The escalating conflict in Mali can best be understood if we pick up the narrative from NATO action in Libya. Just when the Europeans were salivating on Libya, the Americans showed an early aversion to another adventure, after Afghanistan and Iraq.
The International Herald Tribune published a quarter page cartoon. Hatted European gents are sipping Campari under an umbrella. Uncle Sam, looking rather like a butler, reports, “there’s a fire next door”. One European, snapping his fingers, orders “don’t just stand there. Go put out the fire”. So, the US and NATO came in.
There were a dozen reasons why Gaddafi had to be killed. One of these was the Libyan strongman’s extensive influence in all of Africa, from the ’70s when wars of national liberation were in vogue. His influence extended from the remarkable intellectual Hassan Turabi in Sudan to the somewhat thuggish Charles Taylor in Liberia and beyond. Turabi was imprisoned. Taylor was tried for war crimes and jailed. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, with a postgraduate degree from the US (like Mikheil Saakashvili in Georgia) was installed President in 2006 for two terms of six years each. She has proceeded to outsource all logging and mining businesses. Democracy is on the march.
Likewise, when I turned up at El Fasher to see relief operations in Darfur, I expected to meet Africans since the African Union was managing relief camps. Instead, I was introduced to Col George D’Vione, a Frenchman who greeted me with great authority. He was as surprised by an Indian journalist in Darfur as I was meeting a Frenchman wearing an African Union (AU) hat. It turned out he was representing the European Union on the AU’s ceasefire commission for Darfur.
Earlier, I had met Brig David Richards in Sierra Leone. He proceeded to become Britain’s army chief. Years ago, Mrs Thatcher’s son Mark Thatcher was placed under house arrest in Cape Town for attempting a coup in Equatorial Guinea with the help of Africans aching to be recolonised. More recently, the UN envoy for Western Sahara, Christopher Ross, has been making ominous statements. “It would be a serious miscalculation to believe that the status quo can last.” He said the threat to the status quo came from “extremists, terrorist and criminal elements in the Sahel region”.
In other words, the arrival of the French in Mali could well be the beginning of link-ups across the oil and mineral rich regions stretching from Sudan across Chad, Niger, Mali, Mauritania and Western Sahara where the Polisario movement will derive strength from the reverberations. The Moroccan monarchy will watch with anxiety how direct French intervention in the region will affect Rabat’s claims on Western Sahara. The Polisario, with support from Algeria, also has claims on this strategic stretch. Christopher Ross will obviously give the status quo some movement.
There were a dozen reasons why Gaddafi had to be killed. One of these was the Libyan strongman’s extensive influence in all of Africa.
The United States launched its war on terror in Afghanistan in November 2001. The targets were Al Qaeda and its Taliban affiliates. Eleven years on, Islamic terror is striking at American troops in what is called Green on Blue or insider attacks.
The secular, efficient dictatorship of Saddam Hussein was destroyed and “Islamism” took over, including its terrorist variants. Likewise, Libyan secularism was replaced by the kind of extremism which resulted in the US ambassador being assassinated in Benghazi. Meanwhile, howls of protest are coming from the direction of those earlier opposed to the Assad regime in Syria and who now see Al Nusra, an Al Qaeda affiliate, gaining the upper hand among Syrian opposition.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is all over Yemen, mutating as Al Shabab in Somalia. There already is Boko Haram in Nigeria linking up with Ansar Dine in Mali.
In the Mali chaos no one is talking about the 15 monuments destroyed in Timbuktu, vandalism on a scale reminiscent of the Bamiyan Buddhas or even the looting of the great museum of Baghdad.
In the near future, there will be a line along the Sahel which will divide Africa into Muslim North and Christian South, with adjustments here and there. First, the Darfur model may be tried: bring Arab Muslims and African Muslims into conflict. Toss in the hundreds of tribes on both side of the religious divide, and there will be enough confusion to distract the Chinese who have stolen a march on all the others who are looking for Africa’s mineral wealth.