Is France Prepared to Fight in a Hostile Environment?

Is France Prepared to Fight in a Hostile Environment?

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From France 24:

Demonstrators stormed an airport runway in northern Mali on Monday to protest against arrests by French forces of people suspected of links to Islamist militants who operate in the region, local officials and witnesses said.

Security forces fired warning shots and teargas to deter the mostly female protesters in the town of Kidal who also ransacked and set fire to airport facilities, said a local official, witnesses and the U.N. mission in Mali, MINUSMA.

The protests appear to mark a deterioration in relations between foreign forces and the local community in Kidal, a town at the centre of a separatist movement and violence by Islamist militants, some of whom are linked to al Qaeda.

One person died and six were injured, said Ahmoudane Ag Ikmasse, who represents Kidal in the national assembly. Ikmasse said he was in the capital Bamako but was in contact with people in Kidal.

A doctor in Kidal’s health centre said two died from gunshot wounds.

When France started its military intervention in January 2013, it was greeted as a liberator by southern Malians and parts of the northern population. But France has not been able to resolve the political conflicts within Malian society and instead concentrated on hunting down members of terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

France’s strategy has been described as “permission to kill” suspects without any transparency why certain individuals were designated as targets. Unfortunately for the French forces, AQIM’s and other terrorist organizational structures overlap considerably with purely criminal endeavors, primarily large-scale smuggling of narcotics and contraband within the wider region. Smuggling in turn, while also a contributor to AQIM’s finances, is widely accepted among the local population as a normal way to make a living, with few other economic opportunities available.

Under these circumstances, it is almost assured that France’s aggressive anti-terrorism operation results in a lot of people perceived as innocent either in body bags or in prisoners after pre-dawn raids.  With political tensions complicating the picture, France’s position vis à vis the local population will become ever more precarious and other international forces, like the U.N. and E.U. missions, are liable to become swept up in the anti-French sentiment.

So if France so far wasn’t even able to limit the activities of isolated groups like AQIM, how will the international presence fare if large parts of the population especially in northern Mali turn hostile?

These Are the Wars That Will Rage in Africa in 2016 – Violent conflict remains in clusters while the continent grows more peaceful

With the exception of Syria, African countries currently get the worst rep when it comes to violence and conflict. Virtually every story coming out of the continent seems to showcase one atrocity or another.

This narrative is both true and false. In 2014, Africa experienced more than half of worldwide conflict incidents, despite having only about 16 percent of the world population. This is a slightly larger share of the world’s conflicts than even during the chaotic years of the post-Cold War 1990s.

But there are two important caveats…

Read more on War is Boring.

Gatia takes control of Méneka from MNLA

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A reminder that the civil war in Mali has by no means been resolved until now:

Le Groupe autodéfense touareg Imghad et alliés (Gatia) – proche du pouvoir malien – a pris lundi le contrôle de Ménaka, dans le nord du Mali, selon l’AFP. Une localité jusqu’ici partiellement entre les mains de la rébellion.

Source: Mali : le Gatia prend le contrôle de Ménaka | Jeuneafrique.com

Lessons on migration

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Very interesting and personal perspective on economic motivations for migration from Africa to Europe in a post by Bruce Whitehouse about a Malian friend of his:

Last year he started talking about emigrating. “I want to leave because there is nothing here. I want to find another country where I can have some money. I’m tired of asking others for help,” he said. He thought about applying for a US visa. He thought about Equatorial Guinea, where he knew someone who had apparently made good money. In the end he decided on Libya, where a friend was working as a carpenter. I warned him not to go. I told him what I’d heard about political instability, armed violence and exploitation of African migrants there. None of it mattered: Lamine bought a bus ticket to Niger, and from there made his way north across the Sahara.

For me the story of Lamine is again confirming that poverty and an absence of hope for the future can be just as powerful as a motivation for people to migrate as war and persecution. And that migrants make very deliberate and well informed choices about the risks they are willing to take.

Source: Desperate for a way out | Bridges from Bamako

War is Boring: Africa Round-Up

Mali

There hasn’t been much of a change in the overall situation during the last weeks: the northern half of Mali — an area about the size of France — is occupied by a range of rebel groups. While neighboring states and the international community are deeply concerned over the Islamist policies of some of these groups, the Malian state has proven to be incapable to act, due to a coup d’etat which send the government into a deep crisis.

There is a lot of confusion and uncertainty about what lies ahead. The regional organization ECOWAS and especially its member Niger would like to send an intervention force to set things straight in the north and south. […]

Read the rest of the Round-Up on Mali, the DR Congo, Côte d’Ivoire and Somalia over at WarisBoring.com!

War is Boring: Africa Round Up

DR Congo
The eastern Congo is about to enter a new cycle of violence. The rebels of the new organisation “M23” only control a limited area so far, but reportedly get stronger by the day. M23 is the result of the mutiny of several army units around Easter. These units were part of a former rebel group, the CNDP, which was officially disbanded and integrated into the army in 2009.

As a reaction on the limited success of operations against the mutineers the army is concentrating more and more forces in the area surrounding the rebel strongholds on the border with Rwanda. But this leaves other areas in the vast and inaccessible east bereft of security forces. In these areas violence by ethnic militias against civilians is on the rise andseveral thousand people have fled already in fear of atrocities. […]

Read more on the DR Congo, Mali, Nigeria and Côte d’Ivoire over at War is Boring!

World Politics Review: As Crisis Gathers, Northern Mali Needs More Than Just Military Intervention

Mali Azawad rebellion fr
Since April, when two Tuareg rebel groups drove government forces out of northern Mali, the situation in the sparsely populated region has steadily worsened. The lightning advance of the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad (MNLA), which seeks independence for the Tuareg homeland, and Ansar Dine, which has an Islamist agenda, triggered a coup of disgruntled junior officers against President Amadou Toumai Touré, with the resulting political instability in Bamako leaving the army incapacitated and the rebels the effective rulers of roughly half the country’s territory.

Though the two groups worked together to launch the rebellion, Ansar Dine has gradually taken the upper hand. The MNLA suffers from a lack of fighters and weapons, while Ansar Dine benefits from the support of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which has formally put all its fighters and resources at the command of Ansar Dine leader Iyad Ag Ghali. The Islamist group has now taken control of most of the rebel-occupied towns and begun to enforce orthodox Sharia law, destroying establishments serving alcohol and Islamic shrines not conforming to orthodox practices. […]

Read the rest at the World Politics Review!

War is Boring: Africa Roundup (Congo, Mali, Mauritania, Guinea-Bissau)

Fighters of the MNLA in Mali. Photo via Maghrebia on Flickr.

The latest installment of my regular Africa conflict roundup for warisboring.com

Congo

A large-scale mutiny-come-rebellion rocks the eastern part of the Democratic Replublic of Congo since Easter. Never the most peaceful of places, the situation in the Kivu provinces bordering Rwanda escalated, when army general Bosco “The Terminator” Ntaganda decided to defect from his position.

Ntaganda is searched for by the International Criminal Court on charges of crimes against humanity. (The ICC recently sentenced Ntaganda’s former superior Thomas Lubanga in a related case.) A military commander of a powerful rebel group, the CNDP, Ntaganda protected himself from prosecution by leading an internal coup against CNDP leader Laurent Nkunda and bringing the CNDP into the fold of the government. This deal — in which Rwanda played an important part — gave Ntaganda the highest army command in the Kivus and didn’t touch the CNDP structures, which persisted in parrallel to the normal chain of command. […]

Read more on the current situation in the DR Congo, Mali, Mauritania and Guinea-Bissau here.

World Politics Review: The Origins and Consequences of Tuareg Nationalism

World Politics Review has brought out a new special on “peoples without borders”. They look at Kurdish, Basque and Tuareg minorities in their respective countries, and I am happy to tell you that I contributed a feature article on Tuareg nationalism for the issue:

At the beginning of April, after a loose coalition of Tuareg rebel groups forced the Malian army to abandon Timbuktu, one of the armed factions involved in the fighting didn’t lose much time in announcing its ultimate objective: “We, the people of Azawad declare irrevocably the independence of the state of Azawad,”read the communiqué issued by the National Liberation Movement of Azawad — known by its French acronym, MNLA — five days after the ancient city fell.

The bold declaration is of course mostly wishful thinking. No state or international organization has recognized the independence of Azawad, as the Tuareg refer to the border-spanning region they inhabit, and it is unlikely that this will change in the near future. The situation in northern Mali remains chaotic, with various armed groups, criminal networks and terrorist organizations competing for influence, while the Malian government and army still reel from the effects of a coup d’état that shook the capital of Bamako in March.

But the Tuareg bid for independence does not come from out of thin air, nor does it come at a normal time for the countries of the Sahel region and North Africa. Tuareg minorities in Mali and Niger have fought for self-determination for more than 100 years. And following the fall of Moammar Gadhafi in Libya last year, regional political dynamics are evolving rapidly, which may yet prove to be either a boon or bane for those Tuareg rebels interested in independence.

Tuareg nationalism as a political ideology is rooted in the effects of colonization. It was sharpened by decades of marginalization and oppression, and has since become a useful tool in the hands of regional powerbrokers. Yet today, even as the MNLA makes the boldest bid yet for Tuareg self-determination, many Tuareg have actually come to accept the countries they live in as legitimate, making the future of Tuareg nationalism as well as its implications increasingly difficult to discern. […]

World Politics Review is a subscription journal. It’s well worth your money, but you can read the rest of this article for free, if you follow this link.

ThinkBrigade: Hunger, rebellion, coup: Mali’s crisis has its history

I’m part of the new project ThinkBrigade, which brings together reporters and citizen journalists from around the world to experiment with new forms of collaborative and interactive journalism. This is my first piece for the project, but others will follow:

Mali is a landlocked country in West Africa, about two times the size of France. It is dominated by vast expanses of sparsely inhabited desert and the fertile surroundings of the Niger river. In historical times, the area was home to powerful empires and the ancient city of Timbuktu, with its architectural wonders, still tells of this era.

Mali is again in the news these days, but not favourably. There are no stories about enthusiastic tourists or cultural richness. Instead, Mali currently lives through a triple crisis: After a devastating drought,potentially millions of people face a hunger crisis. At the same time, a rebellion led by Tuareg fighters has engulfed the North of the country. And if this wouldn’t be enough, a coup d’état has brought a military junta into power in the capital and resulted in harsh sanctions by neighboring states. […]

Read the rest on ThinkBrigade!