30 January 2013

Africa: After Mali, Now What?

Photo: Ministère de la défense française
A French military operation in Mali.


French and Malian troops have virtually reclaimed Northern Mali with the fall of Timbuktu by last weekend. As the liberated Malian locals chanted the age old French Slogan 'vive la France" in their excitement, French President Francois Hollande may ride high as an accomplished embodiment of the ideal post colonial leadership. But it was an easy target - what an American journalist described as 'France's low hanging fruit', seeing as it has turned out, the intervention to restore the oneness of Mali did not take as long a time and as high a cost as any such American ventures - Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, or even Somalia.

More than 10 months ago, an offshoot of the al-Qaeda, Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), took advantage of the collapsed civilian government President Amadou Toumani Toure to seize power in the North declaring the Islamic State of Azawad. The world watched in angst as the rebels went ahead to destroy world acclaimed historical sites of immense value.

Of course France's intervention was not as a result of any feeling of responsibility over a failing independent colony. More important to France was the clearly defined danger that if al Qaeda related militants gained as much as a toehold in Mali, then France would become a primary terrorism target. Thus it was not for the love of Mali. It was to nib a small problem in the bud, and to prevent it from becoming a big one.

What delayed the French was the dillydallying of the African Union with more talk than action, while the rebelling Tuareg continued to firm up their hold onto the Northern territory. In the end of a lot of bickering as to who should foot the bill, the African Union has come up with $50m as African contribution. It was a time to bemoan the decline of Nigeria which at the peak of military might, under President Ibrahim Babangida, could ferry a whole army to Liberia and install a democracy. This is a feat the United States of America was unable to accomplish in Somalia, whereas Nigeria was able to repeat the performance in Sierra Leone. We are yet to know whether the Assembled African troops have fired a shot in the ongoing intervention, but informed opinion lends itself to training and support of Malian Armed Forces to maintain the democracy as the global goal. Both the United States and the UK have resolved to participate only as technical facilitators for now and the future. Could the rebellion in Mali have been compromised by the African effort nonetheless?

The French resolve to intervene must have been hastened by the ability of the Tuaregs to begin a push southwards, expanding controlled territory beyond the North-South dividing latitude which was a mere 500kms away from the capital Bamako. And the French deftly moved it.

In his celebrated interview with CNN's Christianne Amanpour, President Goodluck Jonathan had emphasised the link between the Malian al Qaeda and Nigeria's Boko Haram, and it was unnerving, especially noting the sophistication of the Boko Haram insurgents, their alarming growth in strength and reach. Of particular interest was the revelation that Boko Haram leader Shekau had been injured by the Joint Task Force and was being treated in Gao, Mali, which also fell to the French led Malian soldiers early last week. As it is, Boko Haram in Nigeria have announced a celebrated ceasefire with a statement that is believable even though too good to be true. The recovery of Northern Mali is therefore a source of great relief.

We must see the global implications of this development especially given how easily it has been for African countries to suffer failure and drift into fratricidal wars. Somalia, Ethiopia, Zaire, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and now Mali. Malians denounced colonialism but were overjoyed to have been liberated. Is a case being made for post colonial intervention that stabilizes African States that fail to hold their own?

African leaders are faced with a challenge of running model democracies based on quality leadership, good governance and adherence to democratic tenets, failing which, this type of regime collapse becomes unavoidable. One dare says, re-colonization is a possibility that is not all so remote any longer.

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