Mali: Waiting For A Happy Ending

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December 17, 2020: It’s been four months since the new interim government began operations, displacing the military group that took over in August. That military group is still around, just not officially in charge.

Interim means this temporary government has until March 2022 to organize new elections and disappear. So far, members selected for the CNT (National Transitional Council) have been revealed, met for the first time and elected a president and vice-president. Both of these are army colonels who were part of the coup. This temporary legislative group will determine and approve measures required to maintain order and organize new elections in early 2022.

The populist J5M (June 5 Movement), that organized months of demonstrations in the capital and made the coup possible, criticized the composition of the CNT. The interim government put 22 officers on the CNT, but did assign people from a wide spectrum of groups to the other seats. Nevertheless, J5M declared a boycott against the CNT and refused to cooperate with it. J5M represents civilians who seek a less corrupt and more effective government and do not see a military dictatorship making a difference.

The main leader of J5M is Moslem cleric Mahmoud Dicko. He has been the de-facto spokesman for J5M and managed to maintain that position. Dicko is a popular senior imam (Moslem cleric) who studied Islam in Saudi Arabia and came to be chairman of Mali’s High Islamic Council. Despite (or because of) his education in Saudi religious schools, which stress the need for Islamic law, Dicko openly backs a secular government, but one run by honest (or a lot more honest than now) politicians and officials. Imams like Dicko are one reason Islamic terrorist beliefs have not spread to the majority of Malians, most (95 percent) of them Moslem. Many foreign students in Saudi religious schools note that for all its piety Saudi Arabia is very corrupt as are most other Arab oil states. There were some exceptions but without all that oil wealth many Arab governments would be undergoing the same political pain Mali is suffering.

Many Mali politicians and economic leaders don’t trust Dicko, feeling that he must be in touch with Islamic terror group leaders and actually willing to try a religious government. Dicko has never expressed support for that and more and more Malians are believing him rather than less popular and trusted politicians and other prominent Malians.

It’s not just J5M that demands a more effective government. Many nations threatened to impose sanctions after the August coup if the coup leaders did not organize elections and a new democratic government. That led to the interim government and CNT and subsequent decisions leading to elections.

The August coup was the second one since 2012 and the third since Mali became independent in 1960. The 2020 coup got the same hostile reaction from the neighbors, international organizations and Western supporters as did the 2012 one. The prompt installation of the temporary government, with 21 of 25 ministries led by civilians, is an attempt to get local and international sanctions lifted.

So far, the nations imposing sanctions are considering lifting some of the sanctions depending on progress the CNT makes. The interim government is acceptable as long as it is temporary. The sanctions have disrupted trade and been a bonanza for smugglers. Islamic terrorist groups control a lot of the smuggling so as long as the sanctions remain in force the Islamic terrorists make more money.

The March 2012 coup was triggered by the lack of financial and political support for the troops stationed in the thinly populated north, which was being taken over by a Tuareg rebellion led by Islamic terrorist groups. Elections were held in 2013, after a French-led force advanced into the north in January and quickly defeated the Taureg rebels and their Islamic terrorist allies. Eight years later the Taureg tribes are still waiting for the government to deliver the economic aid promised when the Tauregs agreed to a peace deal. The Islamic terrorist groups are still up there and have spread to central Mali, partly to support their smuggling operations (drugs and people) that finance the terror groups. Eight years later and the corruption and mismanagement are still prominent and the target of growing popular anger. Despite all the peacekeepers and counterterror forces, there will be no peace until a competent and a lot less corrupt government is installed.

Since 2013 the Mali military has been rebuilt, a task carried out largely by French trainers and advisors. Currently the army has about 7,000 troops. Another 800 personnel serve in the air force and riverine navy. There are also nearly 5,000 paramilitary troops, including the 2,000-man Republican Guard stationed in the capital to protect government officials and facilities. Most of the paramilitary personnel act as national police and serve throughout the country. Overall, the rebuilt army is a more effective force than it was in 2012. But the Mali troops are still considered the least effective in the region. The 2020 army has a few units that are first-rate and these often operate with the French counterterrorism forces. But these elite Mali troops account for less than ten percent of the army.

The 2020 coup was triggered by the inability of the government to agree to reforms and cooperate with the opposition parties. There had been over a month of fruitless negotiations with president (since 2013) Keita, who seemed to believe he could wait it out. After all Keita had been reelected in 2018 amid accusations of voting fraud. The opposition produced many proposals but few Keita was willing to accept. Mediators from ECOWAS (Economic Community of 15 West African States) kept the negotiations going but Keita refused to consider resigning and the opposition saw curbing Keita’s power as essential if there was to be any hope of peace and prosperity. The army leaders, who were not formally part of the opposition, seemed to agree and carried out a coup that had more popular support than the 2012 one.

December 7, 2020: Algeria joined other neighbors of Mali and condemned the payment of ransom for the October release of three Europeans and a prominent Mali politician held for ransom by Islamic terrorists. The Mali government does not deny that it released 207 imprisoned Islamic terrorists as part of the deal but the suspected payment of over $10 million is officially denied and allegedly came from European sources.

Ransoms give Islamic terrorists in Africa even more incentive to kidnap foreigners. The ransoms paid to al Qaeda (over $100 million since 2003) have been a major factor of the continued existence of al Qaeda in general and especially AQIM in Africa. Most Western governments no longer pay ransoms because they have come to understand that this only makes their citizens, especially when overseas, more likely to be kidnapped. As an alternative the Islamic terrorists will sometimes try to get a swap (for a jailed Islamic terrorist) deal. Making a video of the hostage being killed, usually by beheading, is also a possibility but this has been shown to increase the efforts to track down and kill the kidnappers. These videos still get made, but not usually in the Sahel where the Islamic terrorists are more concerned about the money. AQIM in particular was always more mercenary, and quite good at it. But it is a lot more difficult to get multi-million dollar ransoms these days because it is not only illegal but frowned upon globally and to be done it must be very clandestine. More difficult but not impossible and more effort is made to conceal where the cash came from.

December 5, 2020: The CNT met for the first time and elected Malick Diaw, an army colonel, as CNT president. Malick was one of the officers that organized and carried out the mid-August coup that removed the unpopular and inept elected government. The coup leader, another colonel, was also in the CNT and was selected vice-president.

December 4, 2020: The interim government announced who had been chosen to fill the 121 seats of the CNT.

November 30, 2020: In the north (Kidal, Menaka and Gao) AQIM took credit for rocket attacks on three different French bases. The dozen or so unguided rockets caused no casualties or property damage to the French.

November 27, 2020: In central Mali Farabougou, a rural village remains under siege and six more residents were killed by the Islamic terrorists surrounding the place. The six went out to harvest some of their rice crop. A week earlier the army said it had parachuted troops and supplies into the village and the six-week siege was over. People from neighboring towns and village insist the siege continues and anyone using roads into the besieged village will be confronted by armed Islamic terrorists. The army is apparently trying to assemble as adequate ground force to liberate the village but the size of the Islamic terrorist force is apparently larger than the army can handle.

November 21, 2020: AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) announced a replacement for the leader French troops killed last June. It took six months to select Abu Ubayda Yusef al Annabi as their new leader. Like his predecessor Abu Musab Abdel Wadud, Annabi is yet another veteran Algeria Islamic terrorist who opposes AQIM getting involved too much in the Sahel. Such involvement is difficult to avoid because that is where the money is and North Africa has become toxic for Islamic terror groups while the Sahel is more hospitable.

AQIM was once the major Islamic terror group in the region but that is no longer the case. Maghreb is the Arab word for North Africa and that is where AQIM came from. Most of the Islamic terrorist violence in North Africa took place during the 1990s and by 2000 Islamic terror groups were in decline. That decline continues to the present. That decline led to many surviving al Qaeda men heading south where they tried to rebuild their strength by recruiting locals. This ran into problems because the largely Arab population of North Africa had never got on well with the non-Arab people living south of the Sahara Desert. AQIM did get enthusiasm going down there and that led to local Islamic terrorist groups forming and operating independently of AQIM. As a result, the largest Islamic terror group in Mali is JNIM (Jamâ’ah Nusrah al Islâm wal Muslimîn, or Group for the support of Islam and Moslems). This is an al Qaeda coalition formed in early 2017 to consolidate the many separate Islamic terror groups in Mali. In part this was a reaction to the growing threat from ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant), which is hostile to everyone who is not ISIL and will attack or recruit from the JNIM members like AQIM, Ansar Dine, FLM and several other smaller groups. Another reason for the merger was to make it easier to pool resources, especially information and practical advice, and coordinate with other Islamic terror groups in the region. This reduces friction and destructive feuding. Making a coalition like this work is always difficult, especially considering the importance of ethnic differences.

FLM is Fulani (the largest local tribal contribution) while the other groups are largely Tuareg, Arab and some have a lot of foreigners. Note that JNIM did not absorb all of AQIM groups in the area, just local groups that had long been identified with al Qaeda. The income from the drug trade keeps a lot of these factions in business and the Islamic terrorists know that business and religious fanaticism do not mix and keep it that way. Those groups that did not went broke and withered to nothing.

Islamic terror group members evolved and the more radical JNIM members joined more radical groups like ISIL, which is universally hated by other Islamic terrorists and Moslems in general. Earlier in 2020 Malian ISIL members released a video on the Internet in which the group pledged allegiance to Abu Hamza al Qurayshi, the new ISIL leader. By 2018 there were two ISIL “provinces” in central Africa. The smaller one was ISGS (Islamic State in Greater Sahara), showed up in 2018. ISGS is currently active in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. The other, slightly older and larger, ISIL province was ISWAP (Islamic State West Africa Province). ISWAP was actually a faction of the Nigerian Boko Haram Islamic terrorists who had been around since 2004. ISWAP personnel are mostly in northeastern Nigeria as well as smaller numbers in Chad, Niger and northern Cameroon.

There has been increasing friction between ISGS and JNIM (and other al Qaeda affiliates). This is not unusual because, worldwide, ISIL demands all other Islamic terror groups acknowledge the supremacy of ISIL. This rarely happens anymore. In areas where both ISIL and al Qaeda operate there is usually an informal truce or, as is now the case in Mali, open warfare. ISIL groups are usually outnumbered but often survive because they are more ruthless and vicious. In northern Mali ISGS also accuses JNIM of collaborating with the security forces against the ISIL group. That is not unusual worldwide but it is unclear if it is actually happening in Mali. What is happening is that ISGS continues to recruit new members from al Qaeda factions. This is how ISIL was created back in 2013 and the practice continues.

While Islamic terrorists are the source of much violence and death in Mali and neighboring countries that main source of violent death is still tribal feuds. In Mali the primary one is between the Fulani and Dogon and so far in 2020 that feuding has killed more people than all the Islamic terrorist violence in Mali.

 

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