Billet de blog 29 mars 2012

Collateral Damage

"The criminal and chaotic situation in Mali, today, is a direct result of NATO’s intervention in Libya to overthrow Gaddafi," writes Manthia Diawara, director of Institute of African American Affairs, (IAAA), at New York University.

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"The criminal and chaotic situation in Mali, today, is a direct result of NATO’s intervention in Libya to overthrow Gaddafi," writes Manthia Diawara, director of Institute of African American Affairs, (IAAA), at New York University.

The criminal and chaotic situation in Mali, today, is a direct result of NATO’s intervention in Libya to overthrow Gaddafi.  In the wake of the Arab Spring, many of us were in favor of removing Muammar Gaddafi from power to open another door to the winds of democracy blowing in the region.  Most urgently, we wanted to see an end to the humanitarian disaster provoked by the regime in Tripoli, by throwing boats full of African immigrants to the sea; and to stop the impending massacre of the population of Benghazi threatened by the narcoleptic dictator.

At that time, Presidents Obama and Sarkozy, with the help of France’s own media-savvy intellectual, Bernard Henri Levy, (BHL), had concocted a narrative, well packaged for our consumption, in which the Libyan strong man, like Sadam Hussein, or Hitler, was described as capable of committing unprecedented crimes against humanity; and the National Transitional Council (NTC) as only motivated by their passion for democracy.  

Thus, the invasion of Libya was clinically executed from the air by NATO planes, to the greatest relief of the majority of the United Nations members and all those who believed that a democratic change in the Arab world in general, and Libya in particular, will safeguard the world against terrorism, gender inequality, anti-Semitism and racism against Blacks.

Today, I am not writing about these clichés, racist and islamophobic sound bites that are often embedded in narratives whose true motifs tromp democracy and humanitarian concerns for cold neoliberal economic plans.  

How else would one explain the situation of poor Mali, defenseless with its archaic tanks and machine guns pitted against the soldiers of the former Gaddafi army and their sophisticated weaponery.  As the Malian army retreats, the rebel army moves in one town after another, cutting the throats of soldiers and civilian population; destroying everything in their way; and creating panic among the populations of Gao and Timbuctu, which lie ahead of them.  More than 250,000 civilians have fled these towns and nomadic settlements, to seek refuge in neighboring countries such as Mauretania, Burkina Faso, Algeria and Niger.  The populations of Agelhok, Goundam and Tessalit in Northern Mali have suffered the horrific crimes that NATO forces had prevented Gaddafi’s forces from committing in Benghazi. 

Additionally, Northern Mali, after the fall of Timbuctu and Gao, will soon become an unchallenged haven for radical Islamist groups such as Aqmi, Al Qaeda and Ansardine, all intent on imposing the Sharia law from Algeria to Mali, Mauretania, Niger, Nigeria, Tchad and Sudan.  Another major threat to the region is the drug trade, transiting in the Sahara desert, on its way to Spain, France and Italy.

The defeat of the Malian army in the North has created a national discontent with a weakened and humiliated regime in Bamako that was considered by many as one of the beacons of democracy in West Africa.  President Amadou Toumani Toure (ATT) has now been exposed as a weak leader, always seeking consensus and never acting decisively to combat corruption, or to draw the line on how far he was willing to give in to the demands of the Tuaregs in the North. ATT was also accused of undermining the democratic institutions by always caving in to the demands of demagogic religious leaders who were opposed, in the name of Islam and tradition, to the constitutional amendment for equality between men and women. 

Faced with this general discontent, wounded pride and anger directed at the President, a junta made up of junior officers has seized power, like bank robbers taking advantage of a black out to put their plan into execution.   The Coup seems more ironic, not to say ridiculous, given that, on the one hand, the disarray in Bamako, the capital city, sends a strong signal to the rebels that they are winning the war; and on the other hand, the presidential elections are only one month away, and ATT has reached the end of his last term in office.  

As hard as it is to take a Coup d’état seriously nowadays in Africa, the silence of Obama, Sarkozy and BHL over Gaddafi’s former soldiers in Northern Mali, side by side with members of Qaeda, Aqmi, Ansardine and narco-trafickers seems even more unfathomable.  The fact that Gaddafi’s former intelligence Chief, Abdullah al-Senussi, was recently arrested, with a Malian passport, in Mauretania, is an indication that NATO and the Libyan National Transitional Council did not complete the job in Libya; they just deterritorialized it and made it the problem for Mali today, and soon for Niger, Mauretania and Niger.  It is a déjà vu of another American and NATO botched job, with which we’re all familiar.  Some would even say that it is the logic of neoliberalism: follow the money and don’t get bogged down with moral imperatives.

Now, with the Coup d’Etat in full gear and the radical religious groups in control of the North, the usual suspects are lining up with their condemnations of the Coup, their desire for a peaceful negotiation of the conflict in the north, and the return to constitutional order in Mali.  We’re familiar with this narrative, too, from the UN, the US, the EU, and the AU.  Likewise, no one will be surprised if they fell on deaf ears among the junta in Bamako and the Qaeda and Aqmi in the North.  

The populations in Bamako and elsewhere are in shock, and their only reaction, so far, has been to take cover and protect their properties—cars and goods—from the soldiers turned looters.   It is clear therefore that the Malians’ discontent with their democratically elected President is not matched by a show of support for the Coup makers.  In fact, it has been hard for many Malians, who had thought that their country had gone past an army take-over of power, to wake up for the last three days and find that their country has regressed more than twenty years back. 

So, I dare predict the imminent collapse of this Coup, like the end of a nightmare that people have awaken from.  By next week, if civil servants in Mali stay at home and refuse to collaborate with the junta, and if the neighboring countries shut their doors to members and emissaries of the impostors, then I do not think that they will last long.    On the contrary, I see them retreating to their barracks, soon after they have finished looting public and private properties. 

As for the Northern question, clearly the Tuaregs deserve a lasting solution to their plight.  Successive Malian governments have attempted to sweep under the carpet their demands for equal rights, better education and better infrastructures.  Now they have returned from Libya, better equipped with an army, comprising of Tuaregs from Mali, Mauritania, and Niger, and radical Islamists and renegades from Libya and Algeria.

They are now too strong for any Malian army to deal with, single handedly.  With the elections coming in France and the United States, it is also hard to believe that Sarkozy or Obama will get too heavily involved in this far removed conflict.  It would seem that Mali’s best option, toward the Northern question, remains a regional one, with Algeria and Nigeria playing the leadership roles, either in negotiation or war.  This Coup could not have come at a worst time.  

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