Reflections on the Coup, Part 2
Although the situation at hand is most tragic for the citizens of Mali, the current situation could have significant repercussions for those of us both fortunate to escape, and even those of us who have never been.
For me, my time in Mali has ended, and any hopes of reinstallation dashed. I wish my outlook for Peace Corps Mali was more optimistic, but it has been 7 weeks since the junta took over in Bamako, and every last ounce of optimism has been strained from the situation. Peace Corps will need a stable government in power in order to even consider the option of reopening in the country, and the recent countercoup looks only to place one of the final nails in the coffin. Pending a miraculous turn of events in the coming weeks, I think it’s safe to assume that the Peace Corps will officially suspending their mission in the country until further notice, putting even more well educated and hard-working Malians out of a job.
Although all of this, like much of my previous post, is heart-wrenching and frightening, the key point that many are failing to take heed of is how these recent events could eventually evolve into a direct threat to American and European interests. The Sahara has always suffered from poverty, religious fundamentalism and porous borders that make it a safe haven for terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). The governments of the countries in the Sahel, however, have always maintained a modicum of power in their respective regions in the Sahel, stationing politicians, troops and military facilities to prevent any radical group from truly being able to exercise a monopoly on power.
Unfortunately, that legitimate government monopoly on power in the Sahel is no longer.
With the capture of the Malian cities of Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu by the MNLA, Mali has lost any authority it had north of the city of Mopti. The MNLA may be secular in its mission, but its monopoly on power in the region proved non-existent when members of the Islamist Ansar Dine burned and desecrated a saint’s tomb in the UNESCO world heritage site of Timbuktu last week. The MNLA may not have any stated desire to support radical Islam, but it has become clear that they have no capacity to control it either.
In addition to the MNLA’s growing impotency, the military junta further south continues to prove its incompetency. The recent counter-coup attempt sparked by further (most likely politically driven) arrests has proven that the junta has no intentions of relinquishing its power, but more importantly is incapable of forming a stable government that would allow it to reengage the MNLA in the north. Furthermore, the junta’s dismissal of ECOWAS troop support has made it clear that no third party government will be able to restore order to the north either. With no threat from the south or any outside governments, and a impotent MNLA “controlling” the north, northern Mali has become what some would call…
… yes, a stronghold for terrorists.
Now, it would be a little sensational to suggest that northern Mali is on course to become the Afghanistan of the Sahel, but between Boko Haram’s growing strength from Northern Nigeria to Mali, Ansar Dine’s blatant strong-arming in Timbuktu, and an Al-Qaeda namesake now exercising more free motion and power than it has at any point in its entire existence, things do not look promising. Although Mali may be a far cry from a failed state for the time being, its northern half is slowly becoming a bastion of lawlessness.
And, as with any bastion of lawlessness, the security threat will continue to increase as it becomes more apparent that the government in the south is systematically preventing any return to the rule of law. The region of Azawad (what the MNLA calls the new “country”) may be landlocked and therefore less enticing of a safe haven than a country like Somalia, but make no mistake about its significance. Northern Mali has already become a growing regional security threat, let us just hope that no more radical groups find worth within its newly constructed borders.