January 18, 2013


PARIS – Confused over the surging violence in Mali and now Algeria? Trying to find Mali on the map?

War, as the great Roman historian Tacitus wrote, teaches geography. This week’s new lesson is West and North Africa, not so long ago colonial possessions of France.

Big irony: the US claimed its energy sources were threatened by instability in the Arab world. So it began exploiting West Africa as a “secure” alternative.

Western governments and media have done the public a major disservice by trumpeting warnings of an “Islamist threat” in Mali. It’s as if Osama bin Laden has popped up on the Niger River. Our newest crisis in Africa is not driven primarily by religion but by a spreading uprising against profoundly corrupt, western-backed oligarchic governments and endemic poverty.

Mali’s troubles began last year when it shaky government was overthrown. Meanwhile, heavily-armed nomadic Tuareg tribesmen, who had served Libya’s late Col. Gadaffi as mercenaries until he was overthrown by French and US intervention, poured back into their homeland in Mali’s north. A major unexpected consequence, fierce Tuareg warriors, who battled French colonial rule for over a century, were fighting for an independent homeland, known as Azawad.

They, a small, violent jihadist group, Ansar Din, and another handful of obscure Islamists drove central government troops out of the north, which they proclaimed independent, and began marching on the fly-blown capital, Bamako.

France, the colonial ruler of most of West Africa until 1960, has overthrown and imposed client regimes there ever since. French political, financial and military advisors and intelligence services ran West Africa from behind a façade of supposedly independent governments. Disobedient regimes were quickly booted out by elite French troops and Foreign Legionnaires based in West Africa that guarded France’s mining and oil interests in what was known as “FrancAfrique.”

Overthrowing African regimes was OK for France, but not for locals. When Mali’s French-backed regime was challenged, France feared its other West African clients might face similar fate, and began sending troops to back the Bamako regime. President Francois Hollande, who had vowed only weeks ago not to intervene in West Africa, said some 2,500 French troops would intervene in Mali. But only on a “temporary basis” claimed Hollande, forgetting de la Rochfoucauld’s dictum “there is nothing as permanent as the temporary!”

Other shaky western-backed West African governments took fright at events in Mali, fearing they too might face overthrow at the hands of angry Islamists calling for stern justice and an end to corruption. Nigeria, the region’s big power, vowed to send troops to Mali.

Nigeria has been beset by its own revolutionary jihadist movement, Boko Haram, which claims Muslim Nigerians have been denied a fair share of the nation’s vast oil wealth, most of which has been stolen by corrupt officials.

France’s overheated claim that it faces a dire Islamic threat in obscure Mali could attract the attention of numbers of free-lance jihadists, many who are now busy tearing up Syria. Paris was better off when it claimed its troops were to protect ancient Muslim shrines in Timbuktu. Or it could have quietly sent in the Foreign Legion, as in the past.

Instead, Mali has become a crisis with the US, Britain, West African states and the UN involved in this tempest in an African teapot. A nice diversion from budget crisis.

Another Algerian jihadist group just attacked an important state gas installation in revenge for France’s assault on Mali. This bloody action has awoken Algeria’s hitherto quiescent Islamic resistance groups.

They waged a ten year war against Algeria’s US and French backed military regime, one of the continent’s most repressive regimes, after Algeria’s armed forces crushed Islamists after they won a fair election in 1991.

Over 250,000 Algerians died in a long, bloody civil war. The Algiers government often used gangs of its soldiers disguised as rebel fighters to commit gruesome massacres to blacken the name of the opposition.

Algeria may again be headed for a new bloodbath, this time with minority Berber people calling for their independent state.

 US air forces and small numbers of Special Forces from its new Africa Command are now entering action in Mali and Algeria. More are sure to follow as West Africa smolders.


copyright Eric S. Margolis 2013


This post is in: Africa, Algeria, Mali, North Africa, Oil

4 Responses to “On To Timbuktu II”

  1. Considering the satellite and drone images now available, has death now become a “virtual” spectator sport with the whole earth a coliseum? Very ROMANIC but—nous avons déjà vu cela, n’avons-nous pas?

    • Very true Weldon. And the two empires do not differ much in the degree of cruelty, only the methods and the numbers of victims.
      Had the Romans been as vicious as the present ruling empire on earth, the entire world population would have been wiped out. We may still end up with that result, if we continue to docilely let them continue on their present path, because for politics there is also an ‘uncertainty principle’ just as in physics.

  2. Great article, as always.
    Once again Western governments employ repressive measures to protect their colonial possessions. It is being justified as part of the War on Terror but it is essentially a regional ethnic war they are getting involved in. National borders created by colonial powers has created a political mess in Africa. The Tuareg and Berbers perceive themselves as disenfranchised groups. Political power in their country rests with other ethnic groups. Mali has several different tribes/ethnic groups. Berbers feel they have less rights/power than their Arab ruling class.
    Having been to Timbuktiu twice I do find it strange that the Tuareg would be advancing hundreds of miles to Bamako.

  3. I understand that the Algerian army is pretty brutal… the results, over 80 fatalities at the gas plant…

    I pity the 5 that were captured… their remaining life will be somewhat uncomfortable…

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.