BEYOND THE COAST
Most readers may not be familiar with Mali, a landlocked country in interior Western Africa, twice the size of Texas, divided into three natural zones; the Southern, cultivated Sudanese area; the Central semiarid Sahelian; and the Northern, arid Saharan. It is located to the southwest of Algeria, north of Guinea, Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso, east of Mauretania and west of Niger.
It is important to note the history of Mali in order to grasp the importance of what is going on and what it means to future problems in the region caused by the radical Islamist Al-Qaida terrorists.
The Sudanese Republic and Senegal became independent of France in 1960, as the Mali Federation. Senegal withdrew from the Federation after only a few months and what formerly made up the Sudanese Republic was re-named Mali. Until 1991, the country was ruled by a dictatorship when a military coup brought in an era of democratic rule. From 1992 to 2007, two different Presidents were elected by what were widely recognized as “fair” elections. In March of 2012, a military coup overthrew the legitimate President, claiming that the government was not adequately supporting the Malian army’s fight against an advancing Tuareg rebellion in the North. Tuaregs are a nomadic ethnic group who for many years have been trying to gain independence and were supported by arms and funds coming from Khadafi of Libya. After Khadafi was deposed by western powers and executed by his own people; the Al-Qaida elements from Libya moved into Mali through southern Libya via Algeria bringing with them Khadafi’s weapons. The Tuaregs were soon taken over by their so called “allies”; a local Islamist movement called the “Ansar Dine” (Defenders of the Faith) which is allied with Al Qaida. Ansar Dine now controls the region, in alliance with another radical Islamic splinter group, the MUJAO, or the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa! Furthermore, the presence of “Al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)” another very significant terrorist organization in the area, helped spread the radical Islamists movement’s wings all over Mali.
I have been following the events taking place in this locally significant yet internationally little known country since the demise of Khadafi in Libya. The brutal killing of our Ambassador to Libya in the city of Benghazi on September 11, 2012, by Al-Qaida terrorists increased my natural curiosity to look into what may be the next flash point in Africa which involves Al-Qaida or one of their related terror groups.
In September I read with disgust news accounts of a young couple in the city of Aguelhok who were accused of having children out of wedlock being brought to the town square by the local Al Qaida operatives imposing Shariah Law and stoned to death as 300 or so people from the town were forced to watch in horror.
In mid-September, I read the news accounts of the Radical Islamists extending their campaign of harsh Shariah law by amputating the hands and feet of four young men they accused of robbery in the main street at Gao, a principal town in the region.
Al-Qaida opened the previously closed schools in the North, with girls covered in Islamic fashion and seated in the back of the classrooms separated from the boys.
Lately, in the Taliban of Afghanistan fashion, the Islamists started to destroy shrines and tombs of Muslim saints in the region of Timbuktu. The Islamists claim that the shrines respected by local people and declared part of the world’s heritage by the United Nations, are “haram,” or forbidden in Islam.
To make things even more complicated, since last year, the region has been experiencing severe food shortages, drought and nutritional crisis. This is the third hunger crisis to hit the region in less than 10 years. Officials say more than 18 million people are experiencing hunger, including more than 1 million children. Mali, Mauritania, and Chad are the countries hardest hit.
Western and African political leaders have issued calls for a military intervention in Mali. Several world leaders stressed that parts of Mali were under rebel control and are serving as a haven for terror groups connected to Al-Qaida.
On the other hand, aid officials have warned that any armed intervention would actually make the situation worse and turn it into a huge humanitarian crisis.
“Any intensification of conflict could make it even more difficult for communities to access the aid they need,” said Mamadou Biteye, Oxfam’s West Africa regional director. “There is a major risk that military operations in northern Mali would make an already fragile humanitarian situation much worse.”
In response, the President of France, François Hollande, told the meeting of the world leaders at the U.N. earlier this month “When a territory as large as France is being occupied by terrorist groups … you have a threat which concerns the world as a whole.” He called for the U.N. Security Council to adopt a new resolution authorizing the deployment of a West African military force in Mali.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton added: “Now, with a larger safe haven and increased freedom to maneuver, terrorists are seeking to extend their reach and their networks in multiple directions. This is not only a humanitarian crisis; it is a powder keg that the international community cannot afford to ignore.”
Earlier this year, the Economic Community of West African States and the African Union made a joint request for the U.N. to support a regional military force in Mali. In response, the Security Council issued a “resolution” in July that condemned the March coup and called for a “roadmap” for the restoration of state authority throughout the country. That does not give me any hope or comfort that something is going to be achieved by issuing yet another meaningless and powerless UN resolution!
In light of all the above and many more incidents I have been following, I am convinced that Al Qaida and the radical Islamic movements are on the march in northern Africa and are looking for weak spots to attack, take over and grow. The leadership crisis in the countries of the Arab Spring, Muslim Brotherhood’s takeover of Egypt, the crisis in Syria, Iran’s getting ever closer to a nuclear weapon, Turkey’s radical shift to returning to an Islamist Republic and the U.S. Government’s seeming abandonment of Israel, our only ally in the region are all playing into the hands of the Radical Islamist Movement and creating a powder keg environment waiting for a spark to go off in the Middle East and Northern Africa very soon.
I am worried…