Tag Archives: Africa

Mayhem in Mali

“There is no alternative. For some of these more radical groups, it’s going to take military force… We shouldn’t be optimistic that this is going to be a one- or two-week surgical strike, and then we go home.” – Jack Christofides, UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations

The president has had his hands full these days. Problems at home and abroad are pressing from all sides, and even though he no longer needs to worry about his re-election bid, Barack Obama has plenty of other worries to keep him up at night: A quickly-approaching fiscal cliff, yet more fallout from September’s Benghazi attacks, the appointment of the next Secretary of State, uncertain outcomes from the latest conflicts between Israel and Hamas, continuing violence in Syria, and a still-unresolved nuclear bone to pick with Iran, just to name a few. But one story that hasn’t gotten much attention, from president or press, is the ongoing violence and chaos that has gripped Mali for the past eight months.

A satellite image of Mali. Radical Islamists have taken over the northern desert region (known as the Azawad), an area roughly the size of France. (public domain)

Perhaps a bit of history is in order. Back in March, a group of soldiers staged a coup d’état, seizing the presidential palace and dissolving the government. In the aftermath of the coup, a group called the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA, in the French acronym) unilaterally declared that northern Mali, an area known as Azawad, was to be a free and independent state. The rebels backed their words with deeds, taking the northern Malian cities of Gao, Timbuktu, and Kidal in a matter of days. After these gains, the MNLA was joined and eventually sidelined (or fought) by militant Islamist groups, a number of them with ties to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

These Islamists are now the effective rulers of northern Mali (and have dropped the MNLA’s calls for secession), enforcing a brutally repressive regime on its inhabitants. The groups, rather than hoping to split northern Mali off from the rest of the state, are instead looking to enforce their radical view of Shari’a law on the entire nation, putting the still-unstable south at risk as well. Reports coming out of northern Malian cities like Gao and Timbuktu tell of public beatings, stonings, and amputations, forced marriages, and threats of grisly violence toward those regarded as “unholy,” such as unmarried pregnant women. Death tolls are uncertain, but with the region gripped by conflicts between and within rebel groups and radical mob “justice” occurring on what seems like a daily basis, the anarchic north may have seen hundreds killed so far.

Mali’s is more than a humanitarian and moral crisis, though it is both of those things. It could also quickly become a strategic crisis for the region, the Mediterranean, and even the US. Without forgetting the real human suffering happening daily in this desert, the West should recognize that, if left unaddressed, northern Mali could easily become “Africa’s Afghanistan,” a safe haven for radical Islamists and terrorists. We know already that a number of groups in the Azawad have affiliations with Al Qaeda, whose heart in Central Asia may have been destroyed but whose arms could still have far-reaching and deadly power. The Malian government is certainly ill-equipped (and not particularly willing) to evict the radicals from the north. So who should do it?

The United Nations Security Council has already given the go-ahead for foreign military intervention, but not many powers have stepped up to the plate. There is a lack of willingness on the part of the West, particularly the United States and France, to become very involved militarily in Mali. Both countries have significant interests at stake in the region, and so would benefit from driving out extremists. France has had a number of its citizens kidnapped by the radicals, and the United States certainly won’t be better off for allowing a pocket of Al Qaeda influence to fester and grow, especially in light of September’s Benghazi attacks.

But neither country seems willing to acknowledge that the chaos and violence incited by the Islamist regime will not be limited by borders, especially in the sweeping deserts and largely un-policed region of West Africa. Mali shares huge borders with Mauritania and Algeria, both of which could be vulnerable to attack and both of which could certainly suffer from refugee overflows and uncontained extremism and violence. If nothing is done to remove or reduce Islamist influence in northern Mali, it could become a launch pad for Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb to wreak havoc across the region and even into Western Europe. Hillary Clinton herself said that northern Mali has become “a larger safe haven” that could allow terrorists “to extend their reach and their networks in multiple directions.”

This seems like a very contradictory approach. Even as the US says that terrorist factions based in northern Mali could become a grave threat if allowed to remain in power unchallenged, it refuses to commit militarily, and is reluctant even to commit to using attack drones in the future, a tactic problematic in our supposed ally Pakistan but likely to be much more straightforward and successful in the flat desert of northern Mali (see map).

This hesitation could be ascribed to a noble refusal to expand the so-called War on Terror into yet another country, but such praise would be misplaced. Unlike past actions in Iraq, Pakistan, or Yemen, military action has the go-ahead in Mali, not only from the national government of the country itself, but from the UNSC and the region more broadly. The US wouldn’t be haphazardly dropping missiles on a dubious international mandate, but rather would be cooperating with an overwhelmed and desperate government.

I’m not saying that the West needs to send 10,000 of its own soldiers (the rough UN estimate of the number of troops needed) into the fray, or even that it needs to send a fraction of those. Regional powers like Algeria, Nigeria, or Mauritania (not to mention Mali itself), perhaps along with the African Union, could take the lead, and the UN could contribute peacekeeping forces to make peace stick once it’s achieved. But the United States and France, both with a significant interest in excising the Islamists, can’t sit back and wait for others to solve the problem.

There isn’t just a moral incentive to dismantle this regime; there are strategic motives as well. The US should step up and use its technology and military power to help the international force that may soon take shape. We don’t need to have “boots on the ground,” but drones in the sky might not be a bad place to start. We can’t afford to wait for Mali to become another Afghanistan. North Africa seems only to be growing in significance, and American leadership would be wise to recognize this.

But this problem will require more than military might. If there’s anything that the West should have learned from our military excursions of the past decade, it’s that regional divisions and local grievances can’t be sorted out with airstrikes and Predator drones. Armed force will be needed to cripple the radical regime in the north, but ultimately Mali needs reconciliation to solve this problem. Foreign intervention should weaken the Islamists to the point that they have no choice but to join in real dialogue, and should protect the fragile interim government until it can get back on its feet and give the Azawad the attention it needs.

For that matter, the international community should give Mali the attention it needs as well. We’ll all be better off for it.

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Global Community, Global Responsibility (Part 3)

Each and every member of the international community must be responsible and consistent, both within its own borders and in its handling of international and foreign problems. (Source: miyabbi.student.umm.ac.id)

This post is a continuation of my previous two posts of the same title. Parts 1 and 2 can be found here and here, respectively.

But perhaps more importantly than international interventionary action is a right international mindset toward atrocities and states that have gone bad. Many of the greatest crimes against humanity have been committed by leaders who pushed the limits and received no reprimand. The most frightening example is of course, that of Hitler. After coming to power by completely legal means, Hitler pushed the political and social boundaries in his own country, and no one stopped him from taking complete control of Germany. The fuhrer swiftly expanded his power across Europe, as the Allies flailed in diplomatic inefficacy. This policy of appeasement allowed Hitler’s Germany to grow into a colossally dangerous and destructive force.

Admittedly, there are few people alive in the world today who have as much blood on their hands as Adolf Hitler did. But after the hard lessons learned from allowing Hitler to have his way with the countries around him (at least until he looked to Poland), international leaders can no longer stand back and allow atrocities to happen, whether these are crimes committed against foreign persons or against one’s own people.

As I said at the beginning of this post, the road to international responsibility starts in a country’s attitude toward leaders who perpetrate injustice. If the international community simply sits back and allows a state to commit atrocities, either against others or its own people, the damage is twofold. First, the leader(s) responsible for such acts will see that these can be successfully perpetrated with no repercussion or retribution, at least not from any organization or institution with real power. And second, the rest of the international community risks looking toothless and tame. While the international community shouldn’t come across as hyper-aggressive, it must be not be seen as a powerless objector to atrocities, but rather as a powerful dissuadent from atrocity.

This requires both consistency and enforcement on the part of the international community. Leaders who are considering committing atrocities must be shown that any violent acts they commit will not pay off. If a dictatorial leader (Qaddafi or Mubarak would be examples) believes that he can commit mass violence (whether it is toward a political purpose or any other) without being stopped, then he will. Strong countries and international organizations must show these leaders that any violence they commit will be severely dealt with, no matter what.

This issue is particularly pressing in light of the Arab Spring sweeping across the Middle East and North Africa. As leaders like Moammar Qaddafi cling to power by violently suppressing their people, the international community’s response must be swift and decisive. A lot has already been done in Libya, but it may not be enough (I’m planning to write more on this subject soon!). And after a violent weekend in Bashar al-Assad’s Syria, one wonders how long Assad’s schizophrenic alternation between reform and crackdown can go on before it reaches the same breaking point that was reached in Libya.

Without the right mindset and determination behind its actions and sanctions, the international community will never be able to act as a serious roadblock to state-sanctioned atrocities. And this determination and consistency will take some sacrifice, of course. But to be a responsible member of any community, especially one as large and all-encompassing as the international community, one must learn to give up some of their own goals and desires for the good of all.

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Global Community, Global Responsibility (Part 2)

The international community has a responsibility to end state-condoned atrocities in other countries. (Source: Middle-East-Info.org)

This is part 2 of a multi-part post on international responsibility. Part 1 can be found here.

The answer to this question is an unfortunately simple one: Because no one stopped it.

The international community is understandably hesitant to become involved in foreign conflicts and complications. Becoming tangled in another country’s conflict can be costly and often pointless, as the United States has seen in recent years in Afghanistan and, to a certain extent, Iraq. Sorting out other countries’ issues is difficult work.

But other nations must sometimes become involved in a country’s private affairs, even if it’s not very advantageous for the intervening country. I would consider these “private affairs” to be any act of atrocity that is committed, condoned, or simply overlooked by the ruling government. US Vice President Joe Biden had this to say about the actions of Moammar Qaddafi in Libya: “When a State engages in atrocity, it forfeits its sovereignty.”

Sovereignty is a very important concept in international relations. Simply put, it’s the quality of having supreme authority over an area of land and its inhabitants. But a state must earn this authority by being a responsible caretaker and lawmaker for its people. And when a state does not perform this duty, other nations may have to step in to force the issue.

Let me rephrase that: The international community may have to step in (yes, I know I’ve said the words “international community” far too many times!). Just as it is crucial for a country to be personally responsible to have a part on the international stage, it’s important that all countries are collectively responsible for keeping the world a safe place. I ought to say though, that I’m not endorsing a kind of world police, at least not one run by any one country (least not the United States). But perhaps we do need a world interventionary force, to prevent atrocities from being committed.

This force would be multilateral and international, so as not to skew power in any country’s direction too far. It would need to be much quicker to act than organizations like NATO or the UN though, and would probably work best when independent of these organizations. Unfortunately, the United Nations simply represents too many conflicting interests, and takes far too long to come to decisions; it took nearly a million deaths before the UN did anything in Rwanda, and by then it was too late. So perhaps willing and able parties of the international community should form a more fast-acting organization, to quickly strike against state-committed or -sponsored violence.

In fact, NATO did a fairly good job of this recently, in its response to the violence of Qaddafi against his own people in Libya. Even then though, it took far too long for the UN and NATO to step in, and there’s still more that should be done, such as the placement of peacekeeping troops or delivery of additional medical supplies.

If there were to be an independent, international coalition specifically set up to counteract state atrocities, mass violence could be stopped much sooner and more effectively. Assuming that specific guidelines were set in place, and all participating nations agreed on which actions constitute atrocity, this peacekeeping force might have the power to stop many humanitarian crises. The key to this would be fast, decisive action against state atrocities; dictators tend to commit these violences on their own people after the international community does nothing to stop earlier offenses.

Looks like this post is going on to a third part! Check back soon for part 3!

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Global Community, Global Responsibility (Part 1)

The international community is continually becoming more tightly-knit, but that comes with a great deal of responsibility. (Source: icicp.blogspot.com/www.icicp.org)

Our world is growing increasingly global and interconnected. Countless alliances, agreements, treaties, and organizations bind together countries and peoples all around the planet. Many companies are turning abroad to emerging markets to expand their business. It’s now almost commonplace for a student to spend months or even years studying abroad.

The degree to which the many diverse groups of people around the world are connected is astounding. We’ve managed to cross many lingual, social, religious, and cultural barriers as the world continues to become more globalized, or as Thomas Friedman might say, flat.

Globalization brings with it a plethora of advantages and advances that not only offer more opportunity to those in emerging countries but give us a chance to understand each other more. Perhaps more importantly, it has allowed many countries around the world to move past dangerous nationalism and allowed international cooperation where it hasn’t existed before.

I’m majoring in International Studies at my university, so I believe that an examination of these changes is critical, not only for gaining a better understanding of the politics and economics of the world, but for understanding the people of it. And though I’m nowhere near graduation or a full knowledge of international relations, I feel that I’m beginning to realize something about our trend towards the global.

As nations continue to draw more connections to one another, they become beholden to an increasingly high standard of responsibility and accountability. As a nation moves outside of itself and reaches out or is reached out to by other parts of the world, its standards must be carefully examined. The more involved a country is on the international stage, the higher its national credibility must be. Once a nation becomes globally active, it can no longer make decisions based entirely on its own needs and desires, nor can it expect to avoid all international scrutiny.

Yet many members of the international community are not living up to the standards that they should be expected to adhere to if they want to receive recognition from other countries. In a way, these governments – such as those of North Korea, Rwanda and Serbia in the 1990s, Sudan, and Libya, as well as countless others – want to have their cake and eat it too, so to speak. They want or wanted to have a presence on the international level (and have that), but are or were unwilling to live up to the standards that such nations must hold.

The nations I listed above have had in the past or currently have grievous human rights violations staining their records. But in each of these circumstances, the international community either spent weeks, months, or years deliberating about what to do, or is still doing nothing. Why is this? Why were 800,000 Tutsi people killed in Rwanda before anyone put a stop to the violence? Why was Slobodan Milošević allowed to stay in power in Serbia after massacres of Bosnian Muslims, when 3 weeks of NATO bombing stopped him later? Why are people still being killed in Darfur?

I’ve decided to split this post into multiple parts, as it seems likely to become rather lengthy, and I haven’t published in some time. Check back soon for part 2!

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In Other News…

Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara shake hands in Ivory Coast last year. The deadly struggle between the two over presidential legitimacy has been largely overlooked by the media. (Photo credit: Thierry Gouegnon)

Without a doubt, this has been a very newsworthy year, historically speaking. There’ve been massive protests throughout the Middle East since the end of last year, and corrupt regimes have been been toppled in Tunisia and Egypt. Civil war has erupted in Libya, sparking international outrage and a coalition military intervention on behalf of the rebellion. And of course, an earthquake and tsunami of unparalleled ferocity swept across Japan and has set off a chain of events at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, causing a new wave of nuclear worries, in Japan and around the world.

But in this deluge of enormously significant world events, it’s so easy to lose track of the smaller, yet still significant things going on around us. I say this in particular reference to news and world (or somewhat more local) events.

One place I’ve seen this pretty strongly recently is in the coverage (or lack thereof) of the humanitarian crisis in Ivory Coast (or Côte d’Ivoire, in the French spelling) over the presidential election results of last year. Incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo disputed the results, which showed that his opponent Alassane Ouattara had won the election. The country has been in deadly struggle ever since, with Gbagbo using veritable death squads to wipe out opponents and suppress supporters of Ouattara, despite international recognition of Ouattara as the winner. The conflicts have left possibly hundreds dead, and only now is Ouattara beginning to get the upper hand; and not from the international community. This issue is just now starting to become major news.

The point I’m trying to make is this: When there’s a lot of big news going on, as there has been (in spades) this year, we tend to forget about smaller things. I’m pretty guilty of this, as you can see in many of my posts and in my most-used tags, but the point still stands. A lot of the time, I focus too heavily on just the big-name issues, as do many others I know.

In a way, this connects to another post of mine about why we should all read the news. Just as it’s important to stay up to date on major events in our world through the innumerable media outlets available to us, it’s crucial that we look behind those events, so to speak, to what may be happening in other parts of the world.

The conflicts happening in the Middle East now are enormously important of course, but Americans can’t forget about the problems we still need to sort out in Afghanistan. Libya might be big news for the moment, but let’s not forget about what’s happening in Yemen, Syria, and other countries, not to mention Egypt and Tunisia! The devastation in Japan is heartbreaking, but we can’t neglect the disasters happening elsewhere.

Above all, this post is a kind of call away from too much focus. Our passion for certain world issues or events shouldn’t keep us from remembering the other crucial things happening in the world, on a local, national, and international level. So stay informed, not just about whatever most interests you, but about whatever is most important to the world!

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How Should the US Handle Libya?

A bomb crashes into the once-rebel-held town of Ras Lanuf.

As the situation grows more and more chaotic in Libya, pressure is growing on other nations, particularly those who are NATO members, to put their money where their mouths are regarding Libya’s rebel movement.

The calls for international assistance and support for the rebellion have, for the most part, fallen on deaf ears or been met with confused world leaders’ vacillating words of encouragement.

The United States has been desperately scrambling to formulate some official stance to take. But there’s a lot of uncertainty and disagreement over the right course of action. President Obama has decided to exercise restraint as a general principle in the Middle East, as the situation over there has been an extremely sticky one politically.

But is this the right course of action (or inaction) regarding Libya? Obama’s been forced into a corner on this one, as so many presidents have been. When a humanitarian crisis emerges in a country whose interests aren’t very closely associated with those of America, as happened in Rwanda in 1994, it’s difficult to find the right way to go forward. Things become even more difficult when one takes into account the fact that more and more people are dying every day deliberation goes on. Because of this, the president has unfortunately found himself trapped in an uncomfortable in-between, where he’s likely to face criticism and backlash no matter which decision he makes (but isn’t that just politics?).

So what decision should he make? Should the US intervene in a country whose national security is only tangentially related to our own, at best? While Libya is a significant supplier of oil to European countries (most notably Italy), it seems that America would be relatively unshaken, whichever way events turn out, so there’s not a lot of economic or security concerns on the line. Besides that, the US has seen all too clearly how difficult and unpleasant over-involvement in other countries can be, time and time again, and of course most prominently in Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, the rebel leadership has said that they don’t want the US to become involved on the ground, but simply to have a no-fly zone enforced.

There are a lot of good reasons to remain distant from this conflict. But is it really right? I mentioned Rwanda earlier, and America did not intervene in the events there. 800,000 people died in that genocide, and while losses in Libya are unlikely to be quite so staggering, do we want to be a nation that stood back wringing its hands while a dictator steam-rolled his own people?

This isn’t an issue of national pride, mind you. It’s an issue of human rights, and the defense of people who may not be able to do enough for themselves. Col. Qaddafi has proven himself to be utterly ruthless in ending this rebellion, and has had a number of significant victories over the rebels, pushing them back along the east coast. Chances are, with Qaddafi’s superior firepower and funding, the revolution won’t be able to stand up much longer. If our country and our leadership really support the democratic rights of others, shouldn’t we show that to Qaddafi in more ways than just telling him to leave? I don’t know if full military intervention would be the right pursuit in Libya. But I believe that it’s imperative to show the rebel movement that we’re behind them with more than words.

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Ever-Rising Tension in Libya

A rebel burns Green Books, a relic of Qaddafi's past military revolution.

The situation in Libya, which didn’t have a particularly pleasant start, seems to be continually deteriorating. Both sides, neither particularly well-organized or seeming to possess much of a plan, are arming themselves and drawing up plans that seem destined to lock them in an ever more-violent civil war.

This violence is even more striking when one considers the direction that the other prominent uprisings have taken as compared to this one. While protestors in Egypt and Tunisia managed to topple their governments with relatively little violence, and now are taking leaps and bounds toward progress, the revolts in Libya have quickly turned into a revolution, and again morphed into an outright violent rebellion.

I can hardly blame them for reacting this way. The protests began with peaceful sit-ins, but after Col. Qaddafi brutally attacked peaceful protestors in Tripoli, a stunned and appalled population turned against him, determined to have justice in the most expedient way possible. After taking much of the eastern part of the country (see map), the rebels have been gearing up for war. After a pro-Qaddafi attack on Zawiyah and rallies for the same in Tripoli, the tyrannical leader has shown that he really meant what he said about not letting go of power, claiming he would die as a martyr before he would “give up on his country.”

Yet even while Qaddafi tries to solidify his power and give the world the impression that the situation is under his control, the rebellion has become more and more defiant and determined. In fact, the political face and governing body (or the closest thing to a governing body) for the rebellion, the National Transitional Council, announced yesterday that it considered itself the “sole representative all over Libya.” As you can see, both sides seem determined to hold onto the power they have (and take more of it) until the bitter end.

Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but the events of this rebellion seem strikingly similar to the events of the French Revolution, back at the turn of the 19th century. In both this rebellion and what I see as its French predecessor (in spirit at least), a group of revolutionaries unilaterally named themselves the sole government body that possessed any governing power, and grew increasingly resistant to an increasingly oppressive regime. There are, of course, key differences. First, the French version was very much focused in Paris, with the city being torn apart by conflict and drawn-out strife. In Libya, the factions have taken power in separate areas of the country, and both are gearing up for further struggle. Second, there is much more international involvement in Libya than there ever was in France, which could help things from becoming too excessively violent as they did in France. Finally, there will be a much different impact of this revolution than the one in France. In Libya, the largest impact on the international community, at least as I see it, is likely to be on the price of the oil we’ve become so dependent on.

No matter what similarities or differences there are between this revolution and the French one, I think that the rebellion in Libya is unlikely to have a resolution soon, in either direction. Both sides have become too stubborn and immovable to give any ground at this point. But with almost the entire international community on the side of the protestors, and with the UN and NATO considering further sanctions against Qaddafi, my vote is going to be cast in favor of the rebels. Even if Qaddafi manages to violently quash the growing rebellion, it would be impossible for him to reconstruct the country and the government in a way that would serve his interests. Too much of the country has turned against him, and he faces too much international pressure to keep holding on. While the rebels want no foreign military intervention, they seem to welcome the sanctions, asset freezes, and condemnations being directed at Qaddafi.

So! While I can’t be sure how things will end, I’m feeling optimistic for the rebels and their cause. With the back-up of the United Nations, a rising number of military defectors to their cause, and the power of having already caused irreversible change in their country, the Libyan Peoples’ Army and the rebels of Libya will seize the day eventually. The only question is, what will Libya become once they do?

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