The last month has certainly been one filled with challenges for Mali. In a way, however, the events that have played out and the results broke the deadlock and inaction in Mali.
On January 6th 2013, rebels took over the town of Konna and started an offensive that predicted doom for Bamako, the seat of the Malian government. If Bamako had been overtaken, Mali as we know it would become Al-Qaeda’s newest playground. The French reacted immediately to the threat and deployed troops to secure the South and then in a bold move, together with the Malian army they pushed the rebels back. First Gao, then Tombouctou and finally Kidal. While Kidal still remains in question since MNLA is controlling it, other rebel groups like AQIM are reportedly not present. The French are refusing to get involved in Kidal and maintain that talks need to happen between MNLA and the Malian government. MNLA is mainly made up of Tuaregs from Mali’s northern region. This might explain why France wants to distance itself from getting involved in a civil dispute between MNLA and the government of Mali. However, it also “rumored” that France has in the past supported the MNLA. Nevertheless, the sentiment among a majority of Malians is that the MNLA exacerbated the initial issue in the North by teaming up with other rebel factions like Ansar Dine and AQIM (The Al-Qaeda faction in Northern Mali).Most Malians feel that no negotiations should happen with MNLA. However if Mali is to succeed, talks must definitely happen with the people of the North to ensure that they do not continue to feel marginalized by the people/government of the South. This issue runs deeper and is old as Mali’s independence.
Now that Mali is once again whole, another serious issue is the refugee issue. It has been reported that the refugee count now stands at 350000 refugees in bordering countries and 200000 plus refugees inside Mali. When Yeah had visited the refugee camps in Burkina Faso last month, there was a woman whose main plea was to return home. Conditions in these camps are terrible and there is not enough supply to meet the growing demand. With the regions in the North now secured, refugees can start to return home. However, there is fear because of an increased report of reprisal killings by the military. Since it was mainly the Tuareg leaders that deserted to the rebel factions there has been a backlash against this ethnic group. In addition, many of the rebels have simply melted away into the desert and also the civilian population, a very common guerilla war tactic. While one can understand why the reprisal killings are happening, these issues need to stop. There needs to be a level of discipline and leaders of the army have strongly addressed that their members need to focus on securing the areas and protecting the citizens.
The faster elections happen, the better chance Mali has of starting its recovery and ensuring its growth and stability. Democracy will also reopen the doors to the West where all negotiations had broken down since a military coup derailed elections and split the country.
Hope has returned to Mali. People are returning back to a way of life they knew a year ago. The past 12 months has affected not only the North, but people in the South too. I hear certain groups condemn the French for interfering, but what they don’t understand is if the French had not intervened Mali today would be the hub of Al-Qaeda and within arm’s reach to Europe, the Americas and Asia. That threat had to be stopped and instead of sitting and discussing it like other countries in the world, the French acted with quickness and agility. The war has been temporarily won. However the battle for restoring a nation back to stability is on.
Now, more than ever, I believe in Yeah’s ability to lead his nation. Mali’s issues are many and the country is probably in a worse off state than at its independence. I believe Yeah has the ability to restore true democracy in Mali and rebuild the economy. I believe Yeah is the hope for the dawning of new opportunities, better life and security for the Malian people.
If you believe like I do, then please support us. A donation to the campaign ensures that our work can continue. Now more than ever it is essential that democracy be returned to Mali. A donation can be made online at www.samake2013.com
Also, this past week, Yeah shared his opinion on what Mali must do to now move forward. His opinion was published in the Washington Times. You can access it at this link or read below: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/jan/28/the-way-forward-for-mali/
THE WAY FORWARD FOR MALI
“It is critical to stability in the Maghreb and the Sahel region that terrorism in Mali be dealt with, both militarily and politically. The current situation in Mali cannot be separated from the issues in the Maghreb and the Sahel.
Extremists are breaking down the traditional tribal cultural bonds that have held society together in the Sahel region. This breakdown has far-reaching consequences for future generations. If we do not begin to reverse this trend immediately, we will have an exponentially greater problem to deal with in the near future, and much more serious long-term effects. It is critical that we apply equal pressure across the entire region in order to deal with terrorism.
As French forces have promptly intervened to help avert the movement of Islamists toward the south of Mali, there is a growing concern that the militants will spread into neighboring countries. Regional forces have been deployed alongside the French troops, which gives hope that the military campaign will succeed. There is also hope that the United States might soon restore direct political engagement with the Malian government.
The recipe for restoring and maintaining a democratic Mali requires holding elections, the return of Malian administration and army in the north, political stability and accountability, and the homecoming of displaced Malians. The way forward in Mali will begin with a Sovereign National Conference similar to that of 1991. This national dialogue will put in place the right political environment as a precursor to free and fair elections. Malians have a tradition of picking leaders through electoral processes, not by consensus, even when the outcome is less than perfect. When the country is unified, the authority of the state will need to be strengthened to allow cohabitation with decentralized local governance.
We must also consider the humanitarian situation. Humanitarian efforts should be balanced with the need for displaced Malians to return to their homes. They have been driven to camps because they do not want to live under Shariah law. After a successful military intervention, it is important politically that they become part of the solution by returning to their residences. Humanitarian assistance must be balanced in this regard.
There is a legitimate and valid need for the international community to continue to engage on the holding of elections. The current transitional government has shown no great eagerness to hold elections that might remove them from power. Deadlines must be established and commitments to those deadlines. Leverage can be found for both the military and political solutions required to restore Mali to a fully functioning democracy.
Recovering the north is not merely a logistical support effort. In the post-coup environment, there are still some political levers that need to be applied. Support for the Malian army requires not just logistics and training, but also restoring some of our critical relationships.
A group of generals ousted in the coup could play a critical advisory role in retaking the north. In particular, the former Malian Joint Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gabriel Poudiougou had a good working relationship with Maj. Gen. David Hogg, commander of U.S. Army Africa, and is well respected by the U.S. Embassy. He was recognized to be a good player with U.S. Army Africa and had not been tainted by some of the corruption that was apparent elsewhere. He should be brought back into the process of taking Mali forward militarily. It is imperative that some of this lost leadership be leveraged back into the process.
The political and military process must be inclusive, not exclusive. This inclusiveness in a small area will be necessary for the political aspects that must drive the re-unification of northern Mali.
Accountability must be the principle that underpins our support. Political corruption was what led to the coup. Military corruption followed that political corruption. As Mali receives material support, it is imperative that the United States, as a major stakeholder in the process, should have a mechanism in place to monitor the flow of this equipment and material to ensure that corruption does not subvert the effort.
Deadlines for an election tied to material and other support for the military effort, along with necessary reforms, will start us down a productive path toward restored democracy and reformed accountability. This road is complex, but it is worth traveling, and it is a journey that must begin immediately.”