Africa

African media debate Mali intervention

Men look at the front pages of newspapers on January 21, 2013 in a street of Bamako.
Image caption Commentators are split on the French motives in Mali

Regional newspapers and online media have been debating the gains made by French and Malian troops in northern Mali, with some fearing that France will not be able to finish the job easily. They also mull the significance of a reported split in the Islamist Ansar Dine group.

Papers in Nigeria and Liberia back the decision to deploy troops in Mali, but one South African paper expresses "embarrassment" at Africa's reliance on the former colonial power, France.

'Bogged down'

The Algerian French-language daily Liberte highlights the fact that French and Malian forces came up against little resistance as they captured a string of Malian towns.

"Now that they are faced with a real, well-organised army, and with French air strikes, the Islamists occupying northern Mali are retreating and are abandoning their positions on the ground," an article by Merzak Tigrine says.

But Kharroubi Habib, in the Algerian French-language daily Le Quotidien d'Oran, warns that most of the militants are now "dispersed in the vastness of northern Mali", making them less vulnerable to air strikes.

He says "the real re-conquest of northern Mali is not a goal that will be achieved within a few weeks or even a few months" and that France's military operation will lead to the country "getting bogged down in the sand of the Sahel zone".

Meanwhile Djamel Lalami, in the Algerian Arabic-language daily Echorouk, questions France's motives.

"With its open war on neighbouring Mali, even though it is waged in the name of the 'war on terror', France aims to collect war booty. For France, gold, uranium and phosphate mines are much more important than Ansar Dine and the Movement for Monotheism and Jihad in West Africa," he says.

'Reconfiguration'

The Algerian French-language daily El Watan says a split in the Malian Islamist group Ansar Dine has weakened its leader, Iyad Ag Ghaly.

The breakaway faction, calling itself the Islamic Movement of Azawad, is led by Alghabasse Ag Intalla, who is "from one of the great Tuareg families" and "has always been regarded as a moderate" in northern Mali, an article by Zine Cherfaoui says.

"This reconfiguration of the Islamist Tuareg movement means that Iyad Ag Ghaly... no longer benefits from the political cover provided by traditional Tuareg leaders and that he now only has minority backing," it adds.

But a French-language article by B Coulibaly, published on the Maliweb news portal, says that "as far as most Malians are concerned, it seems that this split must be understood as a case of window-dressing, to dupe the Malian people".

According to the author, "each time they have their back to the wall, they seek a new way out".

A French-language article by Brehima Sidibe, published on Maliweb, criticises the Tuareg National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) for claiming to have taken control of the northern town of Kidal.

"Too bad for them if they still have not understood anything about the different UN resolutions and the determination of the Malian army to restore the country's territorial integrity with the support of the international community and friendly countries, such as France," it says.

'Embarrassment'

An editorial in Nigeria's English-language Guardian backs the country's decision to deploy troops in Mali.

"As President [Goodluck] Jonathan has acknowledged, Nigeria has a direct interest in intervening in Mali. Stability in Mali is important for stability and productivity in the West African sub-region," the paper says.

The Liberian English-language daily Analyst agrees. The country cannot ignore "the cries of the people of Mali and the rallying call of the international community," the paper says in an editorial.

"Refusing such a calling is not only a moral disincentive but a slap in the face of those who helped to get us where we are today as a nation - the international community," it adds.

But a commentary by Peter Fabricius, in South Africa's English-language Pretoria News, says some of the leaders gathered at the African Union summit in Addis Ababa skirted discreetly around "the embarrassment which is the focus of the summit: that the former colonial power France had to send in troops to stop jihadists and Tuareg secessionists seizing Mali because African troops were not ready to do so".

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