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.

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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

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.

The coup in Mali arises partly from the blowback following the NATO destruction of Libya, part of the counter revolution against the Arab Spring, and from the train and equip activities AFRICOM has been conducting in Mali for much of this century. Train and equip laid the groundwork; the return from the ruins of Libya of militant and well armed Tuareg rebels provided the trigger. I wrote about the AFRICOM threat to Malian democracy back in 2009, US Policy Versus Democracy In Mali. The picture below is just one piece of the ongoing train and equip activities. There are a couple more pictures at the end of this post. Read the earlier post for more detail. When your only significant investment in a country is military train and equip, you are prepping that country for military government.

BAMAKO, Mali - U.S. Army Master Sergeant Robert Price stands with Malian soldiers he helped train as he is congratulated by Malian Minister of Defense Natie Pleah during a Counter Terrorism Train and Equip (CTTE) transfer of equipment ceremony in Bamako, October 20, 2009. Price, a logistics NCO with Special Operations Command Africa's Joint Special Operations Task Force-Trans Sahara, supervised maintenance and supply accountability training provided to Malian soldiers for tactical vehicles and communications equipment transferred to Malian units. Under the U.S. State Department's Trans-Sahara Counter Terrorism Program (TSCTP), U.S. Africa Command's Operation Enduring Freedom-Trans Sahara (OEF-TS) Counter Terrorism Train and Equip initiative provided 37 brand-new Toyota Land Cruiser pickup trucks and high-tech communications equipment that will allow Malian military units to move, transport and communicate across vast expanses of open desert in the northern region of the country. In addition, replacement parts, clothing, individual equipment and other supplies will be provided in the next few weeks as part of a U.S. government capacity-building equipment transfer totaling more than $5 million. The CTTE program is designed to develop stronger military-to-military relationships while underscoring U.S. support for partner nation sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity. (Photo by Max R. Blumenfeld, JSOTF-TS PAO)

Based on the accounts so far, it appears the coup may not even have been planned, it may have been spontaneous, arising from an argument between the military and the government at a meeting to discuss the handling of the Tuareg rebellion in the north. However, the groundwork for a coup was all in place, including the education of its leader:

Mali’s Tuareg rebels advance as world condemns coup

The green-beret mid-ranking captain, [Captain Amadou Sanogo] who speaks with a raspy voice, also revealed he had spent much time at training programmes in the United States, in Georgia and at the Marine Corps base in Quantico, Virginia.
He said he was trained under a US scholarship as an English instructor

And from another source:

Sanogo, who said he had received “training from U.S. Marines and intelligence”, said, he would not remain in power but refused to give a timeframe for restoring civilian rule.

The New York Times tells us more about Sanogo’s US education 2004-2012, including at Fort Benning’s Coup School:

Mali and the United States have had close military ties in recent years as part of American counterterrorism programs. According to the State Department, Captain Sanogo attended an English-language instructor course at the Defense Language Institute, a special school for international military students at Lackland Air Force Base, Tex., from August 2004 to February 2005.

Nearly three years later, in December 2007, Captain Sanogo returned to the United States, this time for more English language classes at Lackland before attending the Army’s entry-level course for intelligence officers at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., instruction that he completed in July 2008.

Finally, Captain Sanogo attended the Army’s prestigious infantry officer basic training course at Fort Benning, Ga., from August 2010 to December 2010.

Stars and Stripes gives us more detail on the ongoing train and equip activities with Mali, Leader of Mali coup received officer training from AFRICOM, under U.S.-funded International Military Education and Training (IMET) programs, confirmed by the Africa Command and the State Department.

The U.S. military has supported the Mali military extensively over the past decade, and the country has become a significant partner in the U.S. efforts to curb North Africa’s shadowy al-Qaida affiliate, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM.

In addition to its involvement in the International Military Education and Training program, Mali has also participated in the Trans Sahara Counter Terrorism Partnership, which is intended to strengthen bilateral military ties with the U.S. and supports counterterrorism coordination across the region’s different militaries. Mali also recently hosted U.S. soldiers in a joint logistical exercise named Atlas Accord 12.

“We have regularly had small teams traveling in and out of Mali to conduct specific training that has been requested by the Malian government and military,” said Nicole Dalrymple, a spokeswoman for the Africa Command, known as Africom, in an emailed response to questions.

Most of the world was quick to condemn the coup:

Nigeria, others, deplore coup in Mali

NIGERIA yesterday joined others to condemn “in strong terms” reports that Malian rebel soldiers had taken over control of the country from the democratically elected government of President Amadou Toumani Toure.

President Goodluck Jonathan, who expressed displeasure and dismay over the action, described the move as “an apparent setback to the consolidation of democracy in Mali in particular and the African continent in general.”

United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for calm and for grievances to be settled democratically. The African Union said it was “deeply concerned by the reprehensible acts currently being perpetrated by some elements of the Malian army”.

The African Union (AU) said the “act of rebellion” was a “significant setback for Mali”.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) said it was deeply disturbed by the raging mutiny in Mali and has warned mutineers to hands off attempts to take over power via unconstitutional means.

The US may be hedging its bets. From the Washington Post:

The coup is a major setback for Mali, a landlocked nation of 15.4 million which is dirt-poor but fiercely proud of its democratic credentials. The current president, a former parachutist in the army, came to power himself in a 1991 coup. He surprised the world when he handed power to civilians, becoming known as “The Soldier of Democracy.” A decade later, he won the 2002 election and was re-elected in 2007. There was never any question that Toure — known by his initials ATT — would step down at the end of his term next month.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said officials were meeting to discuss whether to cut off the $137 million in annual U.S. assistance.
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A client military government seems to be the US preferred form of governance for African countries. It will be interesting to see how the US proceeds.

Here are some other stories on the coup:

Coup in Mali, the rats and dogs discussion continues

Tuareg rebels take Mali town, threaten 3 more

African Union Suspends Mali, Hears President Toure Safe

For more background information with particularly informative links, you can read these earlier posts:

US Policy Versus Democracy In Mali

Lied Into the War On Terror In the Sahara

New York Times catapults the propganda for AFRICOM

Inherent contradictions of AFRICOM – lies and illusions

GAO Report On AFRICOM, Where AFRICOM Is Active

Stable and secure in AFRICOM speak does not mean stable and secure for the people of Africa. It means stable and secure for US energy and resource needs and US policy objectives.

MALI - Malian commandos advance with a member of the U.S. 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) during training rehearsals May 13, 2009, at a military training area north of Bamako, Mali. Building on specialized skills previously acquired during joint exercises such as Flintlock, which is Special Operations Command-Africa's premier Special Operations Forces exercise in the Trans-Saharan region, the "Warrior-Ambassadors" of the 3rd SFG (A) were continuing their Africa-focused security forces assistance mission to enhance African Partner Nation capabilities to help achieve regional cooperation and security. The 3rd SFG (A) is based in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. (Photo by Max R. Blumenfeld, JSOTF-TS PAO)

Military training near Bamako, US. Mali, & Senegal 2008

For an update regarding the March 2012 coup in Mali, see: Coup In Mali – AFRICOM’s Train & Equip Triumphs Over Democracy.
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US foreign policy in Africa IS military policy. The US State Department is starved for money. The Pentagon’s gargantuan budget is still largely unquestioned and treated politically as free money. Major portions of the State Department budget are allocated for military activity and support instead of traditional diplomacy. This picture illustrates the institutional problem US policy has created, and that it faces.

BAMAKO, Mali - U.S. Army Master Sergeant Robert Price stands with Malian soldiers he helped train as he is congratulated by Malian Minister of Defense Natie Pleah during a Counter Terrorism Train and Equip (CTTE) transfer of equipment ceremony in Bamako, October 20, 2009. Price, a logistics NCO with Special Operations Command Africa's Joint Special Operations Task Force-Trans Sahara, supervised maintenance and supply accountability training provided to Malian soldiers for tactical vehicles and communications equipment transferred to Malian units. Under the U.S. State Department's Trans-Sahara Counter Terrorism Program (TSCTP), U.S. Africa Command's Operation Enduring Freedom-Trans Sahara (OEF-TS) Counter Terrorism Train and Equip initiative provided 37 brand-new Toyota Land Cruiser pickup trucks and high-tech communications equipment that will allow Malian military units to move, transport and communicate across vast expanses of open desert in the northern region of the country. In addition, replacement parts, clothing, individual equipment and other supplies will be provided in the next few weeks as part of a U.S. government capacity-building equipment transfer totaling more than $5 million. The CTTE program is designed to develop stronger military-to-military relationships while underscoring U.S. support for partner nation sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity. (Photo by Max R. Blumenfeld, JSOTF-TS PAO)

State Department money and contracts are paying for the equipment and the training described in this picture. The only significant budget the State Department has, particularly regarding African affairs is money that is spent on military supplies and activities, and therefore supplements the Pentagon’s already bloated military budget. In these circumstances the only possible product of US foreign policy is increased militarism.

Vijay Prashad recently published an article at Pambazuka that describes the ongoing effect of US policy on Mali:
Counterterrorism’s blindness: Mali and the US

Describing the military expenditure pictured above:

[T]he US government will provide US$5 million in trucks and military equipment to Mali. The aim of this donation is to help the Malian military fight the group known as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Last December, AQIM kidnapped two Canadian diplomats, who were released after four months. This is what they do these days: kidnap, extort, run guns and drugs. Islam is a veneer.

The association with al-Qaeda is a propaganda coup … AQIM is a small shop with a large sign, paying its franchise dues without increasing its own business. But since AQIM operates on the border between Algeria and Mali, and does some of its business in Mali, the US government decided to help fortify Mali’s military. US$5 million is not much money for the US, but for a country with total revenues of US1.5 billion, with a military budget of about US$70 million per year, this small disbursement is considerable. And it is set to increase – keep an eye on that.

Through the TSCTP, the US government wanted not only to fight the Islamists on the battlefield, but also take on their extremist ideology. To this end, USAID got some funds to help revise textbooks, pay for schools that teach a ‘tolerant ideology’ and run rural radio stations ‘by broadcasting moderate views and providing information on government services’. The money for these non-military functions was available in 2005 and 2007, but not in 2006. Because of this fluctuation, according to the General Accounting Office of the US government, ‘the mission suspended its peace-building program in northern Mali‘.

All attention was focused on the military aspect, although even here there is some uneasiness. The US Embassy in Bamako was quick to point out that the US$5 million for trucks and other military hardware comes not from the US military, but from the US State Department.

The fact that this money comes from the State Department is not a mitigating factor. It only makes the situation worse. The principal US institution that should be working for peace and democracy, that should be working to strengthen civilian institutions, becomes just another tool to subsidize military activity and war.

Although, the State Department is not the only one involved; from April to June this year, 300 US Special Forces ‘advisers’ trained the Malian military at three of its bases. These Sahelian initiatives are now run through AFRICOM, the US African Command, set up in October 2007. It operates a programme called ‘Joint Task Force Aztec Silence’. … The ‘silence’ after Aztec is chilling.

The insurgents in northern Mali are various. The longest tension is between the Malian government and the ‘Tuareg rebels’.

Prashad goes on to describe the tensions between Mali’s government and the Tuareg over the years. And as Keenan points out, quoted below, in 2006 US Special Forces worked with the Tuareg and the Algerians to destabilize Mali. Now in 2009 the US is backing Mali’s current government.

Prashad provides a summary history of Mali since independence. It came out of colonial rule almost completely dependent on cotton.

… a popular government led by the charismatic Modibo Kéita came to power. But the country was dependent on one crop (cotton) for more than half its GDP (gross domestic product), it had little processing and industry and almost no sources of energy. … Further, the cotton subsidy regime in both Europe and the United States strikes at the heart of Mali’s attempt to grow its already dismal economy.

Prashad recounts the changes in Mali’s leadership, and that immediately following Kéita, Mali came under military government:

Traoré had none of Kéita’s imagination, and none of the socialist movement’s patience with the devolution of power. When things turned bad, he went to Washington. The World Bank welcomed him in 1981, and Mali became the test case for its ‘structural adjustment’ policies.

In 1995, Howard French reported from Bamako for The New York Times, ‘Diplomats also speak of this large landlocked country as a bulwark against the spread of Islamic militancy from its northern neighbor, Algeria. Already Mali faces a destabilizing conflict involving Tuareg tribesmen in the north, but any settlement has been thwarted by a lack of resources. At the same time, Mali’s debt burden, contracted under years of dictatorship, consumes so much of the country’s revenues that there is little left for development needs.’ The point was clearly made. No one listened.

Washington’s counterterrorism spectacles see only al-Qaeda. The debt burden and the impossibility of governance are not on the agenda. Whether the State Department or the Defense Department give arms to the Malian military says more about anxiety in the US than about the dynamic in Mali. Once more the US will strengthen the military against civil society, and once more we might see Mali fall the way of Guinea and others in the region that were set up to become dictatorships.

I have quoted from Demystifying Africa’s Security by Jeremy Keenan before, but he makes a number of points that are particularly relevant to Mali:

Beginning in early 2003, the US, in collusion with Algeria, its key regional ally in the GWOT, fabricated a string of false flag ‘terrorism’ incidents in the Algerian Sahara and across much of the Sahel (Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad) in order to justify the launch of a new or ‘second’ African front in the GWOT.

US presence sought to resolve conflicts in Africa by brute military intervention. Post-2006 interventions by US troops in the Sahara-Sahel have been widely documented(Keenan, 2006d, 2008b, 2009b). In May 2006, for example, US Special Forces, flown secretly from Stuttgart to Tamanrasset, accompanied Algeria’s secret military services into northern Mali to give support to the Algerian-orchestrated Tuareg rebellion designed to destabilise northern Mali. In February 2008, US Special Forces (possibly contractors – PMCs) accompanied Malian troops on a vindictive raid on a desert town in the same area, at the same time as AFRICOM’s commander, General William ‘Kip’ Ward and US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for African Affairs, Theresa Whelan, were promoting AFRICOM at a RUSI meeting in London and at which Ms Whelan denied the presence of US ‘troops’ in northern Mali.

Since 2005-6, justification for the US’s militarisation of the continent has shifted from the GWOT and straightforward counterterrorism to the more humanitarian security-development discourse. The fundamental question with regard to AFRICOM is whether its website news headlines and its ‘peace and development’ oriented mission statements really do reflect a paradigm shift in US military thinking, or whether they are merely good PR, a further twist in Washington’s ‘information war’: a deceptive mystification process that enables AFRICOM to be portrayed as more benign than it really is. The answer is found on the ground – in Africa. Whether couched in the language of the GWOT or the security-development discourse, local-regional outbreaks of civil unrest and rebellion (‘incursions’) by minority-cum-opposition groups, frequently provoked by local US supported politico-military elites, continue to help legitimise the US military presence in Africa and are being dealt with by military means. Far from bringing ‘peace and security’ to Africa, AFRICOM is directly instrumental in creating conflict and insecurity.

Does AFRICOM have any prospect of bringing peace, security and development to Africa? While AFRICOM’s commanders have been preaching ‘security and development’, their operations on the ground have so far created insecurity and undermined democratic expressions of civil society.

many [African regimes] are now using the pretext of the GWOT to repress legitimate opposition by linking it with ‘terrorism’