Last year I met Malian musician Mamadou Diabate, the 2009 Grammy Award winner of the “Best Traditional World Music” for his album ‘Douga Mansa.’ Mamadou had also composed the song ‘Bogna’ meaning “Respect is the healing medicine of peace. Peace is the healing medicine of love. Love is the healing medicine of life. Life is the healing medicine of hope.” Mamadou came from a family of musicians in Mali who have used music to preserve the Manika language and people’s consciousness of the past dating back to the 13th century, when Timbuktu was considered the intellectual capital of the Muslim world. He came from Kita, a town long known as a center for art and culture, where he learned to play the ‘kora’ (the 21-string harp) at an early age.
Tag Archives | Mali
The Arab Spring in North Africa began in Tunisia in December 2010, with the self-immolation of a street vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi who had his fruit and vegetable cart confiscated by local authorities. Massive protests forced President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali to flee to Saudi Arabia. President Moncef Marzouki his successor failed to unify the country, and under political pressure agreed to hold new elections– which he postponed twice. Islamists have carried out attacks against members of parliament and political leaders, recently killing two moderate candidates. In May 2014 the electoral laws were changed to allow former officials in Ben Ali’s administration to run for office. Twenty former government leaders were recently released from prison, which sparked public outcry. Adding to the chaos last week fourteen soldiers were killed while pursuing AQIM Islamists embedded in the Chaambi Mountain region near the western border with Algeria.
Earlier this year, the Afghan Taliban called for an end to violence against Muslims in the Central African Republic, where ethnic cleansing has been occurring since the government was overthrown last year. The highly unusual commentary on events so far removed from Afghanistan is significant for the Taliban, demonstrating that it considers itself to be a de facto state actor and has influence on groups allied to Al Qaeda (AQ). Doing so is, in essence, a call to arms for jihadists to descend on the CAR.
The symbolism that lays behind the Taliban statement is significant, and may prove to have a profound impact on the future outcome of the CAR conflict and beyond. In conjunction with Boko Haram (which has proven links with AQ in the Islamic Maghreb) and Somalia-based Al Shabab (which joined AQ in 2012), AQ threatens to establish a presence in the CAR. It is believed that up to 80 percent of Seleka fighters originally came from Chad and Somalia , which would indicate an orientation and predisposition to subscribing to AQ’s ideology and tactics. Seleka’s lack of a clear ideology and direction should make it more susceptible to influence from strong external groups such as AQ.
While the world’s eyes are focusing on events in Ukraine, a small African nation is drawing less attention – despite horrific human rights abuses happening in its territory.
In what the UN human rights body and Amnesty International have called “ethnic-religious cleansing” between the country’s Muslim minority (15 percent of the population) and Christian militiamen, more than 2,000 people are dead and nearly a quarter of the country’s population of 4.6 million has been forced to flee the country. In recent weeks, entire neighborhoods in the Central African Republic have been emptied of their Muslim populations and their property and mosques destroyed. An estimated 15,000 Muslims are now trapped in small pockets of territory in Bangui and elsewhere in the country, under international protection. In recent days, French forces engaged Christian militiamen who had been setting up checkpoints on the main exit road linking Bangui to Cameroon.
In a passionate plea for further assistance, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, recently warned that the world’s response to the ethnic-religious cleansing in the Central African Republic was alarmingly slow. At a press conference in Bangui last week, Pillay eluded, “This has become a country where people are not just killed, they are tortured, mutilated, burned and dismembered…Children have been decapitated, and we know of at least four cases where the killers have eaten the flesh of their victims.”
On Friday February 7, 2014 near the northern Mali town of Tamkoutat, thirty-one people were killed in two ambush attacks by Islamists.
The Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MOJWA) was responsible for the attacks, according to Mali’s interior ministry. Last week near the Niger border there was a clash between Tuareg villagers and Islamists—seventeen civilians and thirteen MOJWA were killed. In Niger, Boko Haram based in Nigeria was recently staging an attack–more than twenty of the Islamists were captured. In January eleven Islamists preparing for a mission were killed by French troops in Mali, and a large cache of weapons seized. In another incident a UN military vehicle struck a land mine near the town of Kidal—injuring five soldiers.
These attacks have all occurred since the French-led troops drove the Islamists from Mali’s northern towns. In January 2013 the incursion had stopped the Islamists’ advance from Konna to Bamako, the capital, a distance of 300 miles. By March most of the Islamists had been dispersed into the vast desert and mountainous region. MOJWA, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and Ansar Dine Islamists have since carried out targeted attacks against Malian, French and UN troops.
In the 1980’s the U.S. supported the Mujahideen in Afghanistan in their fight against the Soviets. Our ally was Osama bin Laden who organized his Arab fighters to help defeat the Soviets.
When the dictator, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990 Osama bin Laden offered to bring his Afghan-Arab fighters, known as al-Qaeda (the base), to help drive the Iraqis from Kuwait. Bin Laden’s offer was rejected by the Saudi Arabian government, who instead invited the U.S. to use their military bases as a staging area. Bin Laden considered our troops “infidels,” occupying the land of Islam’s two holiest sites–Mecca and Medina. Soon thereafter bin Laden issued his fatwa–declaring war on the United States.
In previous articles I noted that killing Osama bin Laden, in May 2011, would not change al-Qaeda’s quest to destroy Western interests. “The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it” was a second fatwa Osama bin Laden issued in February 1998, seven months before the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed. The U.S. should have increased security everywhere, yet we were unprepared to avoid the disastrous attacks by al-Qaeda on September 11, 2001.
Under the pretext of sparing the world another genocide, France deployed 1,600 troops to the Central African Republic (CAR) late last year.
Since Operation Sangaris was launched, however, the French military has proven powerless to stop the sectarian violence, which took more than a thousand lives in Bangui last month. Now that it is clear that the humanitarian crisis is beyond French control, President Hollande faces the question of whether Paris should have intervened in the CAR, where a significant percentage of the country’s citizens view France’s intervention as a form of 21st century neo-colonialism. France was clearly naïve to believe that deploying fewer than 2,000 troops to a destabilized nation bordering on anarchy and awash with arms would restore stability.
While the first French brigades to enter the CAR last month were greeted as liberators, not all of its citizens welcomed the former colonial ruler’s military presence — thousands of Séléka supporters protested the intervention. Surely French military commanders did not imagine that they would simply waltz in and be greeted with a shower of rose petals. But by the same token, it seems clear that they failed to anticipate such vigorous opposition and were unprepared for what awaited them.
Since February of this year the Malaysian government has sponsored talks in Kuala Lumpur (KL) with the aim of ending the bloodshed that has plagued southern Thailand for nearly a decade.
At the negotiating table are Thai government officials and the rebel group Barisan Revolusi Nasional-Coordinate (BRN-C). The talks have, thus far, failed to achieve their objective, as there remains a wide gap between both sides’ demands. The absence of leadership or political cohesion within the insurgency raises question about which rebels are being represented in KL, and to what extent the BRN-C fully represents or can influence all entities that comprise the insurgency. Events on the ground indicate that the insurgency has entered a new phase of enhanced violence and human rights abuses that now target children. Within this context, prospects for success in KL appear dim.
Three-quarters of Thailand’s population is ethnically Thai and 95% are Buddhist. Yet, in the southern provinces of Narathiwat, Pattani, Satun, and Yala the majority of citizens are ethnic Malays who practice Islam. All of the provinces, except Yala, were previously governed by the Malay-Muslim sultanate of Pattani, which ceased to exist after the state of Thailand (then known as “Siam”) annexed the territory over a century ago.
UAS (unmanned aviation systems), popularly known as drones, are playing an increased role in armed conflicts. They are used both for collecting intelligence and for deploying lethal force.
Whereas in 2007 there were 74 drone strikes in Afghanistan and 5 in Pakistan, by 2012 the military was executing an average of 33 drone strikes per month in Afghanistan, and the total number of drone strikes in Pakistan has surpassed 330. Drones have been employed in multiple theaters of the counterterrorism campaign, including Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, and Libya.
They are now included in the arsenal of many nations including Israel, China, and Iran. They have even been operated by a non-state actor (Hezbollah) which has flown at least two drones over Israel. Several nations are currently developing drones that will be able to carry out highly-specialized missions, for instance tiny drones able to enter constricted areas through narrow passages. Given the move by the American military away from deploying conventional forces on the ground (in Iraq and Afghanistan) to a ‘light footprint’ strategy of ‘offshore balancing’ (as employed in Libya), drones are likely to play an even more important role in future armed conflicts. Like other new armaments (e.g., long-range cruise missiles and high-altitude carpet bombing) the growing use of drones has triggered a considerable debate over the moral and legal grounds on which they are used. This debate is next reviewed.
Challenging the falsehoods and simplifications that surrounded the so-called Arab Spring from the very start doesn’t necessarily mean that one is in doubt of the very notion that genuine revolutions have indeed gripped various Arab countries for nearly three years.
In fact, the revolutionary influx is still underway, and it will take many years before the achievements of these popular mobilizations will be truly felt. One can understand the frustration and deep sense of disappointment resulting from the state of chaos in Libya, the political wrangling in Yemen and Tunisia, the brutal civil war in Syria, and of course, the collective heartbreak felt throughout the Arab world following the bloody events in Egypt.
But to assign the term ‘failure’ to Arab revolutions is also a mistake equal to the many miscalculations that accompanied the nascent revolutions and uprisings from the start. Many lapses of judgment were made early on, starting with the lumping together of all Arab countries into one category – discussed as singular news or academic topics. It was most convenient for a newspaper to ask such a question as “who’s next?” when Libya’s Muammar al-Gaddafi was so pitilessly murdered by NATO-supported rebels. It is equally convenient for academicians to keep contending with why the Egyptian army initially took the side of the January 25 revolution, the Syrian army sided with the ruling party, and while the Yemeni army descended into deep divisions.
This month, the first of what are arguably the two most important trials in the short history of the International Criminal Court (ICC) began. Kenya’s Deputy President, William Ruto, is accused of crimes against humanity (murder, deportation or forcible transfer of population and persecution) allegedly committed in Kenya in the context of the 2007-2008 post-election violence.
He is the first high office holder to appear at the Court. In the second trial, scheduled to begin in November this year, Kenya’s newly elected President, Uhuru Kenyatta, will also contest accusations of crimes against humanity (murder, deportation, rape and persecution), also allegedly committed in the context of post-election violence. As a backdrop to all of this, not only did Kenyan members of parliament vote to approve a motion to leave the ICC, the African Union has called a special summit to discuss a mass withdrawal from the ICC in protest at Ruto trial.
Is the ICC, as accused in May of this year by Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, guilty of “hunting Africans”? And can the Court fulfill its aim of a truly global institution of criminal justice when global powers (the United States, Russia, China) and emerging powers (India, Indonesia) not only refuse to ratify the Rome Statute (the Court’s governing treaty), but appear beyond the reach of the Court’s justice?
In Mali’s recent presidential election Ibrahim Boubacar Keita was declared the winner, garnering over 78 percent of the vote. President Barrack Obama in congratulating Mr. Keita noted, “The election was a first step in restoring democracy.” In The Hill article last week President Obama stated that Mr. Keita needs “to use this election as a foundation for further progress on democracy, national reconciliation, and addressing the security and humanitarian crises in the north.” He also said funding for Mali’s recovery would not be forthcoming until sometime after Mr. Keita’s inauguration in September. The U.S. however had indicated that aid would re-start after the presidential elections took place.
The Hill noted a State Department official saying, “The new [Malian] government must take tangible steps to assert civilian authority over the military.” In addition, “We are currently reviewing and revising our assistance programs. We intend to continue close coordination with our partners in the international donor community and with the newly elected Malian government to ensure that any renewed assistance addresses Mali’s most pressing needs in an efficient and effective manner,” which infers that new benchmarks could be imposed.
The U.S.-led incursion into Libya in 2011 to oust Muammar Gaddafi, had contributed to the instability that followed in Mali. Weapons left unprotected fell into the hands of radical Islamists in northern Mali. A military camp near the town of Kidal was surrounded for several months without adequate arms, ammunition and food. On January 22, 2012 ninety soldiers were slaughtered by the well-armed Islamists. Subsequently the Malian military withdrew back to the capital Bamako.
Mali’s second-round presidential election runoff on August 11 ended without major incident. The ministry for territorial administration on Monday reported that the voter turnout was 46 percent, slightly less than voter participation in the first-round.
Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, the former prime minister from 1994 to 2000, was the winner garnering 78 percent of the vote. Supporters chanting IBK, Mr. Keita’s nickname, danced in the streets of Bamako the capital, in celebration. IBK is a venerable, tough-minded politician; part of the old guard that controlled Mali’s governing process since the early 1990’s.
Mr. Keita’s success was in large part due to support from a number of powerful Islamic imams, whose followers exceeded a million voters in the heavily populated south, which made a big difference in the outcome. IBK’s picture was plastered on billboards all over Bamako; reportedly the campaign was better organized than his challenger Soumaila Cisse, a former finance minister.
On Friday, the Minister of Administration Moussa Sinko announced the results of the first-round in Mali’s July 28 presidential election.
The former Prime Minister Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta also known by his nickname IBK received 39 percent of the vote, with Soumaïla Cissé a former finance minister receiving 19 percent. The results will not be official until the Constitutional Court validates the balloting outcome this weekend. Both set to face off in the August 11 second-round runoff, are already actively campaigning, with IBK favored to win. Only three candidates, of the twenty seven that participated in the election, received more than 5 percent of the vote.
On talking with Mayor Yeah Samake in his home town of Ouelessebougou this morning, during his meeting with political advisers, he expressed disappointment in not faring better in the election. He indicated several factors affected the campaign. IBK had a large financial “war-chest” of over $3 million from several Muslim clerics and leaders in neighboring African nations. Being from Bamako he was the best known and organized candidate compared Mr. Cisse, who reigned from Timbuktu, the sparely populated northern town.
The French press on Sunday night reported that Mali’s presidential election turnout was surprisingly heavy in the capital Bamako.
In the northern area the town of Gao had a modest turnout while in Kidal, the Tuareg separatist stronghold, few voters showed up at the polling stations. In Timbuktu anxious voters had to visit several polling stations to find their voter registration cards. Malians were excited to vote, with many waiting in long lines for hours in the extreme temperature. This election was going to bring back stability, and help unify the country that only seven months earlier had been at risk of being overrun by Islamists. There had been a lack of government leadership, services and security since the March 2012 military coup, which was followed by the Islamist takeover of almost two-thirds of Mali.
Sunday’s election was carried out without incident as French, Malian and UN peacekeeping troops stood by at the more than 20,000 polling stations. With 7 million eligible voters, the turnout was better than projected at 40 percent. The ballot counting began late Sunday night, in some cases under lanterns. The final results will not be issued until at least Tuesday. Election observers were not permitted in ballot counting rooms, or at the national tabulation center in Bamako, which raised suspicion of the election process being transparent. Local and media sources indicate that former Prime Minister Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta and Soumaïla Cissé a former finance minister will be the leaders with neither gaining over 50 percent, avoiding a second run-off on Aug. 11.