Mali at the crossroads once more

On the watch: Members of Fama, Gatia and the MSA in a mixed patrol surveying the surroundings of the northern Mali district of Meneka in Gao. — AFP

When Hollande goes, will his successor as French President remove the driving force behind the coalition preventing this West African nation from falling into anarchy?

IF my life has a somewhat surreal quality when I look back at it, the constant shifts of geographical parameters during my formative years must surely be a factor. Not many people get to live in four continents before they turn 18. Of course, it could equally be a penchant for making unorthodox decisions or an affinity for hallucinogenic experimentation that has magnified the aura of disbelief that accompanies my particular brand of nostalgia.

Certainly as I approach 44, when I think back to my brief time living in Mali’s capital city, my abiding memory is of being a teenager in the summer of 1992. I got lost in the Bamako suburb of Badalabougou and found my way back by walking along the banks of the Niger River, while battling my own senses, which were then experiencing wave upon wave of a form of psychotropic disruption known as synesthesia (look it up, it’s damn cool – if you’re not lost that is).

Anyway, that surely is surreal.

It was an uncertain time then, as the 23-year long Moussa Traore dictatorship which had seemed cemented for posterity when I first set foot in Mali in 1990, had now been overthrown. Mirroring the situation around the world in many post Cold War scenarios, dictatorship was giving way to multi-party democracy, except that it was not in the DNA of many emerging nations. Unlike a fair number of its counterparts however, Mali did not descend into tribal genocide.

Today, however, the fabric of the nation is torn. Beginning with the escalation of separatist violence in the North, armed groups like Ansar Dine increasingly influenced by IS militancy, seized control of the country. One of the more dignified moments of French president Francois Hollande’s administration saw him put together a coalition to stop the whole of Mali falling into extremist hands.

Part of this has been discussed before in a column I wrote four years ago:

Today, the conflict in Mali persists, one of scores of low key armed conflicts around the world that doesn’t get the headlines.

A state of emergency has been in force has been in force ever since militants attacked the Radisson Blu hotel in November 2015 resulting in over 20 deaths, including Russian, Chinese and American foreigners. The situation in the northern part of the country is still extremely volatile.

In January, a suicide bombing claimed at least 70 lives in the city of Gao. In March, 11 soldiers were killed and five wounded in an attack on a military base in Timbuktu. Earlier this month, armed men killed five soldiers and injured 10 others in an attack on an army post in the same region.

The number of players in the regional conflict is bewildering. The Minusma (United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali ) is an international force with members from over 30 countries. The central government is not really stable and to a certain extent has had to be propped militarily by foreign intervention.

In fact, just earlier this month, prime minister Modibo Keita resigned, feeling himself incapable of coping with the chaotic situation.

In the northern part of the country, the Malian Army (Fama) works with the pro-government Gatia (Groupe Autodefense Touareg Imghad et Allies) and the MSA (Mouvement pour le salut de l’Azawad) while various Al-Qaeda and Islamic State offshoots and Tuareg rebels run riot in the countryside.

Honestly, my concern is that when Hollande goes, his successor as French President, be it Macron or Le Pen, is going to remove the driving force behind the coalition preventing this beautiful country from falling into anarchy. When Ansar Dine took over northern cities they imposed a heinous and cruel form of Islamic law. Is that the future that awaits ordinary Malians?

Star online news editor Martin Vengadesan has the sinking feeling that it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

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