London: By the time François Hollande was sworn in as president of France on 15 May 2012 he may well have suspected that, one year into his term, French troops would be on the ground in Mali. Like his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, he believed France should provide logistical and intelligence support if West African countries sent troops to tackle the jihadist groups that had taken over the Malian north. But that France’s own contingent would be almost 4,000 strong and committed to an aggressive combat role was probably not the most likely scenario envisaged by either man. The dramatic scale of the military intervention in the Sahel is a measure of Africa’s surge up the scale of priorities for French policy-makers and an indication of the complex challenges the continent still presents for France.
The French military intervention in January and February this year ended the occupation of northern Mali by rebel movements and jihadists. When I was in Bamako at the end of February, organisations across the political spectrum applauded France as Mali’s saviour and liberator. There had been a grave danger that the jihadists would seize Bamako, thereby seize the state, and turn the country into a fundamentalist political entity. A Muslim leader said to us: ‘France saved Mali, saved our way of life, saved Islam itself’.
Paris: Africa figures prominently in France's newly outlined military defense strategy - and experts say the Mali offensive may serve as a blueprint for future operations. Outlined by Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, the newly released review of France's national security and defense policy reflects the challenges of dealing with new military threats with less money.
Dakar: For the population of northern Mali, the feeling of being “liberated” by the French military intervention launched on 11 January 2013 is real. The sudden, but clearly well-prepared intervention, which received widespread support in Mali, West Africa and beyond, ended the offensive by jihadi groups that the Malian army had been unable to repel. France also took the opportunity to try and destroy al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) forces. Although Mali is in a better place than a few months back, sporadic fighting in the north continues and formidable threats to security, stability and the coexistence of the country’s various communities remain.
Kigali: Mali's Foreign Affairs minister Tieman Coulibaly has appealed to Rwanda to use her influence at the United Nations to push for a resolution that would put international troops helping Mali to restore peace under the direct command of the UN. A 10,000-strong international force, including around 4,000 French soldiers and 6,000 AFISMA troops is currently operating in Mali but the French are supposed to pull out of the mission next month, leaving the peace-keeping task in the hands of AFISMA. Minister Coulibaly, who was on a one-day working visit to Rwanda yesterday, held talks with Rwanda's Foreign Affairs minister, Louise Mushikiwabo, and conveyed his government's wish that the UN's Security Council adopt a resolution to turn the current African-led International Support Mission to Mali (AFISMA) into a fully-fledged UN peace-keeping mission.
Cape Town: The Department of International Relations and Co-operation (DIRCO) briefed the Committee on the current political situation in Mali. The briefing was undertaken by DIRCO Director General Ambassador Jerry Matjila, assisted by Ambassador Mdu Lembede, Chief Director DIRCO. Ambassador Matjila noted that Mali was one of the biggest countries in West Africa. Mali was landlocked by seven countries and arms were entering the country via Libya. If Libya was stabilised then the entire region would be stabilised. Mali was also not unaffected by the drug trade. Drugs were entering Mali from the south such as from South Africa, Nigeria and Guinea. The drugs were on route to Asia and Europe.
On March 22, 2012, a mutiny of young soldiers and army officers led by Captain Amadou Haya Sanogo began in a camp in Kati, 15 km outside Bamako. To the amazement of many, it ended up as a coup that ousted the democratically elected President Amadou Toumani Touré six weeks before democratic elections were due to be held. The coup took the international community by surprise as Mali had been regarded as a beacon of democracy in Africa.
Cape Town: Over the past four years or so, the departments constituting the government’s Justice, Crime Prevention and Security (JCPS) cluster have engaged with the processes and made input into the development of the National Development Plan. As part of the cluster, the Department of Defence has had a unique opportunity and we were fortunate that the development of the NDP coincided with process of the Defence Review ensuring alignment between the two. The Defence Review, initiated by my predecessor, and which will be finalised by the end of the financial year, already positions the role of our Defence Force as a key national asset that can, without detriment to its primary functions, carry out directed actions to support national development.
This is a ‘quick and dirty’ take on the fast-moving Saharan crisis unfolding in Africa’s northwest. It appears that in the cut-and-thrust of the French intervention to roll back Islamist insurgents in northern Mali and the hostage crisis in Algeria, that virtually all commentaries on the security vacuum in trans-Saharan Africa have missed the point as they missed it in Libya. It boils down to two words: Western Sahara.