Militarized by the West, Mali suffers a coup d'etat

Touareg map.jpg

Army takeover follows big increases in aid and military equipment from U.S., Canada and Europe

By Roger Annis, published on the Haiti blog of, March 31, 2012

The African country of Mali has suffered a coup d'etat against its elected government. It was carried out by the country's armed forces on March 21. The country was one month away from a national election.

Coup leader Captain Amadou Sanogo says the army is taking over because the government has proven inept at cracking down on the oppressed, semi-nomadic Touareg people in the north of the country. The Touareg have been struggling for decades for their national and cultural rights.

Sanogo says the army will return the country to civilian rule once the Touareg-led rebellion is suppressed. He hopes it will take ‘three to nine months.'

Ousted President Amadou Toumani Touré is unharmed and residing in the country's capital city, Bamako. He is a former army officer who led a military coup in 1991 against a reactionary regime. Soon after, he ceded power to an elected government. He was elected in 2002 and re-elected in 2007.

Mali is a landlocked, former French colony in western Africa that won independence in 1960. Its population is 15 million.

Hypocritical West

The U.S., Canada and Europe have sharply condemned the coup. Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird said on March 23, "Canada utterly condemns this attack on democracy by a faction of Mali's military."

"We call on those behind this coup to put the needs of the Malian people first and to immediately withdraw so that constitutional order, peace and stability may be restored and aid resumed."

See Ottawa Citizen article below on the history of Canada's military engagement in Mali.

The foreign powers have suspended aid to the Mali government but continue to fund non-governmental organizations. They will also try to steer funds to NGOs that were otherwise earmarked for government agencies.

A delegation of five leaders of the Economic Community of West African States, including Ivorian President and current ECOWAS chief Alassane Ouattara, flew to Mali on March 29 to try and mediate the conflict between the army and the ousted government. They were turned away from the airport at Bamako. Soldiers occupied the runway and prevented a landing.

Condemnations of the coup by the imperial countries are supremely ironic. These countries have been providing weapons and training to the army they now condemn. Sanogo is a U.S.-trained officer. These same powers backed the coup in Haiti in 2004 and all but openly backed the 2009 coup in Honduras.

Mali is one of the poorest countries in the world, but it is also the third largest producer of gold in Africa. At least two Canadian gold mining companies operate there-Iamgold Corporation and Avion Gold Corporation. Avion says its operations are unaffected by the coup.

Mali was selected by Canada in 2009 as one of six African "countries of focus" of Canadian aid. Aid to Mali from Canada leaped to $117 million for fiscal 2009-10 and was $110 in 2010-11. That makes it one of the top recipients of Canadian aid, on par with Haiti. The U.S. is providing $140 million annually to Mali, according to the Washington Post.

Mali drawn into ‘counter-insurgency' wars in Africa

The tragedy of this coup is how Mali, one of the poorest places on earth, has been drawn militarily into imperialism's designs for Africa. The Trans-Sahara Counter-Terrorism Partnership was established by the U.S. in 2005. It comprises eleven ‘partner' African countries-Algeria, Burkina Faso, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, and Senegal. The ‘partnership' conducts annual military exercises termed ‘Flintlock'.

One of the targets of this ‘partnership' is now the long-standing national rights struggle by the Touareg people in the north of Mali and adjoining countries. The apparent military and political cooperation of the Touareg with the previous government of Libya under Muammar Gaddafi was one of the sources of the lurid tales of ‘African mercenaries' conducting atrocities in Libya that provided justification for the NATO attack on that country beginning in March 2011.

Former Canadian diplomat Robert Fowler wrote in the Ottawa Citizen of March 25, "The core of (Muammar) Gaddafi's 'African Mercenaries' were Tuareg, a desert people who in the '70s formed the vast bulk of his 'Islamic Legion.'

"These ruthless desert warriors have now returned to northern Mali and Niger - flush with cash, armed to the teeth and with significant experience and very bloody hands. All this does not augur well for peace and stability in the region."

Fowler says there is "some sort of collusion" between the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and 'al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.' The MNLA is the national liberation movement of the Touareg people; Azawad is the name of the homeland that the Touareg aspire to.

Canadian special forces have participated in Flintlock exercises in Mali since at least 2011. ‘Flintlock 2012' exercises have been temporarily suspended. It is not known if Canadian troops have been directly engaged in fighting in northern Mali; the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command says they have not.

National rights rebellion

The Touaregs' historic homeland is located in the southern Sahara Desert and is divided by the national boundaries of Mali, Algeria, Libya and Burkina Faso. Six million people speak the Touareg language. Some estimates say there are more than half a million Touareg living in Mali; others say there are 1.5 million.

The French-language MNLA website contains daily reports of the political goals of the movement and examples of the kind of national oppression suffered by the Touareg people. A February 23, 2012 communiqué on its English language website section, for example, reports on "barbaric" attacks by the Mali army against civilians in the north of the country using helicopter gunships. It states, "We are launching an urgent appeal to all organizations for Human Rights to finally intervene and to stop these barbaric acts against civilians."

The website reports significant territorial gains of MNLA armed forces in northern Mali in recent months. The secular, liberation front says it is "determined to continue operations until Mali recognises the Azawad population's right to self-determination."

The Tuareg people were brutally subdued by colonial France at the outset of the 20th century. Following the independence of Mali and neighbouring countries in 1960, they continued to suffer discrimination. A First Touareg Rebellion took place in 1962-64.

A second, large rebellion began in 1990. It won some autonomy from the government that was elected in 1992 and re-elected in 1997.

A third rebellion in Mali and Niger in 2007 won further political and territorial concessions, but these were constantly reneged. A Libya-brokered peace deal ended fighting in 2009.

One of the voices of Touareg self-determination is the musical super-group Tinariwen.

Thomas K. Seligman, director of Stanford University's Cantor Arts Center and co-curator of a  2007-08 exposition at the Smithsonian Institute titled, 'The Art of Being Tuareg: Sahara Nomads in a Modern World', explained that year, "They (the Touareg) are getting caught in this war on terror."

"The Tuareg are concerned about self-determination and maintaining values they think are important. As a minority population, they're doing pretty well at that, but it's fragile and always being challenged."

The coup in Mali is a huge black eye for the big, imperial powers that are meddling in the region. The army they have nurtured and assisted has overthrown an elected government. It has been encouraged and assisted to fight a criminal war in one of the poorest places in the world.

Millions of people are already threatened by drought conditions in northern Mali and the surrounding countries. Their plight will only worsen as the militarization of the region continues.

Canadians have a particular responsibility to concern themselves with events in Mali. In addition to Canada's participation in U.S.-led ‘counter-insurgency' in the region, last year the federal government announced that it is establishing permanent military bases in Senegal, a neighbouring country of Mali, and Kenya. Whose interests are these bases to serve? Who stands to benefit from waging war on the Touareg people?

These are important questions to demand of political leaders and media outlets in Canada, including the new leader of the New Democratic Party. The recent NDP leadership contest hardly talked about foreign affairs.

Describing the rise in the favored aid status of Mali by Canada in the past several years, the Globe and Mail wrote on March 23, "...Canadian policy is in tatters today."

Roger Annis is a coordinator of the Canada Haiti Action Network. This article is slightly edited from a version that appears in the Australian Green Left Weekly.



Uprising in Mali postpones Canadian military training mission

By David Pugliese, The Ottawa Citizen, February 28, 2012
A Canadian special forces training mission set for Mali has been scuttled as that country finds itself now at war with rebels who are pushing for an autonomous state.

A small team of soldiers from Canadian Forces Base Petawawa was to be in Mali in late February and throughout March as part of a U.S.-organized counter-terrorism training exercise called Flintlock. But the U.S. has postponed that exercise because Mali is in the midst of an uprising by Tuaregs who are fighting for a separate homeland in the north. The United Nations says more than 126,000 people have fled the fighting, which has killed at least 80.

“As Exercise Flintlock 12 has been postponed, CANSOFCOM will not be sending a contingent to help provide training in reconnaissance, land navigation, marksmanship, and other basic counter-terrorism skills,” the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command or CANSOFCOM, confirmed in an email.

Dutch marines, already in Africa for Flintlock, have also returned home.

The Canadian Special Operations Regiment from Petawawa has sent several small groups of instructors to Mali since last summer to train that country’s counter-terrorism troops. A group of soldiers from the regiment just recently returned. The special forces trainers do not accompany Malian troops to the front-lines as the instruction is done on bases.

There was a debate in U.S. military circles on whether to proceed with the Flintlock exercise, as a show of force that western nations are committed to supporting governments in the region. But it was decided that since Malian troops were so heavily involved in combat, its military couldn’t spare the soldiers to be trained by Canadian and other special forces.

The Flintlock exercise was also to have trained other military units from African nations who were to come to Mali.

The fighting follows the overthrow of Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi last year by opposition forces, which credit NATO and Canada’s involvement for their victory. Many of the Tuaregs now fighting Malian troops had been employed in Gadhafi’s military or were working in the country. With the demise of their benefactor they returned to their homes in Mali, armed with military equipment stolen from Libyan stockpiles.

Last month they launched a series of attacks on several northern towns in Mali as part of their campaign for autonomy.

Tuareg are a nomadic community of about 1.5 million people, with various groups scattered between Algeria, Burkina Faso, Libya, Niger and Mali. Mali and Niger have faced a number of Tuareg uprisings over the decades as the group has fought for recognition of their identity and an independent state. The latest offensive is their most significant effort in years.

Mali is also dealing with the threat from al-Qaeda in the region. “This is exactly the place we should be in terms of trying to develop a counter-terrorism capacity in the Sahel and in North Africa,” Brig.-Gen. Denis Thompson, head of the Ottawa-based CANSOFCOM told the Citizen in December. “This is a natural fit for us.”

In addition, the Canadian Special Operations Regiment trained Malian special forces last year at the Flintlock exercise, which was held at the time in Senegal. But it is unclear when the next Canadian training mission to Mali will occur since there is no end in sight to the ongoing fighting. Such training occurs in response to requests from the Malian government, and is approved by the Canadian government, noted the email from CANSOFCOM.

“Each request is evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Once approved, training visits are scheduled at a time that is convenient for both Canada and Mali,” the email added.

On Tuesday the Red Cross issued an appeal for emergency funds to “help forestall a major humanitarian crisis” in the west African nations of Niger and Mali. The appeal for $13.7 million is aimed at helping about 700,000 people threatened by drought as well as fighting in northern Mali, the International Committee of the Red Cross said in a statement.

“The fighting has resulted in casualties. In addition, people have been taken captive and families have been dispersed,” said Boris Michel, the ICRC’s North and West Africa head of operations.

Gadhafi’s removal from power has thrown the region into turmoil, according to a January report done for the United Nations Security Council. Gadhafi had offered employment for large numbers of Africans and those people are now returning home. As a result, lawlessness and clashes between various groups have surged and the home nations have been unable to feed many of the returnees.

“As a result of the crisis, millions of economic migrants, especially from Chad, Mali, Mauritania and the Niger and other African countries, were forced to flee Libya and return to the communities they had left in search of better living conditions,” the UN report noted. “Over night, the governments of the region had to contend with the impact of the crisis on an already challenging, humanitarian, development and security situation.”

In addition, large quantities of arms and ammunition stolen from Libyan stockpiles have found their way into the hands of various rebel and criminal groups, including al-Qaeda. The Canadian government and military have portrayed the campaign to overthrow Gadhafi as a major victory, not only for the Libyan people but also for the Canadian Forces.

With files from Agence France-Press