So...........here we go again?
January 18, 2013 9:15 AM   Subscribe

Jihad in the Sahara. It is no suprrise that Mali is the latest Muslim country to experience western Intervention. This has resulted in escalation. The north of Mali is as alien to the average soldier from southern Mali as the Alaskan tundra is to a citizen of Massachusetts or Manchester. This is the land where the local Tuareg or Arab in his souped-up turbo 4x4 is king. A map of the various conflicts. In October a der Spiegel journalist spent 2 weeks in the north of the country and in November CS Monitor asked Will Mali be Africa's Afghanistan?
posted by adamvasco (75 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
Toyota War.
posted by thewalrus at 9:15 AM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Behind Mali’s conflict: myths, realities & unknowns - "We cannot say that the war in Mali is primarily about natural resources, Western meddling, or religion. We can say, however, that it is a direct consequence of state failure, which as I have argued elsewhere came about largely due to factors internal to Mali."
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:21 AM on January 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


I thought I was getting the inside scoop on how they turbo and intercool those old 22RE Toyotas in the bad bush, but I got Brits talking about things colonial instead.
posted by joedanger at 9:26 AM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


...well, that was an odd comparison by the CSM.

Given the utterly different context*, the question should probably be "Will Mali be France's Algerian Deja Vu?"

It's not like the African forces don't have a lot of experience crushing local rebellions though; they just do OK by having less of an issue with killing everyone standing near a special/technical.

* History, experience, languages, short supply lines from the sea and lack of a major local power giving the insurgents military and intelligence backup.
posted by jaduncan at 9:28 AM on January 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


IIRC, northern Malian militants aren't Tuareg, but Islamist mercenaries who fled Libya after Gaddafi fell, and made common cause with the Tuareg independence movement. The Tuareg aren't as enthusiastic for their new allies after the sack of Timbuktu's monuments and the outlawing of music, where it was made clear the locals were not in charge and had no say in the new regime.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:39 AM on January 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


I believe the Jihadists actively want foreign intervention. That is why they only took foreigners as hostages. Bring em in; bog em down. Sound familiar?
posted by adamvasco at 9:47 AM on January 18, 2013


To show you the state of Canada these days: OTTAWA — A tweet by the president of Mali forced the Conservative government to admit Monday that it has committed Canadian military forces to help support the war against al-Qaeda-linked rebels in that country.
posted by mek at 9:58 AM on January 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Re the hostage sitch: it seems bonkers that we still have no read on the casualties -- the NYT is saying 4-35 hostages dead.
posted by angrycat at 10:02 AM on January 18, 2013


I highly recommend following Al Jazeera's news site for background on Mali -- they have been doing a piece just about daily for the past month, and this narrative report in particular lays out the great complexity of the nation in an enjoyably readable way. Letting this conflict be defined as "about al Qaeda" sounds dangerously American-centric: the initial rebel breakaway in the north, as I understand it, came on the heels of the Arab Spring and was about Tuareg self-determination. Qaeda came in once things were disrupted.

So how about that concept of "nations"? Could we somehow rethink it?
posted by gusandrews at 10:11 AM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


souped-up turbo 4x4

You mean like this aptly (now disturbingly) named one?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 10:13 AM on January 18, 2013


Angrycat, unless I missed something you are confusing things -- the hostage situation is in Algeria?

(/me looks again)

No, no, clearly we're getting into cross-border complications here. Crap.
posted by gusandrews at 10:16 AM on January 18, 2013


the VW touareg is not a real 4x4.
posted by thewalrus at 10:19 AM on January 18, 2013


I feel sorry for the jihadi who has the job of explaining to Taureg women that they'll have to veil themselves, give up their property, and lose the right to divorce their husbands. Good luck with that, mister.
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 10:19 AM on January 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


From "thewalrus's" link up top: A 'technical' is:
a type of improvised fighting vehicle, typically a civilian or military non-combat vehicle, modified to provide an offensive capability similar to a military gun truck. It is usually an open-backed civilian pickup truck or four-wheel drive vehicle mounting a machine gun, light anti-aircraft gun, recoilless rifle, or other support weapon.

posted by rosswald at 10:23 AM on January 18, 2013


I feel sorry for the jihadi who has the job of explaining to Taureg women that they'll have to veil themselves, give up their property, and lose the right to divorce their husbands.

You forgot the "...or we'll kill you." part. That's where it gets more persuasive.
posted by kjs3 at 10:27 AM on January 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


Good to see "Rebels of unknown origin" hold only one city - Know Your Enemy and all that. The other groups made me think of the People's Front of Judea and the Judean People's Front.
posted by achrise at 10:29 AM on January 18, 2013


A couple weeks back, there was a quite good (and sometimes disturbing) Fresh Air interview with Adam Nossiter, the NYT's West Africa Bureau Chief, who has been covering the situation
posted by Panjandrum at 10:29 AM on January 18, 2013


I'm torn about the French (read European) intervention in Mali. In some ways it is uncomfortable as France was once the colonial power there. But in other ways, events in Mali could help destabilize north Africa, and that's definitely within European interest to react. From comments I've read here and there, it's not Afghanistan which is on the minds of many, but Bosnia. We can't keep only talking about having a common foreign and security policy, but at some point we have to act on it. If we want a stable north Africa, we have to be the ones putting in forces and money to make it stable.
posted by Jehan at 10:37 AM on January 18, 2013


the VW touareg is not a real 4x4.

Not to derail, but, yes it is. Even with its unibody and AWD, the street-legal one is no joke - here it is in a friendly competition with a gigantic Chevy pickup.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:38 AM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


it seems bonkers that we still have no read on the casualties -- the NYT is saying 4-35 hostages dead.

Algeria is apparently ... less than transparent, particularly when it comes to military or "internal security" matters. But they're on our side, so nobody is going to say anything too impolite about it.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:43 AM on January 18, 2013


For some of the amazing music from Mali checkout Music from Saharan Cellphones Vol. 1 or Vol. 2.
... Sonrai rap from Northern Mali, to yet to be named genres like “Tuareg Autotune” ...
Christopher Kirkley has been traveling to the area for a few years now, gathering music unheard in the west literally via bluetooth cellphones. He had to recently cut the Mali leg of his last trip and focus on Nigeria because of the conflict.
posted by wcfields at 10:43 AM on January 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


You forgot the "...or we'll kill you." part. That's where it gets more persuasive.

It's less persuasive when you have your own local army to fight back with. They've been knocked around a bit lately, but they're far from being out of the fight.
posted by snottydick at 10:47 AM on January 18, 2013


Not to derail, but, yes it is.

That Dakar-style "touareg" bears as much resemblance (technically) to a touareg you can buy a in a dealership as a NASCAR car's external body resembles a car you can buy in a dealership...
posted by thewalrus at 10:50 AM on January 18, 2013


I was trying to learn more about this the other day and the striking takeway for me regarding the area claimed to be Azawad was the geographical differences with southwestern (?) Mali. It's generally part of the Sahara while the western part sounds pretty fertile in comparison, and population density seems similar. Way more people in the southwestern part compared to the desert Azawad area. Did they just cut apart the Sahara and divvy it up so that someone governed it?

(Yes, totally glossing over all ethnic issues. Just seemed like a pretty striking reality.)
posted by Big_B at 10:51 AM on January 18, 2013


Did they just cut apart the Sahara and divvy it up so that someone governed it?

Yup, pretty much.
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:03 AM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


French intervention in Africa has such a long and successful history that I can't see how this could possibly not have a perfect ending. At least it isn't we Americans shooting people this time.
posted by Justinian at 11:03 AM on January 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Le Monde has excellent coverage of the French campaign in Mali (lots of detailed maps), as well as what's happening in Algeria.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:10 AM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


b...b...but it´s in French!
posted by adamvasco at 11:19 AM on January 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


This map does a good job of deciphering what's happening in Mali.

In the Sahel, the conflict is not of the same kind in Afghanistan
posted by KokuRyu at 11:21 AM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


b...b...but it´s in French!

I'm surprised how much my Canadian high school French (plus years of staring at bilingual packaging over breakfast) allows me to get the gist of simple newspaper articles, but Chrome also does a pretty good job translating into English.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:23 AM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I see some of the snark in this thread and just shake my head. Anyone who knows and lives in West Africa know that the Islamist in Mali need to be blunted because they pose a real and serious threat especially to other countries that are grappling with Islamist attacks such as Nigeria. There is nothing colonial about what the French are doing and as someone who has family members living in West Africa, I support the French intervention.
posted by RedShrek at 11:42 AM on January 18, 2013 [6 favorites]


CSM: French flags selling out in Mali's capital
posted by rosswald at 11:49 AM on January 18, 2013


To show you the state of Canada these days: OTTAWA — A tweet by the president of Mali forced the Conservative government to admit Monday that it has committed Canadian military forces to help support the war against al-Qaeda-linked rebels in that country.

It's so weird to see "RCAF". I wonder how many Canadians actually cared about reappending "royal" to everything.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:10 PM on January 18, 2013


Is there anything out there on the web that posits what plausible borders of modern day African countries might look like if it hadn't been for the "random lines" method of colonialism?
posted by Flunkie at 12:19 PM on January 18, 2013


Is there anything out there on the web that posits what plausible borders of modern day African countries might look like if it hadn't been for the "random lines" method of colonialism?

How about this?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:28 PM on January 18, 2013


That's neat (The 10th Regiment of Foot), but it seems more like a "here are some nations which existed" thing. There are a bunch of overlaps, including some that are like a thousand years or more apart (e.g. Carthage and Fatimids), some of which have no claim on modern legitimacy (e.g., uh, Carthage and Fatimids). There is also a whole bunch of "empty" space.

I'm asking more for "2013 map of Africa in an alternate universe" kind of thing, with countries based on who lives where and how they've gotten along with their neighbors rather than based on essentially unintended side effects of colonialism.
posted by Flunkie at 12:39 PM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


It seems though that the pre-colonial history of the African continent is rife with the bubbling up of this group or that into dominence or even empire and then decent due to natural causes or competition. I'm not sure one could really predict what it would look like without European colonialization. Maybe a larger Arab influence? Maybe a huge Ethiopian empire or a Zulu horde riding (running) roughshod across the sub-sahara or beyond? It's hard to imagine, but maybe it would have even been worse, who knows? What would Europe look like without Monguls and Arabs? How about the Americas? Asia? Is uggest you go buy the game Civilization and experiment!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:51 PM on January 18, 2013


Well, sure, but then maybe not exactly "Here's what I think would have happened if not for colonialism", but "If all the Africans today were to get together in one big conference to wipe the slate clean in order to redraw the map of nations today, here's how I think they should do it".
posted by Flunkie at 12:54 PM on January 18, 2013


If all the Africans today were to get together in one big conference to wipe the slate clean

Sorta like this, except with a schengen?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 1:10 PM on January 18, 2013


If all the Africans today were to get together in one big conference to wipe the slate clean

Africa is a big continent with a whole bunch of different cultures. Big difference between the challenges faced by Ethiopia and the challenges faced by Ghana.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:32 PM on January 18, 2013


KokuRyu, are you under the impression that I'm suggesting that Africa become one country?
posted by Flunkie at 1:36 PM on January 18, 2013


The Charlemagne column "France goes it alone" linked in a sidebar of The Economist article linked in the post is quite interesting.
posted by ob1quixote at 1:39 PM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


KokuRyu, are you under the impression that I'm suggesting that Africa become one country?

I didn't get that at all. I just think that it does not make sense to think of Africa as being particularly cohesive. An analogy might be something like Russia vs Europe. Although Russia is, technically speaking, part of Europe, it's quite different so for the time being there isn't much chance that Russia will join the EU. Until very recently, Europe didn't sit down at the conference table - Europe went to war to solve problems (eg, Russia vs Georgia), so you're probably going to see similar challenges in Africa, where you have democratic, emerging nations like Ghana lumped together with basket cases like Zimbabwe. Nothing much in common for the leadership to talk about, let alone work together to surmount.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:01 PM on January 18, 2013


I'm not thinking of Africa as particularly cohesive.

I'll try one more time: Those "whole bunch of different cultures" that you mention. What would a map of Africa look like if nations were based on them.

Or what would a map of Africa look like if Europeans took them into more serious account when divvying up territory. Or if Africans took them into more serious account when working towards independence.

Things like that. Don't read too much into "sitting down at a big conference" - I've just been trying various different ways to get across the point of what I'm interested in seeing: What do people think a map of Africa should look like?
posted by Flunkie at 2:08 PM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't think there's really any way to create a map that has logical, equitable boundaries, simply because there is no nation in existence that is homogeneous. There are always going to be borderlands and minorities that want to go their own way.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:12 PM on January 18, 2013


I'm not asking for logical, equitable boundaries of homogeneous nations containing no borderlands or minorities.

The current map of African nations is often said to be seriously flawed. I am interested in seeing better proposals, whether at the time of the scramble for Africa or at the time of the African independence movements or at the time of today or whatever. I am not asking for unassailable holy perfection delivered to us from on high.

I don't want to derail further, so I'll shut up about this now, but if anyone knows of anything like I'm asking about, I'd still appreciate hearing about it.
posted by Flunkie at 2:29 PM on January 18, 2013


Flunkie, the problem is that you assume that the peoples of Africa can be put inside your concept of a nation state, when it has historically been a continent with a high proportion of nomadic peoples.
posted by brokkr at 3:06 PM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't think there's really any way to create a map that has logical, equitable boundaries, simply because there is no nation in existence that is homogeneous. There are always going to be borderlands and minorities that want to go their own way.

Also, the distribution of resources (oil, gold, copper) would really make a mess of things in terms of perceived ownership. See the Sudan/South Sudan scrapping over oil fields.
posted by Mezentian at 4:13 PM on January 18, 2013


If all the Africans today were to get together in one big conference to wipe the slate clean

Perhaps something like this?
posted by Slithy_Tove at 4:26 PM on January 18, 2013


My two cents:

The foreign intervention is widely supported by throughout Mali -- in fact, it's something that has been asked, particularly by Tuareg in the North who have spent the past few years fighting Salafist extremists in the desert. On a personal note, I've been getting phone calls from Tuareg rebels for the past 6 months asking for some sort of military support. One asked if I could put him in contact with the Secretary of State. What was laughable then is not so laughable now. The West is getting dragged into the situation, like it or not.

The troubling factor in foreign intervention is how it plays out. The Malian government, led by a military force who used the conflict to overthrow the democratically elected president is not ideal. Former president ATT, while sometimes at odds with the North, had strong diplomatic connections with important figures in the Tuareg political sphere. The new government seems less likely to pursue diplomatic means.

With an infusion of arms and support to the illegitimate Malian government in the South, there is a fear that, at best, military forces will use this moment to attack not just extremists, but rebel groups, such as the MNLA, who are seeking an autonomous Northern region and at worst, use this situation to continue what many Northerners perceive as a prolonged program of ethnic cleansing against the Tuareg: Remember, it was as recent as 1992 when entire villages were massacred (Lere, for example). The previous decades had even worse atrocities committed against civilian populations. These stories persist in family memory.

The last fear is confounded by the fact that if non-Northern troops attempt to go into the Sahara, they will find themselves in a foreign country - in terrain and in culture. Extremists can very easily blend into local populations, and to the soldier from Togo, Nigeria, France, or Bamako, a young man in a turban could be anyone.

Here's the catch -- if a Tuareg led force were supported, they could, as it's commonly said in the North "finish with Al-Qaedi in a day". No Salafist extremist can hide in Goundam or Gargando unknown to locals. They can't simply disappear. They have no support among the Tuareg (the idea of a Salafist doctrine in Northern Mali is laughable -- a population that loves guitar and cigarettes). Not to mention the ongoing conflict between Salafists and the Tuaregs -- prior to this event, most of the Northern military WAS Tuareg, and many of my friends have lost siblings in conflicts with Al-Qaedi Salafists.

In any case, this is how I see it from where I stand, a long way away from Kidal, but with half a foot back in the desert and an ear to the daily phone calls and Facebook chats. Draw your own conclusions, be wary of French media and especially of English language media which is usually VERY off-base (as reporters try to write the same story from Bamako, repeatedly) Check the various FB groups (1, 2), Tuareg press, and the on point Andy Morgan...
posted by iamck at 4:46 PM on January 18, 2013 [14 favorites]


It's so weird to see "RCAF". I wonder how many Canadians actually cared about reappending "royal" to everything.

Shameful, amateur manipulation by a bunch of ideologues who have no idea of either history or international relations. Their pretense of respect for royalty provides valuable cover as they whore the nation for their corporate sponsors. How's that?

See "A tweet by the president of Mali..." above.
posted by sneebler at 5:06 PM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


'Mali Ko': Musicians Come Together in Mali to Sing Song of Peace
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:41 PM on January 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Beautiful. Thanks Flapjax
posted by Jode at 12:31 AM on January 19, 2013


I'm torn about the French (read European) intervention in Mali. In some ways it is uncomfortable as France was once the colonial power there.

I don’t see that as a problem. I see that as helping clean up something they know they were at least partly responsible for, not just washing their hands of it.
posted by bongo_x at 7:45 AM on January 19, 2013


Thanks iamck.. That link to Andy Morgan gives far and away the best background and history on this conflict and complexities than anything else I have ever read. It´s a long read but worth it to see how all this developed to the present mess.
Once again Americas´s best and special friend Saudi Arabia is seen to be the banker behind the developing Jihadists together with western governments, Germany and Austria (whose Jorg Haider got his friend and backer Gadaffi to intervene) in particular handing over enormous ransomes in the El Para kidnappings and the US support of the decidedly non democratic Algerian despots.
Complex and intruiging stuff.
posted by adamvasco at 10:03 AM on January 19, 2013


I think the CS Monitor headline would be a lot funnier if it asked "Will Mali become France's Vietnam?"
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:43 PM on January 19, 2013


Once again Americas´s best and special friend Saudi Arabia is seen to be the banker behind the developing Jihadists

Speaking of the Saudis: Brookings' Bruce Riedel urges intensified US support for Saudi despots - Every now and then, leading mavens of the Foreign Policy Community have an uncharacteristic outburst of candor
posted by homunculus at 7:08 PM on January 19, 2013


Ansar Dine and How Climate Change Contributed to the Algeria-Mali Crisis
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:00 AM on January 20, 2013


Love him or hate him... Pepe Escobar :...
using hardcore Islamists to suffocate an indigenous independence movement comes straight from the historic CIA/Pentagon playbook.
posted by adamvasco at 8:09 AM on January 20, 2013


William Engdahl (who I think is a kook but also that where there is madness are grains of truth).
I think behind the French intervention is the very strong hand of the US Pentagon which has been preparing this partitioning of Mali, which it is now looming to be, between northern Mali, where al-Qaeda and other terrorists are supposedly the cause for French military intervention, andsouthern Mali, which is a more agricultural region. Because in northern Mali recently there have been huge finds of oil discovered, so that leads one to think that it’s very convenient that these armed rebels spill over the border from Libya last year and just at the same time a US-trained military captain creates a coup d’état in the Southern capital of Mali and installs a dictatorial regime against one of Africa’s few democratically elected presidents.
posted by adamvasco at 12:24 PM on January 20, 2013


I'm asking more for "2013 map of Africa in an alternate universe" kind of thing, with countries based on who lives where and how they've gotten along with their neighbors rather than based on essentially unintended side effects of colonialism.

I think the staggering level of human diversity on the continent has made it so this is not such an easy thing to do. I believe that someone else mentioned the resources issue, which is not so easily overlooked. If you were to break down Africa into even roughly homogenous ethnic units, you'd have hundreds of statelets, few of which would have a chance of viability. Africa's territorial history before European colonialism was very fluid. People moved, empires waxed and waned, and it essentially boils down to too many groups competing for the same resources and not having too much incentive to share and play nicely with their neighbors. However, if you do want to have a go at it, I would love to see such a map. G.P. Murdock's ethnic map, and this article about it and its correlations with conflict might be a good starting point to creating such a map.
posted by snottydick at 7:03 AM on January 22, 2013


Wow, that link is really interesting, snotty! Thanks!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:08 AM on January 22, 2013


Chadians advance in Mali troop moves, U.S. helps with airlift, Abdoulaye Massalatchi and Richard Valdmanis, Reuters, 22 January 2013
posted by ob1quixote at 11:33 AM on January 22, 2013


Robert Fisk
Algeria, Mali, and why this week has looked like an obscene remake of earlier Western interventions.
We are outraged not by the massacre of the innocents, but because the hostages killed were largely white, blue-eyed chaps rather than darker, brown-eyed chaps.
posted by adamvasco at 9:45 AM on January 24, 2013


Ten Republican Myths on Benghazi that Justify Hillary Clinton’s Anger
posted by homunculus at 9:11 PM on January 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


Broken limbs, torn lives in northern Mali. Possibly nothing new, but depressing all the same.
posted by Mezentian at 9:26 PM on January 24, 2013


Algeria hostage crisis: the full story of the kidnapping in the desert
posted by KokuRyu at 11:11 PM on January 25, 2013


Timbuktu mayor: Mali rebels torched library of historic manuscripts
posted by homunculus at 10:46 AM on January 28, 2013


In liberated Timbuktu, new rains begin to wash away harsh rule of rebels
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:03 PM on January 28, 2013


The Big Picture: Mali endures in conflict
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:26 PM on January 28, 2013


Escalation. US signs deal with Niger to operate military drones in west African state.
posted by adamvasco at 3:54 PM on January 29, 2013


Adam Curtis - Paradiabolical - Al-Qaeda In Africa
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:10 AM on January 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


That is an outstanding informative article from Adam Curtis; deserves it´s own FPP.
posted by adamvasco at 12:26 PM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


We are outraged not by the massacre of the innocents, but because the hostages killed were largely white, blue-eyed chaps rather than darker, brown-eyed chaps.

Actually, most of the hostages were Philippino.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:28 AM on February 1, 2013


Now What? As France leaves Mali, The West's New War Strategy Shows Peril
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:09 AM on February 14, 2013


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