A Kenyan army soldier wears a helmet on which is written in Kiswahili “Tea in Kismayo”, referring to a key strategic Somali town then under the control of al-Shabab, checks his ammunition belt near the town of Dhobley, in Somalia.

SINCE MARCH, no fewer than four crises have shaken the foundations of Mali, West Africa’s landlocked heart.

First, a military coup toppled the country’s democratically elected government and ended the exercise of civilian authority. Second, Libyan weapons and resources spilling into Mali’s northern region have transformed what might otherwise have been a minor Tuareg rebellion into a brewing civil war against the newly established military government in Bamako, the nation’s capital.

Third, that rebellion led to the arrival of a radical Islamist sect that has desecrated the ancient city of Timbuktu, imposed the harshest strain of Sharia law and paved the way for an al-Qaeda outpost in West Africa. Finally, these factors have conspired to generate a humanitarian emergency of epic proportions: Fleeing death and starvation, hundreds of thousands of refugees have poured into neighboring countries. In short, Mali is on the verge of becoming a second Somalia, condemned to a future of violence, political entropy and economic depression without an end in sight.

Unfortunately, the international community has greeted these developments with nothing but inertia and stall tactics. By and large, the response has been to focus on restoring civilian authority in the aftermath of the March 22 military coup. The United States and others have insisted that only after a newly elected democratic government is established can any successful regional intervention ultimately be launched against the Islamists in the north. In other words, the idea is to address the first of Mali’s crises as the key to tackling the whole. Read More