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Mali: Caught between French, US interests

January 25, 2013 - 2:01:51 am


Khalid Al Sayed



The New York Times reported on January 19 that the world should recall the words of the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi — during the days of uprising against him — that the downfall of his regime would bring chaos and terrorism into Libya. 

The world now remembers Colonel Gaddafi’s words as a crisis rages in Mali, pitting French forces against Islamists controlling large parts of this African country. The crisis in Mali is a natural outcome of the Arab Spring in the Middle East and it has huge consequences for other North African countries. International strategies, relations and plans for this region will have to change as a result. 

After the overthrow of Gaddafi, the Tuaregs, some of whom used to work in the Libyan army, laid their hands on a huge cache of weapons stored in the Libyan ruler’s weapon warehouses. Details of these weapons were registered with army units under the Colonel.

Heavily armed, the Tuaregs managed to spread their influence in northern Mali, where local tribes became loyal to them due to differences of opinion with the radical group, namely Al-Qaeda in Maghreb.

The Malian army could not check the advance of Tuaregs and the spread of their influence in the north of the country, being ill-prepared for such a job. The Tuaregs swiftly managed to declare their independent state in this terrain.  

The ensuing conflicts and developments proved one point: the Arab Spring was fruitful in Libya, but it not so in Mali. In the latter, the Spring turned into a scorching summer, bringing in insecurity and instability. 

Also, a look at recent developments in Mali will help to put things in perspective. Former Malian president Amadou Toumani Touré had turned down an American request to establish an AFRICOM base in his country, something the United States had been trying to do since 2007. Touré, however, was overthrown in a coup d’état in March 2012, which was led by Amado Sanogo, a pro-American commander. But this triggered a wave of French political pressure for bringing back Dioncounda Traoré, a pro-French leader who backed French military intervention in the north of Mali. 

Traoré was reinstalled in power on April 12, 2012. A pro-French prime minister was also named in April but was forced by the military to step down in December. The United States and France are competing with each other to control this strategic region that has huge natural reserves of oil, gas and uranium. Mali was mainly a French colony as was most countries in the region. But the presence of the United States in the region under the pretext of fighting terrorism complicated things and raised French concerns over their interests and influence there. This has resulted in the widening of the influence of rebels even more. 

France decided to hastily intervene militarily in Mali to block the road of the United States into this African country. But this will also pave the way for redrawing the map of this region under an operation that carries the name “Fight against Terrorism”.   The Peninsula