The French intervention in Mali, announced the other day in response to a request by the Malian government for assistance in fighting off the Al Qaeda-aligned forces in the north, was just another in a long line of tragedies befalling Mali.
The unwillingness or inability of Malian governments to address the concerns of the Touareg/Azawad populations in the northern part of the country resulted in an uprising that the Malian military could not contain. The military then overthrew the government of Mali, yet could do no better in opposing the Touareg/Azawad secessionists. This was followed by another coup of sorts in a different quarter when Al Qaeda-aligned forces ousted the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (which led the initial uprising) and began a reign of terror and destruction in the northern part of the country. In a pattern reminiscent of Afghanistan’s Taliban, the Al Qaeda-aligned forces not only terrorized the population but went about the destruction of some of the most valuable historical and cultural treasures of western Africa.
The Malian war has the potential to destabilize the region, a fact not lost on many of Mali’s neighbors. Yet the solution to this crisis will not be found in France’s intervention. Instead this intervention has the potential of worsening the situation by turning the civil war into what many may perceive as a war against a foreign (French) threat.
Mali desperately needs the political intervention of West African states and the African Union in order to advance a process of reconciliation. West African troops may need to be stationed in the country at some point as a stabilizing force.
At present the Malian government in Bamako lacks credibility as a democratic force. It is quite the opposite. For this reason blanket support for the Bamako regime ignores both democratic opposition as well as the legitimate concerns of the Touareg/Azawad peoples.
The fragile state of democratic rule in Africa allows for openings from right-wing Islamists, such as the Al Qaeda in the Maghreb; criminal gangs, as in Guinea-Bissau (which undermined the dreams and aspirations of a people who successfully fought Portuguese colonialism, by the way); as well as Western imperial powers (as in the NATO intervention in Libya and now the French intervention in Mali). Again and again this points to the need for popular movements for social transformation that insist upon more than democratic elections but insist on addressing the myriad of concerns that have eaten away at the Continent.
The tragedies playing out in Mali rip away at the hearts and souls of millions.