Mali: Ugly Aftermath And Uncertain Future

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July 11, 2013: For the last five months American MQ-9 UAVs could be seen regularly over northern Mali. Some days there is one up there all day, most of the time it’s only for about half the day. The video is analyzed by U.S. and French intelligence and used by the French to coordinate operations against the remaining Islamic terrorists in northern Mali. The American UAVs have been operating from an airbase in neighboring Niger, where two MQ-9s are currently stationed.

France believes that a third of the 2,000 Islamic terrorists in northern Mali at the beginning of the year have been killed and most of the survivors (less the hundred or so who surrendered or were captured) have fled Mali. That leaves several hundred, most of them Tuareg or black African, still in Mali. Most are hiding, but some are in the larger towns and cities carrying out attacks. Many (up to half) of the terrorists who fled went to neighboring Niger, where a weak government and a very poor population (whose cooperation can be bought) has provided opportunities for new terrorist bases to be established. As with Mali, most of the 16 million Niger population lives in the south, where there is more water. The north is mostly desert. A fifth of the population are Arab, Tuareg, and similar minorities. Over 90 percent of the population is Moslem and about eight percent are slaves. The U.S., France, and other European nations are helping the Niger government to deal with the Islamic terrorists. That will not produce a quick fix and it may take a year (and probably much longer) to clear the Islamic terrorists out of Niger.

Mali’s fundamental problem (and the source of the discontent that triggered the Tuareg uprising in the north and the army coup in the south last year) is widespread corruption and the chilling effect this has on the economy. Despite billions of dollars’ worth of mineral exports, the country is very poor. The money the government gets from the mineral exports is largely stolen by politicians. Economic growth is stifled by the corruption, which makes it very difficult for entrepreneurs to start new businesses or expand existing ones. The result is that a third of the population is hungry and gets by with the help of foreign aid. In the north over two thirds of the population is short of food and much else. Most of the people in the north are Tuareg and they blame corrupt southern (black African) officials for the poverty and high unemployment in the north. That is only partially true because the north has always been very poor and the Tuareg leaders also tend to be corrupt when it comes to handling government matters. The July 28th presidential election is expected to put another corrupt politician into office. The search for a cure for the corruption has so far been unsuccessful. There are also doubts that the government can even properly organize the July 28th election.

The fragile economy in Timbuktu was devastated by the nine months of Islamic radical rule. Most of the Mali government employees were driven out and their workplaces looted and trashed. Worse, the tourism activity, which was the basis of the local economy, was largely destroyed. This included the destruction of many tourist attractions and the disappearance of many Arab and other foreign businessmen who made the tourism business work. Replacing key people and restoring infrastructure will take years. In the meantime most of the 55,000 population will have to get by on foreign aid.

July 9, 2013: In the north (Kidal) two civilians were wounded by unidentified gunmen.

July 8, 2013: In Kidal anti-government demonstrations over the weekend left two peacekeepers and a French soldier wounded. 

July 6, 2013: The government ended the six month old state of emergency. This means it is now legal for crowds to assemble and demonstrations to take place. The security forces must now follow all legal procedures when making arrests and holding people in custody.

July 5, 2013: After arriving on the outskirts a month ago 200 Malian army soldiers finally moved into the northeastern town of Kidal. Tuareg MNLA fighters moved out, or at least aside, in accordance with the June 18th peace deal with Mali. The MNLA had controlled Kidal since March 2012, as they tried to establish a role in governing the largely Tuareg north. MNLA were forced out of Kidal by Islamic terrorists for nine months and regained control in January 2013. French and Chadian troops have been in Kidal for over six months and have been joined by some other African peacekeepers to replace the Chad force (which returned home). The MNLA controlled security in the city and this produced growing complaints that MNLA gunmen were attacking blacks in the north and trying to force them to leave. The government accused the MNLA of ethnic cleansing, as northern Mali is predominately Tuareg and Arab. Because over 90 percent of Malians are black Africans, Tuaregs have always been touchy about blacks moving north to settle or, worse, to run the government. Partly this was because some Tuaregs and Arabs in the north still kept black slaves. Now a lot of those slaves find themselves free after their masters fled, along with several thousand Tuareg, during the French liberation of the north. Groups like al Qaeda are OK with this slavery, as it is commonly discussed in Moslem scripture and the Koran. The slaves, despite being Moslem, generally do not agree with this attitude.

MNLA means (in French) “Liberation Army of Azawad.” That is the Tuareg term for their homeland in northern Mali and, until the June 18 agreement, its capital was Kidal. The Mali government was upset that MNLA men controlled most of the rural (and very thinly populated) areas in the north. Mali accuses France of letting this happen, but the French only had an informal deal with MNLA in which the Tuareg would not fire on the incoming troops and would provide information on where the Islamic terrorists were. France pressured Mali to make some kind of political settlement with MNLA, and that eventually led to the June 18th deal. Many in the Mali Army still want the Tuareg rebel group crushed. The Mali government is also angry over the extent to which so many Arabs and Tuaregs in the north cooperated with the Islamic radicals in establishing a new government. Many Tuareg still want independence, or at least a lot of autonomy in the north. Anti-Mali demonstrations accompanied the entrance of Mali troops into Kidal and will continue. Whatever the Mali government may want, the situation in the north, and with the Tuareg, is fundamentally changed. The Tuareg have tasted power and seen how weak the southerners really are.

The only large town the MNLA controlled was Kidal. It was thought unlikely that the Mali soldiers and police could handle the MNLA gunmen alone, so the concentration of security forces near Kidal last month was initially seen more as a bargaining tactic than as a real threat to the MNLA. Negotiations with the MNLA did not go well at first because the rebels were insistent on an autonomy agreement first, and the French and African peacekeepers were unwilling to shut down the MNLA for the Mali government. The Mali Army is seen as more of a threat to an elected Mali government than to the Tuareg rebels. The Mali troops had spent over a month moving up several hundred kilometers of road to Kidal and planning an assault that never came. The MNLA seemed to sense that they had been outmaneuvered and retreated from some checkpoints outside Kidal but maintained enough fighters in the city to keep the Mali soldiers from entering until the MNLA and the Mali government could work out a deal.

July 1, 2013: The UN peacekeeping force took control of peacekeeping operations in Mali. The UN force currently has 6,300 African peacekeepers, although the ultimate size of the force will be over 12,000. There are still 3,200 French troops in Mali, along with several thousand Mali soldiers. The UN force is officially known as MINUSMA (Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali).

June 26, 2013: Captain Amadou Haya Sanogo, who led the army coup in March 2012, apologized for his actions and promised to help repair the damage.

June 24, 2013: Some 200 peacekeepers from Benin arrived in Kidal to help maintain order.

June 18, 2013: The government and the Tuareg rebels (the MNLA) signed a peace deal. The MNLA will allow Mali troops and police to enter Kidal and any other MNLA occupied area in the north and will surrender its heavy weapons. In reality the MNLA members will keep most of their weapons but will have to surrender stuff like mortars, heavy machine-guns, and large stocks of ammo. The government will not try to punish any MNLA members and will negotiate more autonomy for the Tuareg north. Many Tuareg believe the MNLA gave up too much and do not trust the Mali government.

June 16, 2013: Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) admitted that it had lost two of its senior leaders (Abdelhamid Abou Zeid and Abdallah Al Chinguetti) to French forces earlier this year (February and March). AQIM kept insisting that these two leaders were still alive.

June 9, 2013: French forces captured a terrorist base in the north (in a town on the Niger River near Gao). This one contained five tons of explosives and a workshop for producing suicide bomb vests and roadside bombs. 

 

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