Mali 2012 -2014

Written by  //  April 21, 2014  //  Africa, Kyle Matthews, Mali  //  8 Comments

The brave saga of Timbuktu:
(National Geographic) Abdel Kader Haidara had made it his life’s work to document Mali’s illustrious past. When the jihadists came, he led the rescue operation to save 350,000 manuscripts.
13 February
Mali: UN experts find ‘serious damage’ by armed extremists to cultural sites in Gao
Some 90 per cent of the 11th century archaeological site of Gao Saneye in northern Mali was pillaged by Islamic extremists during their seizure of the region in 2012, traditional musical instruments and costumes were destroyed, and a World Heritage site mosque needs urgent repairs, United Nations cultural officials reported today.
The report on the damage to cultural heritage in the town of Gao, addressing both sites and the cultural practices of local people, follows a UN assessment last year of Timbuktu, another major heritage site in northern Mali, which found that damage there was more extensive than first estimated, including the destruction of parts of the 15th century Djingareyber Mosque, one of three madrassas comprising the University of Timbuktu.

2013

Malians vote amid tight security
(Al Jazeera) Observers report low turnout as country returns to constitutional rule following 2012 military coup.
Malians have voted in legislative elections surrounded by security because of concerns that rebel attacks may sabotage the poll.
The vote on Sunday is the last step in restoring constitutional rule in Mali after a military coup in March 2012.
UN peacekeepers and Malian soldiers outnumbered voters in the northern city of Gao when polling stations opened, although the number of voters increased later.
3 November
France says its journalists ‘coldly assassinated’ in Mali
(Reuters) – France said on Sunday two French journalists found dead in the northern Mali region of Kidal had been “coldly assassinated” by militants and vowed to step up security measures in the area.
Two French journalists killed in Mali town of Kidal
Claude Verlon and Ghislaine Dupont were abducted after interviewing a local political leader. Their bodies were found outside the town soon after.
French President Francois Hollande called the killings “despicable”.
The killings come days after France was celebrating the release of four hostages from neighbouring Niger.
30 September
Mali: ‘MNLA rebels’ attack soldiers in Kidal
(BBC) Gun battles have erupted between Malian soldiers and suspected separatist rebels in the north, sparking fears that the violence could escalate.
Gunmen attacked soldiers guarding a bank in Kidal town, who returned fire.
Residents and an unnamed official said the gunmen were rebels from a Tuareg group who days ago announced they were pulling out of a peace deal.

Mali desert nomads

See also CIA World Factbook
Mali’s music is often called some of the best in the world, but its musicians are fleeing Islamist rule. If you haven’t heard the country’s soulful, catchy sound before, check out our guided listening tour of Mali’s best music. Hear the music now outlawed in its homeland.
The remote mountains of northern Mali – perfect for guerrillas
(BBC) Lost in the middle of Tegharghar mountains in the far north-east of Mali, Esel is a an eerie and magical place.
It is dominated by a vast, smooth boulder, as high as a five-storey building and as long as 10 double-decker buses, that sits on top of a warren of caves.
The rock itself has been split neatly in two by the heat of the Saharan sun and the cold of the Saharan night. The ground leading to it is strewn with ancient stone arrowheads and axes.
Peter Chilson: Al Qaeda Country — Why Mali Matters
If Mali feels somewhat far away or less than important, consider this: Northern Mali is currently the largest al Qaeda-controlled space in the world, an area a little larger than France itself. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has warned that Mali could become a “permanent haven for terrorists and organized criminal networks.” In December, Gen. Carter F. Ham, commander of the U.S. Africa Command, warned that al Qaeda was using northern Mali as a training center and base for recruiting across Africa, the Middle East, and Europe. Jihadists operating in northern Mali have been linked to Boko Haram, the violent Islamist group based in northern Nigeria, and to Ansar al-Sharia, a group in Libya which has been linked to the attack on the U.S. consulate at Benghazi that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
Meet Mansa Musa I of Mali – the richest human being in all history
A new study has produced an inflation-adjusted list of the richest people of all time When we think of the world’s all-time richest people, names like Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and John D Rockefeller immediately come to mind. But few would have thought, or even heard of, Mansa Musa I of Mali – the obscure 14th century African king who was today named the richest person in all history. With an inflation adjusted fortune of $400 billion, Mansa Musa I would have been considerably richer than the world’s current richest man, Carlos Slim, who ranks in 22nd place with a relatively paltry $68 billion.

Sub-Saharan Africa: Conflict and governance Analysis: Timbuktu tomb destroyers pulverize Islam’s history (Reuters) For centuries in Timbuktu, an ancient Saharan trading depot for salt, gold and slaves which developed into a famous seat of Islamic learning and survived occupations by Tuareg, Bambara, Moroccan and French invaders, local people have worshipped at the shrines, seeking the intercession of the holy individuals. This kind of popular Sufi tradition of worship is anathema to Islamists like the Ansar Dine fighters – Defenders of the Faith – who adhere to Salafism, which is linked to the Wahhabi puritanical branch of Sunni Islam found in Saudi Arabia. (July 2012)

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12 August
Keita wins Mali presidential vote after rival admits defeat
(Reuters) – Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, an ex-prime minister with a reputation for firmness, won Mali’s presidential election after his rival conceded defeat on Monday in a poll meant to draw a line under more than a year of turmoil.
Keita, 68, universally known by his initials IBK, will now have access to $4 billion in international development aid to rebuild the West African country after a French military intervention in January ended Islamist rebels’ occupation of the northern two-thirds of Mali.
He inherits a broken nation and must move quickly to overhaul the armed forces, tackle ingrained graft and negotiate peace with northern Tuareg fighters clamoring for more autonomy from the southern capital Bamako.
5 August
Battered Mali will vote again Aug. 11 as two veterans face off   (+video)
Western nations have linked the elections … to $4 billion in assistance.
(CSM) With millions not voting in round one, and several hundred thousand ballots rejected, analysts expect the runup to Aug. 11 vote to be full of the dealmaking and the promising of favors that has come to define Malian politics.
Mali electionVoters defy threats as polls close in Mali
Thousands of Malians went to the polls in country’s first presidential election since a military coup last year. (28 July)
Election offers new start for Mali, but no magic wand
(Reuters) – When Mali imploded last year – its president ousted by mutinous soldiers and its north seized by separatist and Islamist rebels – many called for an overhaul of the West African state’s flawed democracy, once held up as a model of stability.
Sunday’s presidential election in the Sahel state, which experienced turmoil and conflict for over a year, including a French-led military intervention from January, provides the chance for a fresh start to rebuild and unite the nation.
6 July
Mali lifts state of emergency
Move comes on the eve of the start of presidential election campaign for July 28 polls.
11 June
UN prepares for Mali force deployment
Announcement comes amid reports of deal between government and Tuareg group to allow elections in disputed Kidal region.
(Al Jazeera) In the report to the Security Council, Ban said major combat operations have largely ceased, and the increasing presence of Malian, French and African troops in the north “has helped stabilise the situation and significantly hamper the movement and actions of armed groups”.
But Ban also cited reports that al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb has intensified activities in Mali’s Tamesna region near the border with Niger and Algeria, while armed extremist group training camps have been found east of Timbuktu.
Ban: Mali situation remains unstable
Security remains elusive in Mali despite the recent French-led offensive, and a United Nations peacekeeping force is not expected to be fully equipped, according to a report from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. “The situation on the ground remains … fluid, with sporadic clashes between armed groups and continued asymmetric attacks across the three regions of the north,” Ban said in the report. Reuters (6/9)
Are Mali elections being held too soon?
There are concerns that holding presidential elections in Mali in July could result in destabilization. Advocates for elections note that international assistance depends on there being a stable government. “If there were no restoration of democratic structures, the country would not get international aid and would struggle to cooperate with other countries,” said Paul Melly of Chatham House. IRINNews.org (6/6), Think Africa Press (5/28)
5 June
Surviving in Mali can mean having to enter the sex industry
Women and girls displaced by the conflict in Mali are becoming sex workers in order to survive. “The pressure on the young women to help support their family is high, and it is not unusual for a mother or other female relative to push them into going onto the street,” says Sylvia Mollet of the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. IRINNews.org (6/5)
26 May
Mali mapHow Timbuktu’s manuscripts were saved from jihadists
(WaPost) … Radical Islamists had entered Timbuktu four months earlier, and they had set about destroying everything they deemed a sin.
They had demolished the tombs of Sufi saints. They had beaten up women for not covering their faces and flogged men for smoking or drinking. They most certainly would have burned the manuscripts — nearly 300,000 pages on a variety of subjects, including the teachings of Islam, law, medicine, mathematics and astronomy — housed in public and private libraries across the city.
The scholarly documents depicted Islam as a historically moderate and intellectual religion and were considered cultural treasures by Western institutions — reasons enough for the ultraconservative jihadists to destroy them.
But a secret operation had been set in motion within weeks of the jihadist takeover. It included donkeys, safe houses and smugglers, all deployed to protect the manuscripts by sneaking them out of town.
UN official: Pattern of human rights violations emerging in Mali
Evidence shows that ethnic Tuaregs and Arabs are being abused in Mali, says Jeffrey Feltman, United Nations undersecretary for political affairs. “Worryingly, it appears from reports that new patterns of human rights violations have emerged, including retaliatory attacks based on ethnicity,” he says. Google/Agence France-Presse (4/3)

UN official: Funding, aid are crucial next steps in Mali
Conditions in northern Mali are better since French troops ousted Islamist fighters, but the populace remains fearful of reprisals after the French leave, says John Ging of the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The UN has received just $17 million of a requested $373 million in emergency aid for Mali. The New York Times (tiered subscription model) (2/26), Devex.com (2/27)

25 February
Smuggled Out: Most Timbuktu Manuscripts Saved from Attacks
(Spiegel) Far more of Timbuktu’s priceless ancient manuscripts were saved from Islamist attacks than previously thought, according to information from the German Foreign Ministry.
More than 200,000 of the documents, or about 80 percent of them, were smuggled to safety, says the ministry, which aided in the operation.
The ministry said many of the manuscripts, some of which date back to the 13th century, were driven out of Timbuktu in private vehicles and taken to the Malian capital, Bamako. Some of them were hidden under lettuce and fruit in an operation led by the head of the Mamma Haidara Memorial Library, Abdel Kader Haidara.
15 February
Mali says to hold presidential election on July 7
(Reuters) – Mali will hold a presidential election on July 7, a key step aimed at stabilizing the country following the French-led military intervention that has ousted Islamist rebels from the main northern towns, the government said on Thursday.
Irish troops to aid Mali regime despite ‘atrocity’ reports on all sides
The French Government, which ruled Mali as a colony from 1880 to 1960, says its goal is ‘the total reconquest of Mali’, raising questions as to whether the long-term goal is to exploit the country’s resources.
7 February
French troops in MaliThe battle moves to the mountains — The French may have to stay a bit longer than they wish
(The Economist print edition) For now, the French have the initiative. Many Tuareg and some fighters on the fringe of the various jihadist groups say they are prepared to come to an accommodation with the new order. One Tuareg group claims to have detained two fleeing jihadist leaders near the Algerian border.
Meanwhile, the French may have to reconsider their plans to hand over fast to African troops after noting their own popularity with ordinary Malians. Once French convoys carrying food and fuel reach the north, the locals may be even keener for troops to stay a bit longer. This should give them enough political backing to cut a deal between the government and the Tuareg.
Still, at least 2,000 well-armed fighters are hiding in the north. French jets and special forces are pursuing them. Some may drift off across porous borders. Malians seem to hope the rebels will then become someone else’s problem.
France would have to keep elite troops in Mali for a long time to defeat these men, who may therefore lie low until the French declare “mission accomplished”, perhaps quite soon. Laurent Fabius, the foreign minister, has said that French troops will, if all goes according to plan, start leaving next month. “France doesn’t intend to stay in Mali for the long run,” he says. “France does not want to stay”, says François Heisbourg of the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris. “The idea that we would provide a long-term stability force of a few thousand soldiers? I just don’t see it.” The French seem loth to rebuild a nation.
4 February
Letter from Mali: life is beginning to return to normal
Along the river Niger, satellite dishes are back up – and fishermen are casting their nets
Mali Tuaregs seize two fleeing Islamist leaders
(Reuters) – Tuareg rebels in northern Mali said on Monday they had captured two senior Islamist insurgents fleeing French air strikes toward the Algerian border and France pressed ahead with its bombing campaign against al Qaeda’s Saharan desert camps
31 January
Mali’s ethnic diversity fuels fears
Thousands of Tuareg refugees have escaped into neighbouring countries fearing for their lives.
(Al Jazeera) Although 90 percent Muslim, Mali is a racially diverse country consisting of ethnic Manday, Songhai, Tuareg, Fulani and descendants of Arabs.
The Bambara are ethnically black African and make up nearly half the population, dominating the army ranks. Ten percent of Malians are Tuareg, living mainly in the north.
A Tuareg rebellion last year led to a military coup, sparking the latest conflict. Thousands of Tuareg refugees have escaped into neighbouring countries and fear the Bambara will take revenge on them.
30 January
Bulk of Timbuktu manuscripts safe, unharmed: experts
(Reuters) – The vast majority of Timbuktu’s ancient manuscripts in state and private collections appear to be unharmed after the Malian Saharan city’s 10-month occupation by Islamist rebel fighters, who burnt some of the scripts, experts said on Wednesday. … experts said that while up to 2,000 manuscripts may have been lost at the South African-funded Ahmed Baba Institute ransacked by the rebels, the bulk of the around 300,000 texts existing in Timbuktu and its surrounding region were believed to be safe. … sources said that soon after Tuareg rebel fighters swept into Timbuktu, curators and collectors of the manuscripts had hidden the texts away for safety.
28 January
Timbuktu mayor: Mali rebels torched library of historic manuscripts
Fleeing Islamist insurgents burnt two buildings containing priceless books as French-led troops approached, says mayor
(The Guardian) … Hallé Ousmani Cissé told the Guardian that al-Qaida-allied fighters on Saturday torched two buildings that held the manuscripts, some of which dated back to the 13th century. … He added: “This is terrible news. The manuscripts were a part not only of Mali’s heritage but the world’s heritage.” … The manuscripts had survived for centuries. They were hidden in wooden trunks, buried in boxes under the sand and in caves. When French colonial rule ended in 1960, Timbuktu residents held preserved manuscripts in 60-80 private libraries.
The vast majority of the texts were written in Arabic. A few were in African languages, such as Songhai, Tamashek and Bambara. There was even one in Hebrew. They covered a diverse range of topics including astronomy, poetry, music, medicine and women’s rights. The oldest dated from 1204.
See Guardian story below and weep.
26 January
Mali’s ancient treasures are too valuable to be buried again
(The Guardian) The ancient manuscripts of Timbuktu are a door into Africa’s golden age. We must not let this crisis threaten their survival
24 January
Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the new face of al-Qa’ida (and why he’s nothing like Osama bin Laden)
Robert Fisk on what he really means in the ‘war on terror’
In a video, Belmokhtar has spoken of the struggle against disbelief – in other words, us, the West – the importance of Islamic law and the Islamic project in northern Mali. He is too canny a man not to have realised that Mali’s torment springs from the decades-long northern Tuareg-Berber-Arabophone refusal to be governed by a black administration in the south, but he was drawn – like Bin Laden in Afghanistan – into a land where centralised power was weak or non-existent. While human rights groups recorded ferocious Islamist punishments – executions, amputations, the oppression of women; the list is familiar – he spoke of a sharia which fed the poor, created justice between Muslims, and equal rights.
23 January
What Canada is doing in Mali
Mali hasn’t historically generated much in the way of international media coverage. But Canada has been providing development aid assistance to this sprawling West African nation for more than 40 years.
And Canadian-based companies have been actively involved in gold mining and other ventures in Mali for more than 20 years. … It was estimated in 2008 that resource royalties and taxes from gold mining provided Mali with about 17 per cent of total government revenues.
Mali conflict: Troops accused of ‘summary executions’
(BBC) Reports suggesting that the mainly black African Malian army, drawn largely from the south, has targeted Arabs and ethnic Tuaregs from the north expose a racial aspect to the war here which has been hidden by the emphasis on western troops fighting a war against Islamist insurgents, the BBC’s Mark Doyle in Mali says. (See Robert Fisk: Mali is an artificial state whose northern inhabitants, especially the Tuaregs, have always refused to be ruled by a black government in the south. It’s tribal, with a veil of ‘Islamism’ over the top of it )
21 January
‘Lion of the Desert': Ex-Partner of Germany Leads Malian Islamists
(Spiegel) The man at the center of the fight against Islamists in northern Mali has an unexpected history with Germany. In 2003 he was crucial in facilitating a ransom payment to secure the release of German tourists held hostage in Algeria.
He was once merely the leader of the Ifora tribe, who live in sandstone mountains in the Sahara Desert. But now the French government views Iyad Ag Ghaly as one of the greatest enemies of the West.
Today Ag Ghaly heads the largest Islamist group in Mali, Ansar Dine, and its roughly 1,500 fighters. His men now control about 60 percent of the country.
20 January
Susanna Wing: Making Sense of Mali
The Real Stakes of the War Rocking West Africa
(Foreign Affairs) Recent reports have oversimplified the conflict in Mali, hinting that the country hosts a coherent Tuareg separatist bloc and a popular radical Islamist movement. In fact, mainstream Malians love neither. Most of them just want a return to democracy with broader participation and more freedoms — the precise opposite of what they fear the separatists and Islamists would bring. As long as French assistance helps hold those groups off, it will be welcome.
17 January
Why is France in Mali
(Al Arabiya) French troops engaged in clashes with Islamist militants in Mali on Jan. 16 with backing from their European allies. Britain, Belgium and Germany are providing logistic support to France on that mission.
And so, French troops are back in Mali after the West African country gained independence from France on June 20, 1960, ending a colonialist rule that had started in 1905. There were agency reports yesterday saying that some residents of the nation’s capital, Bamako, had started hanging French flags from their windows. That could be the beginning of a tragic end for Africa’s political independence experience.
Some foreign hostages said killed in Algeria assault
(Reuters) – Algeria said several hostages were killed on Thursday when its forces stormed a remote desert gas plant occupied by Islamist militants in retaliation for French intervention in Mali, and local sources said six foreigners were among the dead. .. .The standoff began when gunmen calling themselves the Battalion of Blood stormed the natural gas facility early on Wednesday morning. They said they were holding 41 foreigners and demanded a halt to a French military operation against fellow al Qaeda-linked Islamist militants in neighboring Mali.
16 January
U.S. Sees Hazy Threat From Mali Militants
During Congressional testimony in June, Johnnie Carson, the assistant secretary of state for African affairs, played down the terrorist threat to the United States from Mali, saying that the Qaeda affiliate operating there “has not demonstrated the capability to threaten U.S. interests outside of West or North Africa, and it has not threatened to attack the U.S. homeland.”
Some Pentagon officials have long taken a more hawkish stance, and they cite intelligence reports that fighters with ties to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which has a loose affiliation to the remnants of Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network, played a role in the deadly attack in September on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya. They have pushed for targeted strikes against Islamist leaders in northern Mali, arguing that killing the leadership could permanently cripple the strength of the militants
Gwynne Dyer: Mali intervention
The West is supporting the government, not the rebels, in Mali. That government, behind a flimsy civilian facade, is controlled by the same thugs in uniform whose military coup last March, just one month before the scheduled democratic election, created the chaos that let the Islamist rebels conquer the northern half of the country. The young officers who now run the country are ignorant and violent, and having them on your side is not an asset.
The Islamist rebels are fanatical, intolerant, and violent, but they are well armed (a lot of advanced infantry weapons came on the market when Gaddafi’s regime collapsed) and they appear to be well trained. They have almost no popular support in 90-percent-Muslim Mali, whose version of Islam is much more moderate, but they have terrified the population of the north into submission or flight.
A charming diplomatic history lesson from Dr. Charles Cogan
The Once and Present Ally: France
(HuffPost) Now the French have intervened in Mali, to protect their important expatriate presence in Bamako (6,000) and elsewhere in that region of former French colonies. The British have offered their support in the form of two C-17 transport planes, and the Americans are to provide intelligence and other support. Even the Germans, who stayed out of the Libyan operation, are expected to provide support as well.
Long live the spirit of the Cercle interallié!
Analysis: The murky motives behind Mali’s crisis
The small Islamist groups would find it near impossible to take the whole of Mali
(The Independent) France’s intervention to stop the advance of Islamic Jihadi in Mali has similarities with French action to protect the people of Benghazi from Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in Libya two years ago. In both cases the motives of all players in the crisis are more complicated than they publicly pretend.
Roméo Dallaire and Kyle Matthews: The price of inaction in Mali
(Full Commentary|National Post) We cannot stand idle, expecting Mali to become a functioning democracy before we begin to contemplate supporting the African Union, which was granted a seal of approval by the UN Security Council this past December. Inaction will only give the extremist groups more time to strengthen their defences and recruit more jihadists — or worse, they might take over the rest of the country.
In 2005, under Canada’s leadership, all countries seated at the United Nations endorsed the Responsibility to Protect, agreeing to take action when a country is unable or unwilling to protect its population from mass atrocities. Northern Mali has become a haven for Islamic militants. If other Western countries don’t join in alongside France, these groups will grow in strength, perpetuate more atrocities across Africa, and expand their ability to strike at the West. Thus Western nations have all the more reason to support the Malian government, instead of abandoning its citizens to extensive retributions and abuses.
French campaign in Mali to get African, U.S. help
Troops from West African nations are expected to join French soldiers next week against Islamist militants on the move in Mali, while the U.S. is likely to offer logistics and surveillance. AlertNet/Reuters (1/15), Los Angeles Times (tiered subscription model) (1/14), The Guardian (London) (1/14), The Wall Street Journal (1/14)
(Reuters) – Tens of thousands of civilians are fleeing the latest outbreak of fighting in Mali that has led to French air strikes against Islamist strongholds in the northern part of the country, the United Nations said on Monday.
11 January
The Crisis in Mali: Will French Air Strikes Stop the Islamist Advance?
(TIME) After ignoring it for the best part of a year, the world has suddenly woken up to the crisis in Mali — and its considered response seems to be: panic. On Jan. 9, the Islamist forces that captured northern Mali last year resumed their advance south and the next day took a small town about 700 km from the capital, Bamako. It’s not known whether the Islamists were attempting to go all the way to Bamako and take the entire country. Until now, they seem to have been content to retain the north, where most of the Malian elements in their ranks are from. But the reaction to the limited Islamist push has been dramatic. Mali’s government begged France to intervene. The Beninese chairman of the African Union demanded that NATO act. Even the Canadian Prime Minister urged international action. In response, the U.N. Security Council held an emergency session Jan. 10 to pass a resolution calling for the “swift deployment” of an international intervention force.
Then on Jan. 11 French French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius confirmed reports from the ground that France had carried out at least one air strike against the Islamists, though he gave no details. Earlier in the day, eyewitness reports from the ground indicated a limited number of European soldiers, perhaps 50 men in all, had arrived in the area. The intervention came just as President François Hollande announced that French troops had joined Mali’s routed army in a counteroffensive against Islamist militias. Diplomats privately confirmed that the campaign also involved troops from Senegal and Nigeria.
Security Council alarmed by Malian army retreat
The latest incursions by Islamist rebels into government-held territory in Mali spurred the United Nations Security Council to call for quicker deployment of an African-led military intervention. Militants on Thursday reportedly overran the strategic village of Konna and now threaten an important airfield and army base. Mali, a former French colony, appealed to France for help, but France said it would assist only within a UN framework. BBC (1/11), Reuters (1/11), The New York Times (tiered subscription model) (1/10), AlertNet/Reuters (1/11)

2012

Solar lamps transforming Malian village life
Mobile solar-powered lamp posts are improving lives in the village of Sanogola in Mali, a country where nearly 9 out of every 10 people do not have access to electricity. Italian architect Matteo Ferroni said he designed the light to “work for the people, not the manufacturers.” The Guardian (London)/Poverty Matters blog (12/28)
27 December
The secret race to save Timbuktu’s manuscripts
(Globe & Mail) Radical Islamist rebels in northern Mali have repeatedly attacked the fabled city’s heritage, taking pickaxes to the tombs of local saints and smashing down a door in a 15th century mosque. They demolished several more mausoleums this week and vowed to destroy the rest, despite strong protests from UNESCO, the United Nations cultural agency.
With the tombs demolished, Timbuktu’s most priceless remaining legacy is its vast libraries of crumbling Arabic and African manuscripts, written in ornate calligraphy over the past eight centuries, proof of a historic African intellectual tradition. Some experts consider them as significant as the Dead Sea Scrolls – and an implicit rebuke to the harsh narrow views of the Islamist radicals.
But now the manuscripts, too, could be under threat. And so a covert operation is under way to save them.
21 December
UN approves Mali intervention force
Several thousand West African troops would be deployed to expel Islamist fighters from the northern territories of Mali under a resolution approved Thursday by the United Nations Security Council, but only after the Malian army has been trained to spearhead the fight. The unanimous measure also authorizes foreign governments — most notably the EU and the U.S. — to provide “any necessary assistance,” including lethal force. Military intervention is not expected before next fall, by which time Malians say the militants will be further entrenched. The New York Times (tiered subscription model) (12/20), The Washington Post (12/20), The Washington Post/The Associated Press (12/21)
12 December
Fowler calls for intervention in Mali before it’s too late
(iPolitics) Two renowned Africa experts called for an immediate international intervention in Mali Wednesday at a roundtable discussion in Ottawa.
Robert Fowler, former deputy minister of national defense and ambassador to the United Nations, and Robert Rotberg, of Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, addressed the intensifying situation in Mali at Carleton University Wednesday night. The event, hosted by the Canadian International Council and Carleton’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, was titled “Could Mali be the Next Afghanistan?” …
Fowler expressed grave concern about the presence of the jihadists with links to al-Qaeda in the North. In 2008, Fowler, UN Special Envoy to Niger at the time, and fellow Canadian diplomat Louis Guay were kidnapped for 130 days by the Islamic Maghreb, a Mali-based al-Qaeda group.
Fowler said that his captors, like most members of al-Qaeda in the region, were incredibly dedicated to spreading jihadist rule across the Sahel region. Based on his experience with his captors, Fowler provided some advice for approaching the al-Qaeda presence in Northern Mali.
Islamists in Mali rely on kidnapping Westerners
Kidnappings of foreigners for ransom by Islamists in northern Mali are an increasing concern as the United Nations debates how, and when, to launch an African-led military campaign to oust the radicals. Punishments meted out by the Islamists against civilians are reportedly becoming worse, while separately, this week Prime Minister Cheikh Modibo Diarra was forced by soldiers to resign. The New York Times (tiered subscription model) (12/12), Los Angeles Times (tiered subscription model)/World Now blog (12/11), The Washington Post (12/11), Reuters (12/10)
Mali prime minister resigns amid ‘period of crisis’
UN-backed plan to combat Islamist insurgents put on hold as Cheikh Modibo Diarra quits following arrest by military junta
(The Guardian) The 60-year-old former astrophysicist, who worked for Nasa and Microsoft, had been arrested hours earlier and forced to quit by the country’s military junta.
France called for a new government to be formed quickly and said the turn of events enhanced the case for foreign military intervention. But observers warned that plans for a UN-backed force to combat Islamist insurgents in northern Mali were now “on ice”.
Rice: French plan for Mali intervention is ‘crap’
(Foreign Policy) Key U.N. powers said today that Mali’s military’s arrest and ouster of the country’s transitional leader, Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra, would not deter the U.N. Security Council from forging ahead with plans to intervene in Mali to confront Islamists militants in the north of the country. But it did little to paper over differences between the United States and France on how to get the job done.
The American envoy’s assessment reflected deep misgivings that the Malian army, supported by a Nigerian-led coalition of 3,300 troops from 15 Western African countries has the manpower or the skills required to contend with a battle-tested insurgency with experience fighting in the Sahel’s unforgiving desert. Rice’s candor also deals a setback to a long, drawn-out effort by France and West African countries to secure U.N. Security Council mandate for a regional intervention force in Mali.
Mali Islamists seek talks as fighting looms
Islamist rebels who control Mali’s northern territories have called for negotiations in a bid to avert military intervention by a coalition of troops from other West African nations. The Ansar Dine rebels, who have links to al-Qaida, say they are anti-violence. AlertNet/Reuters (11/6), The Wall Street Journal/The Associated Press (11/6), Los Angeles Times/World Now blog (tiered subscription model) (10/31)
2 November
U.S. Impatient with African Response to Northern Mali Conflict
(IPS) – Despite growing western concerns about the continuing reign in northern Mali by an Al Qaeda-linked group, analysts here say it will take months before conditions could be ripe to oust it from the region, by military force if necessary.
The United States and the European Union (EU), which have held a series of meetings about the situation, are hoping that the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) will soon come up with a viable plan to reclaim the area, which has been in the hands of the group Ansar al-Din since last spring.
They are also trying to enlist the support of a somewhat ambivalent Algeria, which Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited earlier this week. Given its 1,400-kilometre border with northern Mali, as well as its formidable counter-terrorist and military capabilities, Algeria’s cooperation with any western-backed ECOWAS force is seen as indispensable to any campaign to remove Ansar al-Din.
ECOWAS has so far proposed a force of only 3,300 troops, recruited from member nations, as the military component of a larger strategy to wrest control of territory that is roughly the size of France.
25 October
Notre pays doit se libérer !
Par Amadou Haya Sanogo, président du comité militaire de suivi des réformes des forces de défense et de sécurité (Mali)
(Le Monde Fr.)”La France ne peut être la France sans la grandeur”, disait le général de Gaulle. Le Mali, qui a écrit dans le grand livre de l’histoire une des pages les plus glorieuses de l’histoire africaine, ne peut se concevoir sans grandeur et sans honneur. C’est pourquoi l’invasion de notre pays par les hordes barbares est une indignité nationale, comme l’a été pour la France le déferlement des hordes nazies sur son territoire en juin 1940. Aujourd’hui Tombouctou est “outragée”, Tombouctou est “brisée” Tombouctou est “martyrisée”, mais Tombouctou sera “libérée” comme Paris l’a été.
24 October
Mali war plan to be ready within weeks: AU
(Reuters) – An African plan for military intervention in Mali to help government troops reclaim territory from Islamist militants will be ready within weeks, the head of the African Union (AU) said on Wednesday.
Mali remains paralyzed by twin crises, with the leadership in Bamako still divided since a March coup that toppled the president and the occupation of the north of the country by Islamic militants.
17 October
Security Council gives green light to send foreign military trainers to Mali
(Foreign Policy) The U.N. Security Council gave its blessing this afternoon to Mali’s transitional government and called on outside governments, particularly from Africa and Europe, to send military trainers to the troubled West African country as soon as possible to help counter Al Qaeda’s influence and reassert government control over the country’s northern territories.
The 15-nation council’s action today stopped short of meeting earlier requests from Mali and other West African countries to authorize a full-scale military intervention force. But the resolution contains a lot of elements that will immediately deepen the role of outside powers in Mali and pave the way for a future intervention.
9 October
Mali: Women primary victims of violence in northern Mali
Concluding a four-day visit to Mali, a top United Nations human rights official today cited ongoing abuses in the northern part of the country, and highlighted the plight of women, whose rights have been particularly restricted.
“Women are the primary victims of the current crisis and have been disproportionately affected by the situation in the north,” Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Šimonovic said in a news release. “Their human rights to employment, education and access to basic social services have been seriously curtailed.”
Children take up arms in Mali as diplomacy stalls
Calls to muster an international force to dislodge Islamist militants from Mali’s northern territories have stalled at the United Nations amid concerns from neighboring countries and about the plan of action. Children as young as 11 are being recruited by Islamists, and militias in the country’s south — intent on retaking the north — are conscripting boys as young as 14. ForeignPolicy.com/Turtle Bay blog (10/8), IRINNews.org (10/8)
2 October
White House secret meetings examine al-Qaeda threat in North Africa
(WaPost) The White House has held a series of secret meetings in recent months to examine the threat posed by al-Qaeda’s franchise in North Africa and consider for the first time whether to prepare for unilateral strikes, U.S. officials said.
The deliberations reflect concern that al-Qaeda’s African affiliate has become more dangerous since gaining control of large pockets of territory in Mali and acquiring weapons from post-revolution Libya.
AFP via eune Afrique) Mali: Washington réfléchit à d’éventuels bombardements contre Aqmi
World powers are careful in response to Mali
The political vacuum in Mali is complicating international efforts to muster a military force to expel Islamist rebels who seized northern territories this year. Such an intervention “could have significant humanitarian consequences, including further displacement and restrictions on humanitarian access,” United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Wednesday. Reuters (9/27), Google/Agence France-Presse (9/26)
Intervention in Mali: Does R2P Apply?
(Justice in Conflict) James P. Rudolph joins us for this fascinating guest-post on the need to respond to the ongoing crisis in Mali. James is an attorney in Washington, D.C. and California where his work focuses on international law. In this post he guides us through the various political, economic and legal responses available to the international community, focusing in particular on the potential for an R2P-response to the violence in Mali.
“R2P entails, interestingly, more than the responsibility to protect. Indeed, the concept has built within it three responsibilities: the responsibility to prevent, the responsibility to react and the responsibility to rebuild.”
22 September
UN seeks “feasible” plan to end Mali turmoil
The reported massacre of 16 preachers from Mauritania by rank-and-file soldiers in Mali reveals a lack of control by the post-coup government over its military as the Economic Community of West African States weighs a plan for military intervention — a measure the United Nations Security Council on Friday said it would consider supporting. The Washington Post/The Associated Press (9/22), Reuters (9/21), The Washington Post/The Associated Press (9/21)
17 September
West Africa Leader Urges Mali Intervention
The president of the West African bloc of nations said Monday it “can no longer hesitate” to combat terrorism and criminality in northern Mali, which was overrun by Islamists.
Earlier this month, Mali’s interim government requested military intervention, including aerial support and five battalions but leaders of a March coup, who retain considerable influence in Mali’s capital Bamako, have previously opposed foreign intervention.
In his remarks, Desire Kadre Ouedraogo, president of the Economic Community of West African States, said it is important for political and military authorities in Mali to speak “with one voice” on the proposed intervention.
Foreign and defense ministers opened a meeting in Abidjan on Monday to discuss details of the deployment, which has yet to be approved by the United Nations Security Council. Malian military and civilian authorities on Sept. 1 requested assistance from ECOWAS, the African Union and the U.N. in recovering the territory in the north.
10 September
Al-Qaeda’s ‘Emir of Sahara’ Makhloufi dies in Mali
(BBC) An al-Qaeda-linked commander known as the Emir of the Sahara, Nabil Makhloufi, has died in a car crash in Mali, an Islamist spokesman has said.
Makhlouf was a high-ranking member of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (Aqim), accused of abducting and killing foreigners across the Sahara Desert.
Mali Islamists say army killing of preachers declaration of war
(Reuters) – Mali Islamic militant group MUJWA said on Sunday the killing of 16 Muslim preachers including eight Mauritanians and eight Malians by an army patrol in Mali was a declaration of war.
(AP via Toronto Star) Moderate Muslim preachers killed by Mali soldiers in ‘barbaric massacre’
2 September
Mali Islamists confirm execution of Algerian diplomat
Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa says Algerian vice-consul Tahar Touati was executed on Saturday morning.
(Middle East online) Islamic extremists occupying northern Mali said Sunday they have executed an Algerian diplomat kidnapped five months ago, after an ultimatum given to his government to fulfill their demands expired.
The Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) said Algerian vice-consul Tahar Touati was executed on Saturday morning, and threatened the three other hostages still in their hands if Algiers does not comply with their demands.
World is coming up short for Mali displaced, UN’s Amos says

Nearly 500,000 people have been displaced by fighting in Mali, and the international community isn’t doing enough to help them, United Nations humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said during a visit to the country. This year, al-Qaida-linked Islamists seized the northern territories, enforcing Sharia law, smuggling drugs and kidnapping for ransom. Deployment of an armed intervention force by the Economic Community of West African States has been proposed. BBC (8/30), The Christian Science Monitor (8/23), BBC (8/29)
UN’s Ban presses for sanctions against Mali rebels as talks are proposed
The United Nations Security Council should impose financial and travel sanctions against Islamist rebels in northern Mali to prevent the territories from becoming a base for terrorist and criminal activities, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Wednesday. The leader of Ansar Dine fighters said he would embrace mediation efforts by neighboring Burkina Faso, while Ecowas, the regional grouping of West African states, is awaiting UN approval to deploy troops. Al-Jazeera (8/9), The New York Times (tiered subscription model) (8/7), BBC (8/7)
6 August
France Oks African military intervention in Mali
(China Daily) France will support African military intervention in Mali to crack down on Islamist insurgents but will not send troops, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Sunday.
“An African military intervention is desirable and inevitable,” Le Drian told France Info Radio.
However, France will not take a military initiative in Mali, he said. France hopes that African forces could be the first to take action in Mali in line with the UN Security Council resolution.
31 July
Kyle Matthews: Mali’s MayhemMali is now a hub of African jihadi groups. If the international community does not act, these groups will become more powerful, leading to further atrocities, destabilizing neighboring countries, and producing spillover effects that could reach as far as Western Europe. Clinton and other Western policymakers would be wise to remember that actions speak louder than words.

(Project Syndicate) To be sure, Mali’s citizens were vulnerable even before the uprising began. The country has been suffering from famine, and recent reports warn of a deadly locust outbreak in the region. Indeed, the situation is likely to get worse before it gets better.
But the international community must not make matters worse by leaving Malians at the mercy of an international network of armed religious zealots. Coordinated action in accordance with international law is critical to protect Mali from becoming what some are calling “Africa’s Afghanistan.”
Countries that participated in the 2011 UN-authorized, NATO-led mission in Libya – especially the United States, France, the United Kingdom, and Canada – have a heightened responsibility to respond to the crisis in Mali. While these countries protected Libyans from Muammar el-Qaddafi’s predatory regime, they limited their engagement to the sky and coastal waters, and thus did not control the spillover of looted weapons.
As a result, weapons and fighters moved into Mali, giving the country’s simmering insurgency the necessary tools to launch a violent campaign against innocent civilians – with the potential to reignite the civil war that ravaged the area in 1990-1996. Malians have become victims of the Libyan intervention.
Islamists in North Mali Stone Couple to Death
29 July
Interim Mali president returns after hospital stay
(AP via Globe & Mail) In his first address to the nation since returning from his two-month-long exile, Mali’s interim president on Sunday said that he “fully trusts” the army to assure his security and outlined plans for the transitional government he hopes to lead until new elections can be held.
In May, the interim president Dioncounda Traoré was beaten until he lost consciousness by a mob of protesters allied with the country’s coup leader, who had just days earlier signed an agreement promising to relinquish power.
U.S. weighs intervention against al-Qaida in Mali
The U.S. was considering various measures in response to the growing al-Qaida presence in the northern territories of Mali, including direct intervention and the training of local armed allies. Still, while the situation in the north is generating the most concern, security in the country’s capital, Bamako, has been deteriorating — and the soldiers behind the coup last spring are loath to defend beleaguered northerners. The Wall Street Journal (7/26),
24 July
Mali’s anti-putsch front demands prime minister resign
(AFP) A grouping of Mali’s main political parties formed after a March coup, on Tuesday demanded the resignation of the interim prime minister whom they accused of “incompetence and amateurishness”.
The FDR called for Diarra to “resign in order to facilitate consultations to put in place a new prime minister and a government of national union”.
The grouping unites some 40 political parties and about 100 civil society organisations.
18 July
Mali: Avoiding Escalation

Considered for twenty years a model of democratic progress in sub-Saharan Africa, Mali is now on the brink of sheer dissolution. The prospects of a negotiated solution to the crisis are receding with the consolidation of hardline Islamist power in the north and a continued political, institutional and security vacuum in Bamako.
(International Crisis Group) In a little more than two months, Mali’s political regime has been demolished. An armed rebellion launched on 17 January 2012 expelled the army from the north while a coup deposed President Amadou Toumani Touré (ATT) on 22 March. These two episodes ushered Mali into an unprecedented crisis that also threatens regional political stability and security. An external armed intervention would nevertheless involve considerable risks. The international community must support dialogue between the armed and unarmed actors in the north and south to favour a political solution to the crisis. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) must readjust its mediation efforts to avoid aggravating the already deep fault lines in Malian society. Strengthening the credibility of the transitional institutions to restore the state and the security forces is an absolute priority. Finally, coordinated regional security measures must be taken to prevent originally foreign groups from turning northern Mali into a new front in the war on terror.
17 July
Mali unites against the Ansar Dine Islamists in Timbuktu
(BBC) What began as a rebellion in January by ethnic Tuareg has been usurped by Islamist militant groups who have taken advantage of the coup and imposed Sharia in most of the key towns in the north.
… Mali is now effectively divided and with the Islamist black flag planted in the north, things are likely to get worse for travel agencies, tour guides and commerce in general.
But there is a deeper fear that this crisis could lead to a religious divide driven by political Islam.
What is under threat in Mali is not just a World Heritage site and sacred tombs, but a way of life that has been based on the respect of a secular state for generations.
African and Western leaders know too well that there may be no other solution than military intervention to put an end to a crisis that risks spilling over to the rest of the Sahel region.
“We cannot cook omelettes without breaking eggs,” Timbuktu’s mayor said.
“We know that we may pay a heavy price when they bombard these rebels, but those of us who will survive will tell the future generations what happened,” Mr Cisse said
12 July
Military intervention in Mali “probable” – French formin
(Reuters) – Foreign powers will probably intervene militarily in Mali after al-Qaeda-linked militants took control of territory in the north of the West African country, France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Thursday.
Regional and Western governments have compared the situation in Mali to Afghanistan, as a mix of local and foreign Islamists have hijacked a rebellion initially launched in January by secular Tuareg separatist rebels.
8 July
Mysterious fatal crash offers rare look at U.S. commando presence in Mali
(WaPost)  the April 20 accident exposed a team of Special Operations forces that had been working for months in Mali, a Saharan country racked by civil war and a rising Islamist insurgency. More broadly, the crash has provided a rare glimpse of elite U.S. commando units in North Africa, where they have been secretly engaged in counterterrorism actions against al-Qaeda affiliates.
How 1 man derailed 20 years of democracy in Mali
(US News) The ease of the takeover, just six weeks before a presidential election, shows how quickly the course of a nation in this part of the world can change, despite or even partly because of funding and training from the West. And it underscores how fragile democracies remain in Africa, and how the fate of an entire country can still be bent by the ambitions of a single man.
In the past decade, the U.S. alone has poured close to $1 billion into Mali, including development aid as well as military training to battle an al-Qaida offshoot in the north. In doing so, the U.S. unwittingly also helped prepare the soldiers for the coup: Sanogo himself benefited from six training missions in the U.S.
6 July
UN seeks sanctions against Mali rebels as children targeted

The United Nations Security Council on Thursday endorsed sanctions against armed groups that have seized control of the northern territories of Mali, warning that the desecration of Muslim shrines recognized by UNESCO could lead to war crimes charges but declining to back military intervention. Teenage boys in the territories are reportedly being recruited by Islamist fighters linked to al-Qaida, girls are being sexually assaulted, schools closed and cholera cases increasing. Reuters (7/5), Al-Jazeera (7/5), The Washington Post/The Associated Press (7/6)
5 July
Body Strips Mali Leader of Head of State Status
(ABC News) The body representing western Africa nations has stripped the leader of Mali’s recent coup of his recently acquired status as a former head of state. That status was given to him in May and was one of the main bargaining chips used to force Capt. Amadou Sanogo to release his grip on power.
In a communique sent to The Associated Press late Wednesday, the regional body known as ECOWAS states that it does not recognize the military junta that led Mali’s March 21 coup “as well as the status of former head of state conferred on Capt. Amadou Sanogo.” [ Ed. note: However, as Sam Stein points out, ECOWAS has no legal authority within Mali. As a regional grouping of countries, all that ECOWAS can say is that it does not recognize Sanogo's status; it cannot by itself remove the status of Captain Sanogo.]
3 July
Analysis: Timbuktu tomb destroyers pulverize Islam’s history
(Reuters) For centuries in Timbuktu, an ancient Saharan trading depot for salt, gold and slaves which developed into a famous seat of Islamic learning and survived occupations by Tuareg, Bambara, Moroccan and French invaders, local people have worshipped at the shrines, seeking the intercession of the holy individuals. This kind of popular Sufi tradition of worship is anathema to Islamists like the Ansar Dine fighters – Defenders of the Faith – who adhere to Salafism, which is linked to the Wahhabi puritanical branch of Sunni Islam found in Saudi Arabia.
Destruction of Timbuktu heritage sites accelerates
Islamist Ansar Dine fighters in northern Mali are continuing to tear down ancient Islamic mausoleums in Timbuktu designated as World Heritage sites by UNESCO, thumbing their noses at warnings by the International Criminal Court that the destruction is tantamount to a war crime. At least six tombs have been destroyed since Saturday began, according to reports. Al-Jazeera (7/2), BBC (7/1)
29 June
Backed by popular support, Mali’s Islamists drive Tuareg from Gao
(France24) Islamist forces won control of the city after seizing MNLA headquarters, taking several members of the Tuareg movement prisoner in the process. Overpowered, MNLA forces soon retreated from Gao’s airport, which they had been using as a military base. At least 20 people are reported to have been killed in the fighting.
17 April
Mali’s coup — Clinging to power
The junta bungled its way to power. Now it seems determined to stay there.
(The Economist | Baobab)
The clearest winners so far from Mali’s chaos are a trio of jihadist groups—Ansar Eddine, a Salafist outfit that emerged from the secular MNLA’s slipstream; al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb; and another terror group called the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa. The black flag of militant Islam has been spotted over all northern Mali’s big towns and residents say public awareness campaigns about the dictates of sharia law are underway. Yet far from berating the Islamists for imposing a strict and alien form of Islam, some inhabitants actually offer guarded praise. Ansar Eddine, in particular, they say, is attempting to rein in the MNLA’s rapacious fighters.
Meanwhile, Mali’s speaker of parliament, Dioncounda Traoré—who was sworn in as interim president last week to oversee the country’s return to democracy—promised “total war” if mediation with the rebel factions fails. But his stridency was meant for those Malians angry and bewildered by the de facto partition of their country following the rebel onslaught. It bears little relation to reality. Malian troops may be massing in Mopti, the staging post for any attack against the rebels, but they are in no shape to launch an offensive.
11 April
Sam Stein: Mali Notes
First – why should we care?
We should care because the forceful overthrow of a peaceful and non-repressive government cannot be justified under any circumstances – elections were scheduled to take place barely a month after the coup took place.
We should care because, if left unresolved, the situation could result in the creation of a safe haven for terrorist groups and lead to further instability in the entire West African region, which is already precarious with groups such as Boko Haram in Nigeria and others.
Second – what’s it all about?
The crisis in Mali is really two inter-related crises: In the South, it is a crisis of confidence in the ability of the government and the older generation of political leaders to manage the country effectively. In the North, it is a crisis about the control and identity of a vast and remote territory the size of France and Belgium combined and located for the most part in the Sahara Desert.
The two are inter-related in the sense that the crisis in the South would not have come to head had the crisis in the North not reached a tipping point as an unintended consequence of what seemed like a good idea at the time, i.e. getting rid of Moammar Ghaddafi. As in Iraq, the weapons and thugs employed by the former dictatorial regime simply ended up going somewhere else to cause mischief; in this case giving the Tuareg rebels and other groups an advantage over the Malian army. Although the Tuareg rebellion has a long history – dating from the very founding of the State of Mali in 1961 – they had never been able to mount much of a serious threat to the central Government. The change in the balance of power in the North as a result of the return to Malian territory of the former mercenaries and their weaponry is what provoked the coup d’état in the South.
The Malian army contingents charged with defending the Northern regions were overrun starting in January by heavily armed and experienced fighters and a number of massacres took place – most notably at the remote town of Aguelhoc near the Algerian border, where scores of Malian soldiers were beheaded after capture and displayed in photographs circulated by the rebels. Refugees from the Northern Departments of Kidal, Timbuktu and Gao started fleeing to the south and to the neighboring countries.
Worse, it soon became apparent that the original Tuareg independentist rebel group – the MNLA (Mouvement National pour la Libération de l’Azawad) – had been joined by two others: Ançar Dine, a Salafist group intent on establishing Sharia law and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQMI according to its French acronym). At this point the rebels now appear to control the entire North of the country, including the key towns of Kidal, Timbuktu and Gao. The good (?) news is that there is no love lost among the various rebel factions: the MNLA is a secular organization that seeks independence for the “Azawad” – the ancestral territory of the Tuareg people (or Kel Tamasheq as they prefer to be called); Ançar Dine seeks to impose Sharia throughout the entire territory of Mali rather than simply the “liberation” of the Azawad per se; finally, AQMI seeks to establish a safe haven for the activities of its Al Qaeda project. In addition, a number of simple criminal gangs and drug smugglers have joined the fray in the no-man’s-land of the North.
The reaction in the South began with riots earlier this year, following the military defeats and massacres in the fight against the rebels in the North, and accusations that the government was not doing enough to support the troops due to corruption and ineptitude – much of which are probably true. Unfortunately these warnings were not heeded and the military and political class had nothing concrete to offer the traumatized and dissatisfied members of the armed forces and their civilian sympathizers.
The former President Amadou Toumani Touré (ATT) had the enviable reputation of a soldier who gave up power peacefully following a coup in 1991 and did not participate in the subsequent elections. He only eventually assumed the Presidency after his predecessor Alpha Oumar Konaré had served two terms and then only through democratic elections in 2002 and again in 2007. He had declined to seek a third mandate, in accordance with the Malian Constitution. That said, although he was a fairly popular president and certainly not an oppressive dictator, he is accused by the coup leaders and others of “softness” regarding the rebels and the Tuareg in general and of toleration with respect to corruption, favoritism and unfairness in the administration. My own experience in dealing with the government revealed not so much a case of flagrant corruption; rather an inability to make decisions and a generalized paralysis and passivity on the part of the administration as those responsible waited for direction from the political level.
It appears that the parties have found a resolution for the time being: ATT has resigned, the President of the National Assembly will assume the Presidency of the country for a transitional period of 21-40 days in accordance with the Malian constitution and elections will take place thereafter, although there remains some difference of opinion over the date and the composition of the interim government.
Of course, the situation in the North is still far from resolved. I don’t think the rebels have much incentive for now to give up their gains – certainly not without something to show for their military success. We should bear in mind that the conflict between the Tuareg and the other populations of Mali goes back centuries – if not millennia. The Tuareg have lived in this inhospitable land since Roman times and have developed a tough and resilient nomadic way of life adapted to the desert environment; they are not going anywhere. Over the centuries, they have advanced and retreated, advanced and retreated many times in relation to the sedentary areas and populations living along the Niger River; this is but the latest iteration. Some of the Tuareg simply do not accept the legitimacy of the occupation of their territory by the states of Mali, Niger, Algeria, Burkina Faso and Mauritania, which they claim was imposed on them by the colonial powers (primarily France) without their consent.
In any event, the Malian army by itself will not be able to dislodge them from their territorial gains without help from outside forces. The regional organization ECOWAS has already indicated interest in helping out, as has France (always ready, willing and able to meddle in African adventures) and the US (I have seen a fleet of V-22 Osprey aircraft at Bamako airport). And I suspect that promises of this support – and the threat of continued sanctions – was critical in getting the junta to agree to hand power back to the civilians. Given the number of conflicts taking place elsewhere in the world, it’s not obvious that military intervention by France and the US would be feasible politically; the only justification would be to destroy potential Al Qaeda bases. I can foresee a resolution somewhat along the lines of the relationship between Iraq and Kurdistan, with a great deal of autonomy devolving to the Tuarag in the “Azawad”, provided that the MNLA commits to going after AQIM.
One of the real (unreported) dangers is the risk of some very nasty reprisals and pogroms against the non-rebel Tuareg living in Bamako and elsewhere in the country as a result of frustration and lack of public order. They have already been accused of sympathy with the rebels, disloyalty, etc. Friends of mine have already had to provide shelter to some of these and help to spirit them out of Mali.
6 April
Mali junta leaders agree to power transfer
(Al Jazeera) Coup leaders agree in a deal with ECOWAS for a return to constitutional rule under an interim leader.
1 April
Malian coup leader to restore constitution
Amadou Sanogo bows to regional pressure, as Tuareg rebels sweep through key areas including ancient city of Timbuktu.
Tuareg rebels, capitalising on the chaos in Mali created by an army takeover, are reported to have captured the ancient city of Timbuktu as their rapid advance through a succession of northern towns and cities continued unchecked
31 March
(Reuters via Globe & Mail) Coup leader Captain Amadou Sanogo, who has won significant street support for his putsch, pleaded on Friday for outside help to preserve the territorial integrity of the former French colony, which is a major cotton as well as gold producer.
Neighbouring countries have not answered his plea, however, and have given him until Monday to start handing back power to civilians or see the borders of his land-locked country sealed.
William G Moseley: Massive corruption does not justify Malian coup
Excuses for the coup do not warrant the overthrow of a democratically elected government and set a dangerous precedent.
(Al Jazeera) If we are charitable and assume the best, then Captain Amadou Sanogo may be a well-intentioned subaltern who unwillingly led a coup because he was fed up with rampant corruption, improper support of the military, and the declining welfare of the Malian people.
Sadly, however, the ends do not justify the means. Coups are steely sharp, double edged swords, as one violent transition of power opens the door a little wider for yet another violent transition of power. And this is the problem, because the next coup plotter may not be such a nice fellow.
Tuareg rebels enter key Malian town
Reports of gunfire near northern garrison town of Gao as Tuareg fighters make gains and pressure on coup leaders grows.
(Al Jazeera) The nearly three-month-old insurgency has cost the lives of dozens of Malian soldiers who were sent to fight the separatists, often without enough ammunition. Last week, soldiers at a garrison in the capital began shooting in the air in a mutiny over the treatment of their brothers-in-arms.
23 March
Mali’s coup must be widely condemned

Seizing power from Amadou Toumani Toure has ended 20 years of democratic rule.
(Al Jazeera) The coup d’etat that took place in the West African nation of Mali on Thursday, March 22, must be denounced by the international community in the strongest possible terms. This was no act of heroism to save a country from a despotic dictator, but rather an emotional outbreak by a disgruntled group of military officers that thoughtlessly ended 20 years of democratic rule. The real tragedy is that elections were scheduled to be held in little over a month (on April 29), a time when legitimate differences could have been debated, with voters (rather than guns) deciding the future of the country. … This is not the Arab Spring moving south, but a serious backwards step for democracy in the region.

8 Comments on "Mali 2012 -2014"

  1. Guy Stanley April 12, 2012 at 11:39 pm · Reply

    Thanks to Sam for this comprehensive report [Notes on Mali]. There are many political currents in that region of Africa, irrespective of national frontiers. I would be very surprised to learn that France was not aware of what was happening even if the political class is tied up in the elections. Is the Al Qaeda group linked to the ones that were holding Fowler and a number of French hostages in other parts of the same region? Guy

    Response from Sam Stein:

    As always, Guy makes a good point. Of course the French-African cabal is aware of what’s going on and a number of local Malian observers (check out http://www.maliweb.net ) see the dead hand of this group behind everything.
    Regarding who is responsible for the various kidnappings, it’s hard to know. Hostage-taking is a time-honoured technique of negotiating in that part of the world. If you want to attract the attention of the other party to – for example – discuss the rights to a particular water source, then you capture one of their key people so that you have something to bargain with. The difference today is that you have a “secondary market” in hostages whereby they can be bought and sold among the various groups. Thus, the MNLA (a secular Tuareg separatist group) might find it profitable to exchange one or more of their hostages to AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Isamic Maghreb) for cash or weapons.

  2. Sam Stein May 23, 2012 at 12:04 am · Reply

    David, Diana,

    Greetings from Norway and thanks for sending this.

    As you can see from the article (which confirms what I have been hearing from the local French-language press and my own contacts), the situation in Mali is becoming more complicated and precarious every day. I had hoped, after the agreement over the weekend to extend the interim president’s mandate, that things would settle down for at least a few months and the army could begin the campaign to win back the North of the country from the various rebel groups (including a number that have links to Al Queda) with the help of troops from other West African countries and logisitics and support from the West. In any case, that’s what my friends were telling me about the mood of the majority of the population.
    But it seems that some groups in the South want no part of the agreement. For them, the problem seems to be that the agreement – in respecting the prescriptions of the constitution – left the existing political class more or less in place after the president resigned following the coup d’état. It may be a generational conflict , or it could be something else. Of course, the agreement was the only means of granting some sort of legitimacy to the new government and allowing the other countries and the West to assist in kicking out the rebels from the North – which the Malian army appears incapable of doing on its own. So one has to ask who is really behind these latest demonstrations. They certainly do not serve Mali’s interests or our own. Every day that goes by with no resolution to the situation in the North of the country enables groups like Al Quaeda to solidify their position, recruit young men to the cause and terrorize the local population. And there is no way that the West can legally intervene in the North without a legitimate Malian government.

  3. Sam Stein July 18, 2012 at 11:31 pm · Reply

    Although I am usually a pacifist and cautious in these matters, I am afraid that the longer these islamists and Al Qaeda franchisees are given free run in the North of the country – with no challenge from the Malian or outside armed forces – the worse it will get. They are already recruiting literally hundreds if not thousands of young men and boys and giving them guns and money (with help from their Saudi and Qatari friends). And many of these “fous de Dieu” are not even Malian; some are from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Algeria, Yemen…… I have seen videos of their actions and it seems to me that a few well directed drones would have been able to completely smash their fighters who were crossing the open desert in clearly identifiable columns, with no possibility of civilian casualties. And it’s not as if even rudimentary surveillance wouldn’t have been able to detect these movements – there was no cover and the caravans of pick-up trucks and other vehicles were obvious to any one who cared to look for them.
    It would be a lot easier to kick these people out now, before they really solidify their hold on the North of the country. The local populations there do not support them but they do fear them – but only because they have no alternative since no one is coming to the rescue. The real problem is that no one is mounting a credible challenge to the crazies.
    Unfortunately the various factions in the South seem incapable of getting their act together to even be able to request military assistance through proper legal channels. My guess is that sooner rather than later the French will find some cover for an intervention. The longer this goes on the more we will be looking at the “Somalification” of the country.

  4. Sam Stein October 18, 2012 at 12:02 pm · Reply

    Tony, your comments are – of course – right on the money (no pun intended). The apocryphal story of Mansa Musa is that at the height of his power he undertook the obligatory Hajj from what is today the modern country of Mali to Mecca by way of Egypt – a trip of months if not years at the time. Apparently he brought with him an enormous retinue of horses, camels, courtiers, servants, soldiers, slaves, etc. Upon arriving in Egypt he spent some time there and – according to contemporary accounts – he and his fellow-travelers spent so much gold and other treasure that they brought about a runaway and uncontrollable cycle of inflation that effectively destroyed the local economy for years thereafter. Best, Sam

    From: Antal Deutsch, Prof.
    Subject: RE: Meet Mansa Musa I of Mali – the richest human being in all history
    … My more serious problem is what the numbers really mean. What could Mansa Musa buy, that anyone at the same time, with half his net worth could not? Cheers, Tony

  5. Sam Stein December 13, 2012 at 4:05 pm · Reply

    Re Islamists in Mali rely on kidnapping Westerners
    This is precisely the sort of situation that I first warned about back in March and April. I read the Times article this morning which only confirms my thinking that both the Malians themselves and the Western powers have not come up with a realistic plan to eliminate this threat. The Malian political and military establishments in the South are completely disorganized and consumed with the most childish intrigues and jockeying for political advantage while the West (mainly France and the US) seems paralyzed.

    As I mentioned some time ago, aerial surveillance of the areas concerned would easily reveal the supply routes and activities of the various Islamist factions and enable drone or other strikes against them. And there would be little or no collateral damage in the middle of the desert – aside from the poor hostages. I’m usually not much of a hawk with respect to military action but in this case the over-riding goal should be to prevent the Islamists from consolidating their control over the main centers like Timbuktu, Gao, etc. where they have very little support or sympathy from the locals ………… for now. The problem is that the longer they are allowed to settle in the more they will be able to use the money from their various nefarious activities (kidnapping, drug smuggling, human trafficking….) to offer jobs and goodies to the young men of these centers and the easier it wil be for them to in fact buy the support which they do not now enjoy. As long as they remain in the desert, their impacts on the rest of the world will be minimal and they will be easy pickings.

  6. Sam Stein December 22, 2012 at 12:15 am · Reply

    Re: UN approves Mali intervention force
    … the Malian authorities (such as they are) have not been making things very easy for those who want to help them, what with their petty politico-military peccadilloes in Bamako. Fiddling while Rome burns. Interesting mention in the article that the resolution authorizes foreign governments to provide “any necessary assistance” including lethal force, although it’s not clear who would make those decisions and according to what criteria. I spoke to a friend who returned from Mali last week and he said that there are rumors that the Islamists are starting to run out of their ill-gotten money from kidnapping, drug smuggling and human trafficking (as well as contributions from their Saudi and Qatari friends) and may not be able to hold on to the towns of Tombouctou, Gao and Kidal by simply buying off the locals. Which means that the locals themselves may start to rebel against their new masters – which would give justification to an outside intervention…………………….inch’allah. We will see; stay tuned.

  7. Antal (Tony) Deutsch January 17, 2013 at 4:31 pm · Reply

    The Mali issue is vital to NATO, precisely because it is not a problem of Mali. The Algerian drama, 700 miles away from the Mali border illustrates not only what you can accomplish when you trade your camels for Toyota trucks, but also that we are dealing with a larger problem, part of which are Algeria’s fuel exports, another is the terrorist threat to Europe.

  8. Sam Stein February 15, 2014 at 3:55 am · Reply

    Thanks for sharing this, Diana. Unfortunately, the latest reports out of Gao and other sites in the North of Mali are not as optimistic as they were immediately following the French intervention (Operation Serval) last year. Although it’s unlikely that the Jihadis will be able to return to towns like Gao and Timbuktu and impose their crazy brand of Islam on the local populations, the central government has been slow to come in and provide the kind of real services that would make a difference in people’s lives. Despite the campaign slogans of IBK regarding the elimination of corruption and the re-establishment of security throughout the country, not much has changed. In fact, a conflict between Peulhs and Touaregs last week not far from Timbuktu reeulted in a massacre of at least 30 people according to local media. And yesterday an Islamist group (MUJAO) fired rockets on the town of Gao, although no one was hurt and nothing was destroyed. The point is that the conflict is far from over and will probably continue at a low level for some time, despite the fact that there is probably no danger of a large-scale takeover of significant areas of the country.
    Until the government can demonstrate that corruption is no longer the modus operandi and until it can establish a functioning and effective and beneficial presence in places like Gao, the Islamists will be able to recruit and infiltrate and make mischief. The fact that IBK has yet to visit any of the northern areas of the country (despite having found the time to make trips around the region and as far away as Qatar) and the fact that his 34-year old son has just been named president of the National Assembly Defense Commission 1 month after having been elected – some would say parachuted – into the NA for the first time (despite having no experience) and his son’s father-in-law was named president of the National Assembly, does not bode well for the country.

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