Mali-cious In tent

Lunghu is well aware that his endorsement carries virtually no weight whatsoever, but let the record show that he fully supports the goals, objectives and even the methods of Captain Amadou Haya Sanogo and the provisional/transitional government of Mali.  Although hypocritical political leaders in Africa, Europe and the United States criticize Mali’s military for ousting a corrupt “democratically elected” civilian government, Western governments have been largely ignoring West Africa’s dysfunctional kleptocracies for years  –as long as gold and uranium mining companies are allowed to extract mountains of ore with as little fuss as possible.

Countries neighboring Mali … Africa’s third largest gold producer … have condemned the coup and have given the military junta a 72-hour deadline to hand power back to civilians, which expires on Monday, or face crippling sanctions.  The regional organization ECOWAS has said that they will close the country’s land borders and freeze its account in the regional central bank.  Sanogo has said that he “understands” the position of ECOWAS, but begged Mali’s neighbors to deepen their analysis and to examine the reasons that led to the coup.

Mali is a landlocked economy and relies on neighboring countries (primarily Ivory Coast) for fuel imports and exports.  As a member of the west African monetary union, the Malian banking and financial system would [collapse] within weeks if the common central bank cuts Mali off, and leave the junta without cash to pay public sector salaries.

In the United States, just about the only people who have been paying attention up until now are DEA and Africom, because the Sahel region has become a key 21st century transshipment point for the international cocaine and weapons trafficking industries. For several years now, executive jets operated by Colombian cocaine cartels have been flying loads of 300-kilos or more across the Atlantic from Venezuela, Guyana and Suriname to desert airstrips in northern Burkina Faso and Mali.  And who’s at the receiving end of all this skullduggery-in-the-Sahara?  Fundamentalist Islamic militants and Tuareg tribesmen, who ship the cocaine onward to Europe and the Persian Gulf, then use the proceeds to purchase weapons, bribe government officials, and feed their camp followers.

A nice little market niche, until the Arab Spring upset the apple cart.  Tuareg tribesmen had formed a key portion of Gadhafi’s armed forces, their loyalty to the regime purchased with generous salaries and the knowledge that all the other tribes in Libya hated them.  Tuaregs in the Libyan military furnished unofficial-official permission (and thus security) for semi-clandestine drug convoys that passed north through the desert to Mediterranean seaports –all part of the supply chain transportation service provided to the Colombian trafficking networks.  But when the NATO bombing began, and Gadhafi eventually fell, no more convoys.  No more escort duty. No more military jobs.  The Tuaregs had to flee for their lives, back into the desert.  They took their guns and ammunition with them, by the truckload.  In southbound convoys.  To the northern borders of Niger and Mali.

Tuareg rebels on Saturday attacked Mali’s strategic northern city of Gao, a day after they took the provincial capital of Kidal, witnesses said.  The two towns are major prizes for the rebels, who launched an insurgency in January fueled by the flow of arms from the fall of neighboring Libya, where many of the rebels had been on the payroll of Moammar Gadhafi.  If Gao falls, the only other major city in Mali’s north in government hands is Timbuktu.

The Tuareg rebels that have seized control of much of northern Mali are an amalgam of different factions. They include a secular group known as the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, or NMLA, whose stated aim is to carve out a Tuareg homeland in the north. There is also an Islamic faction called Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith in Arabic) which wants to impose Sharia law in the north.  A man who fled Kidal across the border into Niger said the Islamist rebels had taken down all the flags of the NMLA in that city. He said they were going around demanding shopkeepers take down posters considered to reflect Western culture.

Here’s hoping that somebody at Africom has spent the weekend explaining to Hilary Clinton at the State Department that it’s all well and good to pay lip service to West African democracy, but that the alternative to Captain Sanogo –Tuaregs in the north– have no democratic tradition whatsoever:  they’ve been murderers, robbers, extortionists and slave traders for centuries.   In other words … natural allies of the United States?!?   Not quite.

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