Mali: Waiting For It To Never Get Better

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December 10, 2021: Mali is currently run by a military government, the third one in the last decade. Like the others it is considered temporary and the current one is supposed to be replaced by elections in early 2022. This now appears unlikely. The five colonels running the current military government want to remain in power, despite threats by the UN and major foreign donors to withdraw assistance. Mali has long been one of the most corrupt nations in Africa and again shows itself the most resistant to changing that. The new temporary government has not yet agreed to a date for elections and is insisting they cannot reach a decision until sometime in December, if then.

The Malian military has staged three government takeovers since 2012. The last one, in May 2021, was an internal dispute within the military. Since the May coup foreign donors have warned that most of the foreign aid will stop coming if Mali does not carry out a significant reduction in corruption, government ineffectiveness and overall instability. None of these three military takeovers were about corruption, but rather anger at the corrupt politicians stealing money meant to finance operations against Islamic terrorist and separatist minorities in the north. The unrest up there had been getting worse for several years before the 2012 coup. An increase in unrest in the north was not unexpected but the intensity of the violence up there was. By 2011, the fighting in the north was more than the army could handle. Mali never needed much of a military and that was reflected in how decades of corrupt rulers treated it as another source of jobs for supporters. Many of the officers were professionals who thought otherwise and argued for more realistic treatment of the military and the threats it was facing up north. That was ignored because the corrupt politicians feared being replaced by corruptible military officers.

Foreign aid donors agreed with the minority of Mali officers who called for more professionalism. The most popular, in the army, officers were both professional and corrupt and that’s how we got a military government that staged a coup in 2020 and another in 2021. That has been described as a coup too far.

France concluded that the Mali leaders were incorrigibly corrupt and that the expensive French counterterror operation in the north was no longer worth the effort. Neighboring nations were willing to continue cooperate in suppressing Islamic terrorism but France is reducing and redeploying its 5,100 counterterrorism troops to assist less-corrupt neighbors serious about reducing the terrorism. This involves reducing the French force by 2,000 personnel and those reductions are most visible in northern Mali, where some French bases are being shut as the troops depart.

The May 2021 coup was not well received by foreign aid donors. This includes France, which pays for its 5,100 counterterrorism troops who operate throughout the region. The military was not happy with foreign donor demands that they cooperate with political factions that made possible the 2020 coup. These groups and the coup leaders formed the interim (and foreign donor approved) CNT (National Transitional Council) government. The foreign donors insisted that a civilian lead the CNT with one of the military coup leaders as his deputy. The army and civilian members of the CNT did not get along. The main disagreement that triggered the May coup was about efforts to negotiate with Islamic terror groups and ineffective measures to prosecute corrupt politicians.

The May coup was led by the army colonel who had earlier been appointed deputy head of the CNT. The colonel replaced the civilian who originally held the job as CNT leader. After that the military-dominated CNT rapidly replaced many existing CNT officials with army officers or civilians known to be pro-military. When foreign donors, including France, criticized this, the army threatened to seek financial aid elsewhere. There was no elsewhere for the Mali coup leaders, at least not one they could afford. The Mali officers’ threats said a lot about their motives, which was mainly about maintaining their power and helping themselves to a portion of foreign aid. The coup leaders did have one source of wealth, the Mali gold mines. Recently protestors tried to block access to one of the largest mines but that effort only lasted a few days before the security forces cleared the roads.

December 9, 2021: The military government is supposed to have obtained agreement on the composition of the CNT transitional by December 12 when ECOWAS (Economic Community of 15 West African States) meets to discuss lifting its sanctions against Mali. The military government needs those sanctions lifted but cannot decide when to hold the long-delayed elections.

December 8, 2021: In central Mali (Mopti region) Islamic terrorists attacked a peacekeeper supply convoy with a roadside bomb. Seven peacekeepers were killed and three wounded.

December 7, 2021: The government halted food exports because of poor crops throughout the region. Mali normally exports up to 15 percent of its annual grain production. The government fears that higher food prices in neighboring countries will cause shortages in areas of Mali that cannot afford those prices. Foreign aid donors are reluctant to cover such losses in a corrupt country like Mali. The military government has other reasons to be prudent. The growing corruption Islamic terrorist violence have hurt the economy, with GDP declining nearly two percent this year while population has grown to 20 million.

December 5, 2021: In the northeast (south of Gao) there were explosions in two peacekeeper bases, apparently from mortar or rocket fire. There were no casualties and no shortage of suspects. That’s because Gao is near where the borders of Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso meet. The three borders area has been a terrorist hotspot for over three years because Islamic terror groups can just cross the border to escape heavy counterterrorism efforts. For that reason, this area has been called the Menaka Region. Previously this area was just part of the larger Gao Region, centered on one of the few cities in the north. Menaka has become ungovernable because so many Islamic terrorists and bandits now operate here. The counterterrorism forces search for and attack specific targets but the government is unable to maintain sufficient security forces here to provide a measure of law and order found in the rest of the country.

December 3, 2021: In Central Mali (Mopti region) Islamic terrorists attacked a bus carrying civilians. The bus caught fire and the combination of bullets and burns left 32 civilians dead and 18 badly wounded. The attackers demobilized the bus before they fled the scene.

In the north (east of Kidal) a peacekeeper supply convoy travelling from Kidal to Gao when it was attacked by Islamic terrorists or bandits. One civilian driver was killed and another wounded. The armed guards with the convoy fired on the attackers, who fled.

The army revealed that it had recently received six Chinese 19-ton VN2C MRAP (Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected) vehicles. Since the May 2021 coup there have been no vehicles from the usual Western suppliers. Instead, the current military government has obtained over fifty vehicles, several batches. These are all wheeled armored vehicles, most of the MRAP class, from a variety of suppliers.

The last Western donor shipment was in early 2020 when the EU delivered thirteen more Bastion MRAP vehicles. Bastion is a French made 4x4 wheeled APCs (armored personnel carrier). In effect the 12-ton Bastion is MRAP lite as it has many of the same design features of an MRAP but is not as well protected against mines and roadside bombs. It can carry up to twelve (usually 8-10) and has a turret mounted heavy machine-gun or automatic grenade launcher. Bastion does have excellent cross-country mobility and was designed mainly as a reconnaissance vehicle that can also serve as convoy escort or in peacekeeping operations. Bastion is also used by the French military.

In mid-2019 a regiment of the Mali army was converted to a mechanized unit with the addition of several dozen 11 ton Casspir armored vehicles. These are from South Africa which is where this late 1980s vintage vehicle proved to be the first effective modern MRAP design to enter wide use. Casspir will always be remembered as one of the earliest and most successful MRAP type vehicles. Originally designed for the South African police in the early 1980s, this 4x4 wheeled vehicle has remained in production ever since. The basic design has been upgraded over the years. Germany is paying for the vehicles and providing trainers for drivers and mechanics. Casspirs carry up to twelve troops and have plenty of bulletproof windows (with gun firing ports) and are excellent for patrols. Like all MRAP vehicles, Casspirs (and their passengers) can survive most vehicle mines and roadside bombs as well as rifle and machine-gun fire.

November 27, 2021: A French military supply convoy traveling through Niger to Gao in northeast Mali was attacked by political protesters just short of the Mali border. Some of the demonstrators wanted to steal some of the hundred trucks in the convoy. The armed convoy guards fired warning shots that allowed the convoy to move. Rocks and other thrown objects injured two of the civilian truck drivers. Some protestors believed rumors that the convoy was carrying weapons for Islamic terrorists in Mali.

November 14, 2021: In the southwest (Koulikoro region) Islamic terrorists attacked a military outpost, killing four soldiers and wounding 14 others. The attack was repulsed with six bodies left behind by the fleeing gunmen, who apparently took their wounded with them.

 

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