Mali: There Can Be No Military Solution Without a Plan for Peace

An updated version of this article appeares on Left Futures

I am no expert on the history, social geography, or politics of Mali. However the tragedies of Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya reveal starkly that those making the decisions about military action in the Western corridors of power are not informed by expert opinion either.

What is obvious even from a cursory glance at the situation is that Mali is pregnant with potential disaster, and many of the ingredients of an intractable Afghan style conflict may be present. Despite the beguiling conceit that problems can be solved by military intervention, a more cautious reading of recent experience would suggest otherwise.

The war in Mali sees a rich interplay of factors of race, religion, nationalism, competing state interests, and the distorting influence of French colonialism.

A long term armed rebellion by Touareg fighters in the north of the Malian state reached a tipping point as the whole region was destabilised by NATO’s ill-considered intervention in Libya. As Mireille Fanon-Mendes-France writes:

Since some months ago, the Malian army was facing, without equal military power, an armed rebellion that has captured a number of towns in the north of Mali under the leadership of the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad (MNLA), essentially made of Touareg fighters. This movement has acquired weapons freely smuggled from Libya, at the borders of the two countries; this is a tangible consequence of the NATO intervention favoured and claimed by France.This intervention has opened the Pandora’s box of the Libyan arsenals in an extremely poor region, that has a strong potential, but which remains abandoned. No economic development, no service delivery to local populations was assured.

Jeremy Keenan explains the background

What began ostensibly in January 2012 as just another rebellion by the Sahara desert’s Touareg tribesmen had evolved within 3-4 months into what media commentators were calling “Africa’s Afghanistan”.

The Touareg are Berbers, not Arabs, and are the indigenous population of much of the Central Sahara and Sahel. Their population is estimated at 2-3 millions. Their largest numbers, some 800,000, live in Mali, followed by Niger, with smaller concentrations in Algeria, Burkina Faso and Libya. In addition, a diaspora extends to Europe, North America, other parts of North and West Africa, the Sahel and beyond.

Since Independence in 1960, the Touareg of Mali and Niger have rebelled against their central governments on several occasions. In 1962-4, a rebellion by Mali’s Touareg was crushed ruthlessly. Major rebellions in both countries in the 1990s were forcibly repressed, with government forces specifically targeting civilians. Since then, Niger experienced a small rebellion in 2004 and a much greater one from 2007 to 2009. In Mali, a brief rebellion in May 2006 was followed by a two-year uprising from 2007 until 2009 when it dissipated into an inconclusive and transient peace. While the Niger and Mali governments have both been guilty of provoking Touareg into taking up arms, all Touareg rebellions have been driven by a sense of political marginalisation.

However, the rebellion that began in Mali in January 2012 was different. The Touareg had more and better equipped fighters than in previous rebellions. This was because many had returned from Libya after Gaddafi’s overthrow, bringing with them extensive supplies of modern and even heavy armaments. For the first time in the long history of Touareg rebellions, there was a real likelihood that the Touareg might drive Malian government forces out of northern Mali, or Azawad, as it is known to Touareg.

A while ago I wrote about the process of nation-state building in post-colonial Africa. Where the post-colonial elites inherited polities that were inherited from the administrative borders of the old Empire; and those elites then had conscious agency in nation building.

France maintains more than a casual interest in its former colonies. Its continued power over its former African colonies is exercised not only by the presence of French troops, but by control of their currency

France, … granted independence to its former African colonies on condition that French troops remained stationed on their territories and they maintain the colonial CFA franc as their common currency. The CFA franc is convertible and its convertibility is guaranteed by the French Treasury which holds a right of veto over the management of the two central banks which issue the currency: BCEAO of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU) and BEAC of the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC), which would issue the currency.

A capital control limits the free transfer of the currency to France. The credit that these central banks could extend to each member country was capped at 20 per cent of any country’s public revenue in the preceding year. These countries also signed up to an obligation to keep 65 per cent of their foreign exchange reserves in a ‘compte d’operations’ held at the French Treasury, as well as another 20 per cent to cover financial liabilities. According to figures published by Banque de France, foreign exchange reserves were estimated in 2008 at US$15.8 billion for CEMAC and US$9.3 billion for WAEMU.

Except from the French mandarins from Banque de France and the Treasury, nobody, not least African officials, has access to these figures, and no independent audit has ever been carried out.At a fixed-rate of 665.957 to each Euro, the exchange rate of the CFA franc is grossly overvalued. This is tantamount to an economic suicide when one considers that countries around the world battle to keep their exchanges rates low in order to make their exports competitive. But this suits French businesses, which can transfer all their earnings to France at this very advantageous exchange rate.

So France achieved a cosmetic end to direct colonial rule, while maintaining economic suzerainity through controlling the fiscal policies of the former colonies via the Economic and Monetary Union of West Africa (EMUWA) .

Mireille Fanon-Mendes-France explains how this applies to Mali:

The orientation of export-driven agricultural production, the systematic openness of the Malian economy to the world market imposed on a state that is unable to resist, but constrained to accept a liberalism that excludes free movement of the people. … France on her side, regardless of all she can say, continues her colonial paradigm of French-African opaque relations and the guilt-blurred partnership between French and African elites that allow for the looting of Malian resources. The interests of former French colonialists have been preserved and foreign interests are the most dominant ever.

Mali’s strategic national development project has not only been hampered by French interference, but also by its failure to find a political solution to the aspirations of the Touareg in the north.
Abena Ampofoa Asare describes Mali’s current plight as partially a product of failure by United States Africa Command AFRICOM.

Ironically, for over a decade, Mali has been a key AFRICOM partner. To the tune of millions, US forces have provided special operations, drug trafficking and counterterrorism training in the large West African nation. Today’s Mali of the shattered democracy and roving rebel groups is a troubling picture of an AFRICOM partner state.On 22 March, scarcely a month before presidential elections, Amadou Sanogo, a captain in the Malian army, seized control of the government by promising to quell the Touareg autonomy struggle in the country’s northern region. Within ten days of the takeover, the army was entirely routed by Touareg forces.

Since April, the Touareg in turn have been struggling to hold their ground against multiple rebel groups with varying agendas who have entered the northern region’s political vacuum. The most well-known of these is Ansar Eddine, responsible for the desecration of the world heritage site that is Timbuctou. The presence of Al Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQM), an Islamist organization tenuously connected to the Al Qaeda franchise, is also central to global anxieties about terrorism in West Africa. The secessionist Touareg state, Azawad, has called for international help by asserting its identity as ‘the new ally in the war on terror.’ Meanwhile, drought conditions coupled with political violence have led to the displacement of an estimated 440,000 people. The storm clouds of a massive humanitarian disaster are gathering.

By its own standard, AFRICOM’s mission in Mali has failed. Captain Amadou Sanogo, the coup-maker who bears the greatest immediate responsibility for plunging Mali into political unrest, was extensively trained by AFRICOM, even traveling to the Georgia, Virginia and Texas for Department of Defense additional enrichment.

In addition, there has been a parade of social scientists warning that US policies are undermining Mali’s security. In 2003, one observer warned that by empowering the Bamako government to crack down on northern Islamic groups, US government initiatives were ‘creating enemies where there were none before.’ A 2007 article in the Journal of Contemporary African History claimed that US policies were actually making Mali more unstable. Again, in 2009, historian Vijay Prashad reported on the risk associated with AFRICOM’s dogged empowerment of the Malian army. Instead of encouraging former President Touré’s government to incorporate the disaffected northern region into the country by providing social and economic services to some of the world’s poorest communities, AFRICOM offered powerful economic incentives for Bamako to choose militarization as the answer to the Touareg secessionist impulse.

So instead of seeking a political solution, the USA encouraged a military response. Meanwhile, France was insisting that last year’s presidential election should take place according to an arbitrary constitutional timetable, regardless of the reality on the ground. Elections require the precondition of a shared respect for constitutionality, and commitment to the rule of law.

President Touré’s government had failed to economically and socially incorporate the north, and was losing a civil war; in such circumstances an election was foolhardy. Of course external pressure to hold an election without the required pre-existing political stability had also precipitated Côtie d’Ivoire into civil war into 2011.

Captain Amadou Sanogo’s government was founded on a lower ranks grassroots army rebellion, in which racism and/or Bamanan nationalism seems to have played a part. In April, Jessica Horn, interviewed a Malian women’s rights activist:

JESSICA HORN: Were there any early warnings that this crisis would emerge?

INTERVIEWEE: This is one of the deepest crisisthat this country has faced since colonial times. We have been through the 1968 military coup against President Modibo Keïta, we went through the popular revolutions in the early 1990s, but it has never gotten to this level of instability. The military group that led the coup is from Kati, a military garrison town outside of the capital Bamako which had been used historically as a base for troops from all over West Africa.

At the end of January 2012, a group of women who were wives of soldiers from Kati had held a march and threatened to go to the Palais de Koulouba (presidential palace) in Bamako. These women felt that they needed more information about the government’s response to what had happened to their husbands who had been sent by the government to fight the Touareg rebellion in the north of Mali.

There had been a lot of rumour that the Malian military did not have enough arms to fight the Touareg rebels. The women had also heard that there were many cases of torture and ill treatment of Malian soldiers by the Touareg rebels, and had also heard rumours that the Malian government was engaged in heavy negotiation with the rebels and not, for example, ordering troops to shoot at the rebels. They felt that their husbands had been sent to the north of Mali to die.

We have to remember that the Touareg rebels had been supported by Gaddafi in Libya, who had both integrated some of these rebels in his army and was also known to have been assisting with the rebellion in the north of Mali. After the fall of Gaddafi, these rebels returned to Mali heavily armed, and in fact some say better armed than the Malian army itself.

As part of rising anger against what was happening in the north, there had also been attacks on innocent people from northern Mali living in Bamako. The government stepped in to protect the northerners, which again made it appear to everyday people like the government was on the side of the northern rebels.

In terms of the humanitarian situation, the roots of a crisis are already there. People had started to flee the north from the start of the year, with people internally displaced as well as crossing borders in to countries such as Burkina Faso. At the start of the year we also had a drought and we could see that were going to face a food crisis. An early sign we saw was many parents in rural areas pulling their children out of school and sending them to the cities to try and earn money to buy food.

As a Malian I can also say that there is serious and deep work that we must do as civil society to affirm people in their identity as Malian, which has always been a very vibrant and extremely tolerant culture. The Muslim fundamentalists are already trying to erode this. They work at the level of culture, and have started to try and change our culture as a way of gaining power. This is longer-term work for us as civil society and it has to start now. We have to make it clear that secularism is vital, and that as Malians living in peace with our neighbours regardless of their religion or ethnicity is our way of life. It includes not judging people to do or to be what we think is right. In Bamanan (Bambara) culture and language in Mali there is a strong embrace of the concept of ‘maya’- the fact that what makes us human is our relationship and responsibility to our fellow human beings. We take this for granted as Malians, and then the fundamentalists come and start to unravel those principles very quickly

While many of her concerns about human rights are obviously valid, the rebels are not Bamanan, and do not consider themselves to be Malian, and they do not want their Malian identity affirmed. This ethnic/ religious angle requires a political response, not a military one. Writing in ReliefNet, Malian women’s groups call for military intervention, but tellingly they call the seccession of the Touareg north an “occupation”. The description of deteriorating womens’ rights in the north is certainly alarming, but unless there is some recognition of the way the impoverished north has been disadvantaged within Mali, and that the Touareg do not see themselves as Malian, then there can be no resolution to the conlict.

One telling incongruity is that the Touareg rebels had been supported by Gaddafi, and the collapse of the Libyan army is one of the factors leading to the military boost for the rebels. This sits seemingly uncomfortably with the fact that the leadership is also in the hands of Al Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQM); a force that opposed Gaddafi.

Jeremy Keenan seeks to explain incongruity by claiming the involvment of the Algeria’s secret police, the Département du Renseignement et de la Sécurité (DRS).

In October 2011, the Malian Tuareg who had returned from Libya joined up with fighters belonging to Ibrahim ag Bahanga’s rebel Mouvement Touareg du Nord Mali (MTNM) to form the Mouvement National de Libération de l’Azawad (MNLA). Even though Bahanga had died under mysterious circumstances in August, his men were still intent on continuing their fight against the central government. They were also joined by several hundred Tuareg who had deserted from the Malian army.

The first shots in the new rebellion were fired on January 17 when the MNLA attacked the town of Ménaka. The following week, the MNLA attacked both Tessalit and Aguelhok. Tessalit was besieged for several weeks before falling to the MNLA in March. At Aguelhok, some 82 Malian troops, who had run out of ammunition, were massacred in cold blood on January 24. This ‘war crime’ has been referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Such a humiliating demise of Mali’s poorly equipped forces led to an army mutiny on March 22 and a junta of low-ranking officers taking power in Bamako. Within a week, the three provincial capitals of Azawad – Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu – all fell to the rebels without resistance, leaving the whole of Azawad in rebel hands. On April 5 the MNLA declared Azawad an independent state.

The declaration of Azawad’s independence received no international support, nor was it ever likely to do so. One reason for this was because of the alliance between the MNLA and the Islamist group called Ansar al-Din, a jihadist movement led by a local Tuareg notable, Iyad ag Ghaly. Ansar al-Din was in alliance with another jihadist group, Jamat Tawhid Wal Jihad Fi Garbi Afriqqiya (Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa – MUJAO), with both being supported by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

At the start of the rebellion in January, the MNLA claimed to number several thousand, while Ansar al-Din numbered scarcely a hundred. However, by April, and for reasons that have remained a mystery to the media, it was the Islamists rather than the MNLA who were calling the shots in Azawad. Indeed, on June 25, fighting between the Islamists and MNLA led to the latter being displaced from Gao, leaving Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu being ruled respectively by Ansar al-Din, MUJAO and AQIM.

With the MNLA marginalized, the Islamists quickly began imposing shari’a law in Azawad. In Gao, a young man died after having his hand amputated for alleged theft; in Aguelhok, a couple were stoned to death for alleged adultery; in Timbuktu, ancient Sufi tombs, UNESCO world heritage sites, were destroyed. Throughout the region, music, smoking, alcohol, TV, football, traditional forms of dress and lifestyle were all banned as Islamists dished out beatings, amputations and executions with a vengeance. By August, nearly half a million people had fled or been displaced.

In spite of concern being expressed at the apparent emergence of ‘Africa’s Afghanistan’ in the heart of the Sahara, no one has been prepared to address the key issue behind what is really going on in northern Mali. This is that the Islamist ‘terrorist’ groups that have taken over control of the region are not only the creations of Algeria’s secret police, the Département du Renseignement et de la Sécurité (DRS), but they are being supplied, supported and orchestrated by the DRS.

If Algerian state actors are involved that would certainly explain the way the Islamists so rapidly gained hegemony within the Touareg rebellion. This would make the parallel with Afghanistan even more sinister.

Northern Mali, or Azawad, exists now effectively as a rebel held polity, but is excluded from any route towards statehood. The conceit of the French government that three or four weeks military engagement by their troops can solve the problem is nonsensical. Even the complete military defeat of the Touareg and reconquest of northern Mali will only contain and not solve the underlying political problems.

32 comments on “Mali: There Can Be No Military Solution Without a Plan for Peace

  1. Pete Jones on said:

    The uranium mines in neighbouring Niger and the uranium deposits in Mali are of particular interest to France, which generates 78 per cent of its electricity from nuclear energy. Niger’s uranium mines are highly polluting and deeply resented by the population, including among the semi-nomadic, Tuareg people who reside in the mining regions. The French company Areva is presently constructing in Imouraren, Niger what will become the second largest uranium mine in the world. See

  2. Excellent article, Andy.The Marxist in me always looks for underlying economic currents in situations like this and the info concerning the lop-sided currency arrangements in France’s favour confirms my suspicions. Reports were saying the first day’s airstrikes caused 11 civilian deaths.Another Afghanistan,indeed…

  3. Manzil on said:

    Aye, very interesting post.

    I wonder what the response in France has been this intervention. Less of an emotive ‘Gaddafi is at the gates’ justification for this latest scheme. And what’s Hollande playing at?

  4. jock mctrousers on said:

    Yes, great article, Andy – you put a lot of work into that. I think that’s the most comprehensive account of what’s going on there I’ve seen.

  5. prianikoff on said:

    Isn’t this mostly a re-print of an article by Jeremy H. Keenan of SOAS?
    Open Democracy Sept 25th 2012

    What evidence does Keenan have that the Islamist groups are the creation of the Algerian DRS?

    Given the history of the Algerian Civil War, the fact they allowed Gaddafi family members to seek refuge there and the hostage crisis this week, I can’t see why Algeria would back an Islamist government in Mali.
    I think it’s more likely that there are plans afoot to destablise Algeria and that “Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb” are being used to further them.

  6. prianikoff on said:

    Does SOAS actually have any Academic independence anymore?
    Isn’t it mainly a spy-training centre for MI6 and the foreign office?

  7. prianikoff on said:

    Statements by Louisa Hanoune, Secretary General of the Algerian Workers Party on the Hostage Crisis and Mali Intervention

    Speaking at a press conference this morning in Algiers, Louisa Hanoune, General Secretary of the Workers Party (PT), called Algeria to remain “attached” to its principled position of “non-interference in the affairs of foreign countries. ”
    “the war started in Mali “is a dangerous threat to Algeria.” It is, she says, “a hostile act” to our country. “the work of the French imperialists who operate to destabilize Algeria.”

    Hanoune did not doubt the existence of a “diabolical plan” prepared by the “imperialist powers” covering both the Sahel and North Africa. The “War Against terrorism” is, in her eyes, an “alibi” to “justify the unjustifiable.”
    ” if nothing is done to counter this danger there will be another Afghanistan on our doorstep in the south.”
    “Recalling that Algeria has triumphed against terrorism without any foreign intervention, Louisa Hanoune criticized the spokesman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Amar Belani…
    In Algeria.. there must be a consensus against a war that threatens national security. ”

    (Excerpts translated from “Cameroon Voice” 16th January)

    “Algeria has responded positively deciding to refuse any help American or French.”
    Algeria, Hanoune believes is in the best position in the fight against terrorism and has no lessons to learn in this area of any country.
    She added that Algeria is proudly sovereign and does not ” seek permission from the United States or France to intervene for the release of hostages.”

    “Louisa Hanoune is convinced that the actions of François Hollande are the second stage of the operation initiated by NATO, including Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan, which relies on ethnic conflict to plunder the riches of those regions.
    “French imperialism is trying to awaken the demons,” she said, adding that “military intervention is a source of chaos, dislocation and looting.”
    “France to deal with its economic crisis justifyied its attack on the fight against terrorism in northern Mali. (This was) “a premeditated shot”…
    all the main actors, including terrorist groups, ECOWAS and the Malian authorities are in “the pay of France.”
    “Ansar Eddine has recently signed an agreement .. with the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad.”
    It began with the deterioration of the situation in Libya, which led to the introduction of weapons through its borders.
    “The pathway of a Sahelian armory, organised by France and NATO,” says the leader of the PT.
    To this end, she warns again against the danger to Algeria.
    “This war is dangerous and it is primarily Algeria that is handling the issue of terrorism and the identity in the Sahel region,”
    adding that it is “a plot to cause the implosion of the country and the region surrounding Algeria. ”
    “there is pressure on Algeria to engage in this war, whose sole beneficiary is U.S. imperialism that would reap dividends at the end of the intervention”.
    To conclude, Louisa Hanoune called on the Algerian state clearly distance themselves from the war.

    Excerpts translated from Le Temps d’Algerie 18th Jan
    Original French

  8. prianikoff on said:

    #9 “Doubt everything”.

    Keenan’s evidence for the involvement of the Algerian DRS in an earlier kidnapping is here:-

    He basically argues that after 9/11 the Algerian governent wanted an alliance with the US.
    While the US government wanted a reason to create AFRICOM.

    He’s also written a book about this called “Dark Sahara”

  9. prianikoff,

    I think you are concentrating far too much emphasis on Keenan’s assertion about possible Alergian state involvement. NOte that I put it forwards as his view not mine.

    prianikoff: I can’t see why Algeria would back an Islamist government in Mali.

    This suggests that you haven’t really followed my argument at all – the northern rebels are not even seeking to form an Islamist government in Mali, they have an entirely different project of creating a new state of Azawad.

    I have no evidence that Algeria are involved, but I can immediately see several advantages for the,

    Firstly, encouraging Islamist factions in the Touareg movement will isolate it from wider international support, and prevent the Azawad polity gaining recognition as a state; secondly such a contained Islamist base will consolidate Algeria’s importance as a key US ally- playing both ally and enemy of Islamism is a trick the Pakistani state has played with some skill. Thirdly, a Touareg insurgency destablisises the Francafrique block, to Algeria’s potential advantage to replace France as the regional hegemonic power.

  10. Pete Shield:

    Andrew Coates has translated JLM’s blog on the Mali war, this is pretty much in line with the position of the PCF to date

    Thanks Pete – Very useful, and worth highighting:

    The FdG leader’s thoughts range from the geography and the history of the rebellion and break-away of Northern Mali, which predated the Islamist presence. Referring to the long-standing Tourag revolt he observes that this problem is not so simple that it can be settled by force (se régler par la force). There are many countries of the Sahal involved in the Tourag movement. What would the reconquest of the North of the country mean? Does this entail defeating the Islamists or/and the Tourags?

    He then looks at the aims of this drive. Who will ‘have’ the territory once they have been beaten? Giving the territory over to the putchists who govern Mail at the moment? Will indeed this military rule be ended? When will elections be organised?

    Mélenchon concludes that a war can only be waged, and supported for it established, when there is clarity on these and other aims (‘La définition des buts de guerre est un commencement indispensable’).

    The former Parti Socialiste MP is not convinced by arguments that portray the French intervention in terms of human rights. He recognises the threat that the Islamists offer: their use of the Sharia, its cruel punishment, its oppression of women. But he is not convinced by the pious refrain « dans-le-monde-qui-change-et-où-il-faut-defendre-les-frontières-de-la-démocratie-et-des-droits-de-l’homme-et-surtout-ceux-des-femmes » As if behind each pick-up, filled with military toughs we should shout, “fight for human rights, and above all those women” followed by ” Amen !”

    So, that said, the international legitimacy of the intervention is also far from proven. The UN Resolution, which is held to justify it, contains clauses that would cast doubt on this. In paragraphs 10 and 11 (Resolution 2085) demanded the participation of a number of partners, neighbouring countries and other African allies, as well as international bodies, and for their plans to be resubmitted to the UN before any action was taken.

    This had not taken place before the French armed units arrived. The French UN ambassador to the UN, Gérard Arnaud, in effect conceding the point, had admitted that this was an « opération française d’urgence » and not the implementation of Resolution 2085.

    France has seen, he notes, patriotic and human rights media spin designed to obscure this central issue.

    To hide the issue of legitimacy some have evoked the right to “défense légitime en cas d’attaque armée d’un pays membre” (legitimate defence in the event of an armed attack). But the present Mali government rests on shaky legal foundations itself. It is the result of the March 2012 putsch led by captain Sanogo. who has imposed his will on the provisional President Dioncounda Traoré. No date has been fixed for elections. It would seem therefore that there are doubts about the legitimacy of the political entity calling for its own ‘defence’.

  11. Andy Newman: Melanchon: But the present Mali government rests on shaky legal foundations itself. It is the result of the March 2012 putsch led by captain Sanogo.

    This is worth highlighting. After the coup, Mali was suspended from the African Union, and only hurriedly readmitted once the Touareg rebellion gained ground

  12. prianikoff on said:

    There are (at least) two rival groups involved in the Mali rebellion:-
    * Ansar Dine, which wants Sharia law to be imposed across Mali.
    * MNLA, a much larger and more established Tuareg Nationalist movement.

    They’ve been at odds with each other since an anti-government pact that they signed in May broke down. Of the two, the former would be more likely to be manipulated by outside powers.

    Not sure about the Algerian link though.
    Algeria may have “influenced” the earlier hostage-taking incidents, in order to pressurize the Malian government into a joint security pact. But they’d already achieved this objective by 2009.
    So why would they want the Malian government overthrown? They even allowed French planes to overfly Algeria to put down the rebellion.

    It doesn’t make sense.
    Either the rebellion was “blowback”, or someone else is involved.

    What is clear, listening to Western commentators, is that they’re up for a “long-term security operation” in the Sahara.

  13. prianikoff: * Ansar Dine, which wants Sharia law to be imposed across Mali.
    * MNLA, a much larger and more established Tuareg Nationalist movement.

    The MNLA is highly unlikely to launch an offensive into Southern Mali, and would have no advantage in so doing.

    Giving credibility to the idea that the insurrecion is primarily Islamist, rather than largely a Touareg separatist movement just fuels the specious “human rights” narrative of the French government, and furthermore deflects scrutiny away from France’s opaque war aims.

  14. prianikoff: So why would they want the Malian government overthrown?

    I have seen no evidence that the rebellion has an aspiration to overthrow the Malian government. They declared independence of Azawad last year, and there is no reason to suspect they have aspirations to conquer Southern Mali.

  15. prianikoff on said:

    I agree that France has “opaque war aims” and don’t support them, which is why I posted the statements by Louisa Hanoune.

    What I’m questioning is Keenan’s assertion that the GIA AQIM and Ansar Dine are all false flag operations created by the Algerian government.

    Anything is possible, but I can think of several reasons
    why this proposition is dubious:-

    1) Algeria didn’t join in on the attack on Libya, whereas former AQIM members were used as allies by the West.

    2) Algeria provided a refuge to Gaddafi family members.

    3) They already had a pact with the Malian government, why overthrow it?

    4) Algeria was compromised by the hostage-taking incident, which could have been used as a pretext for foreign troops entering the country.

    There’s could be something deeper going on, which Algeria itself might become the a victim of.

  16. jock mctrousers on said:

    I’ve read Keenan’s piece now, and also gone back through a few pieces I’d bookmarked. I think Prianikoff’s reservations about Keenan (and SOAS generally) are sensible.

    But whatever, I don’t see any solid evidence that the Tuareg are seeking a separate state, rather than just attention to some grievances they’ve had for decades.

    And the US use of false-flag Islamists is well-known, so I don’t see that the case that this is Algerian rather than French or US meddling doesn’t seem solid to me – Keenan seems to be asserting this, but giving himself wriggle room to deny it.

    The desecration of the shrines by the Islamists recalls the Taliban’s dynamiting of the Buddhists, and seems too good to be true, a made-for-tv provocation to justify Western intervention.

    And putting all the various articles I’ve found together, there seems to be a lot of fuzziness still around the second (or third, including a failed one) coup that brought the current military rulers to power, who they are and why they are keen on foreign involvement? Under this fuzziness, I think we’ll eventually find Western intelligence services installed a friendly regime to enable them re-colonise Mali, which is perfectly in keeping with the general trend in Africa.

    But why oust Toure just days before elections? And why the second coup?

    There seems to be a divide in opinion on whether the Algerian state has any independence from the West. Keenan seems to come down on the side of independent Algerian imperialism, which if his detractors (I’ve seen others apart from Prianikoff) are right, would be useful if Algeria is indeed next in the sights for de-stabilisation.

    In other words, what’s going on there is far from clear to me.

  17. Nadia Chern on said:

    An interesting discussion. The references to Al Qaeda in the Maghreb(AQiM) mentioned in Andy’s piece does not quite sit well with my research in that it disbanded itself a couple of years ago.

    The reason why the Islamists are making the running now is that there has been a large scale movement of Islamist forces that fought in Algeria and Libya (on the West’s side) into Mali to support this offensive. They have brought battle hardened troops and heavy weaponry given to them by the West for the Libyan war. The Taureg fighters were supplemented by former Libyan troops fighting for Gaddafi who were the subject of racist persecution in Libya.

    As a result the Islamist fighters are asserting their greater military strength which prompted the Malian coup. It is also the reason why the notion of African peacekeeping forces being deployed is being resisted by Nigeria in particular. They simply do not believe they can hold off the Islamist troops.

    The French are not simply concerned with currency. There is a very large potential oil reserve that runs under much of Mali. There has been a growth in Western interest in exploiting this basin. There are also large uranium deposits in Mali, prompting a desire to control it and fear of a ‘Muslim bomb’.

    There is much talk of using an offensive war against the Islamists as a way to encircle Algerian Islamists that control much of the south of Algeria. There is also concern being expressed about Chinese investment and support for civilian projects in Mali after the US failure over the last 20 years.

    ‘Mission creep’ is written all over this intervention.

  18. Pingback: Mali:There can be no Military Solution without a Plan for Peace | Left Futures

  19. jock mctrousers on said:

    Re France’s control of Mali & others’ currencies – this is from the time of the invasion of Libya. I’d be interested if anyone could verify what this article says:

    ” African Monetary Fund: The US$30 billion frozen by Mr Obama belongs to the Libyan Central Bank and had been earmarked as the Libyan contribution to three key projects which would add the finishing touches to the African federation – the African Investment Bank in Sirte, Libya; the establishment in 2011 of the African Monetary Fund to be based in Yaoundé, Cameroon with a US$42 billion capital fund; and the Abuja-based African Central Bank in Nigeria, which when it starts printing African money will ring the death knell for the CFA franc through which Paris has been able to maintain its hold on some African countries for the last 50 years. It is easy to understand the French wrath against Gaddafi.”

    ‘Why the West Wants Gaddafi Out’ by Jean-Paul Pougala

    Worth reading it all. Here’s a little more:

    ” t was Gaddafi’s Libya that offered all of Africa its first revolution in modern times – connecting the entire continent by telephone, television, radio broadcasting and several other technological applications such as telemedicine and distance teaching.
    And thanks to the WMAX radio bridge, a low cost connection was made available across the continent, including in rural areas.

    It began in 1992, when 45 African nations established RASCOM (Regional African Satellite Communication Organisation) so that Africa would have its own satellite and slash communication costs in the continent.
    This was a time when phone calls to and from Africa were the most expensive in the world because of the annual US$500 million fee pocketed by Europe for the use of its satellites like Intelsat for phone conversations, including those within the same country.

    An African satellite only cost a one-time payment of US$400 million and the continent no longer had to pay a US$500 million annual lease. Which banker wouldn’t finance such a project?
    But the problem remained – how can slaves, seeking to free themselves from their master’s exploitation ask the master’s help to achieve that freedom?
    Not surprisingly, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the USA, Europe only made vague promises for 14 years. Gaddafi put an end to these futile pleas to the western “benefactors” with their exorbitant interest rates.

    The Libyan guide put US$300 million on the table; the African Development Bank added US$50 million more and the West African Development Bank a further US$27 million – and that’s how Africa got its first communications satellite on 26 December 2007.
    China and Russia followed suit and shared their technology and helped launch satellites for South Africa, Nigeria, Angola, Algeria and a second African satellite was launched in July 2010. The first totally indigenously built satellite and manufactured on African soil, in Algeria, is set for 2020.

    This satellite is aimed at competing with the best in the world, but at ten times less the cost, a real challenge. This is how a symbolic gesture of a mere US$300 million changed the life of an entire continent.
    Gaddafi’s Libya cost the West, not just depriving it of US$500 million per year but the billions of dollars in debt and interest that the initial loan would generate for years to come and in an exponential

    manner, thereby helping maintain a system that plundered the continent. “

  20. jock mctrousers on said:

    There’s a longer version of the Pougala article here:

    Most of the rest is just rhetoric, but this is interesting, commenting on the role of ECOWAS in the West’s scheme of things:

    “To destabilise and destroy the African union which was veering dangerously (for the West) towards a United States of Africa under the guiding hand of Gaddafi, the European Union first tried, unsuccessfully, to create the Union for the Mediterranean (UPM). North Africa somehow had to be cut off from the rest of Africa, using the old tired racist clichés of the 18th and 19th centuries ,which claimed that Africans of Arab origin were more evolved and civilised than the rest of the continent. This failed because Gaddafi refused to buy into it. He soon understood what game was being played when only a handful of African countries were invited to join the Mediterranean grouping without informing the African Union but inviting all 27 members of the European Union.
    Without the driving force behind the African Federation, the UPM failed even before it began, still-born with Sarkozy as president and Mubarak as vice president. The French foreign minister, Alain Juppe is now attempting to re-launch the idea, banking no doubt on the fall of Gaddafi. What African leaders fail to understand is that as long as the European Union continues to finance the African Union, the status quo will remain, because no real independence. This is why the European Union has encouraged and financed regional groupings in Africa.
    It is obvious that the West African Economic Community (ECOWAS), which has an embassy in Brussels and depends for the bulk of its funding on the European Union, is a vociferous opponent to the African federation. That’s why Lincoln fought in the US war of secession because the moment a group of countries come together in a regional political organisation, it weakens the main group. That is what Europe wanted and the Africans have never understood the game plan, creating a plethora of regional groupings, COMESA, UDEAC, SADC, and the Great Maghreb which never saw the light of day thanks to Gaddafi who understood what was happening.

    How can one not deplore the ‘yes’ votes from three sub-Saharan countries (Nigeria, South Africa and Gabon) for resolution 1973 [Libya no-fly zone] that inaugurated the latest form of colonisation baptised ‘the protection of peoples’, which legitimises the racist theories that have informed Europeans since the 18th century and according to which North Africa has nothing to do with sub-Saharan Africa, that North Africa is more evolved, cultivated and civilised than the rest of Africa?
    It is as if Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Algeria were not part of Africa, Even the United Nations seems to ignore the role of the African Union in the affairs of member states. The aim is to isolate sub Saharan African countries to better isolate and control them. Indeed, Algeria (US$16 billion) and Libya (US$10 billion ) together contribute 62 per cent of the US$42 billion which constitute the capital of the African Monetary Fund (AMF). The biggest and most populous country in sub Saharan Africa, Nigeria, followed by South Africa are far behind with only 3 billion dollars each.”

  21. prianikoff on said:

    I remain rather doubtful on the question of Algerian State involvement in creating “false flag” Islamist groups in Mali. Even more so in relation to the recent hostage crisis in Algeria. Nevertheless, it’s interesting to look at the fate of 3 leading members of the Algerian FIS.

    Dr. Abbassi Madani

    Born 1931, ex-FLN member.
    Former President of the F.I.S in Algeria.
    A “Moderate”, who supports the free market, gradual “stepwise” introduction of Sharia, Arabisation of the education system and public segregation of the sexes
    Following the demonstrations in Algeria in 2011, he left for Qatar.

    Ali Benhadj

    Born 1956, Of Mauritanian origin, preached at a Mosque in Algiers. Co-founded FIS and helped it win the elections in 1991.
    In jail through most of the Civil War period.
    Joined the demonstrations in 2011, but was soon arrested.
    Influenced by al-Banna and Qutb, he has described democracy as a Western innovation.
    His son Abdelkahar was alleged by the Algerian Authorities to be a leader of AQIM. He was shot allegedly planning a suicide bombing in 2011.

    “In a video posted on jihadist websites, al-Qaeda said that “Mouaaouiya”, a pseudonym for Abdelkahar Belhadj, was among those killed at a military checkpoint in Thenia on July 25th. The terror network claimed the jihadist “blew himself up” rather than being killed by security forces, as reported in some newspapers. The AQIM statement added that Abdelkahar was a key figure in the organisation because he had “encouraged young people to wage jihad””

    Source Magharebia
    (Note, this a pro-Africom website financed by the US)

    Kamareddine Kherbane

    Former Mig Pilot in the Algerian Air force, who was a founding member of the Islamic salvation Front (FIS) in 1989. Fled to Pakistan when FIS was banned.

    He was arrested in Morroco in 1994 on suspicion of arms trafficking. The Algerian government claimed Kherbane was a wanted criminal and an al-Qaeda operative.
    They tried to extradite him, but he was deported to Britain and given political asylum here.

    Kherbane has claimed that he was released because
    “Britain put a lot of pressure, which reached the point of threatening to expel the Moroccan ambassador from London.”

    He has admitted to having met bin Laden in the 1990s.
    Responsible for sending thousands of Algerian Islamists to Afghanistan, he operated out of Peshawar, the liaison office of the Algerian Afghans, under the guise of Islamic NGOs, the IRIO (International Rescue Islamist organization) using Saudi funds. Osama bin Laden was a major contributor.

    Kherbane coordinated jihadist volunteers from European countries who went to fight in Bosnia. 2,000 volunteers went to camps in Bosnia near the towns of Zenica and Tuzla. Kherbane led the Tuzla group.

    INTERVIEW from 2001

  22. prianikoff on said:

    This article from the Workers’ Party, Algeria ( Parti des Travailleurs) newspaper « Fraternité »
    October 2012, accurately predicted the recent course of events.


    “An unprecedented event since national independence , the Algerian Foreign Affairs Minister, Mourad Medelci, has just declared that Algeria is ready to take part in a military intervention in Mali.”


  23. Also see Conn Hallinan

    Hallinan puts forwards a rather more prosaic explanation of how the Islamists ended up holding the towns:

    The Gaddafi government had long supported the Tuaregs’ demands for greater self-rule, and many Tuaregs served in the Libyan Army. Is anyone surprised that those Tuaregs looted Libyan arms depots when the central government collapsed? And, once they had all that fancy fire power that they would put it to use in an effort to carve out a country of their own?

    The Tuaregs are nomads and had little interest in holding on to towns like Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal in northern Mali, and after smashing up the Mali Army, they went back into the desert. Into the vacuum created by the rout of the Malian Army flowed Islamic groups like Ansar-al-Din, al-Tawhid wa al-Jihad, and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). It is these latter organizations that the French are bombing, although reports are that civilians are getting caught in the crossfire.