Military developments in Mali and the growing importance of the Sahel region

In the latest issue of Pambazuka news, Vijay Prashad writes of some worrying developments taking place in Mali, and which appear to have gone unnoticed by the mainstream media. Prashad exposes the support received by the Malian government, led by its President Amadou Toumani Touré, from US intelligence and military sources in order to halt the perceived progress of the terrorist group “Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb” (AQIM). Not only has the State Department contributed $5 million to the military budget of Mali (of a total of $70 million), but 300 Special Forces advisers have carried out training exercises with the Malian army. Furthermore, all these activities are integrated within the newly established AFRICOM, a US military command set up especially for the continent. A highly controversial project which according to its critics aims to increase US military presence in Africa under the pretext of “fighting terrorism”, but behind which lies the real interest – control over energetic and natural resources of the continent – especially the oil reserves in the Gulf of Guinea. This strengthening of the Malian military, Prashad warns, may lead, in the national and regional context of tensions and struggle for resources, to a military clampdown of civil and democratic liberties from the central government, similar to that witnessed in Guinea in late September.
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US Special Forces member inspects Malian soldiers’ weapons (foto US army)
Several reflections follow from this. Firstly, it is clear that the “war on terror” perspective which the last US administration adopted for most of its foreign policy commitments can, at best, lead to mistaken analyses, and at worse serve as a cover up for other interests. Here for example, AIQM does not appear as a threat to the Malian state because of its radical Islamic orientation. Rather, the Al-Qaeda association is simply “a propaganda coup”; as Prashad writes: AQIM is “a small shop with a large sign”, whose activities are almost entirely criminal, including the smuggling of drugs and weapons, and the kidnapping of Western tourists and diplomats in the country. This does not mean that AIQM is not a threat, but rather than it cannot be presented as group where Islamic convictions are the most important element.
Secondly, and derived from this, in order to solve the problems faced by the Malian state, it is necessary to promote both economic development and a fairer distribution of the recourses economic growth may generate. It is the existing inequality which explains the continued conflict between the Malian state and the ‘Tuareg rebels’, which dates back to independence in 1962, and which became more violent in 1990, forcing the state into a negotiated settlement, seeing that a military solution was not possible. Thus the unequal centre/periphery distribution appears here, as in most of the states in the Sahel marked by arid climate as the key dynamic. A dynamic that has also characterised the Sudan/Darfur conflict, as we have seen before.
Finally, it appears necessary to highlight the growing importance which the Sahelian region is acquiring in global affairs. Not only as one of the regions where the effects of global warming are being most felt and are having a direct impact on political developments. The Sahel has already become central in the migration pocesses which take subSaharan migrants to Europe, and where European states are setting up their first “barriers” to contain these processes. Also, recent news stories point out how, the Sahara desert may become central in the search for energy sources that may provide an alternative to fossil fuels. Thus, it has become known Desertec, a consortium made up of 12 European business plans to set up in the Sahara desert the largest solar powered electricity plant in the world, equivalent to 100 nucreal power stations, and connect it with Southern Europe. If this becomes a reality, North Africa would become the most important enery source for Europe thus increasing the geostrategic value of the area, already high due to the rich reserves of oil, gas and uranium present in the region. img
Foto Desertec Foundation
It is thus likely that as the Sahel becomes a more important region, the eternal dilemma of security vs. democracy may acquire new dimensions in the region, and may involve new and powerful players, something which may not necessarily lead to a direct benefit for the population in these countries.

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2 thoughts on “Military developments in Mali and the growing importance of the Sahel region

  1. democrateafricain noviembre 9, 2009 / 2:08 pm

    Your article clearly underlines why Africa needs a real African Union. One that can defend the African People’s rights and future. How to develop a souvereign Africa when its his pulled apart by countless allegiances( military, economical, political…) that do not always profit the People? What of tomorrow when we want to review or revoke those deals, acts, agreements?

  2. schauzeri noviembre 9, 2009 / 4:38 pm

    Thanks for your comment!! yes, definitely agree with you in the importance of an African Union. The problem is that so far politicians have failed to deliver on their promises. It may even seem as if an African Union is too important to be left to politicians!

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