FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Mali: West Africa’s Gate to Convenient Chaos, Intervention

by RAMZY BAROUD

France is insisting on ‘rapid’ military intervention in Mali. Its unmanned drones have reportedly been scouring the desert of the troubled West African nation – although it claims that the drones are seeking the whereabouts of six French hostages believed to be held by Al-Qaeda. The French are likely to get their wish, especially following the recent political fiasco engineered by the country’s strong man and coup leader Capt. Amadou Haya Sanogo. The Americans also covet intervention, but one that would serve their growing interests in the Sahel region. African countries are divided and have no clear alternative on how to restore Mali’s territorial integrity – and equally important political sovereignty – disjointed between Tuareg secessionists and Islamic militants in the north and factionalized army in the south.

The current crisis in Mali is the recent manifestation of a recurring episode of terrible suffering and constant struggles. It goes back much earlier than French officials in particular wish to recall. True, there is much bad blood between the various forces that are now fighting for control, but there is also much acrimony between Mali and France, the latter having conquered Mali (then called French Sudan) in 1898. After decades of a bitter struggle, Mali achieved its independence in 1960 under the auspices of a socialist government led by President Modibo Keita. One of his very early orders of business was breaking away with French influence and the Franc zone.

Former colonial powers rarely abandon their ambitions, even after their former colonies gain hard-earned freedom. They remain deeply entrenched by meddling in various ways that destabilize the former colonies. Then when opportune, they militarily intervene to uphold the status quo. In 1968 Keita was ousted from power, and few years later in 1977, he died in a lonely cell. His death ushered in mass protests, compelling few cosmetic gestures towards a new constitution and half-hearted democracy.

Turmoil defined Mali for many years since then, even after the country achieved a level of political stability in 1992. At the time it was believed that Mali was fast becoming a model for democracy, at least in the West Africa region. Few years later, thousands of refugees from the ever-neglected and under-represented Tuaregs began returning to their towns and villages mostly in the vast desert region in northern Mali. That return was introduced by a peace agreement signed between Tuaregs and the central government. Little on the ground has changed. Various bands of Islamic groups, some homegrown, others fleeing fighting in neighboring countries, especially Algeria, found haven in Mali’s north and west. At times, they fought amongst each other, at times they served some unclear agendas of outside parties, and at times they created temporary alliances amongst themselves.

While France attempted to keep Mali in its sphere of influence – thus its decision in 2002 to cancel over a third of Mali’s debt – the United States was also taking interest in Mali’s crucial position in the Sahel regions and the prospects created by the ungovernability of the northern regions.

Of course, the all-inclusive definition of Al-Qaeda served as the ever-convenient ruse to justify American involvement. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has been used by Washington to rationalize the establishment of the US Africa Command (AFRICOM). It was set up in 2008 to manage US military interests in the whole continent with the exception of Egypt. The US State Department claimed that AFRICOM “will play a supportive role as Africans build democratic institutions and establish good governance across the continent.”

The importance of the Al-Qaeda narrative to the American role in the Sahel was highlighted in the last presidential debate between President Barack Obama and his Republican opponent, Mitt Romney. To flex some political muscles, perhaps Romney warned of ‘Al-Qaeda type individuals” threatening to turn Mali into a new Afghanistan. Other western experts on the Sahel dispute the analogy, however claiming that Mali is descending into a Sudan-like model instead. Either way, the people of Mali are currently suffering the consequences of the burgeoning conflict, which reflects a convoluted mix of foreign agendas, extremist ideologies and real grievances of Malian tribes in the north and west.

The south of the country is not exactly an oasis of stability. The ongoing territorial struggle and political volatility are threatening the whole country, which has been battling a cruel famine and pitiless warlords. The most dominant faction in the Malian army is led by US-trained Army Capt. Amadou Sanogo, who on March 22 led a coup against President Amadou Toumani Toure. Sanogo’s reasoning – blaming Toure for failing to stamp out growing militant influence in the north – sounded more like a pretense than a genuine attempt at recovering the disintegrating country.

It remains unclear who Sanogo’s backers are, especially since France and the US are relatively tolerant of his political transgressions and violent conduct. Sanogo’s coup came shortly before elections, scheduled for last April. While the African Union (AU) reacted assertively to the coup by suspending Mali’s membership, western powers remained indecisive. Despite a half-hearted handing over of power from the coup leaders to a civilian government of President Dioncounda Traore, Sanogo remain firmly in charge. In May, the junta struck again, retaking power, as pro-Sanogo mobs almost beat president Traore to death inside his presidential compound.

Sanogo, empowered by the lack of decisiveness to his conduct, continued to play some political game or another. A short lived ‘national unity government’ under Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra was more or less toppled when Diarra was arrested by Sanogo’s men. He was forced to concede power and install a little known government administrator as his predecessor. Sonogo’s political show continues, especially as the West African regional grouping (ECOWAS), along with the AU remains focused on what they perceive as a more urgent priority: ending the territorial disintegration in the north and west.

The conflict in the north is in a constant influx. Alliances change, thus the nature of the conflict is in perpetual alteration. Large consignments of weapons that were made available during NATO’s war in Libya early last year, made their way to various rebel and militant groups throughout the region. The Tuaregs had received support from the ousted Libyan government and were dispersed during and following the war. Many of them returned to Mali, battle-hardened and emboldened by the advanced weapons.

Fighting in the north began in stages, most notably in January 2012. Sanogo’s coup created the needed political vacuum for Tuaregs’ National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) to declare independence in the north a mere two weeks later. The declaration was the result of quick military victories by MNLA and its militant allies, which led to the capture of Gao and other major towns. These successive developments further bolstered Islamic and other militant groups to seize cities across the country and hold them hostage to their ideologies and other agendas. For example, Ansar al-Din had reportedly worked jointly with the MNLA, but declared a war “against independence” and “for Islam” in June, as soon as it secured its control over Timbuktu. Al-Tawhid wa al-Jihad, along with AQIM made their moves. The allies soon became bitter enemies.

Last September, rebels from various Islamic groupings in control of the north began advancing onto other strategic areas in the center and south-west parts of the country. Their territorial advances are now made against government-held towns and areas that are still controlled by Azawad Tuareg rebels.

There is now semi-consensus on the need for military intervention in Mali, although some differences persist over the nature and scope of that intervention. Sanogo himself has little interest in seeing other West African powers jockeying for influence in Bamako, which could threaten his thus far unchallenged rule. Moreover, it is unclear how affective military force can be, as the territorial fragmentation, many militant groupings and political discord throughout the country are almost impossible to navigate.

The stability of West Africa is surely at stake. The chances of a political solution are all but completely dissipated. The growing chaos will likely benefit interventionist states – France and the US in particular. A long-drawn new ‘war on terror,’ will justify further intervention in West Africa and more meddling in the affairs of ECOWAS countries.

A few years ago, a new ‘scramble for Africa’ was unleashed due to China’s growing influence in the continent. It was heightened by a more recent North African turmoil caused by the so-called Arab Spring. Opportunities are now abound for those ready to stake more claims over a long exploited region.

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
Pierre M. Sprey - Franklin “Chuck” Spinney
Sleepwalking Into a Nuclear Arms Race with Russia
Ajamu Baraka
Malcolm X and Human Rights in the Time of Trumpism: Transcending the Master’s Tools
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Exxon’s End Game Theory
John Laforge
Did Obama Pave the Way for More Torture?
Mike Whitney
McMaster Takes Charge: Trump Relinquishes Control of Foreign Policy 
Paul Street
Liberal Hypocrisy, “Late-Shaming,” and Russia-Blaming in the Age of Trump
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