In West Africa and Paris, Chad’s President Idriss Deby Calls for Clarity on Military Intervention in Mali

Chadian President Idriss Deby has made several forceful calls recently for clarity on plans for a possible military intervention in Mali. Deby’s met Tuesday with Boni Yayi, President of Benin (and Chairman of the AU), and Malian Prime Minister Cheikh Modibo Diarra. Deby told reporters:

“It’s up to the Malians to tell us as clearly as possible what kind of support they expect from Africa, beyond what has been done by [the Economic Community of West African States, of which Chad is not a member], and what kind of contribution they expect of Chad.”

He and the AU called formally for the UN to authorize a military intervention in Mali (see a timeline of steps toward intervention in Mali here).

On Wednesday, Deby met with French President Francois Hollande in Paris. A military intervention in Mali was one of the central subjects they discussed. This was the first time the two men had met face to face, but not the first time they had discussed Mali: on July 5, the Presidents had a telephone conversation on the topic. Jeune Afrique (French) reported that at the time Deby gave his conditional support to the idea. But he recommended that the framework of the intervention be broadened beyond ECOWAS to include the African Union (AU) and the United Nations (UN), with Western powers’ logistical support. “Under these conditions, Chad could participate,” he reportedly said. Since that time, the AU has signed on, and some Western powers (including France) have indicated they would support an intervention logistically, but the UN Security Council has yet to approve the force.

On Wednesday, following his meeting with Hollande, Deby spoke (French) of “total confusion” on the issue of Mali coming from ECOWAS, the UN, and Mali itself, confusion concerning the military option as well as the option of negotiations. Nonetheless he reaffirmed Chad’s intention to work “alongside the Malians so that Mali may recover its territorial integrity.” Deby’s statements in Paris tracked closely with his remarks the preceding day.

Steps Toward External Military Intervention in Mali: A Timeline

Yesterday, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon formally “recommended that the Security Council approve an African Union peace enforcement mission be deployed to combat Islamist extremists in northern Mali, but did not offer financial support from the world body.” Some observers expect that the Security Council will, as Ban urges, provide a mandate for an intervention in Mali led by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

Paul Melly is an Associate Fellow with the Africa Programme at Chatham House in London. He says that, because the recovery of territorial integrity is at stake, the UN is expected to hand down a fairly robust mandate, endorsing the ECOWAS intervention.

“The UN mandate will be more one of providing UN support and political authority for this intervention. So it’s not quite like a UN peacekeeping mission with a specific mandate laying down what forces can or cannot do, as you would have, for example, with the MONUSCO force in Congo,” he said.

I imagine we will be discussing and debating the merits and prospects of intervention in the months to come, but in this post I simply want to review the steps that the intervention’s architects have taken in recent months. ECOWAS, of course, has been deeply concerned by the crises in Mali since the conflict in the north began in January, and especially since the March 22 coup in Bamako. But non-African partners, through the spring and summer, expressed some doubts about ECOWAS’ intervention plans. The US and others have worried that the plans lack specificity, both in terms of means and ends. The current process is in large part an effort to address those concerns and secure international support.

Here are some steps taken so far:

  1. On October 12, the UNSC “called on Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to provide, at once, military and security planners to [ECOWAS], the African Union (AU) and other partners to help frame a response to a request by Mali’s transitional authorities for such a force, and to report back within 45 days.”
  2. In early November, international military experts met in Bamako to draft a plan to retake northern Mali. They submitted the plan to ECOWAS on November 6.
  3. On November 11, heads of state from ECOWAS approved the plan at a summit in Abuja, Nigeria.
  4. On November 13, the AU approved the plan.
  5. On November 15, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal Poland, and Spain signaled their willingness to provide training for Malian forces. (Statement here, .pdf.)

Events still to come:

  1. On December 7, international envoys will meet in Rome “to coordinate strategy on Mali…focus[ing] on coordinating positions against terrorism, humanitarian issues, encouraging dialogue, and reinforcing political structures so that elections could eventually be held.”
  2. I assume that the ECOWAS/AU plan was formally presented to the UNSC by the deadline of November 26, but I have not seen a date for when the UNSC is expected to make a decision on approving an intervention. From what I have read the decision is expected soon, though.

What do you think will happen? Will the UNSC approve the force? Will external actors insist that Mali hold elections before attempting to reconquer the north? Will this ultimately be settling at the negotiating table – with Ansar al Din, perhaps? Many questions – we’ll see soon how ECOWAS, AU, and the UN attempt to resolve them.

Africa News Roundup: ECOWAS and Mali, French Commanders in Mauritania, Muslim Protests in Ethiopia, Karim Wade, and More

Details on the Economic Community of West African States’ battle plan for Mali:

“International forces will not do the ground fighting, that role will belong to the Malian army,” a military officer familiar with the plan, who asked not to be named, said on Friday.

“Air strikes will be the responsibility of the international force,” he said, adding foreign partners would also provide logistical and intelligence support and soldiers and police to secure areas captured by the Malian army.

Military planners from Africa, the United Nations and Europe in Mali’s capital Bamako last week drew up a battle plan that would involve a foreign force of more than 4,000 personnel, mostly from West African countries. It remains unclear how much of the force would come from Western nations.

The plan covers a six-month period, with a preparatory phase for training and the establishment of bases in Mali’s south, followed by combat operations in the north.

Top French military commanders visited Mauritania this week to discuss Mali and terrorism.

The ongoing Muslim protests in Ethiopia merit a full post, but two items of note are the announcement of new members of the Islamic Affairs Council and a statement by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom expressing concern “about the increasing deterioration of religious freedoms for Muslims in Ethiopia.”

In other Ethiopia-related news, “Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan have agreed to resume jointly working on organizing sustainable management, utilization and development of the Nile waters under the Eastern Nile Basin. The agreement was reached after water Ministers and representatives of the three countries held a meeting in Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, on Thursday.”

VOA:

The United Nations warns survivors of Nigeria’s worst flooding in five decades are at risk for waterborne and water-related diseases.  Nigeria’s National Emergency Management Agency reports the heavy rains have killed 363 people, affected 7.7 million and made more than two million people homeless.

Reuters: “Somalia’s al Shabaab, Squeezed in South, Move to Puntland.”

Senegalese police will again question Karim Wade, a former minister and son of former President Abdoulaye Wade.

What else is happening?

Mali and Multi-Level Negotiations

On November 6, two meetings – one in Ouagadougou, one in Bamako – brought developments that could portend changes for the situation in Mali. If taken at face value (and there are reasons to do so), the results of these meetings point toward two very different paths the crisis in northern Mali could take. Those paths are negotiation or war. If the meetings themselves are viewed as gambits in a deeper, less explicit sort of negotiation, then they communicate something different about the positions of the key players who will shape the future of northern Mali.

The meeting in Ouagadougou was between representatives from the Islamist movement Ansar al Din, which controls part of northern Mali, and regional mediators led by Burkina Faso’s President Blaise Compaore. Following talks on Tuesday, Ansar al Din’s delegation “agreed to commit to peace talks with Mali’s government and observe a ceasefire,” and also pledged to allow aid agencies into territory the movement controls. As AFP has reported, mediators have urged Ansar al Din to cut its ties to Al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which is part of Ansar al Din’s Islamist coalition in northern Mali, and Ansar al Din’s actions on that front could determine the viability of negotiations. While the delegates in Ouagadougou made no commitments regarding AQIM, they did stress their group’s “independent” nature, which AFP calls “a signal” of their potential willingness to abandon AQIM. As AFP notes in a separate article, Ansar al Din also has envoys in Algeria for talks.

Ansar al Din has offered to negotiate with authorities in Bamako before (French), but the movement’s demand for the country-wide application of shari’a seemed to make the idea a non-starter. Malian Foreign Minister Tiéman Coulibaly (French) has said that “the territorial integrity, secularism/laicite, and republican character of Mali are not negotiable.” Shari’a has, from what I have read, not come up yet in this round of talks, except perhaps through veiled references.

The Tuareg-led, ostensibly secular rebel group the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad (MNLA, where “Azawad” refers to northern Mali) has a presence in Ouagadougou, and welcomed Ansar al Din’s willingness to negotiate.

In Bamako, meanwhile, military commanders from member states within the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have developed a “military blueprint” for retaking northern Mali by force. The plan goes next to presidents from ECOWAS members, and then to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on November 26. On October 12, the UNSC “held out the possibility of endorsing, within the next 45 days, an international military force to restore the unity of the West African country.”

As AP notes, however, any military offensive in northern Mali is unlikely to happen before 2013. The deployment of troops may be contingent on the completion of new elections for a national Malian government – a process that will pose its own severe logistical difficulties.

So who is serious, and who is bluffing? Is everyone bluffing? And who speaks for whom?

If we take things at face value, Ansar al Din is ready to talk, and ECOWAS is ready to fight. Perhaps ECOWAS’ threats have scared Ansar al Din into coming to the negotiating table, and perhaps ECOWAS doubts Ansar al Din’s sincerity. ECOWAS leaders such as Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan have expressed their preference for talking rather than fighting. But perhaps ECOWAS’ leaders hold little hope that Ansar al Din will repudiate AQIM, or that talks will materialize, or that talks will get past Ansar al Din’s insistence on shari’a – and so ECOWAS continues to mobilize, or give the appearance of mobilizing.

One can read the whole process, then, as a form of negotiation. In this view, all parties expect the conflict to end at the negotiating table, not on the battlefield. And so ECOWAS mobilizes in order to strengthen its hand at the table, and Ansar al Din hints at future concessions while the Islamist coalition still makes sure to demonstrate its capacity to strike at “border” towns like Douentza, all more or less as a form of positioning. I’ve even heard the theory that the war as a whole started off as a bid for a strong negotiating position – ie, that the MNLA never expected matters to go this far, but rather hoped to win concessions from the new president of a post-Amadou Toumani Toure Mali.

Ansar al Din, of course, does not demand the break-up of Mali, but its (deeper) Islamization. Are the cooler heads in the Islamist coalition, then, looking toward a future, reunited Mali, and angling for a) a say in determining the role Islam plays in government at the national and local levels and b) continued political influence, official and unofficial, in northern Mali, even beyond religious affairs?

The danger with all the levels of negotiation taking place, or potentially taking place, is that the various sides may well misread each other’s signals, with the result that more blood is shed. Even if all sides proclaim a desire for peace and a willingness to talk, there are so many sticking points – shari’a, elections, etc. – that the conflict seems likely to endure for quite some time.

Africa Blog Roundup: Mali, Abdel Aziz Shooting, Illegal Fishing, Haiti and the AU, and More

Mohamed Vall: “Why Sorting Out Mali Remains an Uphill Task.” For more on the state of play with the United Nations Security Council, the Economic Community of West African States, and the situation in Mali, see Lesley Anne Warner.

The Moor Next Door on the shooting of Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz:

As things stand now, with Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz in France, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mohamed Ghazouani is the man in charge and among opposition types and some closer to the government there is a feeling that Ould Abdel Aziz is a dangerous position, and that remaining abroad too long could invite coup plots, political unrest or attacks from AQIM. Key variables at this point include the political ambitions of Gen. Ghazouani and the loyalty of the armed forces and intelligence service to the president – especially the commando units and BASEP (the republican guards), which Ould Abdel Aziz founded and led until ‘leaving’ army in 2009.

A public relations firm (that has the government of Kenya as a client) has produced a helpful timeline (.pdf) of Kenya’s “Operation Linda Nchi” in Somalia. The anniversary of the operation’s launch occurred last week on October 16.

Sarah Lazare and John Wesley Jones:

We look at the media strategies, messages, and images that underlie the dizzying success of the film Kony 2012 and Greg Mortenson’s book, Three Cups of Tea. We also examine the role that exploitation of children and youth, as well as concepts of education and child welfare, play in their respective fundraising efforts. We investigate the broader conditions that enabled their viral spread and allowed them to receive millions of dollars in donations from around the world. We aim to cut through the veneer and shed light on the gap between the stated and real impact these nonprofits have on the world and expose the acceptance of militarism that underlies their supposedly apolitical solutions to real problems.

Gernot Klantschnig:

Having observed West Africa’s role in the drug trade for more than 10 years, it is puzzling that Africa is still described as ‘the new frontier’, particularly by the experts who are supposed to know the situation best. An intention to galvanise public interest in drugs in Africa and a short institutional memory might explain some of these a-historical statements. I would also argue that the neglect of Africa’s long history in the drug trade has lead to some misunderstanding of its present and future role.

Dan Moshenberg: “Kenya’s #purplezebra Spring.”

A CNN/UNICEF report on child stunting.

Baobab on monitoring illegal fishing in Sierra Leone.

Joshua Keating on how Haiti may join the African Union.

What else is everyone reading?

Africa News Roundup: South Sudanese Oil, ECOWAS Meeting in Mali, Flooding in Nigeria, and More

AP: “South Sudan ordered oil companies to restart production Thursday and officials said oil export could resume in about 90 days, ending a nearly nine-month shutdown following a dispute with Sudan over borders and oil.”

IRIN with a piece that is worth thinking about in the context of how the Islamist coalition in northern Mali works to attract support:

Hundreds of displaced northerners in southern Mali are risking life under Sharia law to return home, lured by the prospect of jobs, free water and electricity, and in some parts, relatively cheaper food, Malians in the north and south told IRIN.
Islamist groups have removed taxes on many basic goods, say traders in the region, provide erratic electricity and water services at no charge, and have fixed the price of some basic foods. They are also paying youths to join their ranks, as talk of intervention by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) mounts.

A major meeting of ECOWAS, the African Union, the European Union, and the United Nations took place in Bamako yesterday.

Lagun Akinloye on recent flooding in Nigeria.

Garowe writes that talks between the Ethiopian government and the rebel Ogaden National Liberation Front have hit “deadlock.”

The United Nations Monitoring Group on Somalia and others have raised the possibility that al Shabab, now that its major strongholds in southern Somalia have fallen to African Union forces, may seek to establish more of a presence in Puntland. The BBC reports on a seizure of weapons imported into Puntland that were apparently meant for al Shabab.

Yesterday I wrote about border issues in Niger, but neglected to mention that this week Niger and Burkina Faso were at the International Court of Justice to settle a border dispute. It’s worth noting how colonial legacies still come into play: “During the hearings, Burkina Faso explained that the delimitation of the disputed part should be based on a 1927 French colonial decree, when both countries were part of French West Africa, while Niger contended that the decree was not precise enough to define the frontier in certain areas and asked the Court to delimit it by using a 1960 map of the French Institut Géographique as adjusted with factual evidence of territorial sovereignty.”

What else is happening?

Whither US Policy on Mali? [Updated]

As the analyst Andrew Lebovich writes, US statements on Mali have been “contradictory,” creating confusion about the trajectory of Washington’s policy toward the country. The State Department seems to have undergone a genuine change of heart concerning the wisdom of an armed intervention in Mali by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). But it is harder to read words and deeds coming from the Department of Defense and the White House, especially regarding the possibility of direct US military action in northern Mali.

Department of State

Foggy Bottom’s position on Mali has evolved considerably over the last few months. To quote from an earlier post:

In May, [Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie] Carson told reporters that ECOWAS’ “mission and role” in Mali “must be defined before we make any kind of commitment.” Remarks by Carson in late June sounded even less enthusiastic: “We think an ECOWAS mission to militarily retake the north is ill-advised and not feasible.”

In September, however,

In an interview with VOA, Carson said Mali’s military should accept an intervention force from the Economic Community of West African States, because the army is fractured by the flight of soldiers to Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania.

“The Malian military has been broken. It is now in need of restructuring and repair and rehabilitation,” Carson explained. “It should accept the support, the camaraderie, the mentoring and the friendship of other ECOWAS states as it attempts to get itself together so that it can help address the issues of terrorism in the northern part of the country, as well as humanitarian support.”

ECOWAS appears to have convinced State, then, that it has a plan for helping the Malian government retake territory in the north, and that supporting this plan is better than the status quo.

[UPDATE]: As Twitter user Stephanie Lamy adds, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has indicated that US support for an ECOWAS intervention may hinge on whether the Malian government is able to hold elections before the deployment. At the UN General Assembly meeting last week, Clinton said, “In the end, only a democratically elected government will have the legitimacy to achieve a negotiated political settlement in northern Mali, end the rebellion and restore the rule of law.”

Department of Defense and the White House

Last week, General Carter Ham, head of US AFRICOM, visited Mauritania, Morocco, and Algeria to discuss the crisis in Mali. Amid ongoing discussions of an external military intervention in Mali, Gen. Ham’s stated that the US will not be directly involved:

“We first need to re-establish a legitimate government in Bamako, meet the pressing needs of the people, deal with the serious humanitarian crisis ravaging the region and finally tackle the terrorist groups,” General Ham said. He stressed that “the only alternative which could not exist is the American military presence in northern Mali”.

The Washington Post, however, recently reported that the Obama administration has considered forms of direct intervention in Mali and elsewhere in the region:

“Right now, we’re not in position to do much about [the presence of terrorist groups in northern Mali],” said a senior U.S. counterterrorism official involved in the talks. As a result, he said, officials have begun to consider contingencies, including the question of “do we or don’t we” deploy drones.

This is not the first time that US officials have raised the possibility of American force against militants in northern Mali. In July, Assistant Secretary of Defense Michael Sheehan made remarks that sound similar to Gen. Ham’s, but did not rule out the use of violence:

“Mali is a difficult situation because it starts with the government in Bamako,” Sheehan said. “We have to find a way to move forward with the government first and I think we need to start to accelerate that effort.”

[...]

Sheehan went on to say that the area north of Mali’s Niger River has become almost ungoverned and an area of focus for the Department of Defense.

“We cannot allow al Qaeda to sit in ungoverned places,” Sheehan said of northern Mali.

Sheehan indicated the U.S. military is considering how to handle the problem.

“All those options will be considered,” Sheehan said. “There have been no decisions and things would be considered and they are being concerned to what is a looming threat.”

The common denominator in these statements is an emphasis on establishing the integrity of the Malian government as the first step toward solving the country’s crises. Beyond that, though, there is significant uncertainty about Washington’s intentions.

****************

The statements from State and Defense can be reconciled; indeed, in a way they are separate conversations, one having to do with supporting ECOWAS and the other having to do with direct US military action against militants. This thematic difference is reflected in a geographical one, with State seeming to focus on West Africa and Defense seeming to focus (at least in Ham’s trip) on North Africa. Indeed it is the very sense that the two conversations are separate, and that Defense has not made a firm decision on the form its involvement will take, that leaves me struggling to discern where Washington’s Mali policy is headed.

Mauritanian Islamists Reject the Idea of External Intervention in Mali

Amid Mali’s ongoing crisis, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has proposed to send some 3,000 troops there to help Malian government forces retake the Islamist-held north. Other external actors, such as France, have indicated that they would support such an intervention logistically. Talk of interventions is drawing reactions within Mali but also from its neighbors.

Reactions in Mauritania, Mali’s neighbor to the west, are worth watching. Mauritania sent troops into northern Mali on several occasions in 2010 and 2011 pursuing fighters from Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). This August, Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz stated that his country will not intervene militarily in Mali. Mauritania is not a member of ECOWAS. Last week, Abdel Aziz met with General Carter Ham, head of US AFRICOM, to discuss the potential for intervention in Mali, but few details of the meeting are publicly available.

Some constituencies inside Mauritania strongly oppose an external intervention. One such constituency is the segment of Islamists represented by the political party Tewassoul (“The National Rally for Reform and Development”; Arabic site here). Yesterday, the party released a statement against intervention in Mali (Arabic). The statement partly blames Abdel Aziz’s regime for the current crisis in Mali, and has several key planks, paraphrased here:

  • The party supports the territorial integrity of Mali.
  • The party calls on neighboring countries, the African Union, and the United Nations to support negotiations and a non-violent solution to the crisis.
  • The party warns of “disastrous and negative consequences for the region as a whole from any foreign intervention guided by Western countries on the basis of their agenda and their interests.”
  • The party opposes any Mauritanian support, military or logistical, for a military intervention in Mali.

Mauritanian Islamists are far from being the dominant political players in the country – in the last presidential elections, Tewassoul’s candidate Jamil Mansour placed fourth in the official results, with around 5% of the vote – yet they have at times acted as a significant pressure group, particularly with regard to foreign policy. Analysts have cited Islamists’ street demonstrations and political mobilization as a factor in prompting Mauritania’s decision to suspend relations with Israel in 2009. Mauritanian Islamists have been effective in articulating popular sentiments against forms of perceived neo-colonialism in Mauritania and the region.

Tewassoul’s statement, then, has significance for understanding how Islamists of different stripes are reacting to the situation in Mali and how the issue is playing out in Mauritanian domestic politics. I don’t want to overstate the influence Tewassoul has, especially over Abdel Aziz. But Tewassoul may have some success mobilizing around this cause.

Mali’s Islamist Coalition Responds to External Intervention Discussions

Plans for an external military intervention in war-torn Mali are gathering momentum. Mali’s interim government has agreed to allow the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to base a 3,000-strong force in Bamako. The European Union is “considering requests to support West African-led military intervention in Mali and to restructure the country’s beleaguered army.” France and the United States have urged the United Nations Security Council to approve ECOWAS’ plans, and France and the African Union have said they will support ECOWAS logistically. Even Algeria “may have to accept the deployment of West African troops in its crisis-hit neighbour Mali contrary to its traditional stance against foreign intervention and focus on internal security, analysts say.”

As Reuters points out, uncertainty about who really rules in Bamako – coup leader Captain Amadou Sanogo, civilian President Dioncounda Traore, or Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra – could efforts to retake Mali’s Islamist-held north. But many powerful actors are pushing for a military campaign of some kind.

These developments have not gone unnoticed in the north. The Malian press has transcribed a phone interview with Oumar Ould Hamaha, a commander within the Islamist coalition that rules northern Mali. I have not been able to find an in-depth profile on Hamaha, but this comment on him from AFP is notable:

Malian national Omar Hamaha, one of the main Islamist commanders in the north, is a case study in the bridges between [Ansar al Din, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, the main players in the Islamist coalition].

He is known as the second-in-command to the AQIM boss in charge of Gao. But during the seizure of Timbuktu in April, he referred to himself as the chief-of-staff of Ansar Dine, and now says he holds the same position in MUJAO.

“Remember, we are all mujahedeen. Whether a fighter is from MUJAO, Ansar Dine or AQIM, it’s the same thing,” he told AFP.

“We have the same ambition, the application of sharia. Whenever there’s an attack on one of us, it’s an attack on everyone.”

Hamaha is frequently quoted as a spokesman for the coalition in local and international media (see here, for example), where his rhetoric often emphasizes the coalition’s embrace of violence in the service of its determination to impose shari’a across Mali. In the aftermath of the Malian army’s killing of sixteen Muslim preachers earlier this month, Hamaha expressed the Islamist coalition’s rejection of mediation efforts and its objective of capturing Bamako:

He warned that the Islamists would one day attack the south. ‘‘We will plant the black flag of the Islamists at Koulouba,’’ he said, naming the hill on which Mali’s presidential palace sits.

Hamaha reiterated these messages in his recent phone interview (French), in which he expresses defiance regarding the possibility of an external intervention. My translation:

I was contacted last Saturday by the Minister of Defense for discussions. I told him that we are open to dialogue if the government is ready to submit itself to the shari’a. Plainly speaking, if the authorities are ready to apply the sharia. I was surprised that the Minister of Defense spoke to me of secularism (laicite). That impedes all dialogue with them. We are jihadists…We are ready to take the lead and to defeat all armies by the sword, whether they be from ECOWAS or even NATO…Nothing will be able to stop our advance on Bamako and the rest of Mali because we have chosen to die for the religion.

More remarks from Hamaha here (French).

The statement leaves me wondering how seriously to take the threat of the Islamist coalition’s southern advance. The Islamists’ capture of the town of Douentza (map) on September 1 certainly raised some eyebrows, and their repeated references to a southern advance indicates that the threat is not just an offhand comment. On the other hand, advancing into southern areas could stretch the Islamists thin, exacerbate the political backlash they sometimes face, and hand them military defeats. Whatever happens, ECOWAS and other external forces can expect stiff resistance from the Islamist coalition, and external forces may even find themselves initially working not just to retake territory, but to repel new attacks.

Quick Items: ECOWAS and Mali, and Corruption in the Sahel

Two quick items.

First, a few important pieces on Mali:

  • The government of President Dioncounda Traore has agreed to allow the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to base some 3,000 soldiers in Bamako. The BBC reports that “before the deployment can go ahead, it will need a mandate from the [UN] security council, which earlier rejected an intervention plan because of a lack of detail.”
  • International Crisis Group has released a briefing on Mali that urges “determined and coordinated international action.” From the briefing:

All scenarios are still possible, including another military coup and social unrest in the capital, which risks undermining the transitional institutions and creating chaos that could allow religious extremism and terrorist violence to spread in Mali and beyond. None of the three actors sharing power, namely the interim president, Dioncounda Traoré, the prime minister, Cheick Modibo Diarra, and the ex-junta leader, Captain Amadou Sanogo, enjoys sufficient popular legitimacy or has the ability to prevent the aggravation of the crisis. The country urgently needs to mobilise the best Malian expertise irrespective of political allegiance rather than engaging in power plays that will lead the country to the verge of collapse.

  • IRIN, finally, has a report on aid delivery to northern Mali: “NGO Médecins du Monde (MDM), active in the north for more than a decade and now with over 250 staff supporting more than 20 health posts, including Kidal hospital, says NGOs have to get beyond the main towns and villages and reach more vulnerable communities in outlying areas.”

Second, this month the Global Observatory of the International Peace Institute is focusing on the Sahel. I have contributed a piece on corruption. If you read the piece, let us know your thoughts here in the comments.