Amidst alternating claims that this rebellion finds its source in the fallout from Libya’s recent civil war or that it is strengthened by the heavy presence of the Al-Queda movement in the inaccessible reaches of the Sahara, what is the real probability that such a country can succeed? Add to this another important question around legitimacy – are the fifteen days since the coup d’état that fell former President Amadou Toumani Touré enough to establish the popular foundation any regime needs to survive?
Beyond these existentialist questions, some practical ones: What resources will this country use in a place where even water is in incredibly short supply and where refugee camps run by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and other charities have contributed more to local production than private businesses? What sort of international relationships could such a country aspire to with western powers upon which it would presumably be dependent for aid but who would be terrified of the perceived threat from terrorist groups harbored inside its vast borders? Ethnically, in a region dotted with a mosaic of tribal affinities and confused by almost a century of French colonialism, would all groups be accepted into the Azawad nationality, or could another explosive situation develop beyond anyone’s control?
The recent developments in the north of Mali are disastrous for all involved. The military that supposedly revolted against the Malian president because he was not doing enough to protect them from the northern rebels, and in so doing deserted all of the northern defensive positions leaving them ripe for Touareg conquest, has discredited itself irreparably. How can it now be seen as a force for national protection? The concept of the Azawad country existing independently from the rest of Mali is scarily absurd. With so little resources on hand and zero experience in governance, it’s hard to see what revenue streams would be open to them besides harboring militant islamists or getting more involved with activities that scare western governments sick. Let’s remember that from Gao, a modern airplane can reach France in less than two hours. Such a close bastion of potential islamic extremism so close to Europe could hardly be allowed to gain strenth and grow. Finally, the national elections in Mali; initially scheduled for April 29, 2012, just five short weeks after the coup was staged, are seeming unlikely to go forth in the imminent future. In reaction to the coup, bordering countries have closed their borders to trade, with a more serious embargo in discussion before the UN Security Council. Businesses are flailing at the very time when soaring commodities prices had given rise to record levels of mining activity and real prospects for the long-suffering economy. It’s as if two weeks were all that were necessary to lose all the progress that Mali’s twenty years of successful democratic activity had brought.
In the coming weeks we will see what if anything the powers that be decide to do about this. The United States was heavily involved in the Sahara region, and has been quietly planning a “cordon militaire” stretching several thousand kilometers across dusty territories where little can grow, but where a lot can be hidden. Its special forces paid for recently installed Junta leader Captain Amadou Sanogo to train with American forces in the USA. Observers suggest threateningly that Algeria will not accept the breakup of its southern neighbor, as Britain pulls its diplomats. Senegal, immediately to the west, is still reeling from a difficult electoral process that ended this week.
The proper international reaction need not be as difficult as the distances and scale could imply. It’s time for the international community to take an important and principled stand. If Mali’s government can be overturned by a group of mid-ranking officers, and the north taken by a piecemeal Touareg force, surely taking Mali back from them is a realistic objective. In addition to sanctions, ECOWAS (the Community of West African States) must stand solidly behind an international intervention force. ECOWAS should keep its name in front, but western powers should add their military capabilities to keep the conflict short and effective. The intervention must start with a stated goal of holding elections by the end of this year, and provide the aid necessary to that effect. No one can afford to let another African country slip and fall. We can less afford to let go of Mali, which before three weeks ago had been making real and positive progress. The rule of law is a fragile thing, and we should fight to keep it intact.
THE ARTICLE ABOVE IS AN OPINION PIECE PRESENTED FOR ITS RELEVANCE TO NUEVVA OPERATIONS. OPINIONS EXPRESSED THEREIN ARE THOSE OF THE AUTHOR ALONE AND MAY NOT REPRESENT THE VIEWS OF NUEVVA.