An article rebukes those who incorrectly compare Mali to Afghanistan. The author opens noting the background to the current situation in Mali, “some background on how we got here. By April 2012, the collapse of state authority in northern Mali had allowed a separatist rebel movement, the MNLA (the French acronym for National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad), to take over the north’s major cities and to declare the independence of their long-dreamed-of state of Azawad. The dream of Azawad lasted less than two months, when MNLA fighters were pushed out of power by three Islamist groups, Ansar Dine, MUJAO (Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa), and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). These movements attempted to erect governance structures and systems based on a strict interpretation of sharia in the areas they controlled, going so far as to impose such penalties as cutting off hands for accusations of theft, requiring women to wear hijab in public, and segregating boys and girls at school. Despite displacing over 100,000 people, the 2012 turmoil in northern Mali did not provoke much international response beyond pro forma condemnations. It took the Security Council until late December to approve a plan to retake northern Mali via the deployment of a 3,300-person West African force. That plan involved extensive training for West African troops, and no sort of invasion was expected before late 2013 at the earliest”.
She goes on to make the point that “False claims based on limited contextual knowledge have since abounded, including onewidely repeated claim that this crisis is largely a result of the Libya intervention (it’s not; this happened due to domestic political crises in Mali). Among the most egregious — and inaccurate — claims about the crisis to emerge is the idea that Mali could become France’s Afghanistan. Apparently based on the understanding that engaging in war against Muslim extremists on difficult terrain in a fragile state, reporters and politicos across the ideological spectrum have embraced the comparison, warning of the possibility of mission creep and/or other dire consequences“.
Indeed, Mali has had a history of tolerance as expressed in the form of Islam they practice. Not only that but the terrorists destruction of the art, shrines and ancient historical documents only alienates native Malians from what little support they had/have. This explains why the French are so welcomed by Malians. Therefore talk of neo-colonialism is completely inaccurate as not only are French troops welcomed warmly, having driven out the “Muslims”, they are protecting the Malians and not only that have not intention to stay, due to the fact that one French minister put it, France is bankrupt.
She goes on to mention that “While there are comparisons to be made (e.g., both countries are struggling to combat the presence of Islamist extremists), the two situations are so different that defining them as near-equivalents only serves to muddle clear thinking about Mali’s current and future prospects. Remember all those comparisons of Afghanistan to Vietnam? The historical analogy had only very limited utility because the former’s history and context had almost nothing in common with the latter’s”. She continues, arguing that “Mali, by contrast, has a longer history of at least some centralized rule. The Mali Empire, which governed a huge swath of West Africa from the thirteenth to sixteenth centuries, included the renowned city of scholarship in Timbuktu. Mali’s colonization by France in 1892 was largely peaceful, and the country has never engaged in a serious war until now”.
She adds making the fundamental point that “Mali is not Afghanistan because there are no Pashtuns. While the MNLA separatists are comprised of some members of the Tuareg ethic group, outside of that dynamic, ethnicity in Mali is much less a basis of contention than it is in Afghanistan. Indeed, the most interesting social dynamic in Mali may be the relationship between competing forms of Islamic devotion, not ethnic groups. Likewise, Mali lacks an equivalent to Pakistan — there is no neighboring state or individuals in that state who share militants’ ethnicity and have the backing of elements of a hostile spy agency. The Islamists who do operate in northern Mali are a disparate group with diffuse goals, as thisseries of posts by Sahel expert Andrew Lebovich make clear”.
What is needed now is the end of the Islamist insurgency and the re-establishment of proper rule coupled with Mali’s neighbours guiding the country back to stability, if nothing else.