IS STABILITY EVER GOING TO RETURN TO MALI?
By CAMERON DUODU
AT around 0700 local time in Bamako, Mali, on Friday, 20 November 2015, ten armed men, some driving in a black Toyota 4 x 4 SUV, entered Bamako’s poshest hotel, the Radisson Blu.
They managed to enter the hotel with ease because their vehicle had diplomatic number plates, which would have been familiar to the hotel building security (such as it was) because the hotel is the hotel of choice for all important visitors, especially diplomats, airline staff and NGO personnel.
The Radisson Blu Hotel is located west of Bamako city centre. It provides what is described as “upscale lodging”, and is close to many government offices and business sites. It has 190 rooms and suites.
There were fears that more casualties might occur before the hotel was completely evacuated, for Malian security personnel had entered the hotel and were carrying out a two-pronged “engagement’ with the attackers, partly through peaceful negotiation, and partly through a show of superior force. Meanwhile, no organisation had claimed responsibility for the hostage-taking. (Usually “rescuers tend to kill more hostages than the hostage-takers.) The final death toll has now been put at 19.
In the context of the recent attack in Paris in which 129 people were killed, it might be assumed that the attack in Mali was a sort of “sympathetic” strike carried out in solidarity with the murderers who brought havoc to Paris. But this need not be the case, for the French have been helping Malian central governments to battle groups of “dissidents” in Mali for quite some time now.
Arrayed against the French were five Islamists groups — Ansar Dine, the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (Mujao); al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM; the Signed-in-Blood Battalion and the Islamic Movement for Azawad (IMA).
The competition between these groups and the Malian Government, is a veritable cocktail for instability. The UN has so far deployed 12,000 troops in the north of the country, while the French have about 5,000 more in the area. The US and the UK have also sent special forces and training units to Mali. But the dissidents are not in awe of these forces, and have been carrying out hit and run attacks in spite of their knowledge that the foreign forces could pursue them. Clearly, a long-lasting and sophisticated approach is needed rather than the usual French-led “arrangements” which reward opportunism but never seem to bring any long-lasting stability. (France has not proved able to manage to achieve lasting stability over the years that it has intervened in the affairs of its former West African colonies as the situation in the Central African Republic, for instance, clearly demonstrates.)