In the turmoil of the Arab Spring, Gadaffi brutally put down protests, prompting an intervention by the West, backed by the Arab League, first in the form of a no-fly-zone, then dropping guns and training on-masse into the hands of rebels. Gadaffi was overthrown and we washed our hands of it – a successful intervention, one less dictator in the world.
Now, two years later, Mali is in the middle of a civil war, with rebels and Al-Qaeda setting up in the north, and acting much like the Taliban did when seizing power in Afghanistan (summary executions, amputations, destruction of religious/cultural shrines, enforcement of Sharia law). Turns out that dumping guns and bombs causes instability, and now Mali is paying the price. Two years ago Mali was a ‘functional democracy’ and wasn’t on the list (48 strong) of ‘fragile states’. Now it’s a complete mess.
We also know how troublesome failed states are, both in terms of global security and in terms of the development and security of citizens of those states. To me, it feels irresponsible to wash our hands and decline getting involved, and simplistic to say that the situation won’t be resolved until Africans start ‘standing up to imperial powers’. What should Malians do, reject foreign military support and embrace a drawn-out full-fledged civil war?
This is a problem without a good answer. We, as a global community, suck at these kinds of interventions; I think our track-record of intervening and establishing functioning democratic government is about 0. A different kind of approach is needed, but in a case such as this, military intervention seems unavoidable in the short term. Paul Collier’s article in the Financial Times (referenced earlier) argues for ‘nipping [this] in the bud’, while Scott Straus’ and Leif Brottems’ op-ed in the NY Times offers good insights into what is needed to lay the foundation for a successful state in the long-term – namely, a Malian-led drive for the hard work of engaging constituents in building grass-roots democracy. What we do know, but seem completely determined to forget time and time again, is that military intervention without long-term commitment and planning just sets the stage for further instability.
As long as the West, and us as Canadians, are involving ourselves in conflicts abroad (and I support our involvement in a peace-keeper role, as I supported intervention in Libya, for better or worse), we need to be getting involved for the long-term. Mali is a very different situation from Afghanistan, and an intervention right now would prop up the Malian state. This is an opportunity for us to fix some damage that we helped do. We were once known as model peace-keepers internationally. Here is a situation in which we can play a significant role in establishing peace, establishing stability, and supporting the long-term success and viability of the Malian state.
Check out this blog: http://bridgesfrombamako.com/2013/01/16/behind-mali-conflict/
And this article: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/19/opinion/global/looking-ahead-in-mali.html?_r=0
Comments or reactions? Discuss below!
The situation in Mali is quite a bit more complex than rebels=bad and government=good. The Tuareg have been marginalized in independent-Mali throughout its history, and the struggle they’ve waged against the central government has been going on since. Radical Islamist elements, whether affiliated with al Qaeda or otherwise, have not defined the entirety of the rebellion. And these elements have only been strengthened of late thanks to the intervention; as would be expected in times of chaos and upheaval, those who reject moderation most completely and can behave most viciously usually come out on top when it comes to securing the reigns of rebel movements.
The government, on the other hand, is not exactly benevolent. In fact, it has repeatedly shown itself to be extremely vicious.
It’s also important to not have illusions about the West’s interests in intervening. France has extensive interests in the Uranium in Mali and Niger while Canadian companies like IAMGOLD have a stake in the region’s gold mines. Humanitarianism is often a veil for self-interest. There’s nothing new about this. Even colonial ventures of old were often justified with the use of similar pretexts.
Ultimately, the following question has to be faced: Is bombing yet another Muslim country going to endear us to the people in the Muslim world? How long is this game going to played where we bomb places to “help” only to destabilize the surrounding region and create the problem anew?
The solution to complex problems involves complex solutions. For instance, the drug trade, which finances rebel movements as well as corrupt governments in West Africa, is just one of the important aspects which often gets left out of the simplistic representations of the conflict we most often see in the media.