Ah world. Coming on two years of the Syrian conflict where the West has seen fit to hide behind the bloodied garb of many a dramatically out-gunned baker-turned-freedom fighter, we see a variety of nations, primarily the French, whetting their blades on the desert stones of Mali. Or in the case of France, unleashing murderous hellfire from the skies on droves of unwitting and largely indoctrinated soldiers of misfortune.
I don’t think for a second that more than a small proportion of either Ansar Dine or the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa are clerical madmen, bent on a totalitarian future of oppressive sharia law. Most are likely woefully ill-educated young men emanating from the inhospitable parts of their world where nothing better was ever offered to them other than the corrupt promises of a few manipulators.
So stifle that triumphant cry when you read about the next few scores of rebels being incinerated in half a blink of the eye. It’s ultimately just as tragic as the horrors unleashed upon the people of northern Mali under the influence of sharia law in this past year, the circumstances leading to which were equally tragic. This whole thing simply has tragedy written all over it.
Wresting free of nearly a hundred years of French colonialism in 1960, Mali has endured as unsteady a time as most formally colonial African countries. Coups, corruption and the search for a nation state identity, despite the nation state being a wholly unnatural and imposed system in Africa, prevent the kind of polite stability we rather easily criticise them for not possessing. Indeed, how very dare they force us to suppress our own guilt reflex for not fixing the deep problems we laid down.
The present conflict is entirely rooted in Western imposition upon the continent. Ever wondered how a vast and vastly ethnically diverse land ended up having so many neat and geometric borders? That would be the result of so many politicians and cartographers, wanting a pretty picture and clear lines for the new imperial order, paying not a jot of attention to the specific matters of tribal distribution, conflicting cultures and historic regions.
Thus the nomadic Tuareg people end up being the dispossessed and unwelcome feature of these new states where once they mastered there own lives in the huge expanses of the Sahara. And it so happens that a major area of their inhabitance was the historical territory of Azawad, now perhaps more commonly known as more than half of the modern Malian state. There have been multiple rebellions in the past century for a degree of autonomy for these distinct peoples.
The current uprising is the result of the existing domestic sentiment for independence, combined with the fallout of the end of the Gadaffi regime, from which Tuareg fighters returned with arms to their home regions. Certainly by October 2011, these elements had combined to form the secular National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad and by March 2012 had made significant gains across northern Mali.
Exactly at what point Ansar Dine splintered from the NMLA, or became an entity in its own right, is unclear. But also in March 2012 they were making separate claims of territorial expansion in the name of imposing sharia law, and were soon joined in this mission by the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MOJWA). By April these Islamist factions, initially with the NMLA, had driven government forces from northern Mali but shortly after were in open conflict against the NMLA as well. The secular independence movement has taken a back foot.
Enter the French. At this point, it is probably a good thing that they have intervened, as the Islamist factions were becoming rampant and their system of rule could best be described as barbaric. The lurching UN-backed intervention could have come to fruition too late, but let’s not hail the French as selfless defenders of Malian peace and prosperity against some monolithic cloud of tyranny. They carry a responsibility to act and have enough interests in their former colony worth protecting.
Hollande does deserve a mention. Disdain for his economic policies aside, he has been curiously willing to get stuck into the variety of spats that have developed around Africa and the Mediterranean since coming to power. Perhaps after Sarkozy was so quick to jump on the arguably successful Libyan intervention, he doesn’t want to appear hesitant. France under Hollande was one of the first nations to recognise the formal opposition in Syria and we have also seen some dramatic activity by French forces in Somalia.
Swings and roundabouts. But after a decade of highly unsuccessful American bravado it is more than peculiar to see a far smaller European nation unilaterally flaunting its stuff. I suspect that, under Obama, America has been considerably less willing to stick its neck out and the door has been opened for others to be “heroic”. Or rather, others must now deal with the type of mess these smaller nations have typically gone pleading to America to deal with.