Attacks jolt Mali and France out of complacency

 
A French soldier peers behind a wall in front of a French armoured vehicle during gun battles with Islamist insurgents in the northern city of Gao, Mali February 10,2013. French forces battled Islamist militants in Gao on Sunday

It was all going too fast and too well in Mali, wasn't it?

France's devastatingly effective charge across the north of the country. The spectacular collapse of all resistance. The convenient splintering within the rebel movements. The peaceful fall of Kidal. And in the capital, Bamako, all the right noises finally emerging from a notoriously sluggish transitional government about the need for elections, human rights etc.

Then came the clashes between rival groups of Malian soldiers in Bamako - a chilling reminder of the chaos still seething within the armed forces - and at the weekend, the first signs of a serious counter-attack by the jihadists in the key northern town of Gao.

Both incidents have served as a timely corrective for anyone who was beginning to entertain the idea that fixing Mali might be, well, almost as straightforward and smooth as President Francois Hollande's recent victory lap around the main square in Timbuktu.

And yet. For all the enormous challenges still facing Mali - and its neighbours for that matter - it is perhaps worth clinging on to some of the optimism that seems to have flooded through the country over the past month.

Reason to be hopeful

Over the years Mali - routinely, and lazily hailed abroad as a beacon of democracy in West Africa - had shown signs of becoming numb to its own deep internal problems. The cocaine trade, al-Qaeda, the neglect of the north, half-hearted attempts to integrate Tuareg rebels into the military, and a breathtaking amount of corruption - all these issues had been glossed over or tucked behind the more promising headlines about yet another peaceful election, or the discovery of even more mineral wealth buried beneath the Saharan sands.

Today, Mali has, at the very least, been forced to confront the truth. It has been jolted - there can surely be few other countries to have experienced quite such a devastatingly abrupt collapse - in the most extraordinary fashion. Whether that triggers real change, or more backroom deals by the same corrupt elites, remains to be seen. But there is, I think, some reason to hope that the conflict may serve as a catalyst for reform.

Commentators have tended to compare and contrast Mali's crisis with that of another vast, landlocked nation - Afghanistan. But there are other examples, closer to hand, of more successful outside interventions.

I remember, vividly, standing on the beach outside Freetown in Sierra Leone over a decade ago, as British soldiers piled out of their helicopters onto the sand. The entire city seemed to have come out to watch and cheer them. The British operation there was brief, and by most benchmarks, stunningly successful in ending a horrific civil war.

Which road will Mali follow? Afghanistan or Sierra Leone?

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Andrew Harding, Africa correspondent Article written by Andrew Harding Andrew Harding Africa correspondent

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  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 55.

    Your analyst is perfectly right. We can't compare Afghanistan with Mali. The Islamists are terribly unpopular in most parts of West Africa, they are felt like an enemy from within. That's the reason why the former colonizers have been warmly applauded which is a rare occurrence in black Africa. Now's the time for a new challenge.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 54.

    Movie, "The Battle of Algiers" = lesson on how govts use excuse of terrorism. France, is backed by US' AFRICOM. It wants to re-occupy Mali & Algeria to exploit resources for French, US & British corps. "Terrorism" - used by legitimate resistance movements against this foreign occupation - appears justified.
    Western powers want Africa, Latin America, ME & Asia = the world.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 53.

    Developments in Mali demonstrate role of imperialist propaganda designed to build public support for invasions. Similar scenarios have been carried out in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya & Syria - all strategic or resourceful targets. Since western Govt's are seldom transparent, anti-war, anti-imperialist forces in Africa must organize to oppose western military interventions.
    Africa unite.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 52.

    Situation in Mali & Algeria has been created by west to re-conquer territories once controlled by these foreigners. Situation serves as a reminder there are legitimate resistance fighters against foreign occupation. There are also terrorists such as Al-Qaeda CREATED BY THE WEST to commit terrorist acts as PRETEXT for invasion - to allegedly “protect” Malians.
    Its all about Mali’s resources.

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 51.

    Let the french fight this with any African Nations that care to help. Otherwise we will be accused again of 'imperial ambitions' by Africa, and no doubt see more Muslims protesting about being in 'their countries' here with nothing done about it.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 50.

    Unfortunately this has nothing to do with events in Sierra Leone and everything to do with the evil creed of salafism taking over the islamic religion. This has already resulted in the destruction of Mecca, the Bamiyan Buddhas and now the libraries of Timbuktu. Western societies cannot afford to let political correctness keep forcing a blind eye to this greatest threat to world peace.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 49.

    I pity with you every single french soldiers lost in mali but, while we are at it we must not forget so many lives in jeopardy should the french cut and run. I wonder why any nation or organisation in his or her rightful state of mind would want africa keeping force to lead the peace keeping effort if this saying is true " it is easier to win the battle or war than to keep the peace."

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 48.

    we came down from the trees but i sometimes think monkeys and apes behave with more dignity than mankind

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 47.

    isn't it bizarre all round the world people clawing for their religious stamp and look at the conflict secularism is also a religion because it is underpinned by belief

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 46.

    as former imperialists the west has a considerable duty of care to help Africa develop our involvement cannot be limited to protecting commercial interest

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 45.

    41. PacificIsland
    "rational scientific thought is under attack in the west, by US religious fundamentalists"

    I would rather mention liberal fundamentalists (in Europe and in US as well) for this matter - because now they are aiming for dominance, while strongly religious adherents are fighting for mere survival - and they are no more rational, despite their claims for reliance on science.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 44.

    the first casualty of war/conflict is the battle plan then comes the horrific loss of life the french have been here before in other arena's of conflict how many times are we going to hear it will be all over by Christmas

  • Comment number 43.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 42.

    Nearly defeated enemies can organise their version of a 'Battle of the Bulge', just remind our generals to win the counter-attack.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 41.

    ‘Without a doubt religions will at some time in the future fall…’ THERE IS DOUBT, rational scientific thought is under attack in the west, by US religious fundamentalists (evolution, climate, over pop.etc) and industrialists/financial industry PR men = rightwing politicians/mogul owned mass media (climate, over pop.etc). The age of enlightenment is under real threat! Mysticism fills vacuum.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 40.

    Men cannot fight more than few days if they have no hope for coming support, no supply from outside, and they aren't in a fortress. Well, very few may struggle longer if the terrain gives opportunities for hiding - but there is a desert.

    Therefore, if fighting will continue few days more then we will conclude that those fighters are somehow provided with a hope and supported with some supply..

  • Comment number 39.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 38.

    Its called schadenfreude. I'm sure journalists would much rather see another disastrous military campaign, something to report. Mind you I'm sure that many of us Britons secretly want to see the French with egg on their faces.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 37.

    Journalists can't wait to equate any military action to Afghanistan. And by Afghanistan of course that means Vietnam! Maybe they enjoy the adrenalin rush but that's no excuse for cheap fear mongering, poor journalism and general blather.

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 36.

    There was a time when I would have disagreed but I now accept that these murderous islamists have to be resisted. There only mission seems to be a genocidal one against the civilised world. The French are doing a good job but it will take time.

 

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