Gaddafi’s fall echoes in Africa’s Mali

By IndepthAfrica
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Sep 5th, 2012
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Islamists continue a winning streak in the cities of Mali. A few days ago the city of Duentsa was seized by the militants. The African country has been plunged into ethnic conflicts since the fall of Gaddafi in Libya. Immediate unrests began after the government of Mali “overlooked” the rebellion of the Tuareg who united against Islamic radicals.

In April of 2012, the news was spread of the proclamation of the state of Azavad by the Tuareg. Malian authorities refused to recognize the state, and other countries have started talking about a possible military intervention aimed at helping government forces. One way or another, neither in Africa nor in Asia nor, especially in Europe, no one was interested in the recognition of the self-proclaimed state.

Uncertainty persisted for three months – until the middle of July, when the Tuareg rebels rejected the idea of the struggle for independence of the north. According to the “People’s Movement for the Liberation of Azavada” (MPLA) Ibrahim Ag Assaleha, the primary task of the organization is to strengthen the economic and cultural autonomy of the Tuareg, not secede from Mali.

The rejection of the initial goals of MPLA was explained by the desire to avoid international isolation of the organization. In addition, the Tuareg tribal leaders fear strengthening of the Islamists who seek to impose their will on the local population. In the areas of the country where armed supporters of radical Islam could take power, in the spring of this year violence against dissidents has begun.

 Sharia state was created by the supporters of the MPLA with the help of the radical group “Ansar Dine” in May of 2012. Subsequently, Tuareg chiefs with a moderate position broke the alliance with the Islamists. By that time the militants close to the “Al-Qaeda” have already taken control of the entire northern Mali. Bloody fighting between Tuareg rebels and Islamic radicals occurred in late June in the city of Gao. Terrorists stormed the governor’s palace and the house of MPLA Secretary General, 40 were captured. Earlier, local residents staged a mass demonstration in the city against the extremists after they killed one of the local politicians – Umar Idriss, who was in the Alliance for Democracy in Mali (ADEME), the party of the current leader of Mali, Dionkundy Traore.

The attack of the Islamic radicals on the strategically important town of Duentsa in early September was another blow to the official authorities of Bamako, unable to regain control over the areas lost after the uprising. The Tuareg captured the city in March, but then they left it and up to the present time in the absence of the official army the local militias provided security in Duentsa.

From the beginning, the United States and European countries, especially France that once had extensive colonies in Africa, did not hide their concern with the growing position of “Al Qaeda” in the region. In July, the deputy head of the U.S. military Special Operations Mike Sheehan said he would not rule out a military operation in Mali, highlighting the importance of coordination with Bamako. France, for its part, has expressed its willingness to provide full assistance to the United States in the implementation of the West African peacekeeping mission without resorting to direct military intervention.

Meanwhile, extremist groups continue to blackmail their neighbors, seizing hostages and attacking peaceful cities. The other day, radical Islamists of the “Movement for Jihad in West Africa” (“Mujao”) announced the execution of an Algerian diplomat who was held hostage since April. According to the organization, the Algerian vice-consul Tahar Touati was executed in connection with the expiration of the ultimatum put forward last week by the militants to the authorities of the country to demand the release of three Islamists arrested on August 15.

In the current situation, the government and poorly equipped army of Mali can only maintain the status quo, trying to buy time. The executive power is concentrated in the hands of the interim government, appointed on August 21 (the legally elected president Amadou Toumani Toure has been expelled from the country in March.)

Even if the political decision to restore the integrity of the country is taken by the new leadership, its implementation is unlikely to be possible without help from the outside. West African countries have already expressed their willingness to provide about three thousand soldiers to conduct anti-terrorist operation in the North of Mali, but the final decision on this issue will need to go through a series of approvals.

The UN Security Council is in no hurry to solve this issue, and was limited to formal statements designed to brand the Islamists. However, there is not so much time for decision-making as the number of extremist groups continues to grow, and the government of Mali continues to demonstrate its helplessness in the face of radical Islam.

Yuri Sosinsky-Semikhat

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