Algeria in red, Mali in green

6: The French intervention

According to THEMEPARKTOUR.COM, ECOWA’s intervention in Mali was scheduled to take place in early September 2013 – for several reasons. They wanted to secure international financial support. They wanted a political process with Ansar to split them from AQIM and MOJWA , and they also needed a government partner in Bamako with a popular mandate and a reorganized Malian army as a military partner. None of this is yet in place, and that means that France is also playing a high game here. Right now, it seems that most Malaysians accept and support the French intervention, but public opinion can quickly turn around if the conflict drags on in time with significant loss of civilian life.

French President Hollande may have felt he had to draw a line somewhere. When the rebels went over it and Bamako asked for help, he had hardly any choice. He had to deploy French forces to quickly stem the new offensive. Otherwise new areas would fall under their control and the chaos would just spread. In its ultimate consequence, the area could become a stronghold and growth area for international terrorists in their holy war against the West. Hollande may be right in this and his choices thus seemed somewhat limited. Nevertheless, it does not remove the element of uncertainty that an international intervention in Mali is now underway. And it is ongoing even though the political situation in Mali is unresolved with internal strife between various political and military elites.

In the worst case, both Ansar and France have embarked on a very high game. Through their actions and responses to them, they have effectively limited their options for action and shattered the political process that ECOWAS had started. Thus, the ground may be prepared for a longer war that will not only have dramatic consequences for Mali, but may also threaten neighboring countries.

What happened in In Amènas illustrates this. This attack is hardly directly linked to either the French intervention in Mali or the conflict in northern Mali. But it shows what can happen when different conflicts are linked and states lose control of parts of their territory. For a smart entrepreneur like Belmokthar, this should be a wishful thinking position. Now he could seriously expand his business empire, but that did not happen.

In the new situation that has arisen, religion and strict orthodoxy became more important than being a hub in various illegal trade networks. It appears that Belmokthar was simply asked to leave AQIM. It was after this that he formed the Masked Brigade . It is therefore possible that we should understand the attack on the In-Aménas facility not only as an action against Algeria, France and the West. It can also be seen as part of a power struggle within the Islamist movements in the area.

In any case, this action shows that the aftermath of the Algerian civil war is not over. They have had destabilizing effects in neighboring Mali and in other parts of North Africa (such as Chad). With the In Aménas campaign, the circle seems to have closed for Belmokthar; he’s back where it all started in the 1990s. As then, it also now ended in a tragedy for innocent third parties.

7: What now – what intervention?

At best, France’s entry into the conflict means that Ansar Dine sees that their only way out is through negotiations and compromises. First with the MNLA to create a new and united Tuareg front that can negotiate with the Malian state both on internal self-government
(autonomy) and economic development aid to northern Mali.

The problem is that we are facing a situation where warfare as well as the rhetoric of warfare mutually reinforce each other and help to reduce the options for action. If Mali is lucky, the fighting could soon end in negotiations that include Ansar and thus effectively separate this organization from AQIM and MOJWA. If we look at Mali’s history, it is unfortunately clear that luck combined with a far-sighted political leadership that puts the interests of the population first, is not something this country has had much of before.

Negotiations are therefore still an option, but much will depend on how the international response is designed. Britain wants to get involved, and an EU operation is on the way to provide technical assistance to the West African ECOWAS forces heading into Mali to help the government army. The question is whether this international response will primarily hunt down Belmokthar and other Islamist rebels in the desert. Or will this be an operation that takes over animal-bought experiences from Afghanistan? The latter will mean that one understands that a final military victory is not possible .

There is therefore a need for a broad-spectrum pragmatic approach where ownership is rooted in the region. This means that political, economic and social instruments must have priority over the military. However, this is not a situation that can only be resolved politically. There is a need for military means, but they must be subordinated to the political process. There, it is crucial to bring about a return to democratic rule and negotiations with both Islamist and more secular Tuareg groups. If this becomes the design of the international intervention, it could be the start of a more lasting solution in Mali. If, on the other hand, the intervention is a pure hunt for terrorists, it will not solve the problem in the long run, but possibly create an even more destructive conflict.

Facts about Mali

  • Population: approx. 15.5 million inhabitants
  • Area content: 1.24 million km2 – Azawad approx. 60% of this
  • Median age:9 years
  • Annual population growth: 3.02 percent
  • Urbanization rate: 36%
  • Literacy among those over 15 years: 31%, M: 43, K: 20
  • Child mortality: 109 per 1000 live births
  • Life expectancy: 53 years
  • Religion: Muslims 90%, Christians 1 and traditional 9
  • Ethnic composition: Men 50%, Peul 17, Voltaic 12, Songhai 6, Tuareg and moor overall 10, others 5%
  • Official language:French, bambara used by 80%
  • Persistent drought in recent decades has caused many Tuaregs to give up nomadic life, partly because many Tuaregs live in the outskirts of central Mali in the south, they have long felt neglected in Malian society (but how much does one of the world’s poorest states have to benefits?).

Algeria in red, Mali in green