One thing worth thinking about, when it comes to the issue of terrorism in the Sahel, is that residents of countries like Mali and Mauritania have nuanced opinions about what measures are and are not worth taking in the service of counterterrorism.
I have no idea whether the following quote is representative of attitudes in Mali, but the eloquence of the speaker’s words struck me:
“We are not against the training of the Malian Army by the Americans,” says Fatoumata Maiga, a women’s rights activist in Mali’s capital, Bamako. “But we don’t want the American Army to be present here. We see that around the world, wherever the Americans are, there is a temptation for Al Qaeda to be there.”
Support for American-backed counterterrorism projects, in other words, has real limits in Mali. And Maiga is not the only observer who sees American efforts as a self-fulfilling prophecy – Al Jazeera English did a whole documentary on the subject.
In Mauritania, meanwhile, domestic counterterrorism measures are provoking outcry. According to Afrique Avenir, opposition leader Ahmed Ould Daddah has denounced proposed changes to the anti-terror law (French), saying the new version “contains articles contradictory to the shari’a, to morality, and to Islamic values as well as principles of democracy and liberty.” The law would extend the state’s powers to search private places, tap phones, and revive old cases.
As US policymakers contemplate counterterrorism measures in West Africa, they should bear in mind the potential for strong domestic opposition both to a US presence and to initiatives in the “War on Terror” that local governments undertake. This domestic opposition could become outright anti-Americanism, or impede legitimate efforts to counteract kidnapping and terrorism.