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Mali

Tag Archives | Mali

Al Qaeda’s Growing Influence in Central Africa

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Clara Padovan/UN
Clara Padovan/UN

Clara Padovan/UN

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.

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An Overlooked Crisis in the Central African Republic

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A family uprooted by the violence in Central African Republic living out of a plane at the Bangui International Airport. Photo: S. Phelps

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.

A family uprooted by the violence in Central African Republic living out of a plane at the Bangui International Airport. Photo: S. Phelps

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.”

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Mali is in Al Qaeda’s Crosshairs

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French troops stationed in Mali

On Friday February 7, 2014 near the northern Mali town of Tamkoutat, thirty-one people were killed in two ambush attacks by Islamists.

French troops stationed in Mali

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.

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Al Qaeda’s Continued Challenge

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U.S. officials have underestimated Al Qaeda's capacity to inflict damage on U.S. interests

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.

U.S. officials have underestimated Al Qaeda’s capacity to inflict damage on U.S. interests

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.

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France’s Nineteenth-Century Foreign Policy Fails in the Twenty-First Century

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A French soldier aims his rifle during “Operation Sangaris” as shots are fired in the Central African Republic (CAR). Source: The Huffington Post

Under the pretext of sparing the world another genocide, France deployed 1,600 troops to the Central African Republic (CAR) late last year.

A French soldier aims his rifle during “Operation Sangaris” as shots are fired in the Central African Republic (CAR). Source: The Huffington Post

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.

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Dim Prospects for Peace in Southern Thailand

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A soldier stands guard on the Thai side of the river as people prepare to cross into Malaysia in Sungai Kolok in southern Narathiwat province, March 8, 2013.  Source: Reuters

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.

A soldier stands guard on the Thai side of the river as people prepare to cross into Malaysia in Sungai Kolok in southern Narathiwat province, March 8, 2013. Source: Reuters

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.

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Unmanned Aerial Drones: If Kill You Must…

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President Barack Obama in the Oval Office with Thomas E. Donilon, left, the national security adviser, and John O. Brennan, his top counterterrorism adviser.  Pete Souza/White House

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.

President Barack Obama in the Oval Office with Thomas E. Donilon, left, the national security adviser, and John O. Brennan, his top counterterrorism adviser. Pete Souza/White House

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.

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Has the Arab Spring Failed?

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Libyan rebel rests after a battle with Qaddafi's forces

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.

Libyan rebel rests after a battle with Qaddafi’s forces

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.

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Is the ICC Guilty of Hunting Africans?

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Accused: Kenya’s deputy president William Ruto in the dock at the ICC. ICC-CPI

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.

Accused: Kenya’s deputy president William Ruto in the dock at the ICC. ICC-CPI

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?

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Mali’s Recovery is Dependent on International Aid

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French troops assist Malian soldiers at Bamako's airport.  Jerome Delay/AP

French troops assist Malian soldiers at Bamako’s airport. Jerome Delay/AP

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.

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Mali’s Road Ahead

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Mali's new president, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, garnered 78 percent of the vote

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.

Mali’s new president, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, garnered 78 percent of the vote

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.

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Results for Mali’s First Round Elections

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A Senegalese UN peacekeeper patrols Kidal, Mali. Marco Dormino/UN

On Friday, the Minister of Administration Moussa Sinko announced the results of the first-round in Mali’s July 28 presidential election.

A Senegalese UN peacekeeper patrols Kidal, Mali. Marco Dormino/UN

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.

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Mali’s ‘Old Guard’ Set to Win

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A Malian man votes at a polling station in the Ecole de la République in Bamako, Mali, during the presidential election.  Marco Dormino/UN

The French press on Sunday night reported that Mali’s presidential election turnout was surprisingly heavy in the capital Bamako.

A Malian man votes at a polling station in the Ecole de la République in Bamako, Mali, during the presidential election. Marco Dormino/UN

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.

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Challenges before Mali’s Sunday Election

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A June agreement between the government and rebels allowed elections to go forward.  Source: news.com.au

The ink is barely dry on the June 18 peace accord between the Malian government and the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad (MNLA), and ethnic violence erupted last weekend in Kidal.

A June agreement between the government and rebels allowed elections to go forward. Source: news.com.au

The government quickly accused Tuaregs of committing attacks in which four Malians were killed–putting the ceasefire agreement at risk. In the mayhem, shops were looted and cars were burned. French, Malian and U.N. peacekeeping troops are now positioned in Kidal to maintain security ahead of Sunday’s elections. The townspeople were already upset with the government since voter registration cards had not been widely distributed in the region. The fragile standoff will not hold if voters are deprived from participating in the election for a new president.

Tuaregs and Arabs living in the region have long felt disenfranchised, representing only 1.5 million of Mali’s 15 million population. They live in a harsh desert region twice the size of France. Having been there several times, once you travel north of the town of Mopti, three hundred miles from Bamako, the vast desert region can consume you. Roads in many of the areas are barely passable, and water is scarce. Voters make great efforts to reach the polling places.

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Mali’s Elections Need to be Inclusive

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Pictured are Malian government forces.  Malian soldiers now control the northern city of Timbuktu, after months of occupation by armed extremist groups.  Blagoje Grujic/UN

Pictured are Malian government forces. Malian soldiers now control the northern city of Timbuktu, after months of occupation by armed extremist groups. Blagoje Grujic/UN

By U.S. standards there are few free, fair and transparent elections that take place in Africa. Cries of foul-play, or a boycott by candidates should not mar the election process. If every time there is a request to postpone an election very few would be held.  The first round of Mali’s presidential election is scheduled for July 28, with a second round run-off on August 11 if no candidate garners more than 50 percent of the vote. The campaign officially kicked off on July 7 with a field of 28 candidates, reaching out to voters across the country.

Tiébilé Dramé a former foreign minister has already withdrawn. He petitioned Mali’s Constitutional Court to postpone the elections claiming everyone would not be able to participate in the voting process–fairness for the elections was not in place–since the deeply divided country was not ready to run a credible election. He further noted the election law had been violated because no voter lists were available in the northern town of Kidal by the June 25 deadline.

In January French-led military forces liberated several northern Mali towns held by Islamist extremists, including Kidal which was the stronghold for the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA). The MNLA had refused access to the Malian military and government leaders, which became a stumbling block that affected thousands of potential voters.

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