Africa command


I wrote this for the African Loft in January 2008. It is no longer available there so I am republishing it here. It contains links to documents key to the creation of AFRICOM. Since 2008 AFRICOM has morphed and expanded both size and mission. There has been a mission surge rather than a mission creep. I’ve included links to some crucial documents. For more information on the origins of AFRICOM please read the superb essay: Understanding AFRICOM: A Contextual Reading of Empire’s New Combatant Command part I , part II and part III, or the full version in PDF.

AFRICOM website April 2014   Ghana and US Maritime Forces Complete Combined Maritime Law Enforcement Operation:  For the past 3 weeks, Ghanaian and US maritime forces have carried out AMLEP operations in support of maritime security in Sekondi, Ghana

AFRICOM website April 2014
Ghana and US Maritime Forces Complete Combined Maritime Law Enforcement Operation:
For the past 3 weeks, Ghanaian and US maritime forces have carried out AMLEP operations in support of maritime security in Sekondi, Ghana

 

The Origins of AFRICOM

Early in 2007 Nigeria surpassed Saudi Arabia as the largest supplier of oil to the United States. By 2015 the US expects to import more oil from Africa, than from the entire Persian Gulf. In February 2007 President Bush announced the creation of the US Africa Command, AFRICOM. This combination of events is hardly a coincidence, but the thinking behind AFRICOM began back in the early 1990s.

In 1992 Paul Wolfowitz, on instructions of his boss, Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, prepared the Defense Planning Guidance, DPG ( excerpts ) that set forth a plan for US world dominance and military superiority. It was widely criticized and condemned. But the people who wrote it kept it in reserve.

In 2000, the Project for a New American Century, PNAC , called for total global domination by the US military in order to prevent rivals from emerging, and to deter potential rivals from even thinking about competition with the US. Members of PNAC include Wolfowitz, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and other leading neo-conservatives who occupy key positions in the Bush administration. When Bush was running in 2000 he gave a speech calling for military buildup to “project our power” into distant combat zones, reflecting the thinking of the earlier DPG, and PNAC. Subsequently, many of PNAC’s conclusions and recommendations were written into the White House’s National Security Strategy.

In 2001, Cheney produced the National Energy Policy, the Cheney report.
Complete PDF version: PDF Report of the National Energy Policy Development Group .

The Cheney report predicts increasing demand for oil, in the US and around the world, for the next several decades. To meet this demand, the US needs to increase oil production capacity, and secure oil flow, all around the world. The report is not interested in conservation, or reducing consumption, only in meeting its projections of increased consumption, and increasing production.

[The Cheney] report makes thirty-five foreign-policy recommendations — one-third of its total proposals — on how to facilitate America’s acquisition of imported oil. . . . the overall thrust of the report is on removing the economic and political obstacles to overseas procurement. Indeed, the Cheney report can be read as a sort of grand blueprint for American foreign policy, calling as it does for a vigorous effort, led by the president himself, to bolster our ties with oil-rich countries and expand our presence in key producing areas.
(Klare, Blood and Oil, p. 62, ISBN 978-0805073133)

The overall plan is to control oil producing areas for maximum extraction of oil.

Then came the 9/11 attacks in 2001. These became a catalyst for the combination of three Bush/Cheney policies, 1 – military force projection to secure US hegemony and resources, 2 – increasing the production and supply of oil by controlling oil producing regions, and 3 – the fight against terrorism. “Terrorists” are now those who interfere with the production and flow of oil. These three policy priorities are increasingly one and the same policy.

This set the stage for AFRICOM. The Heritage Foundation published a document in 2003 calling for the creation of an Africa Command: U.S. Military Assistance for Africa: A Better Solution. Donald Rumsfeld took particular interest in the Heritage Foundation arguments. It was Rumsfeld who created of the Africa Command, though he resigned before it was announced.

Vijay Prashad has done the best job of summarizing the Heritage Foundation document:

. . . the Heritage Foundation argued, “Creating an African Command would go a long way toward turning the Bush Administration’s well-aimed strategic priorities for Africa into a reality.” Rather than engage Africa diplomatically, it is better to be diplomatic through the barrel of a gun. “America must not be afraid to employ its forces decisively when vital national interests are threatened.” Nevertheless, the U.S. will not need to always send its own soldiers. “A sub-unified command for Africa would give the U.S. military an instrument with which to engage effectively in the continent and reduce the potential that America might have to intervene directly.” The AFRICOM would analyze intelligence, work “closely with civil-military leaders” and coordinate training and conduct joint-exercises. In other words, the U.S. would make the friendly African military forces “inter-operatable” not only with U.S. hardware but also with U.S. interests.

In 2007 the Heritage Foundation published Africa’s Oil and Gas Sector: Implications for U.S. Policy . This describes Africa as an ideal source of oil for the US market, and suggests that the continent can also be used as a biofuel plantation for US fuel consumption.

Projecting American force across the globe, stepping up production and acquisition of oil, and fighting “terrorism” have all become one policy. This is why diplomatic and development assistance are being subsumed under AFRICOM. Military interaction and assistance creates the friendly atmosphere designed to make African militaries interoperable with US interests. African national armies act as a praetorian guards for large corporations, particularly oil corporations. It is already fairly easy to observe this in Nigeria. Also, rather than use American forces, the US government plans expanded use of mercenaries in Africa, which I have written about here.

I have tried to provide some of the initial documentation and planning behind AFRICOM. For more depth and background I recommend: Understanding AFRICOM: A Contextual Reading of Empire’s New Combatant Command part I , part II and part III.
________

Since this was written a great deal more has been published. I strongly recommend reading:

US Military and Africom: Between the rocks and the crusaders
by Horace Campbell

Libya: behind the politics of humanitarian intervention
by Mahmood Mamdani

Address to The All-Africa Students Union (AASU) by Selorm Kofi Dake, who asks:

Whose war are we fighting, what price are we to pay and for how long?

 

“The countries that cooperate with us get at least a free pass,” acknowledged a senior U.S. official who specializes in Africa but spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid retribution. “Whereas other countries that don’t cooperate, we ream them as best we can.”
WP

This has been the essence of US foreign policy as it is actually practiced for the past several decades. It has escalated over time, particularly in the 1980s under Reagan, and with the proliferation of pointless wars this century begun by Bush and expanded under Obama. I say pointless, because although there may have been objectives, they were not related to the means used to achieve them, or to the eventual outcomes, in any coherent way. The US has tried to solve political problems with the brute force of military power. US foreign policy appears divorced from the realities of who what when where and why the US is conducting its policy. The result has been destruction without achievement. US policy in Africa continues this pattern. The destruction of Libya is the most aggressive recent example.

AFRICOM – a map of US military presence in Africa, countries where the U.S. has recently, as of spring 2013, conducted exercises, operations, or has bases in Africa.

Map of known US military locations in Africa.

Map of known US military locations in Africa.

The interactive version of the above map courtesy of John Reed in Foreign Policy.

You can see another map with more information about the drone base locations here. The map of what we know is shown below, but US drone activities are so shrouded in secrecy, this map only provides a small part of the story.

Known U.S. drone and surveillance flight bases in Africa February 2013

Known U.S. drone and surveillance flight bases in Africa February 2013

Go to the link to see more details of the specific bases from satellite maps.

U.S. military presence in Africa. Here are more details about US military bases and activities pinpointed in the maps above.

Morocco
Last month, about 1,200 U.S. Marines, sailors and airmen participated in African Lion ’13 where they drove 250 tons worth of vehicles and equipment on a 300 mile convoy and practiced low-level flying and aerial refueling.

Mali
U.S. troops are aiding the French fight against Islamist rebels here.

Niger
The northwest ramp of the airport at Niamey, Niger is the possible site of a U.S. drone base. About 100 U.S. troops have been deployed to Niger to set up a drone base to support a French-led military operation against al-Qaeda in neighboring Mali.

Burkina Faso
A special ramp at Ouagadougou’s airport is reportedly a hub for U.S. military surveillance planes operating in the region. The United States flies PC-12 surveillance aircraft from here north to Mali, Mauritania and the Sahara.

Cape Verde
U.S. coast guardsmen and sailors from the Navy and the Royal Navy helped sailors from Cape Verde’s navy conduct maritime law enforcement operations. The Royal Navy frigate HMS Argyll and a Cape Verdean patrol boat conducted joint operations

Mauritania
In February and March, more than 1,000 troops from African countries and the U.S. participated in Flintlock 13. Flintlock is an annual special operations exercise held in the region. In April, U.S. Army medical troops trained Mauritanian medical personnel the latest in suture-less cataract surgery techniques during exercise MEDRETE 13-2.

Senegal
In March, the U.S., five European countries and eight African nations participated in exercise Saharan Express 2013 aimed at developing anti-piracy skills here.

South Sudan
The South Sudanese village of Nizara is the possible site of a new U.S. drone base. The U.S. military has been in talks with South Sudan about basing surveillance planes here. U.S. special operations troops are also here helping to hunt Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army.

Kenya
An airstrip under construction near Lamu in coastal Kenya is reportedly home to a new U.S. drone base. More than 100 U.S. commandos and other personnel are based at a Kenyan military installation

Tanzania
In February, U.S. special operations troops co-hosted a conference for special ops forces from east Africa.

Djibouti
Camp Lemmonier, Djibouti is home to roughly 2,000 U.S. troops and serves as the major U.S. base in Africa. The U.S. military targets al-Shabab in Somalia and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula from this key base.

Uganda
Entebbe airport is apparently home to U.S. drone operations. U.S. special operations troops are also here helping to hunt Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army. The United States flies PC-12 surveillance aircraft from here over territory used by the Lord’s Resistance Army.

Ethiopia
Arba Minch, Ethiopia is reportedly home to a U.S. drone base. The United States flies Reaper drones from here over Somalia.

Seychelles
The U.S. has a drone base at the airport on the island of Mahe in the Seychelles. The U.S. military flies Reaper drones over East Africa from this island base.

Cameroon
U.S. Navy and Air Force troops provided medical treatment to more than 1,300 people here over five days in early April under the aegis of the U.S. Navy’s Africa Partnership Station. Around the same time, U.S. special operations forces were teaching Cameroonian troops ground combat techniques.

Central African Republic
U.S. special operations troops are here helping to hunt down Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army.

Democratic Republic of the Congo
A two-man “travelling contact team” from the U.S. Army “recently” ran a three week course training 29 local troops in basic intelligence techniques. U.S. special operations troops are also here helping to hunt Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army.

Nigeria
Last week, U.S. milirary medical personnel and staff at the Nigerian navy hospital in Lagos exchanged “best practices” for treating trauma casualties.

Liberia
A two-man “Travelling Contact Team” from U.S. Army Africa’s Inspector General’s office went to Monrovia to help the Liberian military stand up its own inspector general cadre.

Drones are now the preferred instrument of policy in the mammoth portion of US foreign policy that is run by the Pentagon and the CIA. They are also designed for domestic surveillance and control within the US. And many new varieties of drone are being introduced or are under development. This includes drones that can land and take off from carriers, sea going drones on the surface and under water, and tiny drones the size of an insect. Some are pictured below.

X-47B drone taking off from carrier deck

X-47B drone taking off from carrier deck

The Navy plans to use unmanned surface vessels to patrol harbors and, when armed with missiles or a .50-caliber machine gun, to protect ships

The Navy plans to use unmanned surface vessels to patrol harbors and, when armed with missiles or a .50-caliber machine gun, to protect ships

In one of the more unbeliable developments of the technology, the United States Air Force recently released a video showing their progress on development of tiny insect sized drones or what they are calling Micro Air Vehicles. These Micro Air Vehicles can hover, crawl, and even kill. And these drones can be out on missions for days at a time laying in wait, gathering energy from power lines or the sun. In the video seen above, the Air Force shows how these drones would be able to follow a target inside a building.

See the full article and video: U.S. Air Force Developing Swarms of Tiny Insect Sized Drones

US Air Force Micro Air Vehicles can hover, crawl, and even kill.

US Air Force Micro Air Vehicles can hover, crawl, and even kill.

US Air Force Micro Air Vehicles can hover, crawl, and even kill.

US Air Force Micro Air Vehicles can hover, crawl, and even kill.

From the beginning drones have been a tool of political assassination.

The first CIA targeted killing by a US killer drone was a political assassination:

Mr. Muhammad and his followers had been killed by the C.I.A., the first time it had deployed a Predator drone in Pakistan to carry out a “targeted killing.” The target was not a top operative of Al Qaeda, but a Pakistani ally of the Taliban who led a tribal rebellion and was marked by Pakistan as an enemy of the state. In a secret deal, the C.I.A. had agreed to kill him in exchange for access to airspace it had long sought so it could use drones to hunt down its own enemies.

You can see the drone attacks and who they have been killing in Pakistan in this infographic:
Out of sight out of mind
And we really don’t know who is being killed and why. Obama and Co. keep telling us it is al Qaeda, but that is not who we see is dying when information does get out. Terrorist is even more convenient than the cold war communist as a name to demonize opposition as enemy. Anyone in the world can be called a terrorist. It is particularly useful to use it on political opponents, justifying almost any action against them.

As Senator Feinstein said:

… it’s a perfect assassination weapon. It can see from 17,000 to 20,000 feet up in the air, it is very precise, it can knock out a room in a building if it’s armed, it’s a very dangerous weapon.

And see my earlier post: Political Assassin Robots Flying In African Skies.

US policy continues to blunder along in military recolonizing mode. AFRICOM looks for partners in African countries to act on its behalf, using proxies and drones to do its dirty work. This mostly results in US support for anti-democratic leadership, people who are willing to sell their countries out from under the feet of their fellow citizens. And when a leader pops up in any country who may actually want to work with fellow citizens to determine what they want, regardless of what the US wants, there will be plenty of drones to monitor and dispose of the problem. Its a perfect assassination weapon.

US Africa policy:

“The countries that cooperate with us get at least a free pass. Whereas other countries that don’t cooperate, we ream them as best we can.”

The French left as well as the the right have dreams of imperial expansion.  A number of NATO participants share a vision of the Mediterranean as a NATO lake, an internal sea, surrounded by Europe.  The dream is to extend Europe around the entire coast of the Mediterranean and over North Africa.  The French decision to send troops to Mali must be considered in this context. Dominique Strauss-Kahn, one of the leaders of the French Socialist party expressed this vision:

Dominique Strauss-Kahn … expressed his desire for a Europe stretching “from the cold ice of the Arctic in the North to the hot sands of the Sahara in the South …  and that Europe, I believe, if it continues to exist, will have reconstituted the Mediterranean as an internal sea, and will have reconquered the space that the Romans, or Napoleon more recently, attempted to consolidate.”
from: Libya: NATO Provides the Bombs; The French “Left” Provides the Ideology

Sarkozy spoke of this in 2007.

On that occasion, he glorified “the shattered dream of Charlemagne and of the Holy Roman Empire, the Crusades, . . .” Thereupon continued Nicolas Sarkozy: “Europe is today the only force capable of carrying forward a project of civilization.” He went on to conclude: “I want to be the president of a France which will bring the Mediterranean into the process of its reunification (sic!) after twelve centuries of division and painful conflicts (. . .). America and China have already begun the conquest of Africa. How long will Europe wait to build the Africa of tomorrow? While Europe hesitates, others advance.”

And as Boubacar Boris Diop points out about the current conflict in Mali:

Whether we like it or not, the Arab Spring is completely detaching north Africa from the rest of the continent, and in some respects, the “new border” is northern Mali. This is a clear and coherent strategy that the west is in the process of implementing.

Between 1960 and 2005, France launched 46 military operations in its former colonies in Africa“. Since then the total number of military interventions has grown. The pattern continues, most notably with the assault and seizure of Gbagbo in Ivory Coast and the installation of Ouattara as President there, and the current operation in Mali.  The current French intervention is called operation Serval, after the species of cat, but has been nicknamed operation hissyfit by some. The US has engaged in military training in Mali since 2003, but it does not seem to have helped Mali’s army much. So far the only accomplishment of US training has been to train Captain Sonogo, who then made a coup in Bamako which weakened the country and helped enable the Islamists to take over in northern Mali.

Map of conflict in Mali, Jan 14, 2013

Map of conflict in Mali, Jan 14, 2013

MOPTI, MALI -- A Malian airmen set up a cordon around a helicopter box as part of the air drop recovery training with the 2/19th Special Forces as part of operation Atlas Accord 2012, near Mopti, Mali on Feb. 13, 2012. This is one of a lengthy series of US training programs for Mali's military. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Mark Henderson)

MOPTI, MALI — A Malian airmen set up a cordon around a helicopter box as part of the air drop recovery training with the 2/19th Special Forces as part of operation Atlas Accord 2012, near Mopti, Mali on Feb. 13, 2012. The US has announced plans to renew military aid and training in Mali. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Mark Henderson)

Areva Mining operations in  Niger, source of most of the uranium for France's nuclear power industry

Areva uranium mining operations in Niger

Bruce Whitehouse provides valuable background to the present political situation in Mali. He describes how Mali’s democracy had been hollowed out over time, and that the majority of the people in Bamako supported the coup when it occurred in March 2012.  Most people saw the government as corrupt.

Touré’s ‘rule by consensus’ became a euphemism for the suppression of political debate and a trend towards absolutism. Checks and balances existed only on paper. Journalists were afraid to challenge the president’s agenda, especially after five of their colleagues were arrested in 2007.

He also informs us that the conflict in Mali is not strictly speaking a civil war.  Mali is being invaded from the north as well as from the south.  Much of the funding for the salafist jihadi militias comes from the Gulf Cooperation Council, GCC (nicknamed the Gulf Counter-revolutionary Club by Pepe Escobar.)  The GCC works closely with NATO.  As @IfyOtuya said on Twitter “It is this same GCC-West petro tyranny hegemony that runs colonialism in North, East and West Africa.”

Whitehouse continues:

Moreover, I’m not sure how accurate it is to call the forces fighting against the French “Malian rebels” or to describe the conflict as a “civil war“–the command structures of AQIM and MOJWA in particular are dominated by Algerians and Mauritanians. Malians widely perceive these groups as foreign invaders, motivated by racism and greed as well as a perverted, even ignorant view of their faith.

We cannot say that the war in Mali is primarily about natural resources, Western meddling, or religion. We can say, however, that it is a direct consequence of state failure, which as I have argued elsewhere came about largely due to factors internal to Mali. My experience as an anthropologist has made me suspicious of reductionist theories and grand narratives of history, from Marxism to dependency theory to modernization theory. The notion that what’s today playing out in Mali is the product of a “great game” between major powers ignores the realities on the ground there.

It is not a product of a great game, but the near collapse of Mali’s governance provides an enticing playing field for the gamers.  France, the UK, and US, and other NATO countries are happy to engage with the conflict in Mali one way or another. Their motives are all about resources and geopolitical fantasies, taking advantage of state failure, the chaos, and Mali’s weakness, to advance their national and corporate interests. They are unlikely to be able to control the results.  The people of Mali are not simple pawns to be moved around at the direction of outsiders.  Imperialists may think they are playing the great game.  In the long run things are most unlikely to turn out as they desire or expect, especially when so many of their expectations are based on ignorance of country, people, and history.  Unfortunately,  far too many lives will be wasted and destroyed in the process.   Captain Sonogo’s coup is an excellent example of unexpected consequences.  It was an unexpected result of the realities on the ground in Mali, partially enabled by Captain Sonogo’s IMET training and ties with AFRICOM.

Bruce Whitehouse writes about Understanding Mali’s “Tuareg problem”. It is far more complex than you will hear in most accounts. He makes several points, please see the article for more explanation of each of these points:

Even in northern Mali, the people we call “the Tuareg” are a minority.
Most of the people we call “the Tuareg” are black.
The people we call “the Tuareg” are not united on anything, least of all separatism.
The people we call “the Tuareg” have not been excluded from Mali’s government.
Innocent civilians identified as “Tuareg” have been abused and murdered.
The label of historically oppressed minority does not easily fit the people we call “the Tuareg.”

He concludes with:

I’m no expert on the Tuareg or northern Mali in general, and I don’t claim to offer any solutions. But I know three things. One, whatever the “Tuareg problem” is, an independent or autonomous state for “the Tuareg” is unlikely to solve it. Two, simplistic categories used to describe these people and their relations with neighboring groups actually keep us from understanding, let alone preventing, the race-based injustices that have occurred in Mali and throughout the region. And three, until Malians of all backgrounds can meet for open dialogue about the crimes they have endured — and carried out — they will continue talking past each other, and their divergent views of their common history will only grow further apart.

This does not look like a problem that war is likely to solve. It is, as with so many governance problems in Africa and globally, a political problem that is being treated to a military solution that cannot solve, or even address, the real issues.

Gregory Mann writes that the invasion was necessary against a formidable enemy. He writes that the intervention was popular and at the request of Mali:

This is not a neo-colonial offensive. The argument that it is might be comfortable and familiar, but it is bogus and ill-informed. France intervened following a direct request for help from Mali’s interim President, Dioncounda Traore. Most Malians celebrated the arrival of French troops, as Bruce Whitehouse and Fabien Offner have demonstrated. Every Malian I’ve talked to agrees with that sentiment.

In contrast, the French client state Central African Republic asked for French intervention this year as rebels neared its capitol, but the French declined to intervene despite the precarious position of the CAR government and the proximity of rebels to the capitol.  The French jumped into Mali, but avoided involvement in the CAR.

It is very difficult to get accurate information on what is going on now in Mali. Bamako is rife with rumors. And the French are carefully controlling any coverage of their military movements and actions.  Reporters are kept far away from any action.  Bruce Whitehouse is an excellent source of information and commentary on Mali, particularly the capitol, Bamako.  He writes “These days You can believe whatever you want and find reporting to back you up.

A young child runs through a deserted side street in Gao, northern Mali, on Jan. 28, 2013, the day after French and Malian troops secured a strategic bridge and the airport.

A young child runs through a deserted side street in Gao, northern Mali, on Jan. 28, 2013, the day after French and Malian troops secured a strategic bridge and the airport.

Pepe Escobar describes some of the geopolitical features of the conflict in Mali.

It’s now official – coming from the mouth of the lion, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey, and duly posted at the AFRICOM site, the Pentagon’s weaponized African branch. Exit “historical” al-Qaeda, holed up somewhere in the Waziristans, in the Pakistani tribal areas; enter al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). In Dempsey’s words, AQIM “is a threat not only to the country of Mali, but the region, and if… left unaddressed, could in fact become a global threat.”

With Mali now elevated to the status of a “threat” to the whole world, GWOT [Global War On Terror] is proven to be really open-ended. The Pentagon doesn’t do irony; when, in the early 2000s, armchair warriors coined the expression “The Long War”, they really meant it.

Follow the gold. A host of nations have gold bullion deposited at the New York Federal Reserve. They include, crucially, Germany. Recently, Berlin started asking to get back its physical gold back – 374 ton from the Bank of France and 300 tons out of 1,500 tons from the New York Federal Reserve.

So guess what the French and the Americans essentially said: We ain’t got no gold! Well, at least right now. It will take five years for the German gold in France to be returned, and no less than seven years for the stash at the New York Federal Reserve. Bottom line: both Paris and Washington/New York have to come up with real physical gold any way they can.

That’s where Mali fits in – beautifully. Mali – along with Ghana – accounts for up to 8% of global gold production. So if you’re desperate for the genuine article – physical gold – you’ve got to control Mali. Imagine all that gold falling into the hands of… China.
Now follow the uranium. As everyone who was glued to the Niger yellowcake saga prior to the invasion of Iraq knows, Niger is the world’s fourth-largest producer of uranium. Its biggest customer is – surprise! – France; half of France’s electricity comes from nuclear energy. The uranium mines in Niger happen to be concentrated in the northwest of the country, on the western range of the Air mountains, very close to the Mali border and one of the regions being bombed by the French.

The uranium issue is intimately connected with successive Tuareg rebellions; one must remember that, for the Tuaregs, there are no borders in the Sahel. All recent Tuareg rebellions in Niger happened in uranium country – in Agadez province, near the Mali border. So, from the point of view of French interests, imagine the possibility of the Tuaregs gaining control of those uranium mines – and starting to do deals with… China. Beijing, after all, is already present in the region.

All this crucial geostrategic power play – the “West” fighting China in Africa, with AFRICOM giving a hand to warlord Hollande while taking the Long War perspective – actually supersedes the blowback syndrome. It’s unthinkable that British, French and American intelligence did not foresee the blowback ramifications from NATO’s “humanitarian war” in Libya. NATO was intimately allied with Salafis and Salafi-jihadis – temporarily reconverted into “freedom fighters”. They knew Mali – and the whole Sahel – would subsequently be awash in weapons.

No, the expansion of GWOT to the Sahara/Sahel happened by design. GWOT is the gift that keeps on giving; what could possibly top a new war theatre to the French-Anglo-American industrial-military-security-contractor-media complex?

Well-wishers gather to greet French President Francois Hollande during his two-hour-long visit to Timbuktu, Feb. 2, 2013.

Well-wishers gather to greet French President Francois Hollande during his two-hour-long visit to Timbuktu, Feb. 2, 2013.

Boubacar Boris Diop, Senegalese writer and intellectual, has reservations and grave doubts about the French intervention in Mali. He was interviewed by Souleymane Ndiaye for the Senegalese paper Le Pays au Quotidien. From the translation in The Guardian:

it is, in fact, a stroke of genius on the part of Paris that France can be depicted as an enemy of the “villains”. I use this word deliberately because international politics often reminds me of a Hollywood movie in which the whole plot depends on us being conditioned to be on the side of the good guys. When you learn that narco-terrorists occupy two-thirds of Mali, and that they destroy mosques and the tombs of saints, set fire to the Ahmed Baba Library and cut off people’s hands, your first impulse is to approve of those trying to help innocents out of harm’s way.

After Qaddafi was killed, under appalling circumstances, the French government believed the time had come to entrust the outsourcing of war against AQIM [al-Qaida in the Maghreb] and MUJAO [Movement for Unity and Jihad in west Africa] to the Tuareg rebellion. As Ibrahima Sene recently pointed out in his response to Samir Amin, Paris and Washington then decided to help the Tuareg in Libya return, heavily armed, to Mali – but, more interestingly, not to Niger, where they did not want to take any risk because of Areva [uranium mines]. The Tuareg were delighted to finally realise their dream of independence through the new state of Azawad, an ally of the west.

Some French media were then asked to “sell” the project of the “blue men of the desert” who were willing and ready to go to war against Mali. Just take a look in the archives of France 24 and RFI … France clearly occupies the role of a pyromaniac firefighter. Everything suggests that the French will defeat the jihadists, but this victory will cost the Malians their government and their honour.

BBD: I just want to say that this is the end of independence for Mali for a long time, and for its relative territorial homogeneity. It would be naive to imagine that, after having worked so hard to liberate the north, France will hand over the keys of the country to Dioncounda Traore and to the Malians and be satisfied with effusive farewells. No, the world does not work that way. France has put itself in a good position in the race for the prodigious natural resources of the Sahara, and it would be hard to imagine that the French will just drop the Tuareg rebellion, which has always been their trump card. There is an episode in this war that has gone unnoticed, yet deserves some consideration: the capture of Kidal. We initially conceded that Kidal was “captured” by the MNLA, which no longer has any military presence, and a few days later, on January 29th, French troops entered the town alone, not allowing Malian forces to accompany them. Iyad Ag Ghali, head of Ansar Dine, discredited by his affiliation with AQIM and MUJAO, is already almost out of the game and his “moderate” rival, Alghabasse Ag Intalla, head of MIA (Islamic Movement of Azawd) is in the best position to find common ground with Paris. As a matter of fact, after this military debacle, the Tuareg separatists are going to have political control over the north, something they have never had before. It’s a great paradox, but it is in the interest of the west that Mali has no hold over the northern part of it’s country. Traoré is already being pressured to negotiate with the moderate Tuareg backed by Paris, and it is unlikely that we are going to see a president as weakened as Dioncounda trying to resist Hollande. Whether we like it or not, the Arab Spring is completely detaching north Africa from the rest of the continent, and in some respects, the “new border” is northern Mali. This is a clear and coherent strategy that the west is in the process of implementing.

SN: What did you think when you saw young Malians waving French flags?

BBD: Some say it has been fabricated. I don’t agree. I think these pictures reveal the immense relief that the Malians feel. They are particularly disturbing images, and this is why should have the guts to confront them. The real question is not so much what we, as African intellectuals and politicians, should think of the French. More importantly, the question is how is it that our people are left in such a state of abandonment? The question that these images really raise for us is how is it that the French troops who occupied Mali for centuries as barbaric colonisers have come back 50 years later to be greeted as liberators? Does this not leave us seriously perplexed? What is Malian independence really worth?

The outpouring of affection towards French soldiers is from the heart, but it is temporary. The real aims of the war will become clearer for Malians, and time will not be on the French’s side. Benign foreign forces don’t exist anywhere.

it must be extremely hard these days to be in the Malian military. Here is a national army fighting in its own country, and its soldiers’ deaths do not even count, unlike that of the French helicopter pilot, Damien Boiteux, who was shot on the first day of fighting. All these humiliations will show Mali that a certain democratic comedy, aimed at pleasing foreign backers, is meaningless. Mali is a case study, cited everywhere as an example. Very little is needed for the country to collapse. We already see the mechanisms of exclusion in the works, and these create more and more murderers: All Tuaregs and Arabs will come to be seen as accomplices of jihadists or of the Tuareg separatist movement. Already aware of this danger, intellectuals like Aminata Dramane Traoré of Mali have repeatedly sounded the alarm in recent months, but nobody wants to listen. Relations between the different communities in Mali have always been fragile, and the threat of racial hostilities has never been as grave.

the procrastination of the African states has been rightly criticised, but you have to understand that it is ultimately suicidal for them to engage in a complex war with their bare hands. Yet this is precisely the criticism we can dole out to our countries: A failure to have the means to defends ourselves, collectively or individually.

Dan Glazebrook writes in The West’s War Against African Development Continues

… it is the West that is reliant on African handouts. …

Gold and uranium are the handouts of particular interest in Mali, Algeria’s oil and independence are also of interest.

As long as Gaddafi was in power [in Libya]  and heading up a powerful and effective regional security system, Salafist militias in North Africa could not be used as a ‘threatening menace’ justifying Western invasion and occupation to save the helpless natives. By actually achieving what the West claim to want (but everywhere fail to achieve) – the neutralization of ‘Islamist terrorism’ – Libya had stripped the imperialists of a key pretext for their war against Africa. At the same time, they had prevented the militias from fulfilling their other historical function for the West – as a proxy force to destabilize independent secular states (fully documented in Mark Curtis’ excellent Secret Affairs). The West had supported Salafi death squads in campaigns to destabilize the USSR and Yugoslavia highly successfully, and would do so again against Libya and Syria

With NATO’s redrawing of Libya as a failed state, this security system has fallen apart. Not only have the Salafi militias been provided with the latest hi-tech military equipment by NATO, they have been given free reign to loot the Libyan government’s armouries, and provided with a safe haven from which to organize attacks across the region. Border security has collapsed, with the apparent connivance of the new Libyan government and its NATO sponsors, as this damning report from global intelligence firm Jamestown Foundation notes …

The most obvious victim of this destabilization has been Mali.

As Escobar points out above, the flood of arms and militias out of Libya were foreseen by Western intelligence.    Algeria is rich in oil and borders the Mediterranean, another target in the Long War as well as a target of those who envision the Mediterranean as a European internal sea with Europe extending over North Africa.  The “French-Anglo-American industrial-military-security-contractor-media complex” do very nicely by continuing the GWOT.   Glazebrook continues:

…  disaster zones can be tolerated; strong, independent states cannot.

It is, therefore, perceived to be in the strategic interests of Western energy security to see Algeria turned into a failed state, just as Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya have been. With this in mind, it is clear to see how the apparently contradictory policy of arming the Salafist militias one minute (in Libya) and bombing them the next (in Mali) does in fact make sense. The French bombing mission aims, in its own words, at the “total reconquest” of Mali, which in practice means driving the rebels gradually Northwards through the country – in other words, straight into Algeria.

…   Like a classic mafia protection racket, the West makes its protection ‘necessary’ by unleashing the very forces from which people require protection. Now France is occupying Mali, the US are establishing a new drone base in Niger and David Cameron is talking about his commitment to a new ‘war on terror’ spanning six countries, and likely to last decades.

Bill Van Auken writes:

Both Paris and Washington have justified their military incursions into the African continent in the name of defeating Al Qaeda and associated organizations in Africa. British Prime Minister David Cameron chimed in last month, warning that the prosecution of this war in Africa could span “decades.”

The glaring contradiction between this pretext for war in Africa’s Sahel region and the line-up of these imperialist powers behind Al Qaeda-linked militias in the sectarian-based war to overthrow the Assad regime in Syria is passed over in silence by the media and the political establishments in all three countries.

Behind the incoherence of the pretexts for imperialist intervention, the real forces driving it are clear. Washington finds itself being economically eclipsed in Africa by China, which has emerged as the continent’s leading trade partner. Increasingly in competition over strategic resources—West Africa is soon expected to account for 25 percent of US petroleum imports—US imperialism is relying on its residual military superiority to combat this economic challenge.

In the prosecution of this predatory strategy, Al Qaeda serves a dual purpose—providing shock troops for the toppling of regimes seen as obstacles to US hegemony, and serving as a pretext for other interventions carried out in the name of combating “terrorism” and “extremism.”

A Malian man dressed in green walks between green doors of closed shops in Gao, Feb. 5, 2013.

A Malian man dressed in green walks between green doors of closed shops in Gao, Feb. 5, 2013.

In Foreign Policy Gordon Adams describes a Continental Shift in US policy towards Africa.

U.S. engagement in Africa is shifting from a focus on governance, health, and development to a deepening military engagement. And while the Pentagon portrays this expanding military engagement as a way to empower Africans, it is actually building security relationships that could backfire, harming our long-term foreign policy interests.

A focus on counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations has driven this engagement forward …

[T]he U.S. plans its security assistance programs in a strategy and policy void and, with a focus on “security” but not “governance,” they are largely implemented to meet the bureaucratic, regional, and program priorities of the Defense Department, in this case, Africom. The choice of countries, programs, and individuals to receive support in Africa is driven largely by the military — the regional combatant commander, the military services, and DOD policy officials.
U.S. security assistance, especially after Iraq and Afghanistan, does put “security” first and “governance” second, which is characteristic of these Africa programs.  …  The downside is that by putting security first …  too many [African countries] will end up insecure in another way: hostage to a strongly developed military-paramilitary-gendarme-police force which is the only effective form of political power. As the Perry report said in its subdued way: “In many countries, whether intended or not, the U.S. is choosing sides in the partner nation’s political process when it provides assistance to security forces.”

Gordon Adams is describing what I and others have been writing about since 2007 and before.  The US choice to invest the  money and attention it devotes to Africa on military development is to choose sides in the political process of the nations it engages.  Africans want to move away from military governments.   US national interests are not being served when the Department of Defense, DoD, bureaucratic, regional, and program priorities drive national foreign policy.  The US military remains on the wrong side of history in Africa.   There is a long US history of military assistance and covert intervention in Africa throughout the cold war and particularly in the lengthy US support for apartheid.  In the course of those conflicts the US was party to the introduction of state sponsored terrorism into African conflicts.  The US has been party to coups and assassinations against the most progressive and visionary of Africa’s leaders, including Nkrumah, Lumumba, and Sankara.  US support for Savimbi and manipulation of the electoral process precipitated an extra decade of war in Angola. The US installed and maintained Mobutu in Congo, DRC, for decades of theft and misrule.  The US arms and supports Rwanda and Uganda as they loot the Eastern Congo.   It would behoove US long term interests in Africa to avoid looking like the leader among those who would recolonize the African continent. Mali’s current fractures make it vulnerable to military opportunism. France, the UK, and US (fukus) along with NATO and the GCC, are engaged in a short sighted Long War of neocolonialism.

Two items came out this past week that are intimately related, although probably not intentionally linked. Foreign Policy and The Fund For Peace released their annual Index of Failed States. Africa Ia A Country calls them out, it is a failed index.

We at Africa Is a Country think Foreign Policy and the Fund for Peace should either radically rethink the Failed States Index, which they publish in collaboration each year, or abandon it altogether. We just can’t take it seriously: It’s a failed index.

Foreign Policy’s 2012 Failed States Index, note the color key and the continent of Africa.

This year, pro forma, almost the entire African continent shows up on the Failed States map in the guiltiest shade of red. The accusation is that with a handful of exceptions, African states are failing in 2012. But what does this tell us? What does it actually mean? Frankly, we have no idea. The index is so flawed in its conception, so incoherent in its structuring criteria, and so misleading in its presentation that from the perspective of those who live or work in those places condemned as failures, it’s difficult to receive the ranking as anything more than a predictable annual canard issued from Washington, D.C. against non-Western — and particularly African — nations.

The problem is that there are any number of reasons why the Fund for Peace might decide that a state is failing. The Washington-based think tank has a methodology of sorts, but Foreign Policy insists on making the list accessible primarily through a series of “Postcards from Hell.” Flipping through the slide show, it’s impossible to shrug off the suspicion that the whole affair is a sloppy cocktail of cultural bigotries and liberal-democratic commonplaces — a faux-empirical sham that packs quite a nasty racialized aftertaste. How do we know if a state is failing or not? Old chestnuts like the rule of law are certainly considered, but also in play are things like economic growth, economic “success,” poverty, inequality, corruption, nonstate violence, state violence, human rights abuses, body counts, terrorism, health care, “fragility,” political dissent, social divisions, and levels of authoritarianism. And yes, we’ll be indexing all of those at once, and more.

The golden principle by which this muddle is to be marshaled oh-so-objectively into a grand spectrum of state failure coefficients is apparently the idea of “stability.” But is it really?

Stability is where the other item falls into place. William Easterly published the a new ad from the Marine Corps, calling it The Worst Promotional Aid Video of All Time

Courtesy of the Marines, ad during the Euro Cup final paid for with your taxpayer dollars, “Moving towards the sounds of chaos”.

“We are the first to move towards the sounds of tyranny, injustice, and despair” (image of helicopter gunship carrying boxes labelled “aid”)

The target audience of the commercial included vast numbers of people from the majority of the world whose states the Index labels failed or failing.

This is aid at gunpoint, it is also called stability operations, the reason the US Africa Command was created. The notion of stability is meant to be incoherent. It needs to be redefined for each country whose resources the US wants to acquire. Stability operations are needed to quell and control any groups or individuals who may stand in the way of perceived US interests, including acting against legally constituted governments.

Military aid and questionable trade are the twin pillars of US involvement in Africa. Imperial acquisition masquerades as humanitarian aid and manifests as the militarization of the continent through the US Africa Command, AFRICOM. Of course AFRICOM’s fact sheet speaks about working with military partners. These partners are intended to be proxies or surrogates that will provide stability without accountability for corporate interests to extract resources.

Below are stills from the commercial. The invasion pictured is exactly what the US is training itself and its intended African proxies to do along the coasts and in the creeks of the entire continent.

View of coastal military “aid” invasion from helicopter gunship

By sea, by air, military invasion to apply “aid”

Charging through to surf

By land, by sea, by air, bringing “aid” with very big guns

Boxes of Aid, filled with who knows what

Military vehicles carrying boxes marked Aid

View from a helicopter gunship carrying a box marked Aid

The invading forces deliver the Aid at gunpoint

Polling in 2010 revealed something about US citizens’ understanding of the country’s budget. Although 1% of the federal budget is spent on foreign aid, when asked, American’s median response was to say 25% of the budget goes to foreign aid. One may deduce the reason for the discrepancy between the reality and the perception of aid is that many Americans think their military activity around the world is aid. The Marines commercial is certainly intended to reinforce that view.

Stability operations are intended to stabilize a country, not to make it more democratic, not to make its government more accountable, but to make it easier and more efficient for corporations to extract the resources they want from a country. Instead of being self governed, countries are subjected to military occupation with unaccountable NGOs supposedly doing the service work of government. Failed states may be more desirable to deal with than states with democratic or somewhat representative government. Those states must answer to their own people, not US or international corporations. The US has been trying to label Nigeria a failed state for more than a decade. The kind of “humanitarian” invasion so vividly depicted in the commercial (although there is no blood in the commercial) is quite likely to bring, or increase, tyranny, injustice, and despair to the countries it targets.

The US Africa Command puts heavy emphasis on fighting terrorism. But a terrorist may be anyone acting against US perception of its self interest, frequently those called terrorists are just political opposition. You can see this at work in the Index of Failed States.

Foreign Policy explains to its readers that Malawi (No. 36 on this year’s index) is to be considered a failed state on account of the 19 people killed by police during popular protests against Bingu wa Mutharika’s government a year ago. Yet such dissent is evidence of the strength of Malawian civil society and the determination of ordinary Malawians not to get screwed by their government. Malawi is undoubtedly better off for these protests, not worse. What makes the country’s listing as a failed state look even sillier is that Malawi recently endured a blissfully peaceful transition of power following Mutharika’s sudden death, with constitutional guidelines scrupulously adhered to despite the vested interests of many of the country’s ruling class.

… So how exactly can a democratic country like, say, Nigeria ever hope to satisfy the whimsical judgment of Foreign Policy magazine? The Occupy Nigeria movement that demonstrated against corruption and the removal of the country’s fuel subsidy in January was a peaceful mass movement that achieved major gains for working people. It was a thoroughly global protest, with Nigerians in the diaspora taking to the streets of Brussels, London, New York, and Washington, D.C., to demand better governance in Nigeria. Yet these protests are listed on the country’s “postcard” alongside terrorist attacks by Boko Haram as equal evidence of Nigeria’s “hellishness.” For some reason, the postcard neglects to mention the extraordinary spectacle of protesters in Nigerian cities standing guard outside each other’s places of worship — Muslims outside churches, Christians at the doors of mosques — so that each group could pray without fear of further bombings.

Many of the Postcards from Hell, in fact, simply show popular protests taking place, as though dissent and social demonstrations are themselves signs of state failure. What kind of half-baked political theory is this? Maybe protests are bad for business and troublesome, but for whom exactly? And are we ranking the state or the society? Or both at once?

The Postcards from Hell also insist that there are no white people in this year’s story of state failure …

There will never be a Postcard from Hell that bears a picture of an American street. But what if there were? What would go on there?

Perhaps the picture could be of the moment last year when a police officer seized a U.C.-Berkeley college professor by the hair and flung her to the ground.

One thing is certain, Foreign Policy and The Fund for Peace are enabling the lie that military intervention is humanitarian aid, particularly in resource rich Africa. They reinforce the notion that poor people are dangerous people. In doing so they are actively working against development in Africa and against the best interests of African people. They help justify the poisonously destructive picture of aid painted by the Marine Corps commercial.

Added July 5

What we see in the Marine Corps ad is a Marine Air Ground Task Force. In 2010 the US Africa Command began developing MAGTF units for use in Africa.

Marine air ground task force, MAGTF (click to enlarge enough to read text)

“MAGTF’s are readily available, self-sustaining, combined arms warfighting organizations,” the Marines’ Web site explains, noting among other things that such task forces are equipped to move forces into crisis areas without revealing their exact destination or intentions and project combat power at night and under adverse weather.

These are warfighting units designed to project US power and defend US interests.

Who would need to give permission for these strike forces to strike? What would constitute a legal and appropriate use of these forces? Suppose the US government, or US based corporations do not like the policies of a certain African government? Would that government be subject to attack? Or suppose the US government or US based corporations are very happy with a particular government but that government is highly unpopular with its own people. Will the US strike against the opposition? Would it strike against political demonstrations? What would make such a strike legitimate? I can’t think of any good answers to these questions, but they must be answered, and in fact will be answered, in deed and by default, if not with diplomacy. The message the US is sending is that it feels entitled to take what it wants, wherever it wants, by force. This is the basic message of colonialism.

William Easterly, @bill_easterly, had several relevant tweets today. He sums it up most succinctly:

“Failed State” means “state which somebody is advocating invading.” bit.ly/NoNhiD

And adds:

“Failed State” is conveniently vague for Great Powers that want to intervene in their own interests

1 Term justifies Drug War MexicoColombia and War on Terror IraqAfghanistanYemenPakistanSomalia

He pointed out the flaws in the term “failed state” over two years ago:

Top 5 reasons why “failed state” is a failed concept

1) “State failure” is leading to confused policy making.

For example, it is causing the military to attempt overly ambitious nation-building and development to approach counter-terrorism, under the unproven assumption that “failed states” produce terrorism.

2) “State failure” has failed to produce any useful academic research in economics

3) “State failure” has no coherent definition.

4) The only possible meaningful definition adds nothing new to our understanding of state behavior, and is not really measurable.

5)  “State failure” appeared for political reasons.

You can read more explanation and detail and view diagrams tracking the term at the link. His initial tweet on the subject today still sums it up.

“Failed State” means “state which somebody is advocating invading.”

The coup in Mali appears to be over, and President Blaise Compaoré of Burkina Faso is leading talks on how to organize and move forward.

“Former parliament speaker Dioncounda Traoré was sworn in on Thursday as interim president after Amadou Toumani Touré resigned under the 6 April agreement.

The 70-year-old mathematician turned politician is expected to name a prime minister soon, and to organise elections within 40 days.

He has threatened “total war” against the northern rebels, who seized a vast swathe of territory amid the disarray that followed the 22 March coup, which the mutineers justified by accusing Touré’s government of mishandling the Tuareg rebellion.”

The following interview with Andy Morgan from March 27 provides knowledge, history, and insight regarding what is going on with the Tuareg uprising in Mali.

“Q: Could you give us the general picture of what is going on in Mali at the moment?
A: The Tuaregs have been fighting an insurgency against the central power in Mali since the late 1950s but in terms of open fighting, since 1963. So this is a very old story. What we are seeing is the latest chapter, but a chapter with a great many differences. The Tuaregs this time are better equipped, better trained and better led than they ever have been before and as a result they have been able to clinch a series of military victories which have given them control of the northern half of Mali …

Q: What about the AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb)? Does this group exist and are there any links with the MNLA as some have suggested?
A: No Tuareg has ever killed or maimed another human being in the name of religion – certainly not in the last sixty years. I say that just to make clear that there is no cultural affinity between the Tuareg and AQIM. There is no question that AQIM does actually exist, this has been verified, but the more difficult question is who are its friends and enemies? They carry out kidnappings and have murdered people, including soldiers and policemen and have carried out suicide attacks. But there is a great deal of conjecture about this whole issue. What does certainly happen is that many western African and North African governments use Al Qaeda to discredit political or independence and autonomy movements.”

Here is the map of Mali from near the end of March.

Map of Mali with the MNLA claims and positions as of March 28, 2012, before the MNLA captured Timbuktu

An excerpt from The Causes of the Uprising in Northern Mali by Andy Morgan:

“Iyad Ag Ghali, Ansar Eddine and Mali-AQIM collusion theory

Iyad’s creation of Ansar Eddine and his reported ties with a certain Abou Abdelkarim aka Le Targui, one of the minor AQIM leaders operating in the southern desert, have opened the flood gates to national and international speculation about the possible links between the Tuareg rebel movement and Islamic terrorists, a link that the Malian government is all to keen to stoke and publicise in order to discredit the movement. As his name indicates, Abdelkarim le Targui is supposedly a Tuareg, a native of the Tinzawaten region and the erstwhile preacher at the mosque in In Khalil, a remote and fairly lawless border town in the far north east of Mali. He is reportedly a subordinate of the thuggish emir Abou Zeid, and leader of his own small katiba called Al Ansar which was responsible for kidnapping the septuagenarian French humanitarian worker Michel Germaneau in 2010. According to an announcement by Abdelmalik Droukdel, until recently the supreme leader of AQIM, which was posted up on the AQIM website, Abdelkarim Le Targui was also responsible for murdering Germaneau in cold blood as well as negotiation major drug deals on behalf of AQIM with the representatives of a Colombian drugs cartel in Guinea-Bissau. Not the kind of person you should be associating with if you want to present yourself as a legitimate political organisation.

Iyad’s association with Abdelkarim Le Targui is vague and conjectural. Some Tuareg even argue that far from being a true targui, Abdelkarim is an Algerian Arab, like all the other AQIM leaders in the southern desert. Nonetheless this link, together with the perceived religious extremism of Iyad and his Ansar Eddine movement, has spawned a smear campaign in Bamako which aims to convince the world that the MNLA are in cahoots with AQIM. The AFP reporter in Bamako even claimed that Abou Zeid took part in a recent MNLA attack on the army in the village of Aguel’hoc north of Kidal. Nothing is more poisonous to the international image of the Tuareg cause than this taint of fundamentalism and AQIM, not even the Gaddafi links.

There are several reasons why that taint is wholly unjustified. The first is that since the inception of the MNA and MNLA movements, one of their loudest, most cherished and oft repeated aims is to rid their homeland of AQIM, an organisation which they consider to be one of Mali’s most effective weapons in its fight against their cause. “AQIM was parachuted in and installed in our territory by the Malian government,” declares Hama Ag Sid’Ahmed, with total conviction. “It was the initiative of certain drugs barons, who are advisors to the President, in the shadows of the Koulouba Palace [The Presidential palace in Bamako]. They brought them into the Timbuktu region and then to Kidal. In return for the release of the 32 hostages in 2003, a pact of non-aggression was signed between Bamako and Al Qaeda, who then progressively occupied this territory. Those contacts became permanent and it’s clear that since then all the operations led by the terrorist groups have originated in Mali, and the terrorist have always fallen back to Mali. It’s their safe haven. Everyone knows that the terrorists are in communication with military leaders, and that politicians from Bamako meet the terrorist emirs quite regularly.”

Far fetched? Maybe. Like Professor Jeremy Keenan’s controversial theory that AQIM are a creation of the Algerian DRS, the Mali-AQIM collusion theory remains conjectural. But the circumstantial evidence that links a cabal of Malian army and secret service operatives, usually Arabs from the north of the country close to the upper echelons of Mali’s political and military hierarchy, to the huge drug smuggling operations that have blighted the stability of the northern deserts in recent years and to AQIM is very strong. It’s hardly a secret anymore that a consensus exists among US, French and Algerian diplomats in the region that Mali has been long on words but short on action in its dealings with AQIM since 2006. The frustration with Mali’s lack of firm resolve and decisive action in this regard, despite the millions of dollars in aid that it has received from the US and France specifically for the purpose of fighting terrorists on its soil, has been growing exponentially in the embassies and foreign ministries of the world powers. Apart from one clash with AQIM in the desert north of Timbuktu back in 2006, there have hardly been any confirmed reports of the Malian army doing any damage to AQIM at all. In fact, the most determined opposition that AQIM has encountered during its five year campaign of terror in Mali has been at the hands of the ADC, the Tuareg rebel movement launched in 2006, who skirmished with the terrorists several times between 2006 and 2009, with lives lost on both sides. And now that the entire might of the Malian army has been thrown against the Tuareg uprising with such devastating force, including fighter jets, tanks, armoured vehicles, missiles of every stamp and thousands of troops, it’s little wonder that Tuaregs, diplomats, analysts and commentators are feeling a tad cynical about Mali’s repeated assertions in recent years that they’ve never had the military wherewithal to deal with the AQIM threat.

A senior Malian politician once had the temerity to declare in a private meeting at the US Embassy in Bamako that the presence of AQIM in the north east of the country was a good thing, as long as it meant that the Tuareg rebel movement wasted its resources and time trying to combat it. At another meeting, the new Algerian ambassador informed his US counterpart that he suspected collusion between Mali and the terrorists. He cited the then recent case of a joint Algerian-Malian operation to attack an AQIM base that had failed because the AQIM katiba in question had been tipped off in advance. All these frankly startling revelations are contained in the US Embassy cables leaked by Bradley Manning and Wikileaks. In fact, there is no better way to understand what really went on in the northern deserts of Mali between 2006 and early 2010 than to read those US Embassy cables. The level of intelligence, analysis and research contained in them is often of the highest order. And yes, they do reveal that the US Embassy has also suspected Mali of at best tolerating and at worst colluding with AQIM at one time or another.

If the implantation of AQIM on Tuareg soil was part of a deliberate Malian strategy, then it has been extraordinarily effective. The main campaign of AQIM kidnapping and extortion began in March 2008 (interestingly there had been a five year hiatus since the 2003 hostage incident), just when relations between Mali, the ADC and Ag Bahanga were reaching their nadir. Since that time AQIM has knocked the Tuareg rebellion squarely off the front page, both national and internationally. Until January 17 of this year that is. The presence of AQIM in Mali put the country in the front line of the USA’s global war on terror, giving it kudos and a receptive ear in Washington whilst justifying the huge amounts of money, training and equipment that America lavished on Mali in the context of its Trans-Saharan Counterterrorism Programme (TSCTP) and Pan Sahel Initiative (PSI). It has also emptied the north of foreign journalists, foreign observers, foreign NGO workers, foreign tourists and foreigners in general, whose presence could have been inconvenient for certain shady army or secret service (DGSE) operations, especially those linked with the drug trade. Most of all, AQIM have simply throttled the region and deprived its Tuareg population of any hope of building a viable future and developing a strong economy. In short, AQIM has crippled Tuareg society in Mali’s north east. No wonder MNLA have vowed to rid their land of Al Qaeda.

And yet Iyad Ag Ghali’s Ansar Eddine movement continues to sow the seeds of doubt and Mali’s propaganda machine continues to milk any possible connection between the MNLA, Iyad and AQIM for all its worth. Apparently Iyad tried to sell his plan for an Islamic inspired movement to the Ifoghas meeting in Abeibara by promising that his political approach would be no different to that of the moderate Islamic parties that have come to power following the Arab uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. There also happens to be another Islamic organisation in Mali with the name Ansar Dine. It has a vast following amongst southern Malians, who flock to football stadiums in their thousands to hear the preachings of the movement’s leader, Cherif Ousmane Madani Haidara. Ansar Dine preaches tolerance, democracy and social morality inspired by faith in the teachings of The Prophet. It is also an ardent critic of government corruption and incompetence. Perhaps Iyad sees his movement as a Tamasheq off shoot of the bigger Ansar Dine. Who knows? “What’s very important is that all the religious leaders of the Adagh des Iforas have categorically rejected this foreign Salafist culture that has been planted in their midst,” Hama Ag Sid’Ahmed declares with emphasis. “I know that Iyad is an important person in the region and I know that he’s involved in religious matters. But I cannot believe that he would completely abandon the tolerance that is part of our Tuareg culture. Not for one second. Maybe Iyad and others realise that AQIM has a hold on some of our young people, and they’re trying to present a different message about Islam that might possibly win back all those that the Salafists have co-opted into their ranks.”’

There is also this article that is worth noting:
Terrorism In The Sahara And Sahel: A ‘False Flag’ In The War On Terror? – by Richard Trillo

“Some Sahara analysts believe that AQIM, which was formed in 2007, is a false flag organisation. In this scenario, many of AQIM’s members may be genuine Islamic ideologues from Algeria, with a background in the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) and the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) that were formed after the cancellation of Algeria’s 1991 elections in which the Islamic Salvation Front won a sweeping victory. The activities of these AQIM ground troops, however, are said to be coordinated by none other than the Algerian intelligence service itself, in a strategy aimed at justifying the country’s authoritarian government, procuring arms and drawing their American military partners into the region in the “Global War on Terror” (there is a significant American military presence in the Sahel, notably a large US training base at Gao, in Mali).”

And a comment to the article says:

“I was in Mauritania spring 2009. On June 25 (2009, not 2010) Christopher Leggett, a husband and father of four, was shot multiple times. Leggett was an American aid worker teaching computer classes. At the time AQIM issued statement: “Two knights of the Islamic Maghreb killed Christopher Leggett for his Chistianizing activities”. Soon after more than 100 Peace Corps volunteers were evacuated to Senegal. (The Peace Corp had worked in Mauritania 40+ yrs)
In Novemeber 2009 AQIM also kidnapped three Spanish aid workers in Mauritania…

Agree, the operations of AQIM appear focused on running blackmarket opperations (smuggling, drugs, money-laundering & protection rackets). It appears to me AQIM does not want witnesses, foreign observers, especially those trusted by locals. Leggett and the three Spanish aid workers were neither political targets nor ransom targets (corporate engineers/execs).

AQIM violence not only drove off tourists, but also aid workers… which may have been their objective.”

Outsiders who are trusted by local residents might bring back reports of what is really happening. Those with a political agenda might want the outside to know of their deeds when they are effective. They may have less to hide. Those with a criminal agenda might want to prevent any whiff of real information from reaching the wider world. They may have much more to hide.

Here is more from the interview with Andy Morgan in Global Dispatches on the subject of Mali’s Tuareg Rebellion.

“From about October 2011 onwards, they basically started preparing the uprising, with long meetings out in the desert where they indulged in a great deal of soul searching about what had gone wrong in previous uprisings, so as to get it right this time. What happened is that they entered into an alliance with a much younger group of Tuaregs, you might say young intellectuals, very Internet savvy young Tuaregs, who set up the National Movement of Azawad, the MNA at the end of 2010. They eventually merged with the MNLA. This was an important move as one of the aspects that was deemed to be lacking in previous uprisings was good communications with the international media, and with the world at large.

Q: When we talk about Tuaregs we are talking about many different tribes, spread over different countries. Some say the MNLA is just a small group of a few thousand fighters. What sort of support does the MNLA have from Tuaregs as a whole?
A: There are roughly 1.5 million Tuaregs, although an accurate census does not exist. They are spread out over 5 countries: Mali, Algeria, Libya, Niger and Burkina Faso. They have a very complex clan and tribal structure, at the top of which you have 5 large confederations which are then broken down into tribes, then clans and families etc. It’s very complex. They don’t all see eye-to-eye and historically they have fought against each other, sometimes very bitterly. The idea of a Tuareg identity is a relatively recent phenomenon. Up till about 50 years ago, they did not see themselves as a unified people, they saw themselves as different families, tribes and clans – nomads from different parts of the desert who often fought against each other.

Q: So who are the MNLA?
A: The MNLA are basically led by Tuaregs from the north-east of Mali, especially by two particular clans, called the Iforas and Idnan. The Iforas are the traditional rulers of north-eastern Mali. The Idnan are also a traditional warrior clan, bearing in mind that their society is very hierarchical and each clan had its different role. All of these old structures have been modified and deconstructed over the last one hundred years, but basically these two groups, the Iforas and the Idnan, are very much at the head of the MNLA. Support for the MNLA amongst Tuaregs is quite broad, partly as a result of the MNA’s propaganda and certainly before this latest conflict happened, I got the feeling from talking to various friends, that a lot of Tuaregs felt that at last they had a rebel organisation that was worthy of their cause. However they do not represent all Tuaregs by any means, and even less, all the people living in the north of Mali, where there are quite a number of different ethnicities apart from the Tuareg, including Arabs, Songhai and Peulh. All I can say is that it’s been along time since a rebel movement has enjoyed the level of support that the MNLA have, but this support is by no means universal.

Q: Is there any internal opposition?
A: There is one group that is seemingly opposed to the MNLA and they are called the Inghad. They are the former subordinate or ‘vassal’ class in the old hierarchical structure, subordinate to the more noble Idnan and Iforas Tuaregs. Many of the Inghad were in favour of the Tuareg lands becoming part of the Republic of Mali, as the socialist principles upon which the Malian Republic was built meant that they were freed from their subservient status in Tuareg society. One of the most frequently touted names in this conflict is a Tuareg military commander called Colonel al-Hajj Gamou. He has been the Malian army’s champion in the north-east for quite a number of years and he is an Inghad, from one of these vassal tribes. Ag Gamou has been built up as the defender of the Malian cause in the north. Apart from the Libyan Tuareg presence in the MNLA, there have also been a lot of desertions to the MNLA from the Malian army since December, as the Malian army did comprise a large number of Tuaregs. The actual number of people in the MNLA is difficult to gauge but I am sure that the numbers are growing.

Q: What are the aims of the MNLA?
A: They want a country of their own, a country called Azawad, which will comprise the three northernmost provinces or regions of present-day Mali – Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal. There has long been a debate within Tuareg society about what they want; autonomy within a federalist Malian structure or a completely independent state. After the last big rebellion in the early 1990s, when the suffering among the civilian population was quite extreme, many Tuaregs fell back to a more conciliatory position, saying that they did not want an independent country but wanted their rights; cultural rights and economic rights. This position has hardened in recent years to the point where the MNLA want absolute independence for Azawad, the long-dreamed-of Tuareg state.

By saying that they are only interested in Mali, the MNLA are trying to limit the fear and concern of neighbouring states that a Tuareg uprising in Mali will lead to Tuareg uprisings elsewhere in all the 5 other countries where Tuareg are present.

Morgan continues to describe in more detail why the nearby countries are extremely nervous about the situation. He speaks about the reasons for the coup, and the very real grievances the Malian military had against their government. He discusses the origin and nature of Ansar al Din, and the links and frictions between it and the MNLA, and the AQIM. Morgan describes how AQIM’s kidnapping and drug running destroyed tourism and related business in northern Mali. This led to bad feelings towards AQIM. Morgan discusses how during peaceful times, Malians and the Tuareg generally get along pretty well. And he discusses the tensions between Mali and Mauritania.

Ansar al Din probably caused Alexandra at Libya360 to write:

“I have been expressing concern for Tuareg for several months. My research uncovered two parallel movements. One, a genuine uprising of the Tuareg. The other, an imperialist-backed initiative aimed and manufacturing consent for the takeover of another African nation and the genocide of the Tuareg.

The US and the French have had their Special Operations forces in northern Mali and neighboring countries for most of this century, and the French long before that. The French have been particularly active in Niger. The US has used this time to create a decade of lies in order to establish the GWOT in the Sahara and give some legitimacy to AQIM in order to justify anti-terrorism.”

Moeen Raoof writes:

“The conflict in Libya has had a devastating effect in Niger and Mali where the nomadic Tuareg peoples in the Sahara Desert regions of northern Niger and Mali and southern Libya have been involved in a spate of kidnappings and armed uprisings known as the ‘Tuareg rebellion’. This is especially dangerous for northern Niger in and around the town of Arlit, an industrial town located in the Agadez region, where uranium is mined by French companies in two large uranium mines (Arlit and Akouta).

Put simply, this is about Uranium to be found in the Tuareg areas of Mali, Niger and Libya, the next step will be UN/ECOWAS/NATO Peace-keepers, Military intervention and killing of thousands of Tuaregs.”

Not only is uranium an issue, oil is in the picture as well. As Andy Morgan puts it:

“Q: What about oil and gas? Is the area strategic in terms of its mineral resources?
A: Yes, one thing that has been happening in the last 5 years is that northern Mali has been explored, and parcelled off as lots for oil drilling. Those lots have already been sold off – and I should say this is where things get very murky and where some serious investigative journalism needs to be done. Total, the French oil company, were involved in the exploration, as were the Qatar Petroleum Company. As we know, both Qatar and France were heavily involved in the overthrow of Gaddafi and many Malian commentators see a conspiracy theory in which France (remembering that France and the Tuaregs did try and set up a Tuareg state back in the ’50s prior to Malian independence which was quashed by the FLN in Algeria and the leaders of independent Mali) have always rued the fact that they lost all their colonies and access to the rich minerals in northern Mali. So many Malians see the Tuareg rebellion as being engineered by the French.”

Energypedia provides an outline of Mali’s oil blocks, and this piece of information from October 2011:

“Algerian state energy group Sonatrach will start long-awaited drilling for oil in Mali’s section of the Taoudeni Basin by mid-2012, the company’s managing director said on Malian state radio. Sonatrach signed a deal for oil exploration in Mali in 2007, but progress has been slow in the basin, which straddles Mali, Algeria and Mauritania. The area is overrun by gunmen, some of whom are linked to al Qaeda”

The Taoudeni Basin in Mali, which extends far into Mauritania, and somewhat into Algeria, is thought to be the location of significant reserves of oil.

There is an interview with a spokesman for the MNLA from March 28 at Afrik.com
MNLA : « L’indépendance ne se donne pas, elle se mérite, google translation here. Mossa Ag Attach, communications officer for the MNLA tells us in the interview that the MNLA is determined to control (free) the three northern cities, Kidal, Gao, and Timbuktu. He indicates the MNLA is happy to negotiate so long as the government of Mali will respect Azawad independence. You can check for more from the source at the MNLA website.

The international community is hyping the threat of terror, linking it to the Tuareg victories in the north of Mali. But if Mali’s army and political elite have been a more active partners and participants with AQIM’s drug smuggling and criminal endeavors, the Tuareg may make life more difficult for AQIM, and cost some big people money. Also, how does the quest for oil and uranium interact with AQIM’s criminal endeavors?

The north of Mali is hostile and unfamiliar to soldiers from the south. ECOWAS has spoken of sending troups, but getting actual troop commitments is chancy, and no way guaranteed.

If the upper echelons of Mali’s army and political elite are allied with AQIM, and the US knows this, then all the train and equip is another example of the US knowingly partnering with the perpetrators, and actively concealing the truth. What is the goal of such a policy?

 
 
 

Be sure to read the entire article, The Causes of the Uprising in Northern Mali by Andy Morgan. I only included a small portion here. He covers many more aspects of the recent history and the present situation.
Check the interview as well Mali’s Tuareg Rebellion.
 
Earlier posts relevant to this topic:
Inherent contradictions of AFRICOM – lies and illusions
US Policy Versus Democracy In Mali
Lied Into the War On Terror In the Sahara
New York Times catapults the propganda for AFRICOM
Obama’s African Rifles – Partners/Surrogates/Proxies
Supplying Arms and Military Training – The US Gift to Africa

h/t David/Daoud
h/t Joerg Tiedjen
for informative links

AFRICOM’s train and equip undoubtedly helped facilitate the coup in Mali. Train and equip was a contributing cause. Just the fact that the coup leader, Captain Sanogo received US training and attended the infamous coup school in the US at Fort Benning makes this an issue. Whether train and equip played a large part or a tiny part in the coup is hard to say at this point, but it certainly played a part. US train and equip has a long and ugly history in Africa, and in Latin America. However, Pentagon apologist Wendy Sherman alleges that train and equip is the cure to events such as the coup in Mali, not the cause.

From: Seizing opportunities from a transforming Africa (III)
Thursday, 05 April 2012
Wendy R. Sherman

“In West Africa, African peacekeepers contributed importantly to the rebuilding of the war-torn countries of Liberia and Sierra Leone. But as we have seen most recently in Mali, militaries can threaten decades of democratic gains. That is why a critical component of our engagement with Africa is to help African countries develop professional militaries to provide for the national defense of sovereign states and the safety of the populace while respecting civilian authority. Likewise, we support the creation of effective coast guards and maritime security forces to enforce exclusive economic zones and cut down on illegal fishing, as well as professional border security forces to cut down on illicit trafficking.”

A U.S. Special Forces soldier instructs Malian troops in counterterrorism tactics through a translator (right, in black turban) on the outskirts of Timbuktu in 2008. Photographs by Justin Bishop.

The author of these remarks is Wendy Sherman, is an apologist for the Pentagon and a corporate shill, or, as described on her Worldwide Speakers page:

Ambassador Sherman was recently named to the U.S. Department of Defense’s Defense Policy Board, where she is tasked with advising the Secretary of Defense on matters of defense policy. In 2008, she was appointed by Congressional Leadership to serve on the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism. A seasoned strategist and organizer, she is skilled at engaging stakeholders and building broad coalitions. Ambassador Sherman serves as a frequent analyst in major news outlets, providing unparalleled insight and perspective on today’s most complex issues.

Don’t forget:

From Congressional testimony by the Africa Faith and Justice Network, in July 2008:

The ‘train and equip’ idea is not new. In fact, it has a very bad history in Africa – a history that harkens back to the proxy wars of the Cold War and U.S. support for illegitimate or corrupt regimes.

In the 1980’s, the U.S. spent $500 million to train and equip Samuel Doe in Liberia. According to a report from the U.S. Army’s Strategic Studies Institute, “every armed group that plundered Liberia over the past 25 years had its core in these U.S.-trained Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) soldiers. There is thus a fear that when the United States withdraws support for its security sector reform program and funding for the AFL, Liberia will be sitting on a time bomb; a well-trained and armed force of elite soldiers who are used to good pay and conditions of service, which may be impossible for the government of Liberia to sustain on its own.”

AFRICOM’s value as a structure for legitimizing African armies should therefore be called into serious question.

This ruinous history, just from the train and equip in Liberia alone, is still playing out.  When Ivory Coast fell into conflict following the most recent presidential election, former soldiers from the Liberian and Sierra Leonean civil wars of the 90s headed to Ivory Coast looking for work in what appeared to be a coming civil war. 

When you invest all your attention and resources in the military sector, the message you send is that the military sector is best qualified to run things.  And US investment in Africa is almost entirely military.   I’m sure Ambassador Sherman would point with pride to programs such as AGOA, or some of the agricultural programs, which mostly benefit US corporations, and harm, or potentially cause great harm, for Africa.

I do not think AFRICOM’s train and equip was the main cause of Mali’s coup.  I don’t know, and have no particular reason to believe there was any US instigation in the coup, although it is possible.  Malians, and Mali’s military had many reasons to be angry with their government.   

From Mali’s Tuareg Rebellion:

Q: What are their grievances?
A: The conduct of the war against the MNLA has in their eyes [Mali's soldiers] been a thing of shame. They feel the army is underfunded, undersupplied and there are stories of soldiers almost dying of hunger because of not getting enough food. There was also supposedly a massacre of Malian soldiers in a village north of Kidal called Aguel’hoc, which the Malians claim was perpetrated by AQIM (Al Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb) but the jury is out on what actually happened. But in Bamako, people certainly believe that the soldiers were badly treated and brutally murdered in Aguel’hoc. The Malian army also suffered some serious defeats a couple of weeks ago, in Tessalit, which is up near the Algerian border. The MNLA captured a lot of soldiers, and the head of the MNLA, Mohamed Ag Najm, in an interview with El Watan, the Algerian newspaper, said that the MNLA had tried to hand back the soldiers to the Malian authorities but that Mali did not seem to want them. So there is also the feeling that the soldiers are being abandoned. There is a lot of anger and this anger has clearly boiled over. The big question is “Who is behind this putsch?” The leader of this little junta, Captain Sanogo, is a complete unknown, although he has fought on the frontline and has experience of the north-east. Whenever he and his junta make declarations on the TV, it is clear that there are no senior officers involved in this coup at all – no-one above the rank of captain. I think it is generally accepted that when there is a military coup in an former French colony, the French army have got something to do with it, or at least some prior knowledge, as the links between the armies in Mali and Senegal for example and the French army are very close. Most senior Malian officers will have been trained in French military academies. It is possible that this coup may be the exception and that it is being led by a group of fairly young junior soldiers who are clearly very angry. It looks like they have taken over but it is not clear if the rest of the army has gone over with them. The jury is completely out on this, we will see how this situation develops.

Whatever the relationship between the coup makers and AFRICOM, key players have received US training.

When Ambassador Sherman says:

But as we have seen most recently in Mali, militaries can threaten decades of democratic gains. That is why a critical component of our engagement with Africa is to help African countries develop professional militaries … while respecting civilian authority

She is claiming a cause of the problem is the cure for the problem. It is hard to say whether the most appropriate response to that claim is apoplectic outrage or gales of laughter.

Although the timing and nature of the coup in Mali is surprising, that a coup occurred is not surprising. Mali’s GDP is around $9 billion. The annual US $167 million in military train and equip investment is a huge sum in relation to Mali’s GDP. The overwhelming emphasis on military training, arms transfers, and military assistance, is an incitement to create military governments wherever it occurs. The message is that the military knows how to run things, and you need the military to get things done. It would require robust and independent civilian institutions to counter that. Few developing countries enjoy that luxury. Mali was in a better position to maintain a civilian democratic government than most. The US may have had no direct involvement in the coup, or there may have been some knowledge, possibly even encouragement from US sources. I would hope that is not true, but there are plenty of unfortunate precedents. And Captain Sanogo has received a lot of US training, including at the coup school at Ft. Benning.

The following are more pictures of US train and equip activities in Mali, from 2009-2011.

GAO, Mali - A U.S. Navy SEAL advisor watches a Malian special operations vehicle unit run through immediate action drills for counter-terrorism missions during training February 26, 2010, near Gao, Mali. The Special Operations Command - Africa SEAL team spent several weeks in Mali working with a Malian special operations unit on advanced counter-terrorism skills training. Military training engagements such as this one are geared to build upon previously established relationships and help African partner nations develop capacities, achieve regional cooperation and improve security. These capacity-development events support the regional interagency objectives of the U.S. State Department's Trans Sahara Counter Terrorism Partnership program and the Department of Defense's Operation Enduring Freedom (Trans-Sahara). (Photo by Max R. Blumenfeld, Joint Special Operations Task Force-Trans Sahara)

MI Professional Course, Bamako, Mali, March 2011. Recently, U.S. Army Africa (USARAF) intelligence assets extended a helping hand to their African continent counterparts in Bamako, Mali. 18 students from various African nations took part in a Military Intelligence Professional Course (MIPC) recently. The six-week course was conducted in French and English. This six-week course was the first of two such MPICs slated for this year.

It is worth reviewing this article from 2009:
Counterterrorism’s blindness: Mali and the US
Vijay Prashad

BAMAKO, Mali - A French-speaking U.S. Special Forces NCO advises a Malian military counter-terrorism unit while training on raid tactics recently at a military installation near Bamako, Mali. Advanced counter-terrorism training is provided by U.S. Special Operations Forces under the authorities of the Trans-Sahara Counter Terrorism Partnership, a State Department-led interagency initiative designed to develop the capabilities of countries in northern and Western Africa. U.S. Special Forces teams provide capacity development training and advisement during more than 30 pre-scheduled military training engagements conducted annually in the Trans-Saharan region. Department of Defense TSCTP activities in the region are planned, coordinated and conducted as part of Operation Enduring Freedom (Trans-Sahara) and are managed by SOCAFRICA's Joint Special Operations Task Force-Trans Sahara. (Photo by JSOTF-TS Public Affairs)

Mali: The Political Crisis – Taking Grievances Seriously by Brian J. Peterson fleshes out the story of what happened far beyond previous accounts.

When the protest movement of Malian women erupted in the town of Kati on January 30, few took notice. The women were mostly “war widows” of Malian soldiers recently killed in fighting against the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA).

The women were protesting the lack of government support, in particular the shortage of weapons and food, given to Malian soldiers. And they were enraged to hear reports that their husbands, sons and brothers had been massacred in the most dishonorable way by MNLA forces.

As the movement gained steam, the women began marching on Bamako, burning tires along the 12 km road from Kati, and heading for the presidential palace overlooking the city on the “hill of power.” Within days, the movement evolved into a more broad-based march in Bamako, soon spreading to Segou, the country’s second city.

Thousands of civilian protesters threw up barricades and burned tires, effectively shutting down the capital as President Amadou Toumani Touré desperately tried to restore order. Government security forces were dispatched with tear gas and blank bullets. As we have seen, this was only the beginning. But it provided the initial spark that eventually triggered the mutiny in Kati, which in turn evolved into the coup overthrowing the President.

This has led some to view the coup as “accidental” and “improvised.” But this improvised genesis of the coup still raises questions: to what extent is the junta expressing or reflecting the will of the people in the street? Is there any overlap between the junta’s populist rhetoric and the grievances of ordinary urban and rural Malians? Indeed, in assessing the crisis of Mali’s democracy, the world community must seriously address Malian popular grievances. And the main grievances I have in mind are ones that reach beyond dissatisfaction with the Malian government’s mishandling of the anti-separatist wars in the north.

… much has been said about the unintended consequences and spillover of the Libyan wars into the Sahel zone. Arms and mercenaries have flowed into northern Mali in the wake of Qaddafi’s overthrow, fanning the fires of Tuareg discontent. But these once-proud desert warriors have perennially opposed the state, leading to a series of rebellions against the post-colonial Malian government from the 1960s. Even during the pre-colonial and colonial periods, these nomadic groups existed largely outside state-spaces. Thus, a fundamental cause continues to be the unresolved tensions in the north, and the inability to convince the Tuareg that belonging to the Malian state is in their interests. Now, more recently, with ample arms, vehicles, and skilled fighters, they have stunned the Malian army with their rapid conquests in the north. At the moment of this writing, they are on the verge of even taking Kidal and Timbuktu. Again, they are mostly separatists, but not monolithically so.

The MNLA wants to carve out an independent nation of Azawad, free from the Bamako-based Malian government, which it views as tyrannical and unresponsive to northern concerns. Another group, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) appears primarily concerned with operating its smuggling and kidnapping-for-ransom business. And it should be noted that the MNLA has stated that one of its goals is to defeat AQIM, which has severely damaged the Tuareg economy by virtually ending tourism in the region. The third major group, Ansar Dine seeks to establish northern Mali as an Islamic state based on shar’ia law, according to leader Iyad ag Ghali. His group has been purportedly backed by Saudi Wahhabis. Taken as a whole, the “northern insurgency” has overwhelmed the Malian government and thrown it into a crisis that threatens to deepen and spread beyond its borders.

Back in Bamako the coup leaders saw a political opportunity in the run-up to the April 29 elections. While it is impossible at this stage to impute particular motives or intentions, we know of the military’s dissatisfactions as expressed by the newly formed National Committee for the Return of Democracy and the Restoration of the State (CNRDR). Furthermore, their stated and perceived intentions will be evolving in response to forces on the ground. Echoing the grievances of the women protesters, they state that they overthrew the government because of its “incompetence.” We’ve heard their rhetoric about defending democracy, fighting “terrorism,” restoring effective governance and such. And we’ve also been forced to contemplate the junta’s statements about returning to democracy once the country has been “unified” and “no longer threatened.” All of this is fairly familiar boilerplate reminiscent of African leaders, such as Mobutu and others who since the 1960s spoke of national unity while remaining clients of former colonial rulers or Cold War powers. In this light, U.S.-trained Capt. Amadou Sanogo, the head of the putschists, has neglected to count the presence of U.S. counter-terrorism forces, neoliberal economic policies or Franco-African neocolonial relationships as threats to “national unity” or “territorial integrity” alongside corruption, state paralysis and the northern insurgency.

The US seems primed to conflate MNLA with AQIM. This is a major mistake and needs to be countered and avoided. The US needs to listen to the local people, the people they call partners, but do not listen to and do not consult except those that have been trained by the US and say what the US wants to hear.

Mali is entering a season of food shortages, and Malians have reason to be dissatisfied with their democracy.

beyond environmental and agricultural vicissitudes, there is a widespread sense in Bamako that democracy has not been working for ordinary Malians. More educated urban-dwellers have grown impatient with the lack of economic opportunities, and the slow pace of improvements in education and the judicial system. Many have adopted jaded views of democratic institutions and commonly bemoan the corruption, nepotism, and patrimonialism associated with the Touré government. As one young migrant worker in Bamako said to me: “What is democracy? Democracy is about theft from the people. It is about SUVs hitting children on the road and never going to jail.” Or more broadly, as the Malian writer Moussa Konaté recently observed, it has meant the replacement of the military regime of Moussa Traoré by the mafia-like clique of ATT “for whom personal interests are above public interest.” Elections have become empty exercises and “parodies of democracy,” in which votes are purchased and governing elites are recycled.


To keep his hold on power, Capt. Sanogo has moved quickly to quiet the xenophobia and anti-Tuareg hysteria. In a recent interview, he stated that the “Tuareg people in the north, the Arab people, are our brothers,” while noting that the “door is open” for discussion and resolution of the crisis. This could be intended for a Western audience. But for his stated “total control” over the country to be fully realized he cannot risk Mali slipping further into chaos.

Of course, whether or not the CNRDR stays true to its commitments to democratic institutions and sundry reforms of the state remains to be seen, and depends on whether or not a counter-offensive ever materializes, which at this point is appearing less likely. In the short-term, the coup leaders will seek to clamp down on looting and prove their ability to govern. If not, expect a quick and furious civilian backlash. Tolerance and cooperation are central values in Malian society, and indeed the mostly bloodless nature of this coup is remarkable. But when their sense of “moral economy,” that is to say their popular notions of justice and fairness at a time of dearth, is threatened, Malians have proven themselves more than capable of mobilizing against tyranny and conditions that they deem intolerable, as seen in 1991. And, in the end, it will be for Malians to decide what they’re willing to tolerate. For outsiders to blindly rally behind the word “democracy,” without acknowledging what it means in local contexts, or even how “politics” operate in rural and urban Malian settings, is a disavowal of the risks Malians are willing to take for a better future.

Read the whole thing: Mali: The Political Crisis – Taking Grievances Seriously

Here is some current analysis of the coup in Mali. I’m including excerpts, but each of these articles is well worth a complete read.

Mali:  How Will Coup Impact Peace and Stability? (analysis)
Unfortunate Military Coup an Unnecessary Setback for Democracy
INSTITUTE FOR SECURITY STUDIES, 24 MARCH 2012

As the first military coup in 2012 taking place 21 years after the democratisation process in Mali, this is certainly a major test for the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance in force since February 2012. There is also sufficient grounds for the regional organization Ecowas to firmly condemn the coup and insists on the return of a constitutional order. The statement by Ecowas, condemning the misguided actions of the mutineers and warning that it will not condone any recourse to violence as a means of seeking redress was a major step in the right direction. The next step was a decision by the African Union on the suspension of Mali from continental and regional institutions in line the policy of zero tolerance for any attempt to obtain or maintain power by unconstitutional means. It is about time military coups are eliminated from the political culture of the continent.

Mali:  Is There a Route Back to Democratic Stability? (analysis)
CHATHAM HOUSE, 23 MARCH 2012

The putschists may seek to consolidate their power; but they are isolated. Their attempts to secure the endorsement of senior religious and political figures and the senior officer corps have been rebuffed. The Bamako establishment is well aware of what is at stake, and what the country stands to lose if the overthrow of democracy is confirmed.

Despite the mutineers’ complaints, there is a widespread recognition that the crisis cannot be resolved through military means alone. Some sort of understanding would have to be reached with the MNLA, which has begun to hint that it might be ready to talk. And a new president, with a fresh election mandate, would be better placed than Touré to embark on such a deal. This may be a best case scenario.

There is, of course, also a worst-case option: that the mutineers reject negotiation opportunities, seek to hunt down Touré and then try to resolve the northern crisis through force alone. The consequences of that hardly bear thinking about.

Mali:  Coup Makes Tuareg Rebellion At Its Heart Harder to Resolve (analysis)
AFRICAN ARGUMENTS, 23 MARCH 2012

Yet, that a coup should have occurred so close to the April 29th elections, when Touré was due to step down, is highly significant. It has been suggested that the seizure of power in this way is indicative of a sentiment among sections of the military, and their supporters in civilian society, who believe that politicians are unable to competently resolve the rebellion in the North. If true, then there is more reason to be concerned for Mali in the long-term.

That politicians are unable to competently resolve the rebellion or any other problems is a major part of the message sent by AFRICOM’s train and equip. It may or may not be intentional, but if you only invest in the military you are only preparing for military solutions.

These other articles are worth reading as well.

Mali:  Reversal of Fortunes – A Coup d’état Sets Mali Back
RADIO NETHERLANDS WORLDWIDE, 24 MARCH 2012

A previous military takeover ushered in democracy. This time around, the soldiers are taking Mali in the opposite direction. read more 

Mali:  Junta Courts Civil Society
INTER PRESS SERVICE, 23 MARCH 2012

Mali:  Rebellion Claims a President
UN INTEGRATED REGIONAL INFORMATION NETWORKS, 22 MARCH 2012

Mali:  African Union Suspends Mali Over Coup
THIS DAY, 24 MARCH 2012

It does look more likely the coup was spontaneous, and there are some positive developments.

Mali: Ecowas to Call for Interim President to Replace Toppled Touré

West African leaders may call for the speaker of Mali’s parliament to become interim president following last week’s military coup, Burkina Faso’s foreign minister has told RFI.

The Ecowas regional bloc is to send a delegation of six heads of state to the country to press for a return to constitutional order and elections.

As part of a “transition in keeping with constitution”, the delegation is considering proposing that national assembly speaker Dioncounda Traoré become president temporarily, Burkinabé foreign minister Djibril Bassolé said in an interview with RFI’s Christophe Boisbouvier.

That would mean deposed leader Amadou Toumani Touré bow out until elections are held.

“If that is the formula that can bring an end to the crisis, why not?” Bassolé said. “And I think that President Amadou Toumani Touré himself would have nothing against it. He has always wanted peace, democracy and stability.”


Thousands of people marched in support of the coup in Bamako on Wednesday, some carrying placards declaring “Down with France” or “Down with the international community”.

Meanwhile, 38 political parties and several civil society groups have set up an alliance to oppose the coup, calling on the military to “engage in dialogue without delay” and organise “regular, credible and transparent elections”.


The military government on Tuesday announced a new constitution that bans its members from standing in elections.

There are mixed signs. Even the supporters of the coup oppose outside interference, but that won’t stop the outside from interfering.

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