Potential Hot Spots: No One Is Responsible In Mali

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August 3, 2012: In the last few months a coup and a tribal rebellion in Mali have caused over 250,000 people to flee their homes. Most of the refugees are from the thinly populated northern two-thirds of the country. While the African state of Mali has a population of 15 million, less than two million live in the dry north. Here several thousand fanatic Islamic radical fighters of the Ansar Dine (Defenders of the Faith) have driven the more numerous Tuareg tribal rebels (MNLA, Liberation Army of Azawad) out of the major cities there. Ansar Dine and MNLA used to be allies and took control of the thinly populated, largely desert northern two-thirds of the country four months ago. But the Islamic radicals had the benefit of more money (from drug smuggling operations in West Africa) and an $18.4 million ransom recently received for the release of an Italian and two Spanish aid workers (who were seized in Algeria last October). The Islamic militants up north can hire more gunmen than the tribal separatists can, it’s as simple as that. European governments that pay these ransoms acknowledge that the money makes the terrorists stronger but European domestic politics forces payments to me made, no matter what the downside (more violence, kidnappings, and death).

Meanwhile, Mali has a growing refugee problem. About two-thirds of the refugees are in Mali and the UN is having trouble getting aid donors to contribute. The problem is the corruption and theft, which is more frequent and blatant in Africa, especially when it comes to foreign aid for refugees. It's worse in northern Mali, where Islamic radicals control most of the population and are hostile to foreign aid workers (but not foreign aid, which they plunder energetically).

The success of the two groups in chasing the largely black African Mali army out of the north encouraged Ansar Dine to call for more Islamic radicals throughout the region to come join them. At this point about a third of Ansar Dine fighters are foreigners. Ansar Dine also insisted on imposing Islamic law in the north and MNLA opposed that. This caused a split between the two groups last year, which devolved into fighting between the two groups.

The impact of the drug gangs (smuggling South American cocaine and local drugs north to Europe) cannot be underestimated. Local officials are easy to bribe and are not keen on wiping out the source of all their new-found wealth. This has led to resistance to Western (or any outside) intervention in northern Mali. Many local leaders blame the United States and the West for this mess. The reasoning is twisted but it involves Western counter-terrorism efforts in Africa and the usual Western imperialism. No mention of corruption among African politicians. This is one of the causes of a military coup in Mali last March. The troops wanted their political leaders to spend less time stealing and more time dealing with the growing unrest in the north.

The transitional government in Mali (another place where drug gangs bribed a lot of politicians) is having a difficult time arranging new elections. The corrupt politicians and unhappy population cannot agree on what the new government should be like. There is great popular anger at the corrupt and inept politicians and the politicians are shifting blame as quickly as they can. Everyone says they want to reclaim the north but there's no enthusiasm for letting foreigners (including the UN) do it or getting organized so the more numerous southern Malians can do it. The West is leaning towards taking unilateral action, as the al Qaeda controlled north turns into another terrorist sanctuary. The UN is stalemated over the issue.

In the south several armed militias have formed for the purpose of regaining control of the north. So far it's all talk and bluster. More armed groups in the south is not a good thing, no matter what their intentions.

July 29, 2012:  In the north Islamic militants condemn an unmarried couple (with children) to death by stoning and carry out the sentence. The Islamic militants are enforcing Sharia law, which is welcome to many because it shuts down a lot of criminal activity. But it also means you can no longer listen to music, watch video, smoke cigarettes, dance, or play sports. Severe restrictions are placed on women and education. Most people in this situation eventually decide that personal freedoms are more important than the security of a police state.

 

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