Instability in Mali: Scott Walker Backgrounds the Recent French Intervention in the Troubled African State

By Walker, Scott | New Zealand International Review, July-August 2013 | Go to article overview

Instability in Mali: Scott Walker Backgrounds the Recent French Intervention in the Troubled African State


Walker, Scott, New Zealand International Review


The recent French-led intervention in the sub-Saharan African state of Mali appears to have stemmed the tide of terrorism and jihadist activity for the moment. The Islamic rebels are now on the run, and elections are planned, possibly even by July. However, to deem the operation a success is to ignore the fundamental status of the country as a major aid recipient that is not capable of handling security issues on its own. The situation in Mali today remains unstable. Moreover, rather than being an isolated incident, the situation is actually connected to an overall humanitarian and security crisis for the entire region.

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The conflict in northern Mall is winding up, the rebels are on the run, and France's president has more or less declared victory. So everything is working out fine, right?

Wrong. The situation in Mall today remains unstable. Perhaps 500,000 people in a country of 15 million face a lack of food as a result of the fighting and drought. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, 50,000 Malian refugees have fled to Niger, and 40,000 have gone to Burkina Faso.

And the big solution to help the country, currently in its fourth decade of heavy aid dependence ... more aid.

Independence search

The Tuaregs in northern Mall have long sought independence for themselves in the vast, under-populated north, often known as Azawad. Several rebellions have occurred in Mall in the last hundred years. Former Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi had funded the Tuareg rebel group, the MNLA (The National Movement for the Liberation ofAzawad), for many years. The MNLA also were rumoured to have strong links to al-Qaeda.

Dissatisfied with the progress of the government's efforts to fight the MNLA, a group of soldiers led by mid-level officer Amadou Sanogo seized power on 22 March 2012, citing President Amadou Tour& failure to put down the rebellion. The coup leaders installed Cheick Modibo Diarra as the new prime minister, which led to sanctions and an embargo by the Economic Community of West African States. The coup did not achieve the desired result, however. The MNLA asserted itself in the north, declaring independence for Azawad. However, three Arabic jihadist groups formerly allied with MNLA--Ansar Dine, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO)--took control of the north with the goal of implementing sharia law in Mall. The MNLA was no match for the better trained and armed jihadist forces.

French intervention

In early 2013, interim President Dioncounda Traore appealed to France for assistance after an assault from the jihadists threatened the capital, Bamako. The help came on 11 January 2013, when French armed forces intervened at the request of Sanogo's government. On 30 January, French and Malian troops claimed to have retaken the last Islamist stronghold of Kidal. And on 2 February, the French president, Francois Hollande, joined Traore in a public appearance in recently recaptured Timbuktu.

The African Union also sent forces, primarily from Chad, Niger, and Senegal. Meanwhile, around twenty countries of the European Union are contributing to an operation that is training 3000 Malians so that locals can take over all security operations in the near future. (1)

With the jihadists on the run, the Tuareg group, the MNLA, has now regained control of many parts of the north. It has thus benefited from the fact that French and African Union forces have targeted the Islamic radical groups.

Billions of dollars of aid has been promised to help reconstruct the country. More than four billion has already been offered, although some of it is dependent on the elections that supposedly will be held in July. With perhaps half a million people displaced, a food crisis, and tens of thousands of refugees fleeing across the border in the last year, it is apparent that Mall faces the possibility of a serious humanitarian crisis. …

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