Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Coup in Mali: A Product of U.S.-NATO War Policy in Africa

Coup in Mali: A Product of U.S., NATO War Policy in Africa

Regime-change in Libya raises tensions in neighboring states

By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire

A mutiny among soldiers has led to a military coup in the West African state of Mali. On March 21, reports emerged of gunfire between renegade troops and forces loyal to President Amadou Toumani Toure around the presidential palace in the capital of Bamako.

Later that same day the rebel soldiers took control of the state radio and television station interrupting all programming. Later several hours of programming began with traditional Malian music and dancing.

The following day on March 22, a group of soldiers appeared on national television identifying themselves as the Committee for the Re-establishment of Democracy and the Restoration of the State. A spokesman for the committee identified on television as Lt. Amadou Konare, stated that the soldiers had taken control of the state due to the inability of President Toure’s government to “fight terrorism.”

No images of the president were seen and since March 21 there has only been one brief statement over twitter attributed to Toure saying that there has been no coup but only a mutiny. Nonetheless, it is quite obvious that a change of power has taken place in Mali with Capt. Amadou Sanogo claiming to be in charge of the new military regime.

One precipitating factor in the coup was the visit by the Minister of Defense Natie Plea to several military barracks north of the capital. Soldiers began to express their dissatisfaction with the military leadership and began firing weapons into the air.

An ongoing conflict with the Tuareg people in the north of the country has accelerated over the last few months. The Tuareg, who are dispersed in several states in West and North Africa, have been politically marginalized since the post-independence period going back to the 1960s.

What’s Behind the Coup?

Judging from the escalating conflict in the north of Mali and the statements made by the renegade soldiers that constitute the Committee for the Re-establishment of Democracy and Restoration of the State, the failure of the government in Bamako to effectively contain or defeat the Tuareg rebellion in the north has created tremendous tensions within the military and the Malian society as a whole. President Toure was at the end of his term and would have voluntarily stepped down in a matter of weeks.

Therefore, why was it necessary for the lower-ranking military officers to stage a coup at this point? The answer to this question could partially lie within the character of the burgeoning Tuareg rebellion that is related to the United States and NATO war against Libya that began in February and March of 2011.

There were several thousand Tuaregs from Mali and other countries in the region who lived for many years in Libya and maintained an alliance with the Jamahiriya government of the late Col. Muammar Gaddafi. Many Tuaregs fought alongside the Libyan army in defense of the country from the rebel National Transitional Council (NTC) and the U.S. and NATO forces who overthrew the government and murdered Gaddafi in October 2011.

In the aftermath of the death of Gaddafi at the hands of the imperialist-backed rebels, thousands of Tuaregs re-located in Mali. Unrest soon spread throughout the northern region and a re-configuration of the Tuareg rebellion was reconstituted as the Azawad National Liberation Movement (MNLA).

The fighters who had returned from Libya were well-trained and armed. They began to reassert their influence causing monumental problems for the Malian military and the central government based in the south of the country in Bamako.

MNLA fighters took over several important northern towns over a period of two months beginning in early 2012. Their advances on the battlefield also prompted desertions by the Malian army creating panic in the capital and in the city Gao.

According to Malian newspaper columnist Adam Thiam, “The Libyan crisis didn’t cause this coup but certainly revealed the malaise felt within the army. President Amadou Toumani Toure hasn’t been active in tackling drug trafficking and al-Qaeda fighters, and the emergence of new rebel movements only added to the soldiers’ frustration.” (BBC News, March 22)

A BBC interview with an anonymous government official indicated that the military coup was probably planned in advanced and was not totally a surprise. This official said that “nobody could now pretend they were not warned. Many within the government felt something could happen, we just didn’t know when and how. The anger was just too high.” (BBC News, March 22)

President Toure had himself staged a military coup in 1991 against another regime of soldiers. However, he turned over power to a civilian government and would run and be elected as president in 2002.

Response from the MNLA was supportive of the coup but the northern movement pledged to continue their struggle for the emergence of what they call an independent Tuareg state. The organization is saying that they may benefit from the current situation in the capital.

A spokesman for the MNLA, Hamma Ag Mahmoud, based in the Mauritanian capital of Nouakchott, emphasized that “It’s always best that this corrupt government is toppled. We will certainly advance southwards to continue to liberate the Azawad.”

Mahmoud, who had previously served as a minister in the former military regime of Gen. Moussa Traore, who was overthrown by President Toure in 2002, went on to say also that the MNLA was “not interested in Bamako, but Kidal, Timbuktu and Gao. These mutineers will not have the firepower to resist against us. They will have to sign a peace agreement at some point.” (BBC News, March 22)

One MNLA officer in the northern village of Tessalit said that “The only thing that could threaten our advance is a foreign intervention.” Some Malian governmental officials have blamed NATO for the escalation of the crisis in the north.

University of Dakar, Senegal Prof. Abdul Aziz Kebe noted that “Western powers have underestimated that getting rid of Gaddafi would have severe repercussions in the Sahel region. As a result of the coup, reports have surfaced that the MNLA are now negotiating with the coup leaders over control of the northern garrison town of Kidal.

According to the Associated Press, “Sources in Mali and neighboring Niger said Monday (March 26) the rebels hope to take Kidal without a fight. The sources asked not to be named because the situation in dangerous.” (Associated Press, March 26)

The Role of Imperialism in Mali

Although the European Union (EU), Canada, the World Bank, the United States and the African Development Bank are threatening to cut off aid in the aftermath of the coup, Mali has been a partner in the so-called “war on terrorism” in West Africa. The Associated Press reported that “Mali is at the heart of a Western-backed initiative to fight al-Qaida’s thriving African wing, which is funded from the proceeds of drugs, arms trafficking and hostage-taking operations in Tuareg territory in the Sahara desert.

Mali is a traditionally advanced country within West Africa whose civilization extends back at least 1000 years. The area was colonized by France during the 19th century and later gained its national independence in 1960.

During the first eight years of independence, Mali’s political direction was socialist-oriented. The first post-independence leader, President Modibo Keita, was a close ally of Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah and Guinean President Ahmed Sekou Toure. Keita was overthrown in a military coup in 1968.

However, in recent years Mali has been a member of the Trans-Saharan Counter-terrorism Initiative (TSCTI), which is an interagency plan by the United States government, combining efforts by both civil and military agencies ostensibly designed to fight “terrorism.” The military component of TSCTI consist of the U.S.-led “Operation Enduring Freedom—Trans Sahara. Mali has held joint military exercises with the United States Africa Command (Africom) and receives arms from Washington.

Mali is the third largest producer of gold on the African continent. Companies such as the London-listed Randgold Resources are producing gold there and are very concerned about recent developments in the north.

Nick Holland, the CEO for Gold Fields, the world’s fourth largest gold producer, said his firm would continue mining in Mali. Holland told Reuters that “Mali has been stable for a long time, gold producers have operated very profitably and without major issues, and we have maintained good relations with the government.” (Reuters)

The current situation in Mali is developing at a rapid pace. There have been reports of demonstrations involving a thousand people in the capital opposing the coup on March 26.

These developments illustrate that the imperialist war in Libya is causing greater instability in North and West Africa. The escalating military intervention in Africa by the U.S. and NATO will not achieve the aims and objectives of imperialism but only create more uncertainty and greater resistance on the part of the African masses against foreign interference in their internal affairs.

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