Mali, Nigeria and the Coming African Wars

           On December 21, 2012, the United Nations Security Council approved the use of military action in the country of Mali.  The Northern portion of Mali is now in the control of Islamic extremists who wish to establish an Islamic country along the lines envisioned by the Taliban in Afghanistan.  On January 11, 2013 the first of an expected 2,500 French soldiers arrived in Mali.  West African nations have promised to send more than 3,000 soldiers to help the Malian government fight the Islamic forces.  The African forces will be led by Nigeria, which is actively engaged in their own fight with the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram.  The events in Africa are very confusing to most Americans.  Why does anyone care about Mali?  Why should anyone care if Mali is controlled by a Taliban like government?   Nothing happens in a vacuum.  The situation in Mali is easily understood when one looks beyond the borders of Mali.

           Mali is a country of approximately 16 million people.  It is a former French colony and became an independent nation in 1960. Mali had their first democratically elected government in 1992.  As with the country of Mauritania, slavery persists in modern Mali.  The group Temedt is a Malian anti-slavery advocacy group formed by Ibrahim Ag Idbaltanat, who is himself a descendant of a slave, estimates that the country has more than 200 thousand people living as slaves and up to 600 thousand descendants of slaves who in some fashion still tied to a ‘master’.  The issue of slavery in Mali is explained further here and here.  Slavery can be found in all sections of Mali, however, it is predominately practiced in Northern Mali by the Tuareg.

           The Tuareg have been fighting for independence from the moment that Mali was formed.  There have been 5 major Tuareg uprisings, the last beginning in 2011 as thousands of well armed and well trained Tuareg militants returned from Libya where they had been fighting for the Gaddafi government.  The Tuareg rebels in alliance with al-Qaeda, quickly began seizing control of small Northern Malian cities and soon Northern Mali was in a state of full rebellion.  Who are some of the major players in Mali?

           Currently, one of the most successful of Tuareg groups is the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA).  The MNLA is led by Bilal Ag Acherif.  He is a very young (born in 1977) and charismatic Tuareg leader.  In November of 2012, he met with French officials in the capital of Burkina Faso to discuss the current situation in Northern Mali.  He protested the idea of military intervention by Western and African nations.  Instead of invading Mali, he said that those countries should assist the MNLA in ridding Mali of the Islamists.  The MNLA is composed almost exclusively of Malian natives and states that they are not operating with the Islamists.  The French insisted that the MNLA cease fighting for an independent Tuareg country.  The MNLA refused to concede on their demand of an independent Tuareg country and the talks collapsed.

           Ansar Dine is the other large Tuareg rebel group.  It was formed in 2011 by Iyad Ag Ghaly.  He is a mysterious man whose past is quite murky.  He is an expert at playing all sides during a conflict.  In the mid 1990s he was the undisputed leader of the Tuareg rebels.  He was involved in the kidnappings of many Westerners and extorted millions of dollars in ransom payments from Western nations.  Kidnapping is often a means of funding a rebellion as well as enriching the leadership.  He would often act as a liaison between the kidnappers (with whom he was affiliated) and the Western countries seeking the return of their citizens.  From 2007 to 2010, he was a Malian diplomat working in Saudi Arabia.  Unsubstantiated reports claim that he was expelled by the Saudis for developing ties with terrorist groups operating from Saudi Arabia.  The word unsubstantiated should not be confused with unreliable.  Ghaly was never known as a particularly religious man.  However, in 2011 after his return from Saudi Arabia he stated that he wished to impose Sharia Law on the Tuareg people.  That same year, he made a bid to become the leader of the MNLA but he was rejected.  The reasons for the rejection are numerous.  Some claim he was rejected because of his ties with al-Qaeda, while others claim that his close ties to the Malian government were the reason.  Regardless, his bid for leadership was rejected and he then created his own group, Ansar Dine.

           Ansar Dine quickly aligned itself with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).  AQIM was formed by Algerian Islamic militants in the 1990s.  They Algerian militants officially affiliated themselves with al-Qaeda in 2007.  Ansar Dine and the AQIM were very successful in quickly taking control of large portions of Northern Mali.  They were also successful in establishing Sharia Law in the regions they controlled.  As Sufi shrines were destroyed and people stoned, beheaded or their limbs severed for previously unpunished religious infractions, the local populace began to flee.  It is estimated that the current fighting has created 800 thousand refugees.  With the arrival the militaries of France and other African countries, the fighting will intensify and the number of refugees will increase.

           The African forces will be led by Nigeria.  Nigeria is dealing with their own Islamic separatist group, Boko Haram.  Since its creation in 2001, Boko Haram has killed anywhere from 3000 to 10000 people.  The group is affiliated with al-Qaeda and wants an independent Islamic State to be created out of Northern Nigeria.  As with the Taliban, they want to rule with Sharia Law.  Nigeria is not just on a humanitarian mission in Mali. Nigeria will need assistance in eliminating Boko Haram from their country.  It is likely that once operations end in Mali, Nigeria will most likely request assistance in their own fight against Islamic militants.

           Britain is sending assistance in the form of ‘logistical’ support.  France has troops on the ground.  America’s role is not yet defined.  The countries of Africa are heavily involved in Mali.  From the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan to the Arab Spring that toppled Gaddafi everything is now meeting in the country of Mali.  Nothing happens in a vacuum.  The wars of the Middle East have moved to Africa.




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Michael Parenti: Intervention is for the benefit of the 1%

geomoo's picture

Thank you for this information.  I happened to listen this morning to an outstanding inteview with Michael Parenti [h/t LaEscapee] in which he mentions Niger and Mali by way of examples.  I believe we need look no farther than his explanation of why the industrialized nations are getting involved militarily in Africa.  Hint: enrichment of the 1%.

This interview is about media primarily.  I have excerpted the portions relating to Africa.  The entire excellent interview can be watched here.  [I transcibed this myself--any errors are mine.]


Class also determines issues of empire.  It determines where our taxes and money goes.  It also explains why we have troops in about sixty different countries, why we have invaded and intruded upon other countries.  It’s to make the world safe for corporate America.


Those issues are just ignored, and the phony issues that are just presented to us is “Oh, we go into those countries because we are humanitarian and we are concerned that the people in these countries are not doing too well.” When George Hubert Walker Bush invaded Somalia, he said, “I’m going in because there’s a famine and I want to help them.”  What a bunch of [unintelligible].  When did he ever show concern for famine in Africa?  There were about nine countries that were suffering from famine, but Somalia had just discovered that three quarters of the country was rich with oil, and also that they had to make a presence in Central Asia and such.  But they can’t tell that to the American people.  They can’t say, “Come on, we want to go bomb villagers, we want to go kill these people because we want to take it over and increase the wealth for corporate America.”

Look at the French doing the same thing right now in Niger and Mali.  Niger is one of the richest countries in the world.  It has some of the greatest uranium storages, all that uranium has been going for a pittance, very cheaply going to France.  Niger is one of the very poorest countries.  It is one of the richest and the poorest.  Those that are rich in resources but weak, they get taken over and colonized and plundered.  Niger has been plundered by France.  Seventy-five percent of French electricity is nuclear. . .

That is an example of what I am saying, how all these kinds of things that are happening around the world [having to do with] empire, all of that is part of a class power that is being pursued for class interest, for that one percent.  And it’s never mentioned by the media:  who profits from all of the interventions?

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Remember as well the infamous "yellowcake from Niger" lie

tom allen's picture

...that was part of the run-up to the second Iraq War.  The CIA and others alleged that Saddam was trying to import uranium from Niger; Joseph Wilson went to Niger and found no evidence of it; and his wife, CIA agent Valerie Plame was outed in retaliation.

Is Niger's uranium going to be the basis for another war or two?  It certainly looks possible.

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excellent commentary from one of the best African newspapers

sartoris's picture

I really enjoy the writing/reporting that is found in the Botswanan paper, the Mmegi.  Highly recommend adding this paper to your list of favorites.  The quality of the writing and the scope of their coverage is always impressive.

Here is a very interesting commentary on France's activities in Mali.

France, Africa and Mali


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Kidnapping scheme an indicator of things to come

sartoris's picture

The capturing of the natural gas facility in Algeria appears to have been little more than a bold kidnapping/extortion/ransom plan.  However, it reveals a number of facts about the region.  The terrorist groups (can a kidnapper really be called anything else?) are operating with a great deal of freedom.  Pulling off an operation the size of this requires a lot of people and a lot of planning.  The west will now pour into this part of the world and will remain for a very long time.  A very good article from the BBC on the situation can be found here: Algeria crisis: 'Captors and hostages die in assault'



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Very informative post. Thank you. 3 bulbs of beer for that.

Ohio Barbarian's picture

Sounds to me like there's still a whole lot of tribalism going on in Mali and nearby parts of Africa, though. Of course, when the European colonial and imperial powers dominated, they didn't give a damn when they drew the boundaries on maps in Paris and London. 

Doesn't make tribalism any less primitive and despicable, or any less real, though. Does these people's names for themselves still translate directly as "The People" or "The Real People?"  Which, by implication, means that anyone else isn't quite as human as they are so it's OK to enslave them? And the only reason they don't do the same to Europeans and Americans is because the latter two happen to have better weapons? 

Look. I want all of my fellow Americans brought home. I'm no imperialist. But when French troops are greeted by cheering crowds in Bamako because they represent something far better than their current options, that says something as well. 

I don't know what should be done in Mali. But these Tuareg certainly don't seem like the answer. Compared to them, the French are probably a relief. 

And what does THAT say?

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I'll see your 3 bulbs of beer and raise you 3 more.....

sartoris's picture

Thanks, glad you found it informative.  Tuareg is what they are called by the Arabic peoples.  Tuareg is an insult and means, "abandoned by God".  They call themselves the Imohag, which means, the Free.  They were not Islamic and did not want to be Islamic, so back in the 6-8th centuries they were given the name of Tuareg.  Of course, now centuries have passes and they have incorporated parts of Islam into their own indigenous religions.  I guess the way I think of them is sort of like the American Indian tribes who have incorporated parts of Christianity into their native religious acts.  Now, before I get blasted for saying that, I know that's not completely accurate, it's just the way I think of them to sort of help me understand their historical roots in North Africa.

They are Berbers and nomads by definition.  I don't know nearly enough about the Berber peoples, however, it's my understanding that they are exceedingly independent minded and generally opposed to all government rule. 

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Berbers, eh? "Abandoned by God, or maybe Allah?" Not that...

Ohio Barbarian's picture

...there is any difference. Don't worry about me blasting you for making an analogy. Analogies are a great way to understanding, so long as they are not taken too literally. 

Berbers. That region of Africa has been a melting pot of different peoples ever since homo sapiens arrived who knows how many hundreds of thousands of years ago. Talk about climate change! That place has seen it all. From lush savannah and marshland to desert and everything in between. It's been invaded and occupied by everybody from the ancestors of the Bantu(maybe) through the Phoenicians and Carthaginians, to the Romans and Vandals, to the Arabs and Turks, and more recently the French. 

There's a great Sean Connery film about that area of the world, more specifically Morocco, but it's close enough, called The Wind and the Lion, with Candace Bergman. Brian Keith plays a great Teddy Roosevelt. 

We Americans have no more business sticking our noses into Mali now than TR did in Morocco over a century ago. Yet, I fear it may be here we go again. At least the French have some understanding of the place. Interesting that Algeria is letting the French use their air space for the first time since they gained independence, too. 

I don't pretend to completely understand what's going on there, but some things lead me to believe that the Al-Qaeda affiliated folk are regarded by many inhabitants of the area as worse than their former colonial masters. OTOH, the France of 2013 is not the same as the France of 1953, to be fair. 

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thanks for the recommendation

sartoris's picture

I'll keep an eye out for The Wind and the Lion.  I'm not sure if it is even possible to not be a Sean Connery fan.  Appreciate you reading and your contributions to this discussion.  I agree, France is a different country now than it was during it's imperialist heyday.  The exact number of people who died in the Algerian War of Independence is not known, however, it's generally accepted that at least 1-1.5 million people died.  Amazing. 

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type1error's picture

I'm not sure why this surprises me:

Obama deploys drones, US military personnel to Niger

President Barack Obama has deployed American military personnel and drone aircraft to the African country of Niger, where they could be used to support a French counterterrorism mission in neighboring Mali.

Defense Department officials told NBC News that a first wave will include two Raptor surveillance drones and 250 to 300 military personnel, including remote pilots and security and maintenance crews. They are expected to arrive soon.

The officials stressed that the drones are meant for surveillance only. The White House has faced criticism for a legal memo concluding that the U.S. government can use drones to kill American citizens overseas in certain cases.

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American Drones, our new growth industry.

sartoris's picture

Who could have predicted, right? I need to get on this drone action, it's a growth industry with unlimited profit potential!

Drones! Use 'em to kill your enemies!

Illegal immigration? Use Drones to change their destination!

Occupy Protestors got you down? Drone out their shouts!

Killed an innocent in error? No need to worry it's the War on Terror!

Want to stay on your throne? Get yourself some Drones Drones Drones Drones Drones!!!!!

Drones! By WHAMMO Industries!!!!!!


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