Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A clear sighted appraisal of the Kidal debacle

 Francis Simonis , lecturer of African History at the University of Aix Marseille and member of the L’Institut des mondes africains (IMAF)  analysed the mistakes made by France  that have led to the present anarchy prevailing in the region of Kidal in an interview on May 26 on the site . Selected pieces of this interview was published on the Malian news site Malijet.  Simonis’ clear understanding of the situation deserves to be read by anyone interested in the current Malian crisis so I translate it into English below: (readers of this blog will understand why I feel like indulging in an   ‘I always told you so!’)
" During the operation Serval (the French and allied intervention in January 2012) , when the French and Chadian troops arrived in Kidal , the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA ) consisting of Tuaregs who had been defeated by Al- Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb ( AQIM) was reinstalled in its region with elements from the Islamist Ansar Dine. This resettlement in the region took place with the blessing and under the protection of the French forces which prevented the return of the Malian army in the region. " (...) " Paradoxically , the situation was less anarchic before the  intervention  because the Ansar Dine group was dominant in the region and was applying sharia law . There was then a real authority.  Ansar Dine then disappeared and is now recycled as the High Council for the unity of Azawad ( HCUA ) . Currently, the MNLA is unable to maintain order in the region and the same goes for the HCUA, both under the gaze of French and Chadian forces. The initial mistake was not to disarm the Tuareg MNLA when the Serval troops arrived  at Kidal.
It is operation Serval who is responsible for this situation of anarchy (...)because we were of the opinion that there were on the one hand the islamists which we had to fight, and on the other hand there were the Touaregs at the heart of the MNLA which we had to understand if not assist. " The objectives of the Serval operation have  never been clearly established . When visiting the United Arab Emirates in January, François Hollande announced that the purpose of operation Serval was to destroy terrorism.  In this case , it is a complete failure. If the goal, as he also said, was to restore the territorial integrity of Mali is also a complete failure. But in this case , it is a deliberate failure, because in reality  the Serval operation has prevented the Malian government to resettle in Kidal . " (...)

"France has always supported the MNLA. The Tuaregs have always been regarded as victims of the southern Malians that do not recognize their rights. Members MNLA have widely cultivated this image. The French pretended to believe that there was a distinction between Ansar Dine - Tuareg jihadists - and MNLA which was considered a brave movement, certainly separatist, but fighting for the cause of the oppressed Tuaregs. This view ignored the  porosity between these two movements. Proof of this is the recent statement from the  MNLA which  announced that it would dissolve in order to merge with the HCUA, new name for the Ansar Dine. "
Francis Simonis’ proposal to resolve the crisis :

It is clear that , despite the announcements of France , the number of French soldiers deployed there cannot be reduced. Nobody ever thought we would be able to do so. Today we recognize that we will undoubtedly need to keep thousands of French soldiers and that we are in this situation for several years to come. If the French were to leave today no one would at this time be able to prevent large-scale islamist attack . Only the Chadians would be capable but the Chadian public opinion has begun to swing against the intervention and against the Malians who are not truly grateful for their sacrifices.
Now,  the first thing to do is to ask the Malian government clearly what it  wants. If it wants to regain full control over this region this will entail the total disarmament of all the armed groups that are there.  It is therefore not possible to consider that some of them , such as the MNLA, have a legitimacy to keep their weapons . "

What is certain is that the Malian government is open to dialogue. This leaves for France to accept the disarmament of the Tuareg separatists .

Monday, May 26, 2014

Outrageous news black out!

 Mali is in an extremely precarious position. The jihadist  forces that  France were fighting against in 2013 are regrouping.  The old idea of 'good' (MNLA)  and 'bad' (MUJAO, AQMI, Ançar Dine etc) rebels (promoted by the international opinion and France) has  been lost in very murky waters. A senior diplomat admitted to me that it is now beyond doubt  that the MNLA was aided by 'darker forces' when they vanquished the Malian army at Kidal last week.
And what does the UK Guardian talk about? They are trotting out the tired old story (however admirable)  of Abdel Kader Haidara and  the saving of Timbuktu's manuscrips.

Not even ONE word concerning the present situation has graced the pages of the Guardian since the beginning of this new crisis on the 17th of May!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

France stands by watching as its old enemies of 2013 crush Mali

The Malian army was  crushingly defeated at Kidal yesterday. Its defeat was not at the hands of the MNLA alone: it appears that  many of the  armed groups that reinforced the Touareg separatists were part of the AQMI  coalition that was once the prime targets of the French forces  when they intervened so opportunely  in January 2013,  hailed rapturously as the heroes and liberators of Mali.

This time they stood by and watched passively while their former enemies regrouped,  some under new names such as the HCUA, which is the regrouping of  the feared Ançar Dine which came out of hiding and lent their support to the MNLA's effort yesterday under the leadership of  Iyad Ag Ghali, the darling of the UK Guardian. (see blogsearch above) The picture above  shows the flag of Ançar Dine  flying on the pick up trucks on their way to Kidal yesterday. There are reports of the MUJAO taking part as well. Kidal has been retaken and there are report of other northern cities such as Menaka and Aguelhoc also falling to this regrouped coalition.  40 Malian soldiers are dead, the battlecries heard in Kidal yesterday were the familiar :Allahu Akbar! of the very Islamists that the French had all but wiped out a year and a half ago.
What the XXXX is going on????

Tuesday, May 20, 2014


An MNLA soldier in Kidal is proudly showing off the cap of one of the murdered Malian Préfets.
France has announced that she is sending in reinforcements to Kidal: another 30 soldiers, in order to help "keep the peace". But Malians  no longer  trust the French and conspiracy theories are gaining ground: some think that the French are in possession of secret knowledge regarding large mineral deposits in the North of Mali in which they will have a stake when the state of AZAWAD is finally declared.
 Be that as it may, the fact is that anti-French and anti-UN sentiment is running high in Mali. Keita tells me UN vehicles have been attacked in Bamako.  The response on Malijet to the news of the arrival of the additional French forces was almost 100% negative. Noone believes that France is there to help the Malian nation any longer. There were  plenty of French soldiers in Kidal at the time of the attacks,  the kidnappings and the massacre. They did nothing to stop the carnage. Malians feel totally betrayed.

Hostages liberated

  When the US state department  joined their condemnation  to that of the UN and the swelling tide of outrage against  the MNLA's kidnapping  of 30 Malian government hostages taken and held in the government offices in Kidal on Saturday  it would appear that the MNLA realized that their actions had backfired and that for once  they could not count on the implicit support of the French and of the international opinion. The hostage taking  had been a disastrous mis-calculation by the  MNLA, normally so skilled at public relations and of manipulation of the western press.
UN officials in Kidal announced the release of the hostages yesterday afternoon. It is unclear if the government offices are still held by the MNLA.

However the release of the hostages  does not undo the killing in cold blood of six Malian administrators on the 18th of May in Kidal: 2 Préfets and 4 sou-Préfets. The Préfet is the highest local rank of administrator, there is a Préfet of Djenné, for instance. The picture above shows IBK surrounded by Préfets.

The president addressed the Malian nation last night. In his address was a swipe at the UN and the Serval forces, present in great numbes in Kidal: the MNLA had been able to carry out their attack "in an insolent and incomprehensible freedom of movement and manoevre" said IBK.  He continued by drawing parallels between this Kidal massacre to the Aguelhoc massacre of nearly one hundred unarmed Malian soldiers by Touareg separatists in January 2012, an event which can be seen as marking the beginning of the Mali crisis.

Monday, May 19, 2014

"The Republic Of Mali is henceforth at War" : Moussa Mara


On Friday Keita phoned me in a state of agitation and informed me that ‘there is fighting in Kidal!’
 The Prime minister Moussa Mara’s  visit to the troubled MNLA stronghold  had been scheduled on  Saturday  in order for him to engage in  negotiations  with the separatists. Already before his arrival violence had flared up as hundreds of demonstrators loyal to the MNLA had gathered at the airport to attempt to prevent his visit. In November last year his predecessor Oumar Tatam Ly was unable to carry out a planned visit to Kidal because of anti government demonstrators. This time the prime minister refused to flee, although he was apparently advised  to do so by the MINUSMA (UN peace keeping forces)  and French Serval forces present in Kidal.
Mara carried out his visit and gave a speech to the citizens of Kidal while MNLA forces clashed with the Malian army and mortar shells where heard exploding in the back ground. 
The centre of the fighting took place at the Gorvernor’s  Office which is now still held  by the rebels, who are said to be holding 30 Malian civil servants hostage. 8 Malian soldiers were killed in the clashes while 28 of the rebels were eliminated according to the army . The MNLA claims it killed 19 government soldiers but says that they themselves did not suffer any casualties.  It appears  all government buildings apart from the government office  have been reclaimed by the Malian army. 

Mara criticised the UN and France for allowing the governor’s office to be seized despite its heavy military presence in the town. MINUSMA claimed 21 of their police officers were injured in the clashes however.
IBK is scheduled to address the Malian Nation today. Mara has said to Reuters:" the Republic of Mali is henceforth at war”.
"Reinforcements are on the way to Kidal. The objective is to totally retake Kidal," said one senior military source.  Certain  troops that have been sent as reinforcement are believed to be the Balanzan Battalion, which has recently been undergoing military training by the European Union’s training mission to Mali.  Some Malian army troops have allegedly been sent up from the nearest town south: Anefis.
Meanwhile the MNLA are also preparing for further confrontation:
"The situation is calm right now. We're in position. We're not scared of the Malian army. We're ready," said MNLA spokesman Ag Mohamed.
What will happen?
One of the major reasons Ibrahim Boubakar Keita won the election with such overwhelming majority was because of his strong position on the MNLA. He declared at election time that all is negotiable except the integrity of the Malian territory, autonomy and self rule in the North.The Malian people saw in him their hope for a unified Mali.
Eight months into his mandate, IBK’s  popularity has been rapidly waning: there is a scandal over the allegedly unnecessary purchase of a new presidential jet which rumbles on but most of all there is the sentiment in most Malians that IBK has betrayed the nation over Kidal and the MNLA since he has ‘towed the line’ under  international and French  pressure and has attempted to keep negotiations going instead of using military force to regain control of the town and the area.

He is now finally sending in the troops. But will they be stopped again on the threshold of Kidal? This is what happened in June when the interim government decided to attack Kidal in order to claim the city so that democratic election could finally be held. The troops successfully took the town of Anefis but were stopped by the French and prevented from entering Kidal. Feverish last ditch negotiations were  set up  and held in Ouagadougou between the government and the MNLA. The outcome of the negotiations paved way for the elections that were held in August. However, according to the Ouagadougou agreement The MNLA were to be kept ‘in containment’ and the town of Kidal was to be governed by the Malian administration. This agreement has never been implemented and despite a heavy presence of UN and French soldiers The MNLA have been allowed to continue to patrol the street of Kidal freely.
Why this leniency with the MNLA? Malians find it incomprehensible.  In addition, some foreign diplomats I speak to in Bamako are now certain that it is only a question of time before there will be an Azawad state.

However, there are  now  certain signs that seem to point to an international admittance  that what has happened in Kidal this time is unacceptable:
"This barbaric crime is totally unacceptable and those responsible must answer for their actions.” said Albert Koenders, the head of MINUSMA. He stops short of advocating a military intervention however and suggests that “an inquiry must be carried out quickly in order to verify the facts and bring the responsible parties to justice."
Malians have now lost the taste for peaceful inquiries however. Will the Army once more  be stopped at the gates of Kidal?