French intervention in Mali is being welcomed by Malians as their last defence against extremist Islamist fighters, argues Omar Zaki.
Last Friday January 11th saw the start of Operation Serval, where France entered into the Mali conflict against Islamist forces (being Ansar Al-Dine and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb). The Malian conflict has gone on since January 2012, after Tuareg rebels, trained & armed in Libya serving former dictator Mummar Gaddafi during the Libyan revolution, filtered into Mali tapping into the Tuareg rebellion that has been present since 1962.
Those who observe the French & EU involvement with scepticism, looking retrospectively at Afghanistan and Somalia, think this is an act of neo-imperialism. They not only ignore the early contextual developments, international & regional agreements, requests from Malians themselves and the unfolding humanitarian crisis; but maintain an illogical, unsupported and neo-colonialist rhetoric the like of which undermines the reasons for the vital assistance needed by the people of Mali, and a rhetoric overly used by authoritarian regimes to continue their oppressive policies. The fundamental and undeniable aim of not only France & the EU, but Mali, ECOWAS and the African Union, is to maintain the integral stability of the state of Mali. This article will list key reasons why the European intervention in Mali is justified.
1. Malian government requested it, Malian people support it:
Following the transfer of power from coup leader Captain Amadou Sanogo and the swearing in of interim President Dioncounda Traore, he pledged to ‘wage a total & relentless war’ on the Tuareg rebels and re-establish state control over northern Mali. This is a completely legitimate aim of any state in order to main internal stability, integrity & sovereignty.
Even among the Malian Diaspora in France there is support for the involvement, earlier in the week Malian community leaders met with President Francois Hollande, and on January 19th Malians in Paris held a protest in support of Hollande’s action. Therefore, with UN & regional bodies supporting the basis for military intervention, French military strikes commenced after the Malian government requested formal assistance.
2. Mali would have fallen to Islamist forces:
Knowing full well with hindsight the rapid success of Islamist forces in northern Mali, the weak organisation of the Malian military and constant interference by former coup leader Captain Sanogo; Mali would have inevitably fallen Islamist forces, if not for Operation Serval.
Much of the Malian population, particularly the capital Bamako of 1.8 million people, are aware of the human rights abuses perpetrated in Azawad, and feared for their fate just as Islamist forces were closing in on Sevare, a garrison town 350 miles northeast of Bamako. Fortunately French airstrikes ended the progress after 60 fighters were killed and remaining forces fled. Last Monday there was jubilation across Bamako, as one taxi driver noted, ‘People have started to smoke cigarettes and wear long pants! They’re playing soccer in the streets!”. Therefore the intervention prevented the collapse of the state, military and a larger refugee crisis from occurring, and from a military stand point France had to prevent the takeover as it had to protect its 8000 citizens in Mali.
3. International & regional bodies called for international action:
There has been a consistent consensus that military intervention was necessary to resolve the conflict. A view Gregory Mann, a Columbia University history professor and Mali expert, supports, saying, it “needs diplomatic intervention every bit as urgently as it needed military intervention.”
The Security Council Resolution 2071 was passed on the 12th of October 2012, and called on the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union to create a plan of action. In response, on the 11th of November in Abuja, Nigeria, a ECOWAS high level meeting issued a statement proclaiming that military intervention was necessary and placed the stand-by force at a high state of alert for immediate action. This force numbering 3300 is now supporting the French forces.
Following the passing of Resolution 2085, ECOWAS supported the resolution, as did the Malian government. We therefore see a large consensus among the United Nations & regional bodies and the Malian government itself which supports this military action, therefore how can one deny this is not a generally supported action. This differs from the Iraq war where there was a massive camp against it, including in the Security Council.
Indeed, I am one of many who have issues with the Security Council, be it the veto power for the five permanent members or the dominating influence of the US. However, that doesn’t disprove the fact the French drafted resolution 2085 was voted unanimously with all 15 votes, including from three Muslim majority nations being; Azerbaijan, Morocco and Pakistan.
4. The humanitarian situation would have worsened:
The domination of Northern Mali by the Tuareg rebels, which has now led to this international conflict, has resulted in masses of human rights violations and an escalating refugee crisis. Since fighting began in January last year 376,000 have fled to Mauritania, Nigeria & Burkina Faso and 229,000 within Mali. These are all developing nations that will now have to deal with great stress on government resources so that they can provide supplies and capabilities of coping with mass refugees In addition, the United National Refugee Agency warns that possibly 400,000 refugees may flee to neighbouring countries and 300,000 will be displaced internally in Mali.
Yet those concerned by the recent EU involvement seem to ignore all the past horrific events & humanitarian issues before the intervention. As Gaetan Mootoo, Amnesty International’s West Africa Researcher stated, ‘After two decades of relative stability and peace, Mali is now facing its worst crisis since independence in 1960.’ While the Islamists were in control of Azawad a wide range of human rights abuses were conducted, children as young as 10 were being recruited as child soldiers, families promised payment of $700 per child. A report from the UN Human Rights Council in January the 7th 2012, detailed accounts of rape, torture and executions. With the implementation of full Sharia Law executions & limb amputations were committed as well as forcing of women to wear veils. In addition there was the targeted destruction of Sufi shrines, which were UNESCO World Heritage sites. The tombs of prominent medieval saints, Sidi Mahmoud, (died in 955 A.D.), Sidi Moctar and Alpha Moya were destroyed by Ansar Al-Dine. These were scenes reminiscent of Mullah Omar’s destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan in 2001.
What was the international community or region suppose to do; look on as Mali may have been overrun by the Islamists and the whole nation subjected to the suffering the North witnessed? Should we have looked on as we did with the Taliban’s oppressive rule between 1996-2001? Mali was once a stable state with a democratic and secular government, which Freedom House recognised with the top rank of ‘Free’. The government remains in power thanks to intervention but all the effort in maintaining this state have backtracked. The future could see increased economic burdens on Mali’s weak economy, increased grievances between Southern black Africans and Northern Arab ethnic groups, including the loss of prospective future investments & development.
5. Regional threat from Al-Qaeda:
For too long US & European security analysts have been aware of the Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Magrib (AQIM) presence in the western reaches of the Sahara, now as a result of this lack of attention we see how the AQIM and Ansar Al-Dine groups took advantage of the security vacuum the Tuareg insurgents caused. In 2004 the US Ambassador to Mali, Vicki Huddleston, warned that Mali was vulnerable to these groups stating that it could be ‘’a potential new staging ground for religious extremism and terrorism similar to Afghanistan under the Taliban… If Mali goes, the rest goes”. Also in 2010 political scientist Jean-Pierre Filiu wrote a report warning that there was an increasing presence of the AQIM in the Northern Sahara ‘carving out safe havens and threatening weak government forces’. Due to the lack of attention and the weakness of local forces, this Al-Qaeda parasite like threat found a host in the Tuareg rebellion.
In retaliation to the foreign intervention Al-Qaeda seized control over the In Amenas oil facility in East Algeria on the 16th of January, taking international hostages, at least 48 of whom have been killed. Rather than the recent takeover of In Amenas being seen as the fault of France’s military action, this serves as a signal to the serious and largely ignored threat of Al-Qaeda’s presence in West & Saharan Africa.
6. Learning from Kosovo:
We have to stop viewing every possible Western, European or foreign intervention as some neo-colonial attempt to gain access to the resources of other countries. The example that best shows how some interventions are based on humanitarian, peacekeeping grounds, necessary for the protection of human lives, was the Kosovo Conflict (1998-99). If it was not for the US and NATO bombardment of the Serbian military infrastructure, many more thousands of Albanian Kosovars would have been massacred, Richard Falk the Special Rapportuer for Palestine in the UN Human Rights Council himself wrote, ‘the NATO campaign achieved the removal of Yugoslav military forces from Kosovo and, even more significant, the departure of the dreaded Serbian paramilitary units and police’. The US did not and still does not have any economic or political interests in the Balkan regions. Not only this, but NATO intervention was vital in saving the Libyan revolution after Gaddafi’s military forces were pounded, this supported the Libyan Transitional National Council forces.
Through the looking glass
In fairness this sceptical view is a result of the illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003 as well as the on-going debate about when foreign intervention is justified. Many people, particularly Muslims and Arabs, view any possible Western discussion of intervention with massive scepticism, thinking that economic interest or political influence is the underlining factor. Mali is not Iraq, the Malian government and the African regional organisations called for international support. The problem then remains on concerns about the conflict being seized for a moment to tap into Mali’s natural resources, but there is virtually no evidence for this premise. We truly need to be more open-minded & objective when analysing these conflicts and not view them with our built in political afflictions or constantly drawing historic parallels with French & European colonialism in the Scramble of Africa which began in 1885.
For these views not only hinder our understanding of the actual nature of the situation. It’s these very same views that are manipulated by authoritarian regimes to prevent justified humanitarian interventions against abuses they are committing. For instance, Muammer Gaddafi stated in March 2011 that the uprising was, ‘a colonial attempt, or an attempt to control oil’. There is hope not despair now, with the military success last Friday as Konno was reclaimed and forces moved into Diabaly. Now African nations Chad, Nigeria, Senegal, Burkino Faso and Togo have agreed to send 4000 troops to support Mali. There is hope that Mali will once again be the free, stable & plural state it once was and there is hope that it will not end up as another Afghanistan or Somalia and this would all be thanks to the international intervention in Mali.
‘All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing’- Edmund Burke
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