Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan-African News Wire, served as Master of Ceremonies at the Doctors4Detroit public meeting on July 8, 2011. The event was held at the U-M Detroit Center. (Photo: Andrea Egypt), a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Imperialism and the Political Crisis in Mali: Is Foreign Intervention Possible?
Junta leader requests assistance in defeating secessionist movement, Islamists in the north
By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
On April 5 the leader of the Mali coup appealed to the “international community” for help in reversing the military gains made by the Movement for the National Liberation of Azawad (MNLA). The following day on April 6 the MNLA declared itself independent of the government based in Bamako in the south of the country.
The crisis in Mali reached a critical level when junior military officers headed by Amadou Sanogo staged a mutiny and seized political power on March 21-22. Since this take over by the National Committee for the Restoration of Democracy and the State (CNRDR), the usurpation of authority in Bamako from former President Amadou Toumani Toure has been met with regional and international condemnation.
Although the CNRDR said that the junior officers took action because of the failure of the central government to effectively halt the encroachment of the MNLA and the Ansar Dine Islamists in the north, after the putsch additional cities fell to the Azawad secessionists making a declaration of liberation from the rest of the country inevitable.
Capt. Sanogo has had close ties with the United States military through the Pentagon’s “anti-terrorism” training programs and joint military exercises with the Malian army. The U.S. has viewed the Mali government as an important partner in its renewed effort to increase its influence over large sections of the African continent under the guise of working with these states to assist in providing security and stability.
On April 5 Capt. Sanogo granted interviews to the French dailies Le Monde and Liberation indicating that his CNRDR regime would need assistance in regaining control over the areas seized by the MNLA and Ansar Dine. Both of these organizations are based among the Tuareg people of the north of Mali who have historically been marginalized from the political dispensation of the post-independence period.
According to Capt. Sanogo, “If the great powers are bale to cross oceans to battle fundamentalist structures in Afghanistan, what’s stopping them coming to us? Our committee wants the best for the country.”
Sanogo went on to say that “The enemy is known and it is not in Bamako. If a force was to intervene it would have to do so in the north.”
In raising the specter of an Islamist take over in the north, the coup leader is attempting to provide the rationale for western military intervention. In efforts aimed at appeasing both the regional Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the former French colonial powers along with the White House, Sanogo has voluntarily agreed to hand over power to a civilian interim government.
This sudden willingness to step down is related to the sanctions imposed on the country through ECOWAS which had closed the borders of the landlocked country and froze Malian assets through the regional central bank. Both France and the U.S. have threatened to suspend aid to the CNRDR consequently choking off the regime from much needed monetary, technical and military support, at least for the time-being.
Nonetheless, with the interests of the U.S. and France being very much tied to the political developments on the African continent, the references by Sanogo to the threat of Islamic rule in West Africa resonates in ruling circles in the imperialist states. Compounding this tendency toward greater Pentagon and NATO intervention in Africa, there are already military relationships between several North and West African states with the governments of Western Europe and North America.
Sanogo emphasized that “Today, it’s no longer a simple rebellion. It is Islamist groups basing themselves in the north of the country. If Mali is left alone to face this problem, Africa and the world will face the consequences.”
Regional Responses to the Mali Situation
Most observers of African affairs agree that the U.S.-NATO war against Libya that began in March 2011 resulted in massive dislocation and political instability in various neighboring states. Many Tuareg fighters had been aligned with the Libyan Jamahiriya under the former leader Muammar Gaddafi.
These veterans of the Libyan loyalist resistance re-entered northern Mali in late 2011 and bolstered the longtime rebellion in the north of the country. By early 2012 it was obvious that the war in northern Mali had gone beyond anything seen since the independence of the former French colony in 1960.
The Tuareg people are spread out within several West and North African states including Niger, Burkina Faso, northern Nigeria and Algeria. In Mauritania on April 8, a meeting of regional governments revealed the differences of opinion that leaders have in regard to handling the recently proclaimed independence by the MNLA in northern Mali.
Niger stressed that the MNLA rebellion must be put down militarily before any negotiations could take place in relations to the grievances of the Tuareg people. Algeria on the other hand cautioned against outside interference in the internal affairs of Mali.
Mohamed Bazoum, the Foreign Minister of Niger, said in Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania during the regional meeting that “We need to redress the balance of forces on the ground before we can talk about negotiations. We need to organize a confrontation with the terrorist groups. Mali’s north must be cleared of terrorism and it seems to me we have the ideal opportunity.” (Reuters, April 9)
Algeria, the region’s largest political and economic power, articulated through its Delegate Minister for African Affairs, Abdelkader Messahel, that “The solution can only be a political one. It cannot be the result of a military effort which could instead worsen an already complex and precarious situation.” (Reuters, April 9)
This situation is further complicated with the kidnapping of seven Algerian diplomats in Mali which was purportedly carried out by the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO). The group said it “officially claims responsibility for the kidnapping of the Algerian consul and six of his team in Gao,” located in the northeast of Mali.
MUJAO in December had claimed responsibility for the abduction in western Algeria of two Spanish citizens and one Italian humanitarian relief worker. A spokesperson for the MUJAO told journalists that “we are carrying out negotiations with the Spanish and Italian governments.” Reports indicate that the organization is demanding $39 million for the release of the three Europeans.
There was a report on April 8 that the Europeans held by the MUJAO had been released but diplomats in Mauritania at the regional summit on Mali could not confirm this assertion. The MUJAO group is said to be a breakaway faction from the Al-Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) which is fighting in several states in North Africa.
This same organization, MUJAO, claimed responsibility in March for attacks against police officers in Tamanrasset in southern Algeria that resulted in the injuring of 23 people.
International Implications of Further Imperialist Intervention
Although the governments in France and the U.S. have not yet called for direct intervention in Mali, the current situation provides the hallmarks for Pentagon and NATO involvement. Instability in the central government in Mali, a secessionist movement taking control of the north of the country and the presence of Islamist forces in area of conflict as well as throughout the regions of West and North Africa, could very well trigger a direct or indirect presence by the West.
Even though the sanctions imposed by ECOWAS were said to have been lifted, the pro-western regimes of Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso have hinted at the utilization of military action as a last resort to resolving the crisis. On April 9, the Algerian government announced that it was considering closing its borders with Mali and has rejected the MNLA proclamation of independence calling for the maintenance of the territorial integrity of the West African state.
What anti-war and anti-imperialist organizations in the U.S. must consider is that the impact of indirect or direct intervention by the White House in the Malian crisis would certainly lead to more bloodshed and instability. In fact the current political impasse derives from U.S.-NATO war policy in Libya through the destruction of the Gaddafi government and consequent threat of partition in that oil-producing country.
Therefore activists in the U.S. must stress the necessity for the people of Mali in cooperation with regional interests to work out a viable solution to the national question inside that country. Another “humanitarian” interventionist war, like that in Libya, can only breed additional death and destruction and enhance the role and influence of imperialism in Africa.