Mali coup linked with Libyan instability
Captain Amadou Sanogo, Mali's military junta, seeks reconciliation with Arab rebels
(Global Review Report)
March 25, 2012
Africa is reeling from the legacies of the assassinated Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi as the Libyan instability spills all across the region. The March 22 coup in Mali may be the first major political fallout, but much more is feared in other bordering nations like Algeria, Niger, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Senegal and Mauritania.
Even oil rich Nigeria is not immune from the sweeping contagion of instability. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan says spiralling violence in his country, blamed on the radical Islamist group Boko Haram, is "even worse" than the country's 1960s civil war.
Mali’s misfortune, however, does not stem from the radical Islamists. After being beaten by battle hardened Tuareg rebels, who had launched a series of military offensives against the government forces in recent weeks, repercussion among the Malian forces could not be suppressed. Mid-ranking military officers have long been accusing the regime of President Amadou Toumani Toure of not meeting the army’s demand to arm them adequately to fight the rebels.
The mutiny on March 22 started in a single barrack at Kati, 13 miles from the capital Bamako, following spontaneous outburst of anger against the minister of defence, General Sadio Gassama, who was visiting the garrison. When soldiers started shooting to the air, the minister fled.
It is learnt that an altercation with the minister preceded the uprising, once soldiers complained in anger of the lack of arms and equipment needed to repulse the Tuareg rebels. Many of the rebels are former Malian soldiers.
A young army Captain, Amadou Sanogo, declared himself as the president of the newly formed National Committee for the Return of Democracy and the Restoration of the State (CNRDR). In a statement, the 39 year old Captain claimed to have received training from U.S. Marines and intelligence services.
“We will hand power back to a democratically-elected president as soon as the country is reunified," Captain Sanogo declared. "Tuareg people in the north, Arab people, are our brothers. ... I want all of them to come to the same table, my door is open, we should talk about this process," the junta leader implored.
Captain Sanogo would not say where the deposed President Toure is, or even if he’s alive. “As a soldier, I have my secrets," he hushed.
Amadou Konare, a spokesman for the military, said, “Considering the incapacity of the regime in effectively fighting against terrorism and restoring dignity to the Malian people, using its constitutional rights, the armed forces of Mali, along with other security forces, have decided to take on their responsibilities to put an end to this incompetent regime of President Amadou Toumani Toure."
Although the separatist Tuareg rebels of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) have scored a string of victories against the tiny Malian military in the country’s vast northern desert in recent weeks, the coup has further truncated the military’s ability to fight the rebels effectively.
Now the nomadic rebels are pushing further south, taking advantage of the ruptured chain of command in the Malian forces. In the last 24 hours, the rebels have advanced to the outskirts of the strategic northern town of Kidal, and, an estimated 4,000 of them want to create a separate homeland for the nomadic Arabs in northern Mali.
The coup is both puzzling and provocative and, its timing is a suspect. Last month, a US-led regional exercise had to be postponed due to Mali’s preoccupation with containing the Tuareg insurgency. Codenamed Flintlock 2012, the war game would have brought together security forces from West Africa, Europe and the US to coordinate counterterrorism operations.
Tasked with safeguarding the sovereignty of a country nearly half a million square miles in size, the Malian armed forces are only 7,000 strong, with only a handful of air force soldiers and about 50 navy personnel. Created on October 1, 1960, by an army Captain and the first chief of staff, Captain Sekou Traore, the military is army dominated.
That vulnerability leaves open the fear of foreign military intervention. Another attraction is the country’s vast gold mines, Africa's third largest. Mali is also a major cotton producer. Yet, heavily dependent on foreign aid, it remains one of the poorest countries on earth, with only $ 9 billion GDP.
Since the coup, international investors have been keeping a close eye on the fast moving situations, selling off shares in companies that do most of their business in Mali.
Most affected is the Randgold Resources Ltd. (Nasdaq: GOLD), a transnational gold miner, whose shares lost 15 percent and 15.5 percent, respectively, on U.S. and U.K. markets. Randgold derives more than 70 percent of its revenue from Mali. AngloGold Ashanti Ltd., a South African miner (NYSE: AU), and Toronto-based Iamgold Corp. (NYSE: IAG), have also seen some selling, but not to the extent of the Randgold.
Captain Sanogo remained defiant despite immediate suspension of aid from the World Bank, the African Development Bank and the European Commission. Analysts believe a looming humanitarian disaster will test his soldierly shingle.
Curiously, the US reaction has so far been mixed, and confusing. “Any U.S. assistance to the government of Mali beyond what we give for humanitarian purposes is at risk,” Victoria Nuland, the State Department spokesperson, said on Friday. That implies the country will receive at least half of the promised $140 million aid from the USA, which is earmarked for humanitarian programs.
The State Department confirmed that the humanitarian aid would continue but “It was reviewing the rest of the money, slated primarily for development and security purposes.”
Unless aided by neighbouring nations, the coup leaders may find it hard to feed the 15.4 - million- strong nation. Restoring democracy will be another major challenge.
Although the deposed President Toure too seized power in a 1991 coup, he’s often touted as the "Soldier of Democracy" due to his fast-tracked handing of power to civilians. In 2002, he re-emerged to win the election and was re-elected again in 2007. It is unlikely that the scheduled April 29 election will be allowed to go ahead by the new junta.
Besides investing heavily in all neighbouring countries, Colonel Qaddafi’s regime paid 15 percent of the African Union dues and acted as the essential glue to cementing African unity. No sooner Qaddafi was buried then the Malian troops began to engage in sporadic battles with Tuareg rebels who had returned with truckloads of weapons from fighting on Gaddafi's side.
The Mali coup has exposed further the naivety of the NATO’s 2011 military intervention in Libya. In a scathing report released last week by the UK-based Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), the disastrous consequences of NATO’s Libya intervention were highlighted aptly.
“The Libyan campaign was hailed as a triumph for the principle of the Responsibility to Protect, but the truth may be otherwise. For the manner in which the initial Security Council Resolution (passed a year ago this month) was contorted out of all recognition from the protection of civilians to, in effect, outright regime change has left a sour taste …,” the report observed.
US, Iran brace for showdown in Gulf of Aden
M. Shahid Islam
The strategic Gulf of Aden, through which passes nearly 12 per cent of the global energy supplies - and which connects the Red Sea through the Bab-el-Mandeb strait- is flanked by Somalia on one side and Yemen on the other.
The security ambiance in the region has been brittle and precarious for a long time: Somalia being without a government since 1991 while Yemen’s central government having virtually disintegrated during the 10- month- long civil unrest.
Now, amidst intense tension between Iran and the West, Iranian ships and submarines have deployed an undisclosed number of Iranian troops and weapons at the Eritrean port town of Assab, according to foreign diplomats and NGOs located in the region.
The Iranian-Eritrean nexus gained traction and sustainability due to both the nations being under tighter UN sanctions. The UN Security Council's further toughening of sanctions against both the countries led to further polarization in regional alliance making. Eritrea badly needs an external ally due to its precarious situation and being in the US’s crosshair for alleged support to Somali Islamist rebels.
The sudden visit to the region of the U.S. Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, attached further to the fear of a military buildup and tightening of nooses against Iran and Syria on one hand, and the al Shebab Islamic fighters of Somalia, on the other. During a whirlwind to the region, Panetta said on December 13 that the East African nation of Djibouti has become a key partner in the fights against terrorism and piracy. Panetta met with President Ismail Omar Guelleh and visited about 3,000 US troops stationed in Djibouti.
Symbolic may seem the visit, but it had emboldened morale in neighbouring Kenya and Ethiopia and helped stoke further tension between the al Shebab fighters and the US’s regional allies. Although the US maintains two other military bases in Oman (Masirah and Thumrait) and another one is under construction in Yemen since 2010, the crisis in Yemen and Somalia will decide how the security ambiance of the region may unfold. Especially the Somali crisis is set to test the US nerve in coming months.
The rising tension in the region has already endangered global energy supplies from Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf. About 21,000 ships pass annually through the Gulf of Aden, which plays a pivotal role in keeping the flow of shipping moving smoothly through the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean, the Arabian Sea and the Pacific Ocean via the Indian Ocean.
The main ports along the Gulf include Aden in Yemen, Djibouti City in Djibouti, Assab in Eritrea and Zeila, Berbera, and Bosaso in Somalia. All these ports are now targets of terrorist attacks due to the Somalia war not coming to an end.
The regional chemistry is too complicated, as is usually the case in other post-colonial regions. Modern Somalia is a cojugated entity between the British and the Italian Somaliland(s), brought together in 1960, while the French Somaliland was detached to craft a new country called Djibouti. Of the 17 million Somali speaking population scattered among neighbouring countries, only 9.3 million live in Somalia proper (2010 data).
The Cold War rivalry turned the country into a socialist nation following a military coup led by Major general Siad barre in October 1969, who was overthrown in 1991, coinciding with the collapse of the USSR. Ever since, Somalia has been enduring a fratricidal civil war, the Somali National Movement (SNM) controlling the north while the United Somali Congress holding onto the capital Mogadishu and most of southern Somalia.
The US influence in a unipolar world made things further worse. Amidst intense factional fighting, accompanying refugee crisis and the on-setting of famine, the UN decided to intervene in 1992 by sending peacekeepers, predominantly from the US and many other Western nations. This US participation in a peacekeeping mission was a rare one, and, it turned shameful and unbearable for the sole superpower.
On 3 October 1993, US troops received significant causalities after the downing of the US’s Blackhawk helicopters (19 dead and over 80 wounded) during a savaged battle with Somali gunmen, compelling a phased withdrawal of all foreign troops from the country.
Disengaged for a while, the US decided to get re- involved in the Somali affairs only following the 9/11 geostrategic re-posturing, with a bold new road map. In January 2004, the US propped up the formation of a Somali government with over 2 dozens warlords who met in Kenya. The agreement called for a 275-member parliament and stitched together a Transitional Federal Government (TFG), the 14th such government since 1991. Its head, Abdullah Yusuf, invited African Union (AU) peacekeepers.
By then, a powerful Islamic insurgent group had sprung out from the shadow and swiftly took control of much of southern Somalia. They managed to cobble together a regime called the Islamic Court Union (ICU). The rise of the Islamists is viewed by many as a natural reaction to the US’s establishment of a Somalia-watching mission in Djibouti in 2000 (known as HQ of the Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA), and the US invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq.
The US also blundered by opting to support the Christian-predominant Ethiopia against which native Somalis bear a grudge for losing the Ogaden region due to a biased post-World War land re-distribution scheme devised by the victor powers.
The UN added more pains to the Somali miseries. On 7 December 2006, the Security Council voted to authorize an 8,000-strong peacekeeping mission composed of members from the so called Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD)- comprising Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, and Uganda - but the forces did not move swiftly.
Besides, the US watched from the sideline when the Ethiopian troops launched a full-scale invasion against Somalia to topple the ICU. The invasion led to a two-year-long occupation and spurred the formation of the Al-Qaeda-inspired al Shebab insurgency from the ICU embers.
It was not until January 2007 when the AU Peace and Security Council authorized the deployment of the African Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), with 9 infantry battalions, each 850 men strong, and the accompanying support elements. Uganda contributed bulk of the forces to support the mission. The move proved too little, too late, and much of the forces did not reach Somalia for nearly 18 months.
As the AMISOM soon found itself on the verge of being outgunned and outflanked, the Bush administration declared on February 6, 2007 the creation of a new unified combatant command, U.S. Africa Command or AFRICOM, to promote U.S. national security objectives in Africa and its surrounding waters. The US and other European powers also moved simultaneously to use regional forces to crush al Shebab’s backbone.
The largely forgotten African war did not draw much attention as long as Afghanistan and Iraq were in the headlines. Now it does. Somalia is the sixth country — following Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Yemen — to be targets of US’s drone attacks. At least three US drones crashed into Mogadishu in mid-August, according to eye witnesses.
This is hardly the solution this devastated nation needs. The AMISOM being a US-sponsored-foreign fighting machine, al Shebab guerillas want their ouster from Somalia. Recently, the US paid $45 million worth of military hardware to AMISOM, including body armour and night vision equipment, while the CIA had launched three-pronged attacks on the Islamists: From the air by drone, by using Kenyan and Ethiopian forces from the flanks, and, unleashing AU peacekeepers from within.
Besides, larger observation drones launched from the U.S. base at Camp Lemonier in Djibouti and, unarmed long-range Reaper surveillance drones launched from the Seychelles keep constant watch on Somalia. CIA also runs a counterterrorism training program for the Somalia –based intelligence agents at Mogadishu airport and uses a secret prison in the country.
The TFG is too weak and branded by the locals as a US-Western stooge, hence very unpopular among ordinary Somalis. It’s also corrupt, incompetent and barely controls 15 km area in Mogadishu. In August, al Shebab guerrillas receded from several areas, offering the TFG an unexpected opportunity to step outside the capital to unite the fractious nation. The TFG failed to cash on that opportunity.
That had necessitated the return of the Shebab fighters, provoking the US to push Kenya to invade Somalia in October and the Ethiopian forces to re-invade the country in November. In collaboration with 10,000 AU peacekeepers- mostly from Uganda and Burundi- the occupation forces are committing genocide and crimes against humanity, according to a number of rights group, including the Human Rights Watch.
The entrenchment of US military presence in the area is exacerbating the crisis by enticing other regional and global powers- as Iran already did. If peace is what the US is after, it must ensure the withdrawal of the Ethiopian and the Kenyan forces from Somalia first, and, disengages itself from siding with either of the warring factions. The choking point for global energy supplies cannot be allowed to become a hotbed of confrontation.