As conflict in Mali continues, I admittedly find myself knowing very little about it.
What exactly is happening? What other forces are at play? Before it all happened, how did I miss all the tell-tale signs of conflict: rising fundamentalism, sharpened ethno-religious boundaries, the rise of armed groups, ongoing political instability, and even mention of “Al Qaeda”?
After reading an article in Foreign Policy , criticizing the latest slew of analyses of the conflict as “amateur hour“, I noticed (and was even comforted) that I am not necessarily wallowing in ignorance alone.
I decided to access my peers for some help, a bit of discussion, and even a little bit of debate on the matter. This was what I found:
Is it Neo-Colonialism?
Some of my peers in conflict studies in Europe point out that this resembles neo-colonialism. According to an article in the Vatican Insider:
While the Catholic Church in Mali welcomed the arrival of troops from Paris, today one of the region’s ecclesiastical leaders, the Archbishop of Accra (Ghana’s capital), Mgr. Charles Palmer-Buckle strongly criticised France’s intervention. “I am disappointed by western powers – the prelate said in an interview with Vatican Radio -.At the moment, for example, there’s France which is busy with its efforts in Mali. My question is: what it the real point of France’s military intervention right now? Is this another colonisation attempt? …When I see other European countries intervening, when it is decided for example that no more financial aid is to be given to this country, that they will not go ahead with certain interventions, I ask myself: are they simply intervening to combat this crisis or in order to create a much more difficult situation of even greater dependence on Europe?”
Is it about the resources?
On the other hand, this notion received a bit of revision from David Jackson, a schoolmate at my undergrad who spent 4 years in Mali (3 years with the U.S. Peace Corps. and 1 year with USAID), now a specialist in West African affairs, matter.
I think if I’ve learned anything from the conflict in Mali is that: it is truly sad that the world as a whole (especially the US) only seems to care about and is willing to intervene only when there is something to gain. Despite what anyone says, Mali is very resources poor. Yes, there’s some gold and minerals but it is exploited by foreign entities and the country has little to show for it – just a few MP’s with fancy cars and multiple estates. Now that the country seems to be in serious threat of real regional destabilization people somewhat care. Had there been oil in Mali, I think you would have seen an intervention a lot sooner probably before the Islamists entered the picture.
Should we be making this a War on Terror… again?
Another peer pointed out an editorial in The Guardian stating that intervention protracts the negative effects of the “war on terror“.
The French bombing of Mali, perhaps to include some form of US participation, illustrates every lesson of western intervention. The “war on terror” is a self-perpetuating war precisely because it endlessly engenders its own enemies and provides the fuel to ensure that the fire rages without end. But the sloganeering propaganda used to justify this is so cheap and easy – we must kill the Terrorists! – that it’s hard to see what will finally cause this to end. The blinding fear – not just of violence, but of Otherness – that has been successfully implanted in the minds of many western citizens is such that this single, empty word (Terrorists), standing alone, is sufficient to generate unquestioning support for whatever their governments do in its name, no matter how secret or unaccompanied by evidence it may be.
Another conflict studies peer mentions the role of the U.S. and the difficulties of waging a full scale “war on terror”
… the US and the Western powers seek more to contain the perceived terrorist threat than to be capable of eliminating it. The term terrorist is very vague and can be applied to anyone resisting western meddling in their country. And moreover the Al Qaeda organisations do not limit themselves to one country, they spanned their influences from Morocco all the way to Pakistan. No country is willing to fully commit means and manpower to such a vast territory. So containment and elimination of key figures are their tactic.
A silver lining?
The intervention is unanimously backed by the consensus of the UN Security Counsel, and so far the tactical advance has been relatively successful. At the end of the day, could this be deemed as a legitimate use of force?
David Jackson again:
This is the first time I’ve seen an ex-colonial power intervene and genuinely do some good. They have so far done the intervention right by almost all standards. They were invited, they put boots on the ground rather than just send in planes and drones, they put a sizable force in place, and they have worked hard to shore up more troops from neighboring countries (Africa needs to own their own problems – and I think they want to too, assuming they have the supplies and training).
All in all, this is a very bizarre war. What started as a legitimate struggle for independence by a marginalized group in society has been piggy-backed and taken over by near-colonialists; but this time they are Islamist fundamentalists. Colonizing a country of fairly devout Muslims and installing their own strict and highly foreign laws they have further alienated themselves from their so-called Muslims brothers (in most cases). The French on the other hand, old colonialists are the ones defending Mali’s independence. Besides a safer region and protecting their partners in Senegal’s and Cote d’Ivoire’s interest, they really don’t gain much from Mali.
For a rudimentary yet comprehensive run down on the Mali conflict, check out: Mali: A Guide to the Conflict. [The Guardian]