Welcome Americans to West Africa’s Mysteries
by Eric Margolis: Let’s
Not Forget the World’s Most Dangerous Border While We Fret About
Iran and North Korea
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
the US claimed its energy sources were threatened by instability
in the Arab world. So it began exploiting West Africa as a "secure"
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.
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
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."
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!"
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
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.
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.
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
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.
him mail] is the author of War
at the Top of the World and the new book, American
Raj: Liberation or Domination?: Resolving the Conflict Between the
West and the Muslim World. See his
© 2013 Eric Margolis
Best of Eric Margolis