The deep contradictions Mali has been experiencing are about to become even more intense. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has agreed to send several thousand troops to join Malian troops in an operation to take back the northern part of Mali. The area has been primarily under fundamentalist, al-Qaeda-linked, Islamic rebel control for months. (See May-June and July-August N&L.) It is reported that the U.S. and/or France will provide air support.
Tens of thousands of refugees have fled the reign of terror that several fundamentalist groups—Mujao in Gao, Ansar Dine in Kidal, and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in Timbuktu—have inflicted on the population. The dysfunctional interim government in Mali has been completely unable to protect its citizens in the northern part of the country, and requested military intervention by West African states.
This is a double tragedy: Not only is there tremendous suffering of the civilian population, but the liberation movement of the long suppressed Tuareg people in northern Africa for autonomy/independence has now been buried under a fundamentalist push in Mali.
A military operation by ECOWAS with the assistance of the West may uproot the fundamentalist groups, though this is by no means certain. What it will not do is provide for genuine self-determination of Mali’s population, nor of the Tuareg people.