Mali: Fighting For Peace


August 3, 2013: Reaching a permanent peace deal with Tuareg rebels in the north has to wait until the runoff elections (on the 11 th ) to select a new president. That may be delayed a bit because the vote on the 28 th showed some evidence of tampering. Most of the voting fraud accusations were directed at the north, where the economy is still moribund and many refugees have still not returned home. This chaos, and the destruction of many government records (mainly by al Qaeda and other Islamic radicals) last year, made it difficult to organize the voting in the north. But only about ten percent of the voters are in the north, so this chaos did not derail the voting schedule. Northerners have more immediate problems than presidential elections. Most of the government officials in the north fled the Tuareg rebels and Islamic terrorist groups over a year ago and have not yet returned. The electrical generating system is still broken (and really only worked in the major cities) and all that has been restored is security, via African peacekeepers. The few government officials who were locals (and not from the black African south) are scrambling to do what they can, often aided by foreign aid workers. Foreign nations have pledged over $40 billion to help rebuild the north, but this money will be difficult to use effectively because of the corruption still common with Malian government officials (and business leaders as well).

French troops and some of the peacekeepers are still hunting for al Qaeda remnants in the north. American UAVs and manned aircraft are assisting with this. The Islamic terrorists appear to have largely fled Mali. The only ones still around are locals (Tuareg or black Africans from Mali, Mauritania, and Niger, for the most part). A few hundred of these Islamic radicals spend most of their time trying to survive and have launched very few attacks in the last month. But they are still around and the French are still searching.

The African peacekeeping force is still expanding (to an authorized strength of over 11,000). Only about 6,000 of these peacekeepers are currently on duty. Rebuilding the Mali Army is going slowly and this force is still outnumbered by the peacekeepers (who are also better armed and trained). There are also several thousand Tuareg rebels in the north who are, for the moment, largely cooperating with peacekeeping and rebuilding efforts.

August 2, 2013: No candidates won a majority of the July 28th presidential vote so there will be a runoff election on the 11th. There were 27 presidential candidates but Former prime minister Ibrahim Boubacar Keita was in the lead (with 39.2 percent), followed by Soumaila Cisse (19.4 percent), a former finance minister.  

July 30, 2013: The first hundred troops from the Nigerian peacekeeper force left Mali to return to help deal with an Islamic radical uprising in northeast Nigeria. The entire Nigerian peacekeeping battalion is being withdrawn from Mali to deal with the Boko Haram (which identifies as similar to the Taliban) problem in northern Nigeria. Some Boko Haram members found their way to northern Mali last year but all of these have since been killed or fled (usually back to Nigeria). Only about 300 of the original Nigerian peacekeeping force of 1,200 will remain.

July 28, 2013: Presidential elections were held to replace the last elected president (Amadou Toumani Toure, who was removed by an army coup in March 2012, as a result of the successful Tuareg uprising in the north). This election saw 3.6 million people voting (53 percent of eligible voters). The al Qaeda threats to disrupt the elections did not result in any violence. There were some threats of fraud but overall the vote was accepted as legitimate.

July 22, 2013: The government kept its word and began negotiations with Tuareg rebels. This promise was made before the army finally moved into the northeastern town of Kidal on July 5th. 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 had been 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 with a large Arab minority. 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 local 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 okay 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 18th 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.

July 21, 2013: In the northern city of Kidal, a terrorist bomb was found and disabled.

July 20, 2013: Six election officials were kidnapped in the north, at Tessalit, which is 200 kilometers north of Kidal. They were released the next day after a Tuareg rebel leader was arrested.

July 19, 2013: In the northern city of Kidal two days of ethnic rioting ended. A major market place and many other businesses were heavily damaged.

July 14, 2013: France confirmed that a body found earlier in northern Mali was indeed a French citizen who had been kidnapped by al Qaeda in 2011. The hostage had been shot dead (with a bullet in the head) last March. This was announced by al Qaeda at the time as retaliation for the French invasion in January. France says it will find and punish the killers. Al Qaeda still holds eight kidnapped Europeans in North Africa and five of them are French. Finding and rescuing these eight hostages is a major priority for the French.



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