Thursday, January 17, 2013

Algeria.. the surge, and no apologies

This time last week the war on Mali was only a few hours old.  I had already asked my questions concerning it.  One of the questions was  on where the arms were coming from, or at the very least, where they were being transported from. Today, it is clear that the war is no longer in Mali alone.  One of my key questions has also found its answer.  There is a terrorist back channel in Algeria.. 

And the Algerian branch of the Nebula has shown itself in no uncertain terms.. and the Algerian Army has also responded in no uncertain terms.

The  story I:
On Wednesday the 16th of January,  very early in the morning, a truck load of armed men storm a gas platform in the South  Algerian desert  town of In Amena. Some 40 Westerners and hundreds of Algerians at the platform are held hostage.  The kidnappers request that "France stops its aggression in Mali" and "possibility to leave the country"

The Story 2:
A bit before the hostage, Algeria had closed its borders with Mali. When the news was made known.. I had a chill. . because in its history, I have known Algeria not to be a nation that negotiates with terrorism. It did not take  30 hours before the Algerian army responded to the terrorists.  Algeria responded with a surge. A surge whose first report comes to 34 hostages killed, 14 terrorists  dead, hundreds rescued.


No negotiation policy:  Algeria has always made it clean and clearly known.  The official policy of the country is  NOT to negotiate and NOT to pay any ransom.

There is no Army to train. I have been to Algeria and I am yet to see any Army or police that is as ready as the ones I saw in Algiers anywhere  in Africa. These ones are not like the ones in Mali, they are capable, equipped and  and ready.

No "international community" needed:  No, Algeria did not wait for the Maghreb Union to meet, and inform the UN General Assembly, to request the UN Security Council to vote..and listen to what the countries with veto will have to say. No, Algeria is not doing all of that. Because that is the time that terrorists use to re-arm and consolidate.

Sovereignty: Algeria has made it clear.  This is happening in my territory, against my people, in an Algerian company.  This is a problem that concerns me, even if some hostages are not Algerian citizens.  I will solve it my way.

The aim of this post is not to hail violence, or to make a light case of the human lives lost.  But just to note that Algeria has shown key qualities that have been lacking in many African countries:1) a clear policy, 2) preparedness of the defense capacity, 3) agile decision-making  and rapid response in emergencies, and 4) a clear sovereign responsibility.

There may be regrets later, there may be clarifications to nations whose citizens would have been among the victims, there may be explanations later to the larger Algerian populace..

But Algeria will never be blamed for not taking action when action needed to be taken.

It is in this that I agree with Algeria: Have a policy, Be Ready,  Decide, and defend your sovereignty.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Mali: How long will the war take?

War has started in Mali.  It started on Friday January 11, 2013. The French government, responding to a request from the Malian government kicked it off. In  his address, the French President, François Hollande said France will give its support to Mali in this war  "as long as it takes"

And that is the question. HOW LONG WILL THE WAR TAKE? When will it end?

For starters, where is Mali?
Located in West Africa, Mali (which means Hippopotamus) is one of the major Sahel countries. It used to be mentioned in studies related to illiteracy, Female Genital Mutilation, Gender and  desertification.  For music lovers, it is the land of Ali Farka Touré, Salif Keita and the legendary blind couple, Amadou and Mariam. 

Perhaps the old city of Timbuktu, of 333 saints, is even better known among scholars than the country itself. It is famed for being one of the oldest learning centers in human history. Its buildings are hundreds of years old and its sacred sites have been classified under the UNESCO's world heritage sites.

What happened to Mali?

Mali has had a turbulent past, but in the last decade or two, we were under the impression that its democracy was getting consolidated.  In fact, the country was already preparing for presidential elections in just over two months and ATT - Amadou Toumani Touré, the outgoing president, was not in the race.  Then out of the blue, on  March 21, 2012, in what seemed first like a mutiny, Amadou Aya Sanogo, a Captain in the Malian army announced that in a coup d'état, they have ousted the president and his government, taken over power, and are now the new masters in the country..

The key reason that Sanogo and company gave for kicking out a legitimate government that was on its way out? MNLA! 

Who is MNLA?

Mouvement National pour la Libération de l'Azawad. A national separatist movement for the northern Mali, which they called Azawad.  MNLA  had occupied a big chunk (the part in darker green on the map) of the country. They were armed and was breathing fire.. and Amadou Toumani Touré was not going to war.. he preferred to negotiate.  Sanogo and his men said they were ready for war.. not talk.

What is the problem in Mali?

MNLA is not the problem. ATT was not the problem. For all the trouble they were worth, MNLA  was not, or at least is no longer the problem. The separatist group has played out all of its cards and has run out of finances. At the moment,  it has even done a turn-around on its initial reasons for occupying the north.  MNLA no longer wants an Azawad, it  will be happy with an autonomy.  MNLA, in linking up with MUJAO -Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, bit off more than it could chew.

MUJAO, which may well be the other name of Al Qaeda in West Africa, is this nebulous group that has become a pot-pourri of  every terrorist group that has been looking for a geographic base.  MNLA, in its quest for "territory" has offered more than half the landspace of Mali to be a sort of Azawadstan.. where all extreme religious groups, kidnappers and sucide missionaries can call home! Having recovered arms from Libya, and with the influx of like-minded extremists from all over the world, it only took a few weeks for MUJAO to kick out MNLA, instal Sharia and begin what has become a real Azawadstan! That is the problem!

Captain Sanogo and the military are part of the problem! I cannot not ask the questions: what makes a military guy think he is more knowledgeable than the president on country issues? Why will the military think "war" when the Commander in Chief of the country is saying "negotiate"?  Why will a democratically-elected President be removed from office barely 2 months to the end of his term?  How long will it take for Africa to understand that a Coup d'Etat  has not solved any development problem anywhere in the African continent? Why will Sanogo not listen to ATT when he says that a lot more is needed in solving the MNLA problem, say he is ready to fight, take over power, only to begin to ask for international help.  If he had come to the same conclusion as ATT, why was ATT not reinstated? Sanogo is a problem.

Ego-cracy is a problem.  There is no doubt that  the selfishness of some self-serving, power-loving,  influence-obsessed individuals is at work here.  Whether it is masked as Coup d'Etat, MNLA, MUJAO, Al Qaeda or whatever.. People who use freedom, liberty, religion or political rights for selfish purposes. Men (mostly) who think their ego translate into the desires of a million others.. and lead thousands to death just to satisfy themselves, feel right, or get ahead..  These egocrates are a problem.

Arms dealing is the problem. A cursory look at the geographic situation of Mali shows that from all corners, the country is thousands of kilometers inland. It does not have any access to the sea.. unless it uses the permission of a neighbour.  So where are the arms coming from? Libya? Algeria? Niger? Where? Who is selling arms to MUJAO? Who pays for it?  Where?  How? 

What wont end..
Following a United Nations Resolution 2085, the war has started. But when will it end? At  the moment, support for the war is flowing in from all angles.  What we know for sure is that in the not-too-far future, the French government will have spent its belligerent libido, reach a political orgasm... and naturally withdraw.  So will all other "friends of Mali".  Will that be the end of the war?

The fights: The war will one day be formally declared as over.  Like in Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Liberia, Angola, Sierra-Leone,  and Côte d'Ivoire. But the fights will not end. The ethnic sentiments from the part of the country that lost the war will remain.  Ask the Igbos of Nigeria. The superiority sentiments of the group that won the war will not just go away.. The cleavage, the distrust and the anti-patriotic sentiments will not just go away.  These remain.. and last very long!

The loss: Before now, Mali was a poor country.  It is getting poorer. It will hit rock bottom and rebuilding the economy will take many years.  The loss in productivity, the bit that has been gained on the road to democracy, the international esteem.  All of that is lost for now. And the lives? How many families will lose loved ones? No matter what reconstruction or reconciliation will be put in place, some losses will take a long time to be recovered... and  may be NEVER .

The trauma: Ask anybody, the emotional scars of violence run deep. The sound of ammunition's as they go off leave indelible marks on people's minds.  Malians are traumatised: burnt homes, dead bodies, black military boots, the military uniform, the armoured cars, guns, RPGs,  bullets, blood.

The refugee-related issues: Hundreds of thousands of Malians are displaced. The refugee status is one that leaves its mark also. As a refugee, you live from hand to mouth, you do not save.  As a refugee you blame others for your problem, it is never your fault. A refugee basically depends on donors for livelihood. A refugee  is a pitied individual, once s/he can elicit more pity from you, the more s/he gains.  A refugee has little self worth, trust, esteem. Refugee women have had to use their bodies in exchange for means of livelihood. Refugee men have been forced to give up their women.. to be able to survive.  These refugee-related issues do not wash off.. They do not go away when warring parties sign off the war..

The war in Mali has started. How will it end? When will it end?  Will it ever end?