of course, is part and parcel of the US’s recent reassessment of its military priorities across the world.

Not only did Africom have a notable presence in Mali – providing several training tours to Sanogo himself – its head General Carter Ham is now talking the talk we have heard so often in other conflict zones.

“We – the international community, the Malian government – missed an opportunity to deal with Aqim when it was weak. Now the situation is much more difficult and it will take greater effort by the international community and certainly by a new Malian government,” he told reporters in Senegal just last week.

The nature of this “great effort” is unknown, but both the US and France – the former colonial power which still has great influence and massive economic interests in Mali – have floated military options.

Knowing that Western interventions often achieve the opposite of their declared purpose some west African countries have been scrambling to prevent potentially grim scenarios.

On July 5 the UN security council endorsed the efforts of west African countries to end the unrest and – despite pressure – didn’t back military action.

The African Union, which has had little success in past conflicts, looks likely to cede leadership on the issue to the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas). But its members are heavily dependent on foreign aid, and thus very susceptible to outside pressure.

Despite hyped Western media coverage, al-Qaida is not the biggest concern in northern Mali. Even by General Ham’s estimate foreign fighters in the north number only in “the dozens and perhaps the low hundreds.”

The real crisis is humanitarian and political. According to the UN office for the co-ordination of humanitarian affairs 420,000 people have been made refugees in a region that is harsh even on those who aren’t forced to flee across open deserts.

But the US has already started discussions on the use of unmanned killer drones in the area. US media is fomenting fear over the situation, perhaps in preparation for a military campaign.

“Extremist Islamists have wrested control of a region the size of France in northern Mali and proclaimed an Islamist state,” ABC news reported on July 23.

Much less has been said about the causes of all this – not least that it was Western intervention in Libya last year that has saturated a poor region with a massive amount of weapons that are now being intercepted throughout Africa.

Mali is now ripe for another violent episode, the scope and nature of which are yet to be revealed. While Western powers and their regional allies are calculating their next move, hundreds of thousands of impoverished people are roaming the Sahara, seeking water in one of the world’s most unforgiving terrains.

The most tragic part of the story is that Mali’s real hardships are only just beginning.

Ramzy Baroud is editor of PalestineChronicle.com. He is the author of The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People’s Struggle  and  “My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story” (Pluto Press, London).

 

Dr. Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London). His website is: ramzybaroud.net

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
February 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Exxon’s End Game Theory
Pierre M. Sprey - Franklin “Chuck” Spinney
Sleepwalking Into a Nuclear Arms Race with Russia
Paul Street
Liberal Hypocrisy, “Late-Shaming,” and Russia-Blaming in the Age of Trump
Ajamu Baraka
Malcolm X and Human Rights in the Time of Trumpism: Transcending the Master’s Tools
John Laforge
Did Obama Pave the Way for More Torture?
Mike Whitney
McMaster Takes Charge: Trump Relinquishes Control of Foreign Policy 
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Decline of US and UK Power
Louisa Willcox
The Endangered Species Act: a Critical Safety Net Now Threatened by Congress and Trump
Vijay Prashad
A Foreign Policy of Cruel Populism
John Chuckman
Israel’s Terrible Problem: Two States or One?
Matthew Stevenson
The Parallax View of Donald Trump
Norman Pollack
Drumbeat of Fascism: Find, Arrest, Deport
Stan Cox
Can the Climate Survive Electoral Democracy? Maybe. Can It Survive Capitalism? No.
Ramzy Baroud
The Trump-Netanyahu Circus: Now, No One Can Save Israel from Itself
Edward Hunt
The United States of Permanent War
David Morgan
Trump and the Left: a Case of Mass Hysteria?
Pete Dolack
The Bait and Switch of Public-Private Partnerships
Mike Miller
What Kind of Movement Moment Are We In? 
Elliot Sperber
Why Resistance is Insufficient
Brian Cloughley
What are You Going to Do About Afghanistan, President Trump?
Binoy Kampmark
Warring in the Oncology Ward
Yves Engler
Remembering the Coup in Ghana
Jeremy Brecher
“Climate Kids” v. Trump: Trial of the Century Pits Trump Climate Denialism Against Right to a Climate System Capable of Sustaining Human Life”
Jonathan Taylor
Hate Trump? You Should Have Voted for Ron Paul
Franklin Lamb
Another Small Step for Syrian Refugee Children in Beirut’s “Aleppo Park”
Ron Jacobs
The Realist: Irreverence Was Their Only Sacred Cow
Andre Vltchek
Lock up England in Jail or an Insane Asylum!
Rev. William Alberts
Grandiose Marketing of Spirituality
Paul DeRienzo
Three Years Since the Kitty Litter Disaster at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
Eric Sommer
Organize Workers Immigrant Defense Committees!
Steve Cooper
A Progressive Agenda
David Swanson
100 Years of Using War to Try to End All War
Andrew Stewart
The 4CHAN Presidency: A Media Critique of the Alt-Right
Edward Leer
Tripping USA: The Chair
Randy Shields
Tom Regan: The Life of the Animal Rights Party
Nyla Ali Khan
One Certain Effect of Instability in Kashmir is the Erosion of Freedom of Expression and Regional Integration
Rob Hager
The Only Fake News That Probably Threw the Election to Trump was not Russian 
Mike Garrity
Why Should We Pay Billionaires to Destroy Our Public Lands? 
Mark Dickman
The Prophet: Deutscher’s Trotsky
Christopher Brauchli
The Politics of the Toilet Police
Ezra Kronfeld
Joe Manchin: a Senate Republicrat to Dispute and Challenge
Clancy Sigal
The Nazis Called It a “Rafle”
Louis Proyect
Socialism Betrayed? Inside the Ukrainian Holodomor
Charles R. Larson
Review: Timothy B. Tyson’s “The Blood of Emmett Till”
David Yearsley
Founding Father of American Song
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail