The Arab Spring in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya led to the destabilization of the Sahel, leaving a number of countries at risk. The lack of continued military support in Mali left the country unprepared to deal with the fast-growing threat from the well-armed and well-financed Islamist extremists. Northern Mali has now become the “epicenter” for terrorists coming from Niger, Chad, Sudan, Nigeria and Somalia, and as far away as Pakistan and Afghanistan.
In the aftermath of the overthrow of longtime Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi, large caches of weapons left Libya with Tuareg mercenary fighters returning to northern Mali and allied with the AQIM and Ansar Dine Islamists. The Malian military stationed in the northern towns of Timbuktu, Kidal and Gao was outgunned by these Islamists.
In January 2012, more than 90 soldiers were slaughtered by Islamists at the Aguel Hoc military camp near Kidal. The frustration by the military, for lack of government support, led to the ousting of President Amadou Toumani Toure on March 21. Since then, Islamist extremists have infiltrated the region in large numbers.
- Political stakes:
Leaders and countries, who have supported the Arab Spring as well as the fall of one of the most influent dictator in the region, have to face know this grim side of the revolution.
ü Even though the chaos is taking place in North Africa, the main target remains the allies of the revolution and the countries who is combatting in any means the AQIM. In effect, as soon as France expressed its intention to send its troops the Malian sole, a number of foreigners working in In-Amenas had been taken by terrorists in Algeria.
ü North-Africans have an easy access to Europe in some ways.
ü As the uprising closed in around him, the Libyan dictator Muammar el-Qaddafi warned that if he fell, chaos and holy war would overtake North Africa. “Bin Laden’s people would come to impose ransoms by land and sea,” he told reporters. “We will go back to the time of Redbeard, of pirates, of Ottomans imposing ransoms on boats.”
- Economical stakes:
The African region is maybe the only one region in the world that still has enough natural resources which are not exploited yet. In terms of energy, minerals and diversity of the weather, the leading countries of the world have to protect this region and keep a good relationship with the different countries in Africa for their own benefits-to-be.
It is rare when it comes to international conflicts to find only two main actors. In this crisis, France decided to send its troops to Mali. Not because of a U.N council decision only, but because of its past! In a way, France can make up with Africans who express a certain hate against the French colonizer. We can say then that there are two entities engaged in this fight:
- France, U.N member countries, ECOWAS…
- Islamist groups in northern Mali:
ü Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb or AQIM; Ansar al Deen ( “Defenders of the Faith”), and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA, a.k.a. MUJAO after its French acronym). AQIM grew out of Algeria’s civil conflict of the 1990s, and has been present in northern Mali for at least a decade. It has kidnapped Westerners, primarily Europeans and mostly for ransom, in Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Algeria. AQIM has also carried out a number of bombings within Algeria, including against a U.N. office in Algiers in 2007. AQIM’s leader, Abdelmalek Droukdel, is reportedly based in northeastern Algeria.
ü MUJWA, which emerged in late 2011 as a splinter faction of AQIM, has also carried out kidnappings in the region and terrorist attacks in Algeria.
However, approval for action was withheld, which would have allowed the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), a coalition of 15 countries, to intervene in Mali before it became the base for thousands of well-trained and equipped Islamists.
On January 11, 2013, France launched military operations against insurgent targets in northern
Mali, following a request from the Malian government for help in repelling insurgent advances
toward the south. French operations mark a sudden and major shift in international responses to
the situation in Mali. Previously, international efforts had focused on a French-backed proposal
for a West African-led military intervention, negotiations with some armed groups in the north,
and prospects for elections aimed at a more legitimate, effective government in Bamako.
Actions eventually change the context
- The French action can be described as a successful one In fact, in terms of life’s loss, the French army lost only five soldiers… In mid-April, 4,600 French troops are still in the country, supported by about 6,000 soldiers from several African states. Led by the French, they have retaken most of the major population centers from the jihadists who had threatened to overrun the country. They have killed hundreds of radicals and destroyed a lot of equipment.
- The ethnic Tuaregs in the North, who began the rebellion, are still demanding autonomy or independence: The threat has only been postponed!
- By the end of 2013 only 1000 French troops will be left to work with a UN Peacekeeping Force from other mainly African countries.
- The new colonialism: fifty years after it became independent, Mali has still to rely on its former colonial ruler to keep the country intact. Mali is among Africa’s top gold producers, exporting between 36 and 60 metric tons annually over the last decade; gold is a key source of revenue for the Malian government.
- Mali will have new elections on July.
The increase of Islamist extremists in Africa is alarming — a danger across North Africa and the Sahel region. This generation of Islamist extremists has grown up only knowing conflict and is more brutal than its predecessors.
The main concern is what would the next government look like and how would the Tuaregs impose themselves?
- Congress Research Report: Crisis in Mali by Alexis Arieff , Analyst in African Affairs January 14, 2013
- BBC News : World Africa section
- WashingtonTimes : Arab Spring exacerbated Islamist threat to Mali: Northern region now regional terrorist hub, John Price , Jan 23 2013
- New York Times : Africa section
- Steven Erlanger, Alan Cowell, and Adam Nossiter, “Malian Town Falls to Islamist Rebels, France Says, The New York Times, January 14, 2013.
- See Human Rights Watch (HRW), Testimony of Corinne Dufka before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee,
- “Addressing Developments in Mali: Restoring Democracy and Reclaiming the North,” December 5, 2012.
- HRW, “Mali: Rising Ethnic Tensions Threaten New Violence,” op. cit.; BBC, “Mali Intervention by ECOWAS:
- Refugee Fears,” December 14, 2012.
N.B: In addition to the sources above, I didn’t mention the sources which are in either Arabic or French.