Mali: the Background

A correspondent originally from the wider region comments.

What is now Mali has a long history. The Malinke Empire ruled the area from the 12th century to the 15th century. Then, the powerful Songhai empire ruled over the Timbuktu-Gao region. In 1591 Morocco conquered Timbuktu and ruled the city for two centuries. In the 19th century the land became a French colony after the Berlin Conference and the Scramble for Africa. In 1946, the land became part of French Union.
Mali, situated in West Africa, lies in the Sahara region. It has a land area of 1,240,000 sq km, which is four-fifths the size of Alaska in the USA. Mali is land-locked and shares a border with Algeria, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Mauritania, Niger, and Senegal. The north has a porous soil and dry weather, while the only fertile soil is in the south where rivers Niger and Senegal provide water for irrigation. Its natural resources are cotton, maize, millet and groundnuts. These crops are mainly produced from the south because of the irrigation system around them.
It is estimated that Mali as of 2012 is 15,000,000 people (growth rate is 2.6 percent; birth rate is 4.6 percent). Infant mortality rate is 11.36 percent. Life expectancy is 52.1. Density per sq km 10. Mali has about 51 tribes such as Madinka, Bambara, Kunta, Soninke, Arabe, Pere, Sarahule, Bobo, Bozo, Kado, Sawraye Tamachec, Kroloboro, Tuareg, Arabs, etc. As to religion, 90 percent are Muslims, 7 percent Christians and 3 percent animists.
The capital is Bamako with 1,325,300 in the metropolitan area and the currency is the CFA franc that is used among francophone countries in West Africa.

Mali became independent on 20 June 1960 under the name of Sudanese Republic. This Republic was joined by Senegal in the Mali Federation. However after two months Senegal seceded. As a result the Sudanese Republic changed its name to the current Republic of Mali.

The first President of Mali, Modibo Keita was born to a Madinka Moslem family in Bamako. He took over power as an elected President on independence in 1960. Keita  introduced a single party state and Pan-Africanism, like other presidents that promoted Pan-Africanism in their various countries: Azikiwe in Nigeria, Nkrumah in Ghana, Sekou Touré in Guinea-Conakry, Nyerere in Tanzania, and Kenyatta in Kenya.
On 19 November 1968 General Moussa Traroré removed President Keita in a bloodless coup d’état.  He spent some weeks in detention in Kidal in the northern of Mali and died in May 1977. Keita’s death attracted demonstrations that were violent. These were organised by his party and the Madinka ethnic group that felt humiliated and maltreated by General Traroré and his cohorts.

Malihas been on a barrel of gun powder for years since independence. The northern part of the country which is comprised of cities like Timbuktu, Kidal, Gao, Sevare, Tesalit, Djabali, Konne, and Mopti has been protesting to the Bamako government about the lack of development in their region. They feel marginalised by the government. Each time they rise up against the government, they are decimated.

In the 1980s the Tuareg rebels were the only force confronting the Bamako government, demanding their independence in the north. But, because the rebels lacked sophisticated weapons to go into full offensive against the Mali regime, the Mali government did not bother to counter them. Northern Mali has been the zone of terrorists for years. There was no border control in the north. Ansar-Dine was formed by a Tuareg rebel called Iyad Ag Ghaly in July last year in order to bring in more jihadist fighters into their region for support to invade northern Mali.

In 2006 the Tuareg rebels looted weapons from the army depot in the town of Kidal for their struggle, but that did not send a signal to Bamako that trouble was on the way. The regime in Bamako has been on soft pedal with the Tuareg because of a lack of weapons to confront them. And the rebels, noticing that the regime was handicapped and incapacitated to confront them, started seeking support from other jihadists from other countries like Boko Haram of Nigeria, Al-shaabab of Somalia, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. These terrorists have the common goal to achieve Sharia law in Islamic religion. They are better organised than the government because of their belief in sharia.

In January 2010  an offensive was started by the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA). The movement assumed momentum after the fall of Gaddafi in Libya in 2011. These terrorists stole many sophisticated weapons from the Gaddafi regime and crossed the desert to start a rebellion in the northern Mali. So these weapons, sold to Libya government by the French government, ended up into the hands of bandits and terrorists.

And to worsen the situation, on 22 March 2012, a group of angry army officers led by Captain Amadou Sanogo did a coup d’état and appeared on television to announce that they had seized control of the country. They said their reason for taking over the country was because President Dioncounda Traoré was not handling the conflict in the north very well. The coup d’état did not succeed as the military only controls the south of Mali, leaving the north, known as Republic of Azawad, to MNLA, Ansar-Dine and Al Qaeda terrorists to control. Dioncounda Traoré, who had been forced by the junta to go into hiding, was re-instated. The Tuareg rebels that used to be in control of the north were chased out by MNLA, Ansar-Dine and Al Qaeda Maghreb as they had no weapons to hold on to the region.

French and African military intervention  

In January, the Islamist fighters decided to take more cities from the south in order to build a well-balanced Azawad republic. They captured the central town of Konna and planned to push further south to Bamako. The government of Bamako had no other choice than to ask France for help and Paris responded as a colonial father by sending 550 troops and tanks, at the same time carrying out air strikes on rebel positions in the north. 

A rebellion that could have been crushed within one week of its existence stayed ten good months before French intervention and other allied forces such as Nigeria with 1200 soldiers. Other African states such as Benin republic, Niger, Togo, Chad, and Burkina-Faso also sent troops. Other western countries like USA, Britain, Germany and Belgium are supplying the logistics.

In April 2012, when the jihadists took the north of Mali, they committed human right abuses by amputations, flogging, stoning to death those who oppose their interpretation of Islam. All these severe pains inflicted on innocent people could have been avoided if UN had done their work well. But it is a waste of time for any nation in crisis calling the UN for intervention.

Malians are nice and hardworking people with beautiful music and culture. They welcome and respect people. Malians have nothing, but the little they have is shared among people that are around them, even to a piece of bread. It is callous and total negligence by the entire world that resulted in Malians facing the brutality of the Islamic jihadists.  I am convinced that if Mali had oil in their soil, a lot of capitalist powers could have gone to Mali a long time ago without waiting for UN security council approval.

On 25 January, France promised to give $452 million to the Mali government. How is this money going to help an ordinary citizen of Mali from south to north? A lot of millions have been donated to African leaders by the West. And this money ended up in pockets of individual leaders while the masses are left to rot. If the money given to Mali government passed through the village Alkalis, or village heads, of every community this would help ordinary Malians and mean that they would reject every offer coming from jihadists, be it food or cash.

The jihadists donated some food items to some people in order to win support and it worked for them. They used that trick and won the hearts of some parents who voluntarily gave their children to jihadists as child soldiers. But those that refused to give their children, their children too were forced to join the rebels.

Whatever the French government’s motives for intervening, there can be no doubt that most Malians welcomed it. The spokesperson for Malians living in Orleans, France, Habib Doucouré,  said that they were happy with French and African military intervention as it saved Mali from Al Qaeda destruction.

Cebiloan HYACINT, France

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