Vanguard (Lagos)

20 February 2013

West Africa: Al-Qaeda in the Sahel Threatens Nigeria

analysis

IN our previous analysis, we have shown why France went to war after Al -Qaeda in Mauritania and Mali, especially, to stop the international jihad agenda and the criminality associated with this agenda. that was being visited on its citizens in its former colony.

Secondly, it was part of the global strategy to stop Al-Qaeda, which has as part of its objectives, attacks on Western nations and their economic interests and cultural values. But the Mali question in the Sahel must be seen from five clear standing points.

•Resolving the contradiction of past colonial rule and concept of development

•Restoration of Democratic rule and the political power game between the political and military elite

•The crippling poverty and non-existent economic structure in the landlocked country that is ravaged by climate change

The political crisis in Mali dates back to its colonial days. When France colonised and impoverished the country just like the other colonies it had worldwide. The French did not put anything back to promote growth and development in Mali, which has over the years depended on food hand out.

Mali has been in a state of decline the 1990s as the political and economic situation in the Sahel country degenerated. The worsening condition emboldened the Tuaregs who had been funded by radical Islamic groups within and outside Africa, with the objective of creating an Islamic State of Azawad in the mould of Afghanistan.

The autonomy-craving Tuaregs in Northern Mali, became the arrow head for the Islamists to accomplish that goal. The Tuaregs had been fighting for autonomy since the 1990s, but they entered into alliance with Ansar Dine and other Islamist groups to engage government troops. The rebel fighters took advantage of the lack of the poor economy, the political will on the part of government to make a push to capture the Capital, Bamako. In the process, they killed so many soldiers and imposed Sharia law in the towns that fell into their hands. The situation of insecurity demoralised the civilian population. But more importantly was the fact that Mali became a training ground for other radical Islamist groups in the Sahel, including the Boko Haram sect in Nigeria. This led to the March 22 military coup by a group that called itself organisation for the Recovery and Restoration of the state led by Captain Diara.

The infiltration into the Tuaregs by troops that fought in Libya, strengthened the Tuaregs while the Al-Qaeda group also teamed up with the disaffected Malians to wage war against the government. The Islamists introduced acts of terrorism, such as suicide bombings, kidnapping of foreign nationals for ransom using Western hostages to negotiate for the release of arrested militants by western governments etc.

According to the Director General Nigerian Institue of International Affairs (NIIA), lAGOS, Prof . Bola A. Kinterinwa told Vanguard that the coup had popular support and in conformity with the concept of utis Postidis but it was opposed by the Western powers and ECOWAS leaders who are today sending troops to fight the Islamists who were becoming too strong for the government troops. He said"It raised the question of what happens to a country when a government cannot protect the lives and property of its citizens and cannot defend its sovereignity?"

According to him, "Africans have continued to say the same thing over and over again without taking action. ECOWAS has failed to live up to the vision of the founding fathers for faster peace, integration and development, which would have reduced poverty, promote faster mobility of labour and capital".

Ambassador Segun Akinsanya who directs the South Africa based Institutes for Security Studies (ISS)said security has become a big issue in the entire African continent and time has come for African leaders to take a second look at the situation in the continent.

Colonial experiences

He said the time is gone, when African leaders and Africans blamed their problems on Europe because countries in Latin America also had their colonial experiences but they have invested in education, development of science and technology which is what we need to move the continent out of the circle of poverty.

Former Nigeria's Ambassador to Israel and the United States Prof. George Obiozor said rather than France being accused of any colonial tendencies in Mali, its action against the Islamist groups in Mali we should commend rather blame or accuse France of neo-colonial designs in Mali. According to him "What France has done is to clear the way, to ensure safe landing for the African troops".

A senior Research Fellow at NIIA, Prof. Fred Aja Agwu, agreed with Prof. Obiozor but went further to say that what France has done in Mali has helped to break the back of Boko Haram sect in Nigeria. Said Agwu: "the action in Mali, shows the strong linkage with the situation in Nigeria. According to Prof. Agwu, "it is not a coincidence that the leaders of Boko Haram in Nigeria began to consider the idea of a cease fire at the point when there support base in Mali had been destroyed".

The second battle

Experiences in Afghanistan and Iran may be repeating itself all over in Mali where the French troops have flushed out the Islamists from the towns of Kidal, Mpoti, Goa, Timbuktu, Diabaly. But the second place of suicide bombings, acts of guerrila war fare may be afoot as the Islamists are known to melt into the population and disguise themselves as civilians only to launch deadly attacks.

The Islamists have potent propaganda against the foreign troops whom they accuse of coming to pollut their land and culture. The troops from Senegal, Niger, Nigeria, Togo, Burkina Faso etc are not experienced in desert war fare where the Islamists have dug trenches that can sustain their operation. Mali is a country 'with little resources that is of interest in Mali is not more than denying Al Qaeda a base in the Sahel. It will be a major challenge for the foreign troops to cut off all the supply routes which the Islamists use to smuggle drugs and arms to sustain their criminal acts.

Prof. Bola A. Akinterinwa, the Director General of Nigerian Institute of International Affairs argues that in resolving the Malian crisis, negotiation with Ansar Dine and the Islamists groups must be viewed with caution because religious Islamists do not negotiate their ultimate objective is Islamisation of the state.

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