April 23, 2013 by John Price
In January, French President Francois Hollande responded to interim Malian President Dioncounda Traore’s urgent request for military help to keep Islamists from advancing to the capital, Bamako. Since then, the coalition of French and African troops have driven Islamist extremists affiliated with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa from the northern towns of Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal although sporadic suicide bombings have continued.
On April 11, Malian Prime Minister Diango Sissoko visited Gao, the highest-ranking government leader to do so since the French incursion in January. His mission was to thank Malian troops and reassure the 60,000 residents that elections to form a national government would go forward in July.
The plan includes restoring a government presence in the town and more security. When the Islamists took over northern Mali in March 2012, government officials fled, leaving village leaders to fend for themselves. Malian government leaders fear their army cannot resist the Islamists alone. Mr. Sissoko said that French troops need to stay, at least until stability is achieved.
April 10, 2013 by Scott Firsing
It was a story that many people missed. United States president Barack Obama met with four African leaders in Washington in late March 2013: President Sall from Senegal, President Banda from Malawi, President Koroma from Sierra Leone, and Prime Minister Neves from Cape Verde.
A positive step in the right direction for America in Africa, but it is time for Obama to return the favor and once again set foot on the continent. It was announced late last year that Obama was planning a long overdue African tour sometime in 2013. As a specialist in US-Africa relations and an American living in Africa, I remember thinking simply “Amen!”
There are dozens of reasons why Obama needs to be “here,” but to only mention a few. Firstly, there has been a large amount of key personnel changes when it comes to American foreign policy and its African “leadership.” It would prove beneficial for these individuals to accompany Obama on Air Force One for the ride across of the Atlantic, which in turn would help smooth the transition.
April 5, 2013 by John Price
Mali’s upcoming July elections will be a defining moment — to unify the country, re-establish democratic institutions and restore the West African country’s territorial integrity. On Saturday, President Dioncounda Traore took the first step in the election process by announcing the formation of a Dialogue and Reconciliation Commission. “This puts the elections back on track,” said Mayor Yeah Samake of Ouelessebougou, a village near the capital, Bamako, and a leading presidential candidate.
Mayor Mahamadou Toure of Bourem Sidi-Amar, a village near the northern town of Timbuktu, said, “Politically, we are moving forward.” He noted Mr. Traore’s nomination of Mohamed Salia Sokona, a former defense minister and Malian ambassador to France, to lead the commission.
April 3, 2013 by John Price
Last month, I met with then-French Ambassador to Mali Christian Rouyer, who told me that “French troops will stay [in Mali] until the job is finished.” But French President Francois Hollande stated Thursday that French troops in Mali would be reduced from 4,000 to 2,000 by the end of July, and to 1,000 by the end of the year. Mr. Hollande previously had stated that French troops would not leave until a U.N. peacekeeping force was in place.
Currently, the French are helping train the Malian army and troops from neighboring African countries for a counterinsurgency operation, should the Islamists return. But events can have a way of changing even the best-laid plans. When I was in Timbuktu two weeks ago, an Islamist suicide bomber detonated his belt at a checkpoint near the outskirts of town. In the ensuing gunbattle, seven jihadists were killed and one was captured; seven Malian soldiers were wounded and one was killed.
March 26, 2013 by John Price
I have been writing about Mali, even before the military coup that took place last March, since my friend Yeah Samake, the mayor of Ouelessebougou, was running for president. The coup destabilized the country, and the elections were called off. Islamist extremists took advantage of the ensuing lack of governance in the northern region and seized control of the towns of Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu. They instituted Sharia law and brutalized the Malian people in these towns and surrounding villages.
There was also an influx of insurgents from countries as far away as Pakistan and Afghanistan. Northern Mali — about the size of France — had become the epicenter for the Islamists in the Sahel. Many of these insurgents were involved in the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya.
On Jan. 10, Malian President Dioncounda Traore called French President Francois Hollande and asked for military help, since a large group of extremists from al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MOJWA) had moved south and taken over the town of Konna, just 300 miles from Bamako, the capital. The next day French troops and Mirage jets arrived from nearby Chad.
March 4, 2013 by John Kmiecik
If Washington continues to avoid direct engagement in Mali there remains a possibility that Mali’s instability could spread throughout West Africa and to the greater region. There is some evidence of this in Nigeria with the growth of Boko Haram. Mali’s internal strife not only represents a threat to Mali and its neighbors but the fragile state of intra-African politics. The African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) are engaged in Mali with ECOWAS dedicated to the restoration of democracy and the AU committed to preserving the territorial integrity of Mali.
So far the Obama administration has not made any official commitments regarding direct military relief in Mali aside from limited support in the form of ferrying supplies to the region. Adding further urgency, various insurgency groups and Islamists are joining forces in some instances. Organizations such as the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (NMLA), Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Polisario Front, Ansar Dine, and Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MOJWA) represent a network of terrorist and separatist movements whose combined actions characterize a growing threat to the economic and political development of the region. There are links that bind these movements together like ideology, tribalism, ethnicity, politics, and religion. Mali’s fate is just another piece of the puzzle in resolving issues in West Africa but Washington refuses to address the dynamic relationship between these guerilla conflicts. Reaffirming Mali’s progress towards democracy is the first step that U.S. foreign policy needs to take to resolve Mali’s and the region’s chaos.
February 22, 2013 by John Price
A U.S. congressional delegation on Monday made a one-day visit to the Malian capital of Bamako. Headed by Sen. Christopher A. Coons, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on Africa, the delegation included Sen. Johnny Isakson, Georgia Republican, and Democratic Reps. Karen Bass of California and Terri A. Sewell of Alabama.
“The United States is likely to eventually resume direct support for Mali’s military, but only after full restoration of democracy through elections,” Mr. Coons, Delaware Democrat, said, according to the Reuters news agency. He noted that “U.S. law prohibited direct assistance to Mali’s armed forces” after President Amadou Toumani Toure was overthrown in a military coup in March, but U.S. military aid will resume after democracy is fully restored. ”We are committed to ensuring support…in the ongoing fight against extremism,” Mr. Coons said.
The delegation’s one-day visit to Mali was reminiscent of former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s 10-day visit to nine African countries in August. The common threads in Mrs. Clinton’s remarks were the building blocks for democratic institutions, good governance, the rule of law and security. Mali was not on the itinerary and was barely mentioned.
February 21, 2013 by John Price
The French liberation of northern Mali from embedded Islamists has finally put Mali on everyone’s radar screen. In the House Committee on Foreign Affairs last week, Ambassador Johnnie Carson, assistant secretary of state for African affairs, testified about the crisis in the West African nation and what the U.S. and other countries should do. Mr. Carson noted that the “crisis is one of the most difficult, complex and urgent problems West Africa has faced in decades.” He further noted: “The March 2012 coup and subsequent loss of northern Mali to Islamic extremists demonstrates all too clearly how quickly terrorists prey upon fragile states,” referring to the presence of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
The U.S. could have subdued the AQIM in 2003 when its fighters fled Algeria to Mali’s northern frontier region, which has become a safe haven for al Qaeda-linked Islamists from Mauritania, Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Somalia and as far away as Pakistan and Afghanistan. The U.S. knew that northern Mali was becoming a breeding ground for these terrorists; the Trans-Saharan Counterterrorism Initiative training program was launched in Mali in 2005. Two years later, special operations forces carried out additional training, and U.S. Africa Command considered setting up a base there. An ongoing program would have reduced the presence of the Islamists.
February 15, 2013 by Eric Muller
Roughly a month after France began its aerial bombardment of Islamic extremists in Mali, Canada’s offering to the western response has remained largely unchanged: one C-17 heavy-lift cargo plane, and $13-million in humanitarian aid announced at an International donors’ conference in Addis Ababa.
The government’s reluctance to pledge more resources has come amidst consternation from foreign policy watchers at home. Historically Canada has had a significant presence in Mali as a major donor. It remains one of the Canadian International Development Agency’s (CIDA) focus countries, and is home to significant Canadian mining interests. According to Natural Resources Canada, in 2010 there were 15 Canadian mining and exploration companies in Mali with an estimated $230 million in assets.
February 13, 2013 by Daniel Wagner
Much of the focus of rising political violence in the world today has been linked to the process of political change, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa.
There is ample reason to establish such a link, and it remains highly relevant, however the preoccupation with political change in MENA over the past two years has shifted focus from other equally important precursors of political violence throughout the world. Of all the other factors contributing to political violence, and there are many – including natural resource acquisition, refugee flows, and boundary disputes – perhaps the most pressing and growing challenge is posed by simply getting enough food to eat on a daily basis.
February 1, 2013 by Ramzy Baroud
The British security firm G4S is set to rake in massive profits thanks to crises in Mali, Libya and Algeria. Recognized as the world’s biggest security firm, the group’s brand plummeted during the London Olympics last year due to its failure to satisfy conditions of a government contract. But with growing unrest in North and West Africa, G4S is expected to make a speedy recovery.
The January 16th hostage crisis at Algeria’s Ain Amenas gas plant, where 38 hostages were killed, ushered in the return of al-Qaeda not as extremists on the run, but as well-prepared militants with the ability to strike deeply into enemy territories and cause serious damage. For G4S and other security firms, this also translates into growing demands. “The British group (..) is seeing a rise in work ranging from electronic surveillance to protecting travelers,” the company’s regional president for Africa told Reuters. “Demand has been very high across Africa,” Andy Baker said. “The nature of our business is such that in high-risk environments the need for our services increases.”
January 28, 2013 by Yeah Samake
It is critical to stability in the Maghreb and the Sahel region that terrorism in Mali be dealt with, both militarily and politically. The current situation in Mali cannot be separated from the issues in the Maghreb and the Sahel.
Extremists are breaking down the traditional tribal cultural bonds that have held society together in the Sahel region. This breakdown has far-reaching consequences for future generations. If we do not begin to reverse this trend immediately, we will have an exponentially greater problem to deal with in the near future, and much more serious long-term effects. It is critical that we apply equal pressure across the entire region in order to deal with terrorism.
January 26, 2013 by John Price
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) infiltrated Mali’s northern frontier in 2003, after a 10-year civil war to overthrow the Algerian government. This desert region has become a safe haven for numerous Islamists linked to al Qaeda.
U.S. intelligence sources have known that northern Mali was becoming a breeding ground for these terrorists. In 2005, the U.S. launched the “trans-Saharan Counterterrorism Initiative,” a military training program in Mali. In 2007, additional training took place with special operations forces. U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) had considered a base in northern Mali, but the idea never materialized.
The Arab Spring in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya led to the destabilization of the Sahel, leaving a number of countries at risk. Our lack of continued military support in Mali left the country unprepared to deal with the fast-growing threat from the well-armed and well-financed Islamist extremists. Northern Mali has now become the “epicenter” for terrorists coming from Niger, Chad, Sudan, Nigeria and Somalia, and as far away as Pakistan and Afghanistan.
January 23, 2013 by Daniel Wagner
It would be an understatement to say that the National Transition Council (NTC) has failed to govern Libya effectively since the fall of Gaddafi. The majority of territory outside Tripoli has fallen under the control of armed militias that have refused to disarm. Violent campaigns along tribal and ideological lines have been waged by Libyans determined to settle old scores and influence the ongoing political transition. Libya’s armed Islamists are well positioned to shape the course of events. This year the NTC will be challenged to integrate the Islamists into the national political system, yet failure to do so will likely result in marginalized militants playing the spoiler. If current events in Algeria and Mali are an indication of what the future holds for Libya, Islamists may be expected to wage armed attacks against their opponents and western targets, which can only further damage Libya’s investment climate.
Although the majority of Libya’s Islamists supported the 2011 uprising, they hold a diverse set of political views and are divided by tactics. The Libyan Muslim Brotherhood (LMB), National Front for Salvation of Libya (NFSL), Islamic Rally Movement (IRM), and Libyan Islamic Movement for Change (LIMC) have all expressed an interest in non-violence and participatory democracy. Last June the LMB’s political wing — the Justice and Construction Party (JCP) — participated in the election for the General National Congress, winning 17 of 80 seats.
January 23, 2013 by Ramzy Baroud
A reductionist discourse is one that selectively tailors its reading of subject matters in such a way as to only yield desired outcomes, leaving little or no room for other inquiries, no matter how appropriate or relevant. The so-called Arab Spring, although now far removed from its initial meanings and aspirations, has become just that: a breeding ground for choosy narratives solely aimed at advancing political agendas which are deeply entrenched with regional and international involvement.